Rock & Roll Ghost Interview with Marty Callner

Director/Producer Marty Callner boasts an impressive resume. He’s directed music
videos (Aerosmith, Poison), filmed the top comedians (Robin Williams, George
Carlin, Chris Rock), as well as the biggest music stars in concert (the Rolling
Stones, Justin Timberlake). Now Callner sets his sights on Will Ferrell’s stage play
wherein the great comic actor tackles his most well known role: former President
George W. Bush.

Ferrell portrays Bush in You’re Welcome America: A Final Night With George W.
Bush on HBO tomorrow night, March 14th at 9PM EST/8PM CST live as it happens at
the Cort Theatre in New York City. The show has been a smash success, selling out
night after night since it opened back in January. The HBO live broadcast will
precede Sunday’s closing show performances.

Despite a busy week preparing for Saturday’s live filming, Callner snuck in some
phone time to give insight into how he works, why filming Justin Timberlake at
Madison Square Garden with 45 cameras was more calming than filming Dane Cook
at a small club with only one and why he hopes to know Ferrell and You’re
Welcome America’s stage director Adam McKay “forever”. Below is an edited
transcript of the conversation we had this past Wednesday.

Rock & Roll Ghost: How long have you been in preparation for the show?

Marty Callner: On and off for the last two months. This week is obviously the
most intense. I was here for rehearsals and I came back and spent three or four
days watching the show. This is my fourth trip to New York for this show. This
week’s intense.

What is your role compared to that of the stage director’s?

Well, it’s the stage director’s show until it’s my show and now it’s a television show.
My role is to capture it and adjust it to the medium I’m responsible for. I wear a
lot of hats. Sometimes I direct the stage production as well. Most of the time,
actually. In this case it was beautifully directed by Adam McKay. My job is to
interpret that and bring it to life to millions of people. Give you the best seat in
the house hopefully.

What have you do to prepare for the show? How is this different from other
stage productions you’ve filmed?

We had to change the lighting because it’s lit for the theater and not for the
camera. And the blocking a little bit. It’s tricky because I don’t want to block
people’s vision. So I’m putting cameras in places where I’m not blocking seats
because it’s still a live show going on and people are paying a lot of money to go
see it. It’s about making millions of little tiny adjustments.

How is this different from other stage productions you’ve filmed?

This one’s different because it’s a multimedia experience and there’s a lot of
information to cover and still keep the integrity of the live show. What makes this
really different is that many times when I’m doing Robin Williams on Broadway or
(Jerry) Seinfeld or (John) Lequizamo or anything like that, we’re putting it in that
we’re going to film it and we would set it up that way. This is completely set up
for the theater audience and I have to work around that.

You had done a lot of these specials before for HBO and they were going with
HBO were you….

I’ve been HBO’s go-to guy for a long time. They probably said to him you can use
who you want but here’s who we recommend. This is just the way I’m conjecturing
it. And they said okay we’ll meet him.

Have you had any working relationships with Adam or Will previously?

I had never met either of them previously but hopefully I’ll know them forever.
They’re great people.

How has it been working with them?

A joy. With Adam it’s like having another set of eyes. And we’ve formed a nice
partnership and collaboration because we’re all working towards the same goal
which is to present the best possible show. And Will may be one of the nicest
human beings I’ve ever met in my life.

Have there been any issues that have occurred so far in the process?

So far it’s all been positive. It hasn’t been negative yet and hopefully that won’t
happen. As long as I don’t fuck it up I think it will stay positive.

I know you have an upcoming project with Dane Cook. What sort of
preparation did you do for that?

I’ve already filmed it. It’s completely different than anything else ’cause it was
done in a small club and it was all done with one camera. With Justin Timberlake
when I had 45 cameras we did it with one. It makes it very unique.

How was it working with Dane?

It was the second time I worked with him. I love working with him because he
likes to reinvent himself. I always find an artist that reinvents themselves to be a
very interesting person to work with. This is a much edgier Dane Cook. In the
material and in the presentation. The last time we worked together it was like a
bigger than life rock star. We shot in Boston Gardens in the round. It was a grand
production. This is small, intimate and in a club. He has had a really rough year.
He lost both of his parents, his brother stole all his money. He’s got a real edge to
his act. It’s not the goody-two-shoes act right now. I was blown away by it.

Which works better for you a big arena with lots of cameras or an intimate club
with one camera?

The big ones are less stressful because that’s what I do. Bigger than life is kind of
what I’m all about. The smaller ones are technically easier because I don’t have to
prepare thirty cameras. It’s more difficult because we have to be more precise.
Which means that my camera operator had to really know the show because I
couldn’t tell him once it rolled, he had to just go with it. I used a whole film crew
and it was interesting.

For you scaling it back is actually a more visceral thing than handling a giant
field of people?

I can’t say that. Live is when you’re on the wire, okay? That’s really the only
difference. Everything else is relatively the same for me. But when you’re live it’s
like you’re flying without a net. One mistake and you can’t get it back.