“Super Troopers: The Release” from Mustache Shenanigans by Jay Chandrasekhar
Searchlight loved the movie and they were immensely collaborative on everything from the reshoot to the advertising campaign. Getting the trailers and the imagery right is critical to a film’s success, and Nancy Utley and her group just flat-out nailed it. Pulling a page from our Puddle Cruiser Winnebago promotional tour, Searchlight put us back on the road, but this time in a rock-and-roll tour bus wrapped with the Super Troopers poster. It was a rolling billboard that slept ten and had a kitchen, a master bedroom, and a living room.
We kicked off the tour with a screening at the Mann Village Theater, near UCLA, and followed that with a party. Around midnight, we loaded onto the bus and drove off into the night, heading for Tucson, Arizona.
Searchlight hired a British tour manager named Derek Wilkenson (Wilkie) to escort us across the country. Wilkie was a rock-and-roll guy who had road managed acts such as the Allman Brothers, the Average White Band, and many others. On the drive, he told us the story of how, at age fifteen, he was hanging out in a roadie bar in England when a guy walked in.
“Who wants to road crew for Led Zeppelin?!” He raised his hand, left the bar, toured around the world, and didn’t return until he was seventeen.
Our days went like this: We would wake up in a new town, put on our highway patrol uniforms, and do a round of radio interviews. In the afternoon, we’d hand out free screening tickets to passersby. That evening, we’d introduce the screening and then have dinner. After the screening, we’d do a question-and-answer and then head to a Fox-sponsored party, where we would get bombed with the audience. Wilkie would press condoms into our hands, cackling his rock-and-roll cry: “Come back with these used or don’t come back at all!”
It was the dead of winter and we did a lot of harrowing night drives. We had bunks, which we nicknamed “coffins” because when you crawled in and pulled the drape shut, it was pitch black. With the road rumbling beneath our backs, we’d awake to a sudden surge of fear brought on by the wheels slightly drifting over a rumble strip. Had our driver, Dave, fallen asleep? Were we about to fly off the road, or were we just approaching a toll or a rest stop? Sometimes we’d hear squealing brakes and then feel the awful feeling of the bus sliding on ice. Luckily, Dave was a great driver and always managed to keep us safe.
On Friday, February 15, 2002, Super Troopers opened on eighteen hundred screens across the United States. Broken Lizard was in New York City, and we went to Times Square to take pictures under the film’s three-story billboard. Our plan was to spend the evening slipping in and out of bars and theaters. Appreciative film festival crowds were one thing. We wanted to know if we could make strangers laugh. At the theater in Times Square, we found out we could. The room was packed and the people were laughing.
At seven p.m., I got a call from Steve Gilula, the head of distribution for Searchlight. He was happy. He said the numbers of the East Coast matinees had been quite good. On Saturday, our numbers went up, which meant word of mouth was good. Peter Rice called and said we could relax. The release was a success. Yeah, they know that quickly.
A couple of weeks after we got back, I was in my Laurel Canyon house, which was in a bamboo forest, on a one-and-a-half-lane mountain road called Gould Avenue. Gould overlooks the Laurel Canyon Country Store and is known for being the street where David Letterman lived during the roaring Comedy Store days. The phone rang and a voice said, “I have Adam Sandler for Jay Chandrasekhar.” That’s how the powerful do it in Hollywood. An assistant calls on behalf of their boss. Only once it is confirmed that the less-powerful person (me) is on the line, will the boss get on the line. I didn’t buy it. Why would Adam Sandler be calling me? It had to be Lemme pranking me, doing a new Sandler imitation, right? So, I said, “Okay.” After a few seconds, the real Adam Sandler got on the phone. It was the cool, quiet, subdued Sandler, the one from his movies when he’s talking to a kid about something serious. He said he had gone to a crowded theater, ordered a popcorn, and watched, Super Troopers. He said people were going crazy and that he loved the film. I thanked him, still star struck.
Then, he said, “Don’t worry about the reviews. I get shitty reviews all the time, and the people still come. The people are gonna come for this movie.” What Sandler was referring to was that Super Troopers got a 35 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Yes, this is the same movie that Huffington Post readers voted the funniest movie of decade from 2000–10.) My hometown reviewer, Roger Ebert, gave it two stars and said, “I can’t quite recommend it—it’s too patched together—but I almost can; it’s the kind of movie that makes you want to like it.” That hurt.
Sandler finished up and said that if we ever needed any help making a movie that we should call him. What he meant was if we had an idea that we wanted him to produce, we should partner up. Wow. Hollywood has the capacity to really blow you away sometimes.
Super Troopers grossed $20 million at the box office, which was good for an indie film without stars, and Searchlight was happy. But it was the massive wave of DVD and VHS that took everybody by surprise. We got lucky. Our film came out at the height of the DVD market, that moment when people actually bought DVDs for their home collections. Millions and millions of copies of Super Troopers were sold, many of them to people who smoked grass and watched the movie with groups of friends. Super Troopers benefited from the old way of watching films, the way we watched at Colgate, when you went to someone’s house, looked at their DVD collection, and then just picked one.