Will Speck and Josh Gordon, aka the filmmaking duo Speck and Gordon, are known for their grown-up comedies like Blades of Glory (2007) and The Switch (2010). Following 2016's decidedly R-rated Office Christmas Party, the directors returned with something unexpected: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (out now), their big screen adaptation of the best-selling children's book about a singing reptile.
"We had been such fans of the books, and, in the last couple of years, we've come to a place where we are trying to expand into new experiences," the duo says. "We've always wanted to make a musical, so, it felt like a great chance to do so with a property we loved. The real thing we got to do is learn what that was like with all its learning curves. The sequences... the choreography… the recording of the music... it was all new territory for us. We learned a lot."
Speck and Gordon's next project will see them pivot once again: Distant, a sci-fi thriller about astronauts stranded on an alien planet, which is slated to hit theaters on Jan. 27, 2023.
"What we've been more focused on with past films has been so comedy-centric, making sure that every premise and line serviced a comedic master," they explain. "It was super exciting to shift into new areas that we've explored in our commercial work but never had the chance to really stretch into in our films. It was exciting to feel like we were evolving into new areas."
Below, Speck and Gordon (who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film with 1997's Culture) share with A.frame five films that have shaped their comedic and filmmaking sensibilities.
Directed by: Mike Nichols | Written by: Buck Henry and Calder Willingham
This film has always been a seminal one for us. Incredibly funny, often times employing classic comedic set pieces in a way that Mike Nichols was brilliant at, and also ambitious tonally. It takes what could have been a broad premise and turns it into a seminal generational work about rejecting the morals of your parents. The filmmaking follows the main character's journey perfectly. The first half feels like a movie from the 1960s, shot very much in the style of his parent's world. And then half way through, the film switches gears and becomes Ben's movie.
It happens right at the point where Ben delivers the news to his parents that he's going up to Berkeley to ask Elaine to marry him, even though she hates his guts. And you can feel that this news decimates his parents' carefully curated Los Angeles life. It's one of the funniest, most painful scenes in the movie. And, at that moment, right on the cut, the filmmaking becomes a '70s film, with lens flares and an incredibly melancholy Simon and Garfunkel song following Ben as he drives up the coast. The film is straddling two generations, and so is the filmmaking. That's ambitious storytelling. We especially love the scene that ends with toast popping up after Ben lets his parents down. We’ve watched it a hundred times.
Directed by: Miloš Forman | Written by: Peter Shaffer
Miloš Forman's Best Picture-winning film about genius and the man who must endure it is both wickedly funny and incredibly tragic. The story of Mozart and Salieri has always spoken to us on some deep level. It's just so awful and painful what Salieri has to endure. Knowing that he's not the one, and in fact may be utterly forgotten over time. But being in the presence of true greatness and being the only one who really recognizes it. It forces him to face his own mediocrity and pushes him to madness… While, at the same time, loving Mozart's music so much, even while he loathes the man who's creating it. It's a timeless story. And the film makes the period work so fresh and alive.
In some ways we looked to that story to help inform Hector's (Javier Bardem) story in Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. Like Salieri, Hector is forced to realize that he doesn't have it. That his real purpose on earth is to discover someone greater than himself… in this instance, a singing Crocodile. For any artist, that's hell. It also informed the relationship between Bryce (Jason Sudeikis) and Monkey in our Marvel show, Hit Monkey. Jason Sudeikis has to come to terms with his own insignificance in the presence of a much greater assassin. So, we've been retelling a version of this story in several recent projects — there's something about partnerships that we obviously love.
Directed by: Sydney Pollack | Written by: Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal
An absurd premise at face value that could have been broad and silly. But in Sydney Pollack's hands, it’s an ambitiously executed film about sexual politics, and a moving character study of a self-destructive actor, Michael Dorsey, who ends up evolving into a better man by playing a woman. With brilliant comedic supporting roles in Bill Murray, Teri Garr and Charles Durning. It's just an incredibly funny, perfect film, that makes you want to live in this world with these characters. One of the best supporting players is Sydney Pollack himself, channeling his own frustrations with Dustin Hoffman, by playing his long-suffering agent — we've watched the agent scenes on repeat and can fully recite them to one another.
Directed by: Hal Ashby | Written by: Colin Higgins
Hal Ashby made three of our favorite films in his short career: Shampoo, Being There, and this gem with the brilliant Ruth Gordon. Again, a slightly ridiculous premise of a young, lonely, misanthropic man who meets an elderly woman at the funerals they both frequent. What starts as an oddball friendship eventually blossoms into a love affair of sorts, all set to the incredible soundtrack by Cat Stevens. Again, it manages to ground itself and make you invest and believe in these two characters, while being unbelievably moving at the same time. It's about the power of love to transform, even if that love comes in the most unlikely of packages. It also begins with the best suicide montage ever.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
When you think of Scorsese, you think of his epic gangster sagas. But his early comedies are sublime and have always been touchstones for us. And none more than this incredibly dark and disturbing film about the obsessive nature of fandom. One of De Niro's most vulnerable and exposed performances, his character is desperate and written off by everyone, until he becomes dangerous. The time period in New York, the colors, the minimal art direction of the show offices, the way the extras are mostly real. The movie is always on a razors edge, hilarious, uncomfortable and disturbing sometimes in the same scene. But it's Sandra Bernhard as his truly off the rails cohort that steals the movie. She's so absolutely insane that she electrifies every scene she's in. And Jerry Lewis playing talk show host Jerry Langford lends an air of absolute reality to his largely unfunny performance. The movie is comedy at its most intense and unsettling.