Loch Ness Monsters

Zak Penn is one of Hollywood's most in-demand screenwriters, with credits such as Behind Enemy Lines and X-Men 2. But Incident at Loch Ness is the first time we're seeing the real Penn onscreen. No, thankfully, he's not really the pushy Hollywood schmuck he plays in the film, but Penn's directing debut reflects his dark sense of humor far more than his famously mistreated script for The Last Action Herodid. Loch Ness is a satire starring Penn, legendary director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo) and the real, live Loch Ness Monster. Yeah, you read that right: Herzog.

OC Weekly: Were you intimidated approaching Herzog? There are all these crazy stories about him. . . . Zak Penn: I was definitely intimidated. People have such an over-the-top idea about him based on the legends. I thought I was going to have to fly down to the Amazon to meet him and he'd be this out-of-control character, but he's not like people imagine him at all. He's very approachable. You make yourself such an unsympathetic character in this film. Has anybody taken it all seriously, have they accosted you after a screening and said, “Oh, youterrible man, treating Herzog like that”?

That has happened a little bit, yeah. That surprised me: I thought it would be fairly obvious this is a comedy. Mostly it happened early on, before word about the film got out and people had more of an idea what was going on. Maybe I should have considered all of that more carefully and looked at the possible ramifications down the road, how this could affect me personally. I have read reviews in which it was obvious the reviewers didn't get it and they really tore me apart for this big, cruel prank I was playing on Werner. What's interesting is watching the film with an audience, and early on, they hate me as the character, but they're enjoying what I'm doing as a director. There's a weird tension.

You distributed some bogus information to the press about the film, and a lot of people bought it and ran stories. Has anybody from the media expressed anger at this prank you pulled on them?

I've heard from some people, but so far, everybody's been pretty good-natured. It probably helps that this was a pretty small-scale story—it didn't turn into a huge hoax or anything. Maybe you're the wrong person to say this to, being an entertainment reporter, but I do think sometimes the media just take what they're handed and run with it; they don't investigate at all. So that was partly why I did this.

You give yourself a big part in this film, with a lot of the best lines. Some would say that's egotistical, but at the same time, you make yourself look like a real asshole, and some would take that as an act of masochism. . . .

I wouldn't say it was masochistic. Or completely egotistical, really. I knew who I wanted this character to be and the story I wanted to tell, and since this was improvised, I felt like I was really the only person for the part. I knew what was needed. There are shots in the film in which I was deliberately unflattering to myself physically; I knew I looked bad, but I think with comedy you have to be willing to let yourself look unattractive. Look at Will Ferrell. I guess I was going for something like Larry David does on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the character is clearly based on him but is obviously so much worse as a person than he could ever be. Well, I don't really know Larry, but I think the character is worse than he is. But certainly nobody I know, nobody in my family has ever accused me of being masochistic.

I've read a few interviews in which you said aspects of this character are inspired by real things that happened to you in Hollywood, and you've said stuff like, “Boy, I could tell you some stories!” The interviewers never follow up, though. So, tell me some stories.

Oh, I've gone into a lot of this stuff before, talking about problems on my other movies. You can find all that online.

I've looked. I didn't find it.

Well, I've worked on movies that have been completely rewritten and what finally hit the screen had nothing to do with what I wrote, Last Action Hero being a famous example. I haven't seen Suspect Zero yet. I knew there was no point; it would just upset me. I knew I was going to be doing press for Loch Ness at the same time Suspect Zero was out, and I didn't want to spend every interview complaining about how Suspect Zero turned out.

Have you read the reviews? They were scathing.

I've started some, but I don't usually finish. I had a lot of the same issues the reviewers did. I had a different idea for how a thriller could work, and the film ended up being something else completely. Enough time has passed since Last Action Herothat I don't dwell on it like I used to, but it still bothers me that the film I originally imagined will never be seen. The only way anybody will experience my version of Suspect Zero is to read my script. But look, I don't want to sound petty. This is something I've talked to Werner about; he calls it the culture of complaint. I make good money writing for Hollywood. It's frustrating when I get blamed for bad movies that weren't my fault, but sometimes I get the credit for stuff that's not really mine, like X-Men 2. All in all, Hollywood has treated me very well.

This film is such an abrupt left turn from everything you've done before. Do you hope to do more satirical movies like this one?

Well, I'm working on something similar. It's not a mockumentary, but it has that Christopher Guest feel. Working on big movies can be great, the pay's good and there are a lot of perks, while doing something like this actually costs me money. Still, there's no comparison. If I work on a big picture and people in the audience are booing, it doesn't bother me much because it's not a personal thing. But this movie, if you don't like it, well, we're going to have a problem because we have very different ideas about what's funny. This is my movie, and seeing audiences enjoy it is incredible. If somebody could put that feeling in a box and sell it to me, I'd pay a lot.


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