Movie purists may remain skeptical about the idea of straight to DVD sequels to their favorite films. However, the American Pie series has been among the most successful, and acclaimed, raising the hope that a franchise can continue, even if it doesn't play in theaters. The team behind American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile is back for the latest installment, American Pie Presents: Beta House, beginning with screenwriter Erik Lindsay.
How did you elevate the quality from Naked Mile? What restrictions did they give you?
"The nice thing about it is even though it was low budget, as much as some people had a problem with Band Camp as a movie, what it did was Universal Home Video really broke the mold on what was direct to video. What was considered direct to video has actually now become DVD originals and all the studios now have them. For example, if you go back and look at Bring It On 2 compared to Bring It On 3: All or Nothing with Hayden [Panettiere] from Heroes now, the production quality is night and day. The budget is probably two or three million dollars on the second one, and then the third one was after Band Camp.
Band Camp was like, 'Look, we can spend X number of millions of dollars which is very close to the original American Pie budget, and the return is going to be huge because it's going to have a production quality of a real movie. It's not going to look like these two million dollars, slap it together, put the title on like Beethoven's 6th or whatever.' Actually, Beethoven's 6th isn't bad. So that was one of the amazing that I had an opportunity with The Naked Mile was I had written this script and wanted to make this sequel within the confines. The only real restriction I had was making one of the characters a Stifler and keeping the lineage of the Stiflers. But as far as the freedom of a writer, being able to write huge set pieces like The Naked Mile itself, party sequences and stuff like that, I wasn't limited by budget, creative-wise which is fantastic."
How did you top Naked Mile?
"The thing with Beta House, the challenge within writing a franchise and writing a sequel was to stay within the realm of the characters you've created and create an organic sequel. You're not just throwing them on Semester at Sea, just putting them somewhere because you want a certain marketing strategy. It seemed like the next logical step. These kids were in high school. They visited Michigan University and had the best time of their lives at Beta House, so the next logical thing was that's what an 18-year-old kid would do. He'd go home and rip up all his other applications. He'd be like, 'Look, I'm going there and I'm joining that fraternity.
The challenge with a fraternity movie was, of course, you've always got the gold standard to live up to which was Animal House. One of the nice things that the studio allowed us to do was, every movie that's been made since Animal House, like PCU, has always kind of runaway from a straight pledging frat movie. You can always hear the pitches. 'It's like Animal House but it's not like it because there's this other little hook.' The great thing about Beta House was I was like, 'Look, we're not going to top Animal House of course, but it's been 25 years. I was in a fraternity for six years. Let's just make a straight pledging movie. That's where most of the humor comes from, the bonding that these guys have, the crazy antics that they have.'
Then the studio backed it up and was just like, 'Look, let's make a straight pledging movie. Have these guys become best friends and go through these crazy situations together.' So it was challenging and exhilarating and that allowed us... I felt like there was more opportunities to keep the story organic and at the same time, have very funny situations happen because we weren't worried about this one hook that was trying to make this not like Animal House. We are a straight pledging movie like Animal House. It's different than Animal House but it's a pledging movie. Guys join a frat, hijinks ensue."
Can you provide American Pie fans with a preview of the outrageous pledge activities?
"Without giving away too much, one of the great things about the way we created Beta House is we set up that Dwight Stifler's a pretty cool guy. We wanted Beta House to not conform to your traditional things that America got kind of fed up with over the last 15-20 years with fraternities in the news, the hazing, the binge drinking. So Beta House does not subscribe to your traditional hazing. No yelling, no pushups, no binge drinking.
What the Beta House has is 50 pledge tasks that you have to accomplish over the semester. They're creative, fun pledge tasks, like stealing an ostrich from the bio building at Michigan and stick it in the rival fraternity's houses. We had a live ostrich that ended up attacking everybody and it was absolutely insane. So that's what Beta House is all about. It's all about creativity that actually ends up bringing these guys closer together and forming a brotherhood bond. So it's kind of trying to pick all the best things about my fraternity experiences that were fun and creative and get away from basically the preppy house in Animal House.
We didn't want any, 'Thank you sir, may I have another,' which is unfortunately still a lot of fraternities in America today. We wanted Beta House to be the kind of fraternity that every guy, probably every girl in America if they could join a fraternity would be like, 'If I was going to be in a fraternity, that's the kind of stuff I would want to do so I don't have to worry about getting paddled or drinking half a fifth of vodka before I have a final the next day, because some guy thinks that's his idea of brotherhood.'"
More on American Pie Presents: Beta House: Interview with John White ('Erik Stifler')