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Hollywood Unscripted

Episode 19 - Airplane! A 40th Anniversary Celebration

Robert Hays and David Zucker.JPG

Shirley it's time for a laugh: Airplane! celebrates it's 40th anniversary! Robert Hays and David Zucker share their favorite stories of making one of the funniest movies of all-time: Airplane! and the amazing successes and laughs it's brought over the past 40 years. (And don't call us Shirley!)

In a special edition of Hollywood Unscripted, we celebrate one of the funniest movies of all time, Airplane! Host Scott Tallal is joined by producer, director and writer, David Zucker and star Robert Hays.

(0:48) They discuss how it all came together through the development of suburb north of Milwaukee, from starting an improv group at University of Wisconsin and how they moved it to LA 


David discusses how the first idea took a year to write the script and that they had no budget (1:38) but John Landis came to see the improv show and how listening to and learning from John changed the direction of the movie

How a meeting at Paramount with Michael Eisner and Jeff Katzenberg ultimately was the key to getting the movie made.


David shares how their improv show inspired the movie and what types of ideas they were looking to spoof (2:54). And how Zero Hour shaped the direction and truly inspired the crafting of the script, including the importance of a character arc and a 3 act structure (4:30). 


David continues to share how the movie came to being including how they finally got the rights (4:52) from Zero Hour and what a surprise it becoming a hit really was. David and Robert dicuss their thoughts on why it’s still a hit, including the jokes which are still funny today (6:05).


The truly team effort from Paramount and the help they received from the executives (6:45).

David shares the moment he found out the movie was greenlit and how Jerry and Jim also reacted (8:00) and the dramatic name changing of Jerry (11:00) to get the Director Guild of America to allow three people to direct a film. 

Robert and David share what the first day of filming was like and how three white Jewish guys tried to write a joke about ‘speaking jive’ (12:08). Is the movie and are the jokes over the line? (13:15).


(14:08) David shares stories about the actors ‘that got away,’ – from the ones who really wanted it to those who threw the script in the trash, including: David Letterman, Barry Manilow, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Bruce Jenner, Sigourney Weaver, Jack Webb, Harriet Nelson, and Peter Graves.

The two reminisce about the joy of being on set (19:19) and what it was like making a film that had the crew laughing during every scene, including the antics Leslie Nielsen played on Robert Hays (19:45).

David shares how the most shocking lines made it into the script (21:10). 

Robert describes his crazy days while filming the disco scenes and running across the lot on his lunch breaks (21:45) and the craziness of filming in LAX airport.

They share the irony of casting the actual airport announcers to read  the red and white zone announcements (25:24) and the surprise of casting Ethel Merman in what was her final role (26:25).


The two laugh about the fact that–no planes will air the movie and share their experiences being on an airplane, how they get recognized and their parents reactions (28:25). 


They continue on to discuss other casting choices such as how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became involved in the film (30:55) and how it changed his public persona and how Jonathan Banks got involved in the movie (32:46).


Robert shares what it was like filming on a cold Malibu beach (33:23).


David talks about what it was like adding jokes in the credits for the first time (35:13), the importance and beauty of Elmer Bernstein’s score (36:01) and the origin of the film’s poster – the iconic twisted plane (36:24).


Scott asks how the movie relaunched Leslie Neilsen’s career and how he went from serious tv and films to wanting to do very funny comedies (37:18).


They all laugh about how Universal fought them on the name against the name Airplane (40:25) and how it had to be called something different internationally.


The three discuss if the film could be made today and would the jokes work (42:00)


David and Robert share their favorite memories since the movie released including the funniest thing that’s happened at a Q & A (43:30), if they knew it would last 40 years (44:46), their families reactions to the film (50:30) and finally how it’s affected their careers (54:01).

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