Desperately in need of some quality laughs this Spring? Look no further than ‘Most Likely To Murder’ from director Dan Gregor and writer Doug Mand. Best known for their work on stellar comedic writing on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ this dynamic duo is now taking their A-game from the world of television and lighting up the silver screen. A home for the holidays murder-mystery comedy, ‘Most Likely To Murder’ focuses on former high-school hero Billy (Adam Pally) who comes back to his hometown expecting things to be like they used to be. Instead he finds all his friends have moved on, and his ex (Rachel Bloom) is dating the former high school outcast (Vincent Kartheiser). So, Billy becomes obsessed with proving the outcast is actually the killer behind a mysterious local death. It’s like ‘Rear Window’… for stoners. The film’s eclectic cast includes Adam Pally (“Happy Endings”, “Making History”, “The Mindy Project”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”), Doug Mand, and John Reynolds (“Search Party”, “Stranger Things”). Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand to discuss the their careers, the making of ‘Most Likely To Murder’ and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
How did you get involved with the arts early on and what made a career in the entertainment business something you wanted to pursue?
Doug Mand: I guess I was always trying to make people laugh, trying to entertain and be on stage. I was drawn to New York and performances. I immediately got into sketch comedy. I met Dan and we started a sketch comedy group at NYU. Living in New York and going to college, it’s like you’ve already graduated, so while we were in college we were already trying to perform with the Upright Citizens Brigade. You graduate and before you know it, this is what you’re doing because there is really no other decision to make! That’s what it felt like, so we all got day jobs and before we knew it we were working comedians. It was one of those things that naturally happened, and it always felt right!
It sounds like the chemistry between you was immediate!
Doug Mand: Yeah, Dan and I were in the sketch group together and Adam Pally and I were living together in the East Village. Dan soon moved onto our couch after graduation. Basically, we had all be really close friends and the 3 of us began writing together, producing pilots and stuff. Yeah, the chemistry was always there. We were very fortunate to be able to sell a few things early on and say, “Okay, I guess we’re doing this!”
In those early years, which of your projects had the biggest impact on you in a creative sense?
Dan Gregor: Doug and I made sketch, which was on stage at first, called ‘Banging My Dick Against The Wall.’ It was sort of about our inept dating lives. We eventually turned that into a little bit of a web series. That experience of producing narrative sketch, a pretty specific artwork, was probably the most informative. In a lot of ways, it was the first time we really stepped out of sketch comedy and started producing stories a little bit more. It allowed us to break down storytelling in a way that we found very accessible. It was still about finding the funniest idea and thread that idea of the course of the story that has an emotional arc. It became a really informative tool for how we then started to write.
Doug Mand: It was that script that got the attention of the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ writers because it was a show about dating in New York. It just so happened that at that time they were looking for more people from New York to come in. At that point, Carter [Bays] and Craig [Thomas] who created the show had not lived in New York for over 8 years. I think Dan and I would both agree that in terms of learning experiences working on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for 4 years was a graduate school for writing. We were surrounded by such amazing and generous writers. For 4 years we wrote story and jokes with some of the most talented people we’d ever met. I think that’s where we learned how to really write.
How did the idea for ‘Most Likely To Murder’ originally come about?
Doug Mand: This is a story that we started writing when we were on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and we’ve always been really into the idea of the week or night before Thanksgiving. Typically, you come home, you go to the bar you all used to drink at, and see all the people that you grew up with. There is a real moment of self-reflection where you’re like, “Am I were I want to be? Look at all these people and look at how much they’ve changed. Look who’s pregnant! Jimmy got fat! Greg’s losing his hair.” Whatever it is, all these things you are seeing 15 years later is almost like a Snapchat or Facebook before Facebook really. We were really interested in that time and coming home. Liking home for the holidays movies and merging that into a noir-detective mystery was something we had been dabbling with in writing for 5 or 6 years. We hoped to put those two genres together and hopefully elevate the story a little bit by adding some intrigue. This felt like a story that we could make at a budget and not have it be some huge studio movie. It was a smaller story that we wanted to tell, so we felt this was the right movie for us to make, produce, direct and be in because of the size of it.
The cast for the movie is amazing. Tell us a little about bringing everyone together to make these characters come to life.
Doug Mand: Like I said, Adam Pally is one of our best friends, so when we started writing this movie, it was with Adam in mind. He was always the Billy character, so we built it around that. Rachel is obviously a very close friend and is married to Dan. She’s always been incredibly talented and amazing. She won a Golden Globe and there was all of this interest in Rachel. We had always wanted her to be in the movie and she was like, “Yeah, I would love to do it.” We thought it was a good opportunity for her to do something different than her ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ character, so she came on board, which was amazing. For Vincent Kartheiser, we sent the script to his manger! It was one of those things! Vincent was our first choice to play Lowell. We had no real connection to him but luckily enough, which doesn’t usually happen in this business, he got the script, read it and it really connected with him. We met him, and he was onboard! The casting came together really naturally in a way that doesn’t usually happen! We were very fortunate that a lot of the stars aligned for this! Vincent fit right in. All of us are very close and although we didn’t know Vincent going into this, he fit right into it immediately! The same thing happened with John Reynolds as well! We were huge fans of his through ‘Search Party.’ We sent him the script and he responded to it! So, it doesn’t happen often, but it did for this movie and everyone fit together nicely.
They are some concepts that carry out through the course of the film. Is there are real life origin story for the sex tape?
Dan Gregor: The actual story is much dumber and grosser. When I was around 12 years old, I had a TV in my bedroom with scrambled Skinemax porn. I would stay up to all hours of the night trying to make out body parts! [laughs] When I think I thought I saw sex happening through the scramble, I would sprint to the TV room with the one actual cable box in my house. I would throw a VHS tape into the VCR and record the last 5 seconds of the sex scene that I had made it in time for. I accumulated a dozen last 5 seconds of sex scenes on this weird, disgusting mixtape! I was very, very fond of it, as a disgusting 12-year-old might be! I eventually grew up and stopped using the disgusting VHS tape but, as an adult, I came across it again. It was in the back of my closet at my childhood home. I found it much later and I was really taken back! I really wanted to see this tape, but I couldn’t find a VHS player. Doug and I talked about that stupid little anecdote a couple of times and it was actually kind of foundational for the feeling of the movie in this weird way. By that I mean, you have all these weird feelings of nostalgia and desperation to hold onto your past and who you were but no matter how hard you try you can’t.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing this movie to the screen?
Doug Mand: From a directorial standpoint, it is just the marathon of it. I have done a lot of short films, web series and music videos — literally shorter things. The first challenge that hits you really hard when doing your first feature is the marathon of “Oh shit, I have to keep doing this every day for a long time.” Readjusting and finding that endurance is a real challenge. On a practical level, we tried to make a movie that hopefully, in the world of low budget movie making, a film that doesn’t feel totally cheap and nothing, but it was totally cheap and nothing! [laughs] Every dollar meant a lot to us and did a lot for our production. One of the big things we had going for us was that we shot so much of the movie in that suburban house. It was so important to have those two houses across the street from each other. It was sort of our ‘Rear Window’ concept and a real elemental part of the movie. We were desperate for these places. We ended up submitting to shot in this town, East Chester, NY, which is around Westchester County. We were heading over there to film and in a couple days, they kind of screwed us. They pulled our permits and threatened us for no reason, other than it’s a scam they pull, with quadrupling all of our budgeted fees. It was going to shut down production but thankful our producer, Petra Ahmann, was able to do something. We were literally already filming on location for a few days before. She pulled it out and somehow got them to let us shoot again without totally screwing our budget. We ended up losing the ability to do night shoots, which was a pretty central part of the movie and in the horror movie genre, it’s something that’s so important. It ended up impacting us in a good way by having us readjust and figure out, at the last minute, how to do the finale sequence, which is hopefully just as tense and scary as a daytime sequence. Ultimately, I think it added a little something by making it a little more unique. It all came down to turning lemons into lemonade and I feel really good about it!
There’s no doubt you are skilled writers and no strangers to improv through sketch. How much of what we see on screen comes from improvisation?
Doug Mand: Dan and I had been writing this script for a long time and we knew what we needed to get in that respect. Additionally, as the director, he knew what he needed to get for the editing room. We didn’t have time to shoot all day but as soon as we got what we knew we needed we always tried to allow the actors to play a bit. There are definitely some great improvised lines and moments in the movie that were born from playing around. Adam Pally and John Reynolds, being a fantastic improvisors, allowed for some great moments we weren’t expecting.
One of my favorite moments in the film is the ‘Who’s Those Guys’ song. Was that one of those moments?
Doug Mand: Yeah, that is one of those improvised moments! We were on set when Adam started pretending to play the strings holding the evidence and I started singing a song. It was a really silly moment on set that did well. When we started screening the movie, people really liked that, so we started thinking about fun ways to put little Easter eggs in the movie. We thought it would be fun to produce the full version of that song and use it as the closing credits song. We also made a music video for it to promote the movie! We made that with our good friend Jack Dolgen, who’s a writer on ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”\’ He writes the music and in the writer’s room as a scriptwriter, as well. Jack had seen the movie and he loved that part. We said, “Can we make a song out of this?” He said, “Yeah, let’s definitely do it!” He wrote a song and the three of us, Doug, Dan and Jack, filled out the rest of the lyrics. We made it as silly and ridiculous as we could possibly make them!
What does the future hold for you guys in both film and television?
Dan Gregor: We are excited to try to do this again with Lionsgate. It was a great experience. As you know, Doug and I are in the TV world. I think I will be directing some of ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ this year, which will be fun! That’s where we’re at!
You guys have built great careers for yourself based solely on your creativity. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Doug Mand: I would say make things. For Dan and I, that’s what it’s always been about. If you want to be a writer or a filmmaker, you actually have to go make that happen. No one is going to give you the keys to do it. Go write something and shoot it. We were lucky enough to be in the Upright Citizens Brigade community and have friends who were like-minded, so we had a community of people we could always reach out to and get a camera, a crew, shoot in a place we could sneak into and get it for free. Just make things. Don’t just talk about doing things — make things! That’s the best advice we can give. Go out and do it! If the work is good, it will find a home somewhere and good work will beget more work. That’s the biggest lesson you can take from us.
Thanks so much for your time today! We truly loved the film and can’t wait to help spread the word!
Dan Gregor: Thank you so much!
Doug Mand: Thanks for your support, Jason!
‘Most Likely To Murder’ hits DVD, Digital and On Demand via Lionsgate on May 1st, 2018!