In 1992, “Wayne’s World” was released to critical acclaim, quickly becoming one of the year’s highest grossing films. In the years since, no other theatrical adaption of a “Saturday Night Live” skit has achieved the film’s massive success.
For its 25th anniversary, Paramount Studios is exhibiting the film in 400 theaters across the United States on Feb. 7 and 8. I recently sat down for a phone interview with the film’s director Penelope Spheeris to reflect on the film’s production and its resulting cultural impact.
Some of your earlier work, such as “Suburbia” and “The Boys Next Door,” is much darker in tone than some of your later comedies in the 1990’s. I was wondering what made you veer towards comedy for your later filmography?
You know, thank you for asking that, but it wasn’t my choice. It was just once I did “Wayne’s World,” that was the only movies that got offered to me. You get, what do they call it, pigeonholed. You know what I mean? It’s like ok, so I did “Wayne’s World” and it made a bunch of money, so then everybody goes “Oh! She can make a bunch of money if she does a comedy.” So, that’s why it happened. I wish I hadn’t taken that turn to be honest with you, I’d rather do more serious movies.
With that in mind, what brought you to the project “Wayne’s World”?
I had known Lorne Michaels even before he did “Saturday Night Live.” He had always kind of promised me I could do some short films on SNL, but that never happened. So when “Wayne’s World” came up, my agent said “Hey, you know Lorne!” So he kind of payed me back right then, plus I had just done the “Decline [of Western Civilization] Part 2” about heavy metal, and Wayne and Garth thought they were headbangers, they really weren’t, but they thought they were, [laughs] and so those two reasons got me the gig, I think.
The film frequently broke the fourth wall, especially in regards to product placement, and that was a little bit ahead of its time for a studio comedy. I was wondering how these elements got came up with?
It was really mostly Bonnie and Terry Turner, the writers, and of course Mike [Myers]. It was a chance that the studio was concerned about, and they were like “Well, are you sure it’s ok if Wayne stands there and talks to the camera?” Even Bernie Brillstein, which was Mike Myer’s manager, when we did the table read in the beginning, me and him ended up in the kitchen getting a cup of tea at the same time and he goes “Penelope, I’m gonna bet you $100 those three endings are not gonna stay in the movie. That never will work.” Well, he still owes me a hundred bucks, because it did work! [laughs]
Like you just said about how they were a little nervous, was there a lot of pressure from the studio during shooting, or did you guys have a good amount of creative freedom?
The fact of the matter is, in 1991 when we were shooting, I did some research on this because I was curious about it. The average cost of a film at that time, at a studio was $62 million. So, [with] “Wayne’s World,” we were given 14 million to work with, which to me at the time was like huge, ok! I’m like, “Where did all these trucks come from? I can’t believe we have all these things to work with!” But, to the studio it was a small movie. So, they pretty much left us alone, because it was like “Oh, they got Lorne, he knows funny.” But Lorne didn’t even come around either that much. They weren’t really controlling that much, Paramount was cool.
Since the film’s release, there have been stories of tension during production. I was wondering if these rumors had any merit.
Well, not during production. During production, there was no time for tension. It was really smooth. The tension came later, and Mike doesn’t like to talk about it, and I don’t like to talk about it, everybody knows what happened. He wanted to change the cut on the film, and I refused to change it. Lorne took me aside, he goes “If you refuse, Penelope, you’re not gonna be able to do ‘Wayne’s World 2,’ and I’m like ‘Man, I gotta stand by my guns here, because the movie works just like it is.'” I told him I’m not gonna change it, and then he got pissed and said “Well, then you can’t do ‘Wayne’s World 2.'” Because they couldn’t do the movie without him, they couldn’t do the second one without him, they could certainly do it without me, so yeah, I kind of ate it on that one.
The film opened to a moderate $18 million, but it managed to make over seven times that, and stayed in the top 10 for over 14 weeks. At what point did you realize it had a much longer staying power than the average comedy?
I think I realized it when we were looking at the demographics. What happened was it hit the correct demographic when it was released, and by the way, releasing a movie in February is not a really good time. [Wayne’s World was released on Feb. 14, 1992.] We hit the target audience right in the beginning, which was the early ’20s, and then what happened was that younger people started watching it, like tweens and teenagers. After that, the older people were like “Well how come the kids like this movie so much?” So we got three different age groups going to the movie, that’s what happened.
Looking back now, 25 years later, when you guys were making the film, did you ever expect it to be such a cultural phenomenon?
No. It was a shock that it was as successful as it was back then, and it is a shock 25 years later that they’re showing it in 400 theaters across the country and there’s all this media buzz around it. It’s just amazing to me that it has the staying power that it has. I mean, what other movie, I don’t know of any movie that they do any 25 year anniversary for? Like maybe I’m missing something here, but someone said “Dirty Dancing,” they’re doing something with as well. But here’s the thing, movies today, they’re not that great, I hate to say. [laughs] People are nostalgic, they’re going back to the old good ones I think.
“Wayne’s World” returns to theaters for a two-night event on Feb. 7 and 8, and tickets can be purchased at www.waynesworld25.com.