Stan & Ollie
by director Jon S. Baird
My first recollection of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was as a five-year-old kid, watching them on an old portable television in my mother’s kitchen. These ‘70s/’80s re-runs of their movies brought them a whole new generation of adoring fans and I, like millions of others across the world, became instantly enthralled by their unique style of comedy.
Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were of course all brilliant physical comedians and their technical abilities were outstanding. But there was something special for me about Laurel and Hardy. A specific kind of comedy with genuine humanity that they made look so simple, but which was just as carefully crafted as any of their contemporaries’ elaborate stunts. Buster Keaton famously said at Stan’s funeral that although people regarded himself and Chaplin as geniuses, it was Stan Laurel who was the real comic mastermind.
Cut to 35 years later and it was to my great delight that I received a screenplay called Stan & Ollie for my consideration to direct. My first thought was “why had nobody made a movie about these icons of comedy before?” The script was so beautiful; a simple love story about old friends facing the twilight of their careers. It made me cry and there are not many scripts that have done that, so I knew this one had tremendous potential.
One of the most satisfying moments in the whole process was presenting Stan (Steve Coogan) and Ollie (John C. Reilly) to everyone in the production team for the first time, at the camera test. When the boys walked in wearing their full costume and prosthetics, I knew by the reaction on the crew’s face (who were all Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts) that we had succeeded in the first stage of bringing this beloved duo back to life.
Another extremely rewarding moment was building the opening shot of the movie—an almost six-minute continuous tracking shot snaking through the backlot of a 1930s movie studio—which took months to prepare for. I’d been lucky enough to work with Martin Scorsese a few years previously, so I asked for his guidance on how best to pull that off and his advice was invaluable. From lens choice, to coordinating hundreds of background artists, to keeping the actors motivated over numerous long takes, Mr. Scorsese gave me so much confidence to go through with such an audacious undertaking.
Making Stan & Ollie was such a fabulous experience and I sincerely hope everyone who goes to see it enjoys the movie as much as we did putting it together.