When it comes to the world of sports, there are perhaps none so competitive as the characters who encourage crowds to root for their teams.
Netflix’s new film Mascots offers a fictional look at the unsung heros who take their jobs very seriously. Co-creators Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) and Jim Piddock (Family Tree), who prefer the term “documentary-style comedies” rather than “mockumentary,” follow a group of mascots who compete for the prestigious Gold Fluffy Award.
The film stars many actors who have appeared in Guest’s other films, including Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley, Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Brad Williams, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Matt Griesser, Susan Yeagley, Sarah Baker, Tom Bennett, Kerry Godliman, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, Maria Blasucci, John Michael Higgins.
Co-writer and creator Piddock is also featured, and Daily Brief picked his brain for behind-the-scene tidbits about his development process, and how the film came to be.
Being a mascot is hard work. How did you research what it takes?
I did research the usual way, talking to people who are mascots, reading about them, watching them. I’m too old to start putting on a costume myself and prancing around until I sweat a bucket or two. I mean, you don’t have to go out and kill a bunch of people to write about a serial killer, so I figure there’s limits on research. Chris Guest’s son was a mascot at his school and my nephew has been two different mascots. He was an eagle and a turkey.
What is it like to be both actor and co-writer for the show?
I’m used to being in my own stuff, so I’ve learned not stop in the middle of a scene and say “Who wrote this shit?.”
Obviously this is a “mockumentary,” but the groundbreaking of a brick-and-mortar Mascot Hall of Fame museum is scheduled for the week following the release of Mascots. What has been your reaction and what kinds of reactions have you received?
Actually, not obviously, because it’s not a mockumentary. We’re not mocking anything. Chris likes to call his films documentary-style comedies. And I’m sure the timing of the hall-of-fame thing was entirely coincidental. To be honest, I don’t think it’s particularly significant. The reaction to the film so far has been terrific from both mascots and non-mascots alike. The film’s appeal is to anyone who’s ever seen a mascot in their life, not just people who have been one. Which is just as well as there are millions more people in the world who have never been put on a mascot costume than those who have.
You talent for writing is exceptional. How do you know you “have the perfect” script to pitch?
Thank you. There’s really no such thing as the perfect pitch. You just need to have a pitch you are passionate about and you believe is air-tight because you’ve done all your homework. After that, it’s all a matter of whether what you want to do fits in with the people you’re pitching to want to do.
This is your first time working with Netflix. How does process compare to doing your HBO series Family Tree?
Very similar experiences, in the sense that they were both wonderful about allowing us to make the film, or TV series, the way we wanted. And if they had any notes, they were always offered as generous “take it or leave it” suggestions. They were both very trusting, which is terrific. And, incidentally, I wish it was like that everywhere.
What was your writing process in developing the story? How does improvisation fit in?
We spend about six months writing a highly detailed outline of the film, scene by scene, beat by beat, and with extremely thorough character biographies. It’s all planned out like a Google Maps journey, with room left for the actors to take the journey the way they want, with improvised dialogue.
You and Christopher Guest use a lot of the same actors for your projects. How has your relationship with the cast grown over the years?
Well, it’s like a family. We’ve all been working together, on and off, for about two decades. There’s always a great amount of mutual admiration, trust, and enjoyment when we get together. So it’s actually a highly functional, supportive, and happy family. Which is unusual.
If you could be any mascot in the world, what would you be and why?
Harry the Human. Then I wouldn’t have to put on a hot costume to behave like an idiot in front of thousands of people. I can always do that perfectly well without one.
Mascots premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and becomes available October 13 on Netflix.