Exclusive Interview with "Blades of Glory" Producer John Jacobs

Jon Heder and Will Ferrell in "Blades of Glory.". © Paramount Pictures

Will Ferrell and Jon Heder take to the ice in the figure skating comedy Blades of Glory directed by Will Speck & Josh Gordon (the team behind the Geico caveman commercials). Ferrell and Heder play rivals who discover there's a loophole in their lifetime bans from single's skating competitions. Teaming up, the twosome become the first male/male figure skating pair in the history of the sport.

John Jacobs has produced his share of comedies, including the box office hit Anger Management.

In this exclusive interview, producer Jacobs talks about what attracted him to Blades of Glory and the new comedy team of Ferrell and Heder.

Did you always believe the comedy teaming of Jon Heder and Will Ferrell would work?
“You know, you never know. I mean, you never know the chemistry but they have incredible chemistry together. It’s like when I did Anger Management. It was the same kind of cross-generational casting with a slightly [different mix] of people in their 30’s and 60’s. In this case, it’s Will Ferrell and the kind of MTV/Napoleon Dynamite generation or fans. But it worked incredibly well, just amazingly well.”

How much of the action is the actors actually skating and how much wound up being done with visual effects?
“They did a lot of the skating. Actually, we had Michelle Kwan’s trainer, Sarah [working with us]. We actually had them training for half a year with her. Will Ferrell is a natural athlete and Jon Heder took to the ice incredibly well and became a really good skater.

Will Arnett and Amy Poehler play the opposing world champion couple pairs ice skaters. He is Canadian and he is surreal as an incredible ice skater. He was a hockey player in Canada and he did his own stunts. He learned all the routines himself, and most of Will and Jon of course, within reason. Some of the triple lutzes and stuff we had like nationally ranked skating doubles.”

How is the world of competitive skating accepting the movie?
“It’s unbelievable. It’s funny. I was just with Scott Hamilton this weekend, who is in the movie, and he told me he has been offered every ice skating movie ever made and that this is the first one he’s accepted. I said, ‘Why did you choose ours?’ He said because it’s the first script he’d ever seen that was as wild and crazy as the real behind the scenes world of figure skating. He said people have no idea how wild it really is. I mean, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan… Nancy Kerrigan is in the movie, actually. She does a very funny cameo.”

Was it difficult to get other professional skaters to become involved in the film?
“Scott Hamilton is sort of the ambassador, apparently, of the figure skating world. Once he was in, everybody else was in. It sort of was like getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

What was Ben Stiller’s involvement in Blades of Glory?
“Originally, I took it to Ben Stiller actually. I developed a script with the Cox brothers and I took it to Ben Stiller and his company, Red Hour, with the idea of him being in it. He loved it and so did his partner, and basically that was the initial idea. So originally we were thinking Ben Stiller and Jon Heder would be a great combination together.

And as it turns out, actually, I mean I couldn’t possibly imagine a better combination than Will Ferrell and Jon Heder. There couldn’t possibly have been better chemistry. We were very fortunate it just worked out in the best possible way.”

What happened with the idea of Ben Stiller starring in it?
“Ben was making Night at the Museum, a little half a billion dollar movie and also this movie Seven Day Itch, I believe they’re still calling it, with the Farrelly brothers. He also had done Dodgeball. He’d just done another sports movie, so that was part of the reason. He loved the movie, it was just whether he wants to do two sports movies in a row.”

You really took a chance with two first time feature film directors.
“Totally. I independently was a huge fan of their Geico caveman commercials for a long time.

I was actually trying to track them down to try to do a television series based on the caveman idea, or a movie. And oddly enough they just set it up as a pilot apparently, the directors. I had literally already gotten the idea to work with them and was trying to track them down, having nothing to do with this movie. They also had done an Academy Award-nominated short at NYU, by the way, that was part of what made us all decide to give them a shot.”

But there’s a big difference between shorts and commercials and feature films.
“Huge. For this first movie, this kind of budget, these types of stars, it was a huge risk. But it paid off.”

Were you always aiming for a PG-13 rating?
“We were always aiming for PG-13 always on this movie. Wedding Crashers, for instance, which I love, it’s about guys seducing women and going to bed with them. This movie is actually at its core it’s really more about sports. It really does work as a sports movie in its own right. Completely aside from being a comedy, it works perfectly as a sports movie. It really lent itself to PG-13.”

Who is the target audience?
“It’s like an incredibly great dating movie. It’s great for the general audience and it’s really a great dating movie. It appeals strongly to women as it does to men, the young women especially. And another great thing was every single test marketing audience we had said hands down the movie is 10 times better than the trailers.”

That doesn’t happen very often.
“No, that doesn’t happen very often at all.

We didn’t do a teaser on this movie. We didn’t want to give away too much in the trailer, so there wasn’t even a teaser.”

Why was that decision made?
“To be honest with you, I don’t know. I usually, on every movie I do, put out a teaser. But I’ve never worked with Paramount before, Viacom. Obviously they’re very successful but they have their own system. Every studio has a different marketing system.”

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As a producer are you usually hands-on when it comes to marketing your films?
“Yes, I am. I am. I mean in this case I have been as well, it’s just a slightly different methodology. Like 300, there have been teasers out for a year and I strongly believe, it’s a completely different kind of marketing, but I believe that with seven movies opening every weekend these days, you really have to get the word out in a major way and as early as possible.”

Do you feel the Internet plays a large role in how films are marketed now?
“Oh yeah, we have a tremendous Internet interactive campaign on Blades of Glory. The campaign has been much more extensive. It’s from Amy Powell at Paramount who did the interactive campaign for Nacho Libre, which was amazing, is also doing ours because we’re really impressed with the job she did for Jack Black and Nacho Libre.”

How do you know which film is right for you to produce?
“It’s like anything else. I mean, how does a pharmaceutical company know when their research R & D works out and they have a great new product? I’m really a story person. I started out as a screenwriter so I always go from a great story. And then the second component is the script matching the concept and the characters really coming to life - and that doesn’t always happen. But when it does happen, those are the movies that I am drawn to producing.”

Has any film you’ve produced taken off and become bigger than what you even anticipated?
“I think Anger Management, definitely. Anger Management started as an idea really with David Dorfman, the writer. When we first developed it, it was really about two unlikely people being forced to live together to be roommates, and everything else grew out of that.

The surprise really, if you were to say what was a surprise, the idea of Anger Management is not exactly something every other person experiences. It’s something maybe a tenth of a percent of the population has actually experienced or knows someone who has. We just thought the characters were so great and if we could find a way to grow them together and force them to stay together, the characters were so great that it would pay off. But I think everyone was blown away by how well it succeeded.”

You said you were a screenwriter. Do you still write?
“I do still write, but I don’t have much time to write these days. That’s the truth, I don’t have much time lately. I haven’t left it very far behind because I work on stories every single day. I work with writers every single day and directors, so I haven’t left it behind at all.”