Getting to direct the 1992 comedy “Wayne’s World” was a big change for Penelope Spheeris. She was better known for her documentary work, which at that point included two editions of “The Decline of Western Civilization” looking at punk and heavy metal music.
But it was her years observing rock fans that resulted in one of the most memorable scenes in “Wayne’s World.” You can see the scene again on the big screen as “Wayne’s World” returns to theaters Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 7-8. The film, like the “Saturday Night Live” skit where it originated, follows two aimless metal-head friends who host a talk show called “Wayne’s World” on local public access television.
The script called for the characters to be listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car.
“Mike Myers insisted the scene be in the script; I will take credit for torturing the actors when we shot it,” Spheeris says.
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Spheeris had observed patrons in clubs bobbing their heads to heavy metal beats, and she thought the actions looked fun and hilarious. The director decided that would be a great way to play the scene.
With each attempt to film the scene, the actors became less enamored with the idea. It got to the point where they hated the scene and complained of neck and head pain.
The actors didn’t care for the scene, but it helped “Wayne’s World” become a box office success and became a pivotal point for Spheeris and the actors.
The film, shot for $14 million, grossed $183 million in its theatrical run. That was the 10th highest-grossing film of 1992 and the highest-grossing of the 11 films based on “SNL” skits.
The movie boosted the careers of Myers and Dana Carvey, moving them from being merely “SNL” players to movie actors.
The success took Spheeris out of the low-budget world of documentaries as she began directing more comedies such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Little Rascals” and “Black Sheep.” Before directing “Wayne’s World,” Spheeris was borrowing money from her sister.
When Spheeris was directing, there weren’t a lot of women behind the camera. Now 71, she often tells film students the key to breaking through was to go on auditions for all kinds of movies. She took any job she could.
Spheeris never associated the lack of jobs with her being a female.
“I never blamed lack of work on me being a woman. I probably would have quit if I thought about that. I had a lot of friends from film school, mostly guys, who couldn’t get jobs. I thought it was difficult for me to get work because it was difficult for everybody,” Spheeris says.
Creating the comedy hit was a complicated task for Spheeris. Ten different colors of pages are used to show writing changes in a script. There was so much re-writing on “Wayne’s World,” the revisions went through the 10 colors three times.
The task for Spheeris was to make sure the changes fit with what had already been filmed. The movie shot in a scant 34 days (32 in Los Angeles), so there was not a lot of room for error.
The other test for the director was getting everyone to focus on what was important.
I am shocked the film is getting all the attention now, but I was also shocked back then.
Director Penelope Spheeris on the 25th anniversary of “Wayne’s World”
“Everyone started getting fixated on stupid things like ‘What does Mike’s house look like?’ It looks like a (expletive deleted) house. ‘What does the town look like?’ ” Spheeris says.
She’ll get a good look at Aurora, Ill., when she attends part of the six-month celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of “Wayne’s World.” It will wrap up July 4 with an attempt to break the headbanging record.
Paramount Home Media Distribution will mark the anniversary with a “Wayne’s World” double feature on DVD and digital HD, available Feb. 14. Plus, “Wayne’s World” will be available on iTunes with new-to-digital extras, including a director’s commentary.
Tickets for the movie screenings can purchased at www.waynesworld25.com.
Spheeris is reminded when she looks at photos from the filming that it has been a quarter of a century since she tortured her cast.
“We all got 25 years older. … Some of us 30 or 40 years older,” Spheeris says. “I am shocked the film is getting all the attention now, but I was also shocked back then.”