Paramount Pictures releases Whiskey Tango Foxtrot nationwide on March 4th, 2016.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important and challenging was it ground Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in
John Requa: In a way, it started as a challenge for us. We have been doing funny short films
and funny scripts and things that were just overtly comedic. Then, in the 90's, I saw Muriel's
Wedding, and I'm like, "This is a very funny movie, but it's also a drama---a very profound and
moving drama, I think." I still watch it and it blows me away.
Glenn Ficarra: We were writing I Love You Phillip Morris at the time.
John Requa: It wasn't like we said to ourselves, "This is what we're interested in. This is
what we're going to do." We were just 2 nerds who saw a movie---and then there were several other
movies that came out after that had a similar dramedy tone. Over a pitcher of beer and chicken wings
with our filmmaking friends, that's where the conversation started. As we started writing and
getting hired as writers, the elements drama just started leaking in, and now it's just what feels
right to us.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the concept of genre?
John Requa: My father rails against this. He goes, "Why can't I like musicals?"
because he's 80 years old. "Why can't men like musicals? What is all this social pressure? Why do
young men feel like musicals? When I grew up, everybody liked musicals!" or "Why is this movie that
I adore called a 'chick flick'?" That's how we feel. Why can't movies just be for everybody? Why do
they have to fit into a category?
Glenn Ficarra: Yes, I think that it's just a marketing thing. I don't believe that people
believe in genres per se. People want to see a good movie pretty much---I like to see a bad movie
every once in a while, [though]. It kind of drives me nuts because the human experience is just a
broad palette and you should be able to do that. I think plenty of movies can do that. And for
people to say that you're not being true to the form, the genre is kind of limiting. We've reached a
point in society from an entertainment point of view where people pick up on the pattern of things
very quickly. I want someone to break the pattern and make it fresh. In college, we talked about
John Requa: We're Gen X, and the fingerprint of our generation is to deconstruct. I think
that goes right across the board.
Glenn Ficarra: I think that The Big Short is a good example of this, too, in that they
threw out the rulebook.
John Requa: Yeah, it defies convention and genre. It's a comedy, but it's not just a
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you know when a joke truly works in a film given how subjective comedy
John Requa: From a filmmaking or practical point of view, making people laugh is hard. You
shoot so much with variety to find a joke. With the emotion, you know that there's just one way to
do it. We can go for sizes, but you know the reality of the emotions. The comedy is so fickle
because it exists in an almost virtual world. It's feeding off of currents in modern culture. So,
things can be unfunny quickly. It's a lot of trial and error. You sit with your crew in the editing
room, and you watch dailies and then you see it in the movie, and it's not funny. There are so many
permutations. Comedy is terrifying. We've been making comedy for 25 years, and we will sit in the
editing room and say "That's a guaranteed laugh!" and then it gets no laughs, but then we build on
it and re-engineer it. It's so terrifying.
Glenn Ficarra: It's a precision business. A good rule of thumb is to hire Tina Fey. Everybody
should do that because she's hilarious and talented. Even she would say that it's a lot of trial and
error. You spill it out of your gut and see what sticks. Something that got a laugh 10 years ago,
won't necessarily get a laugh now. It's so ephemeral and weird.
Glenn Ficarra: The simple answer is that comedy that comes from character or reality of that
character, your comedy can only only come from what these characters are capable of. With the movie,
you're trying to match that with the tone within one point of view, so with this movie, you couldn't
make that many "outside of the film" jokes.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Given that you've worked together as filmmakers for so many years, how do you
compliment each other? What does it take to have such a long-lasting filmmaking relationship?
Glenn Ficarra: I tell him that he looks beautiful! [laughs]
John Requa: We always say that we have one of the longest, most successful marriages in
Hollywood because we always give each other the benefit of the doubt. One of the things we hit upon
early in our career was that only one guy at a time gets to freak out. Like, when something is going
wrong in our set, only one person gets to flip out. Whoever gets there first has to flip out, and
the other person has to do be the voice of reason. So, I think that that's a rule that we went along
with all through the years.
Glenn Ficarra: Yes, it makes us avoid the death spiral which is hard for directors. It's a
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide for whom to make Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
John Requa: We feel like this movie is for everyone, but ultimately it's a woman's story. We
just wanted to make sure that women liked this movie. We feel like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has
something for everybody because it is a war movie and it has a lot going on, but I think ultimately,
it's a story about a woman who blows up her life and it's very relatable.
Glenn Ficarra: Everybody has that fantasy about blowing up their life, and doing something
different and out of character. It all comes from the script. We wanted to do it justice. We weren't
setting out to service a market per se.
John Requa: Ultimately, we made it for me, Glenn and Tina Fey and [screenwriter] Robert
Carlock. And I think that we made it for ourselves---and that's nice. We hope that people would like
it and that it has a life.
Glenn Ficarra: We actually had conversations with Paramount, and they asked us, "Are you sure
you want to make this movie?" This is not an easy sell. It's a fairly plotless movie, and it's not
very typical. We weren't tricking them. No one was tricking anybody. They loved the script and
wanted to make the movie.
John Requa: They wanted to make it because it was an interesting movie, and they have a
history of selling interesting movies at Paramount.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you consider yourselves as filmmakers who like taking risks?
John Requa: We like to take risks.
Glenn Ficarra: But sometimes they don't pay off.
John Requa: They pay off even when they don't because you have the peace of mind knowing that
you tried. It'd be nice at the end of your career to say, "I tried even if I failed." You tried to
do something out of your comfort zone or the safe choice. That's always that of interest to us:
what's the element of this that's a risk?
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a war comedy into a classic?
Glenn Ficarra: I think war just encompasses every emotion in extremes. The juxtapositions are
huge. So, you have all this bandwidth. Even Apocalypse Now, which is not considered a comedy,
has plenty of funny shit in it. It's dark and fanciful. It's basically a comedy because war is
comedy and life is comedy. It's the absurdity of the human species. It's us at our worse and best
and ugliest. hat's the thing about war: you can laugh or you can cry, but there's not a lot of in-
between. There's the quote that "War is a long moment of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the fact that so many new movies open each weekend,
especially in New York City? Do you think that makes it harder for audiences to recognize a
John Requa: It's sad because I think that ultimately just take your shot and make your movie.
If you spend too much time thinking about things like that, you'll drive yourself insane.
Glenn Ficarra: Depicting the reality of the situation makes in inherently and classically
funny. The attorney general hitting on Kim in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot make sound ridiculous,
but it really happened, so we're just servicing the truth to a degree. In Apocalypse Now,
Coppola was just trying to replicate the insanity of it all and had to go through the whole journey
of filmmaking to reflect that. I don't want to say that I set out to make a classic because that's
weird, but you hope that you're going to end up there.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would something be lost by watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on the small
John Requa: We hope that people go to see this movie and bring their friends. It will benefit
from being seen in the theater because there are parts of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that are
intense. We want people to be shocked by those moments. There's something about the screen and the
sound on the big screen. And then there's the comedy. Comedy is always better on the big screen. You
let the steam out with a bunch of people, and it's a great feeling. There's an electric experience
of seeing it with a crowd.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Whiskey Tango Foxtrot work in black-and-white?
John Requa: Yes, I think so because a lot of what we wanted to do is grimy and gritty. We
had 5 tons of dust in a flatbed that we blew, and there was 1 bag left when we were done shooting.
It wouldn't be brown movie; it'd be a grey movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which actors from the Golden Age of American Cinema would you imagine in
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Are there any films that would pair well with it in a double feature?
John Requa: I think Tina would be Barbara Stanwyck, right? She's got that quality---Barbara
Stanwyck is funny. For Billy Bob Thornton we talked about Warren Oates.
Glenn Ficarra: I would love to pair this with Foreign Correspondent just for the
polarity and to illustrate the times and perception and realities of the job.