"I can make my bed every morning and still listen to Boston ska punk."
The nostalgia, sincerity, and--yes--importance of the American Pie franchise; with Ray Gordon and Conor Sullivan, writers of the unauthorized, incredible American Funeral.
Est. Read Time: 28 minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections. Font Diversity overseen by the Grant Park Italics Preservation Society. And the REFERRER OF THE WEEK is Aaron K! Congratulations, Aaron!
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Good evening, morning, or something in between, Sternal Journalists!
Today, we return to The Sternal Journal Interview Series. This week, I sit down with not one, but two guests: writers and friends Ray Gordon and Conor Sullivan.
Like many of us, Ray and Conor were having a hell of a time in July of 2020. But unlike anyone else, Ray and Conor coped with their pandemic pain by writing a feature length, completely unauthorized, very un-asked for fifth installment of the American Pie franchise in which Stifler’s mom dies and the gang has to come together for her funeral.
And Sternal Journalists. It is a helluva good script. It’s funny. It (actually) made me tear up. It made me contemplate new things about nostalgia and aging. It helped me realize that the American Pie story was sort of Stifler’s to begin with. It involves a somehow extremely grounded-feeling subplot involving astral projection sex and Prince-of-the-Late-90s-Early-Aughts Matthew Lillard.
It’s got it all, plus it’s so sellable. This is money sitting on a table waiting to be snatched. I mean, they already designed a poster:
To do all that other stuff and still have a commercially viable product is an incredible feat. You can and you should read their whole script now, here (especially if you can get it in front of people with buying power—we all want the Sternal Journal to be a Hollywood kingmaker, don’t we?!).
But once you’ve done that (or if you must—before), enjoy my conversation with Conor and Ray as we talk about why nostalgia is such a complicated emotion, why Kevin is the saddest character in the franchise, and—most importantly—why they genuinely, sincerely, and unabashedly love the American Pie movies.
JS: I have a billion questions, but I wanna start with this: I'm 33. You guys are roughly around my age. And I’m noticing that at this age, I’m getting to see the people I grew up with become the adults I knew when I was a child.
But it’s not squaring out exactly how I expected it to. Does that resonate with you guys? I thought about that a lot while reading the script.
CS: I don't think we ever thought about that specifically, but we're both Northeast guys who left home. And all of our friends that stayed fully accelerated into marriage and family, and we're still, you know, just dumb writer guys talking about Sean William Scott movies all the time.
So I think inherently that was a part of it, and it’s true. That wild feeling of the friends you saw fall down two flights of stairs having two children—is thoroughly bizarre.
RG: Yeah, my high school friend group still texts, but they all kind of became the cartoon version of who you assume they would become. The guy who wasn't great at sports, but tried hardest at sports is now a cop. The guy who was the biggest alcoholic of the group ended up becoming a marine and a military contractor. And it's so weird to see that.
But with the script itself, we were in the middle of quarantine so I was doing a lot of self-reflection on my life and where I am now compared to where I was coming out of high school—or out of college, where we last left the American Pie guys.
And I definitely put things from my real life onto characters, in assumption that it's very possible they would be going through a thing like this at this point in their life.
JS: In terms of the script, how long was it from the conversation that started it to having a final pdf you were publishing on the internet?
CS: I think it was exactly 11 months. Ray texted me in July of 2020, so truly the worst time for a lot of us. Post George Floyd. The novelty of quarantine gone. No joy, no fun, no seeing friends… and then I just get a text from Ray that says, "Do you wanna write an American Pie movie where Stifler's mom dies?"
That was the text almost verbatim. [Laughs] And I said immediately, "Of course."
JS: Ray, did the idea come to you fully formed?
RG: No, I was at a park and for some reason, just thinking about the American Pie movies, and thinking, "It's a shame that Reunion might be the last we ever get." And my brain was just searching for ideas: if you were to do the next chapter of American Pie, what would it be? What would be the force that brings everybody back together?
And that's where I was like, "Oh! Stifler's mom could die. And it could be a funeral and everybody has to come for that." And immediately, as Conor said, I texted him and spent the rest of the time in the park just throwing ideas at each other.
JS: What park?
RG: It was like the backside of Griffith Park by the train.
JS: Beautiful space… why were you thinking of American Pie?
RG: [Laughs] I think about American Pie often?
CS: Yeah. We might be the two people that love that franchise sincerely the most. People used to mock us for loving it, but we never let go of the sincerity of how much those movies mean to us. Especially Pie, Pie 2, and Reunion.
RG: Yeah. I had just done a rewatch of the four movies, and we were at the park with our dog, and I was like, "How would there be another American Pie movie?” Because Reunion is just so good.
JS: And Conor was the person to text because you guys already had this background about it?
RG: Yeah. It was like, "If I'm gonna do this, I want to do it with my friend who I know loves and cares about this franchise just as much as me.” And it was so much more fun to write it with Conor than it would have been to write it on my own.
We had weekly phone calls. And it was always just laughing and talking about ideas, and I was fucking applying to grad schools and taking the GREs over COVID. This was my bright creative joy that I got to partake in every week or every other week, so it was really special.
CS: Yeah, it was very much escapism. Things were so stressful and sad, and we weren't trying to write an “American Pie in Quarantine” movie. We were just getting to be like "Actually, what movie would we wanna see next?"
JS: So... I don't wanna be the person at the party who's like, "You genuinely like American Pie? What the fuck?"But I wanna better understand why it's so important to both of you.
CS: It's important to note—Ray and I are both pop-punk kids. I was all Greenday all the time.
RG: I definitely appreciated the soundtracks. I loved them, but by the time I was really watching American Pie, my favorite bands were ska.
CS: There's a little ska in the soundtracks. I don't think it ever made the releases. But I think for us, being middle schoolers when the first couple movies came out, it was like Fast Times in the 80s, American Graffiti in the 70s. This was the teen movie that everyone was talking about.
And we all wanted to see it to see boobs and the cum jokes, but those two movies are almost devastatingly sweet and sincere. They're very charming, not cruel, all the characters love each other. The foursome's quest for sex isn't horny. It's more scared.
They're scared of falling behind. They're not four creepy horn-dogs fucking everything in sight. They're these guys who are essentially terrified of sex and intimacy. And the movies kind of chart their growth into full-fledged humans. Even Stifler becomes a more admirable, charming person as he's humbled by life beating him down.
RG: He's still very much of a shit-head in the second movie, but at the beginning of it, Stifler even makes sure to communicate to a woman that he is asking for consent. It's very responsibly done, which is sweet and nice because as a rewatch, at this point in our lives, you're like "This can't hold up." And it does in a lot of ways.
CS: Yeah, Dude Where's My Car? is almost 80% trans jokes, and American Pie 2 literally has Stifler asking a woman for consent. They are so different and it really makes me mad when people simplify those genres and say they're the same.
There are movies that aged horribly and are junk. But I think American Pie movies have a lot to say about being a teenager. And American Pie 2 is the most honest movie about high school friends groups sort of disintegrating after going to college. There aren't a lot of teen movies about that phenomenon.
RG: Yeah, a big thing for me in the movies I hung onto growing up is just positive male relationships. This is a group of guys who support each other and are there for each other, and there's not necessarily a lot of machismo, even if the movie does revolve around sex. The important part is their friendships. The sex pact is because they want to carry each other across the finish line so to speak.
JS: When did the Stiflers sort of become the heart of the franchise?
CS: 3. Because that's the one where half the cast isn't in the movie. So they have less to focus on. And 3 is by far the weakest of the films. I think it's almost useless.
RG: I like it more than that.
Conor: There's an amazing Jim's dad and Michelle sequence, which we tried to mirror in our script by making them scene partners. And then there is some really sweet Stifler stuff that I just think Reunion does so much better.
RG: I think Sean William Scott's career was breaking out at that moment, and he became very close with the director. A rumor is that they rewrote a bunch of the movie to make it more Stifler-focused.
JS: Do you think there’s anything to him being just a more interesting or meaty character? Or was it really just "He's friends with the director and he's getting famous, so we'll push it that way."
CS: In Wedding, it was absolutely the latter. He's pretty awful in Wedding. It’s the movie that people think the American Pie movies are. He’s doing a higher voice, he's horny, he's always looking for boobs, there's no calming force of the friends in that movie. I think Kevin has four lines. Ray and I once did a count, and it was under ten. And he's in every scene.
RG: As far as the franchise goes, Stifler is very compelling because he has such an arc. He's kind of not one of the main friends, and they're making clear that they kind of use him.
But in Stifler's mind, he is one of the main friends. So it’s interesting to look at it that way and see where he's at in the first one to where he ends up in Reunion.
In American Pie 2, they invite him so they can use his money. And he gets them in trouble, but he also always kinda wants to be there. You can tell that he's dealing with shit, and he's like a guarded character and that's why he is the Stifler persona. Or at least that's what I'm putting onto him.
So it makes it really sweet by the end of Reunion to see that he genuinely does care about everybody, and he has the "I'm your dick” moment which is really sweet and nice.
JS: Was Kevin always the saddest character?
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
Conor: We realized while we were writing it that he's always been the one mired the most in nostalgia. Pie 2 really hammers this home because he's the only one who doesn't really have fun at college.
He's completely absent in Wedding, even though he's in every scene. And then in Reunion, his plot isn't really that important, but it is about nostalgia. It’s about his ex Vicky and whether or not something will happen. So he clearly hasn't let go of the past. And I think that's something we were very much excited about
He's kind of the main guy in 1, and then he gradually has less to do over the movies. And we found that to be kind of sad in its own right. Everyone else went on to live full lives.
RG: He's the reason the pact happened. And then in 2, he's the one who gets everybody together for the summer at the beach because he feels like his friends are drifting apart. He’s very much trying to hold on to this thing. And in each of the movies, minus Wedding because that's Jim's wedding, he's trying to hold it all together.
JS: It's really haunting to remember when somebody in high school would be referencing American Pie and do a "Here's to the next step,” but then the older we got, the more that nostalgia that we wanted to emulate felt worse or more complicated. It can't just be a net good.
CS: That goes back to the thing of growing up with friends that are moving on at different rates. It's hard for me to talk about girl trouble with my friend who has two kids. It feels silly; it feels childish to be like, "I don't know if she likes me," and then they're already having to barter for the right preschool or kindergarten. Nostalgia becomes a lot trickier when there's so many other elements that are coming between these people.
JS: Absolutely. So I know that you say this project came from play and from joy, but the thing that I texted Ray when I read it was: this was an amazing, fun read, but it also feels very commercial, like money in the bank. They should pay you for this script now.
Why not do a stunt spec, in the vein of Seinfeld 9/11? You clearly did work to make sure this was a sellable version. How and why?
RG: We talked about this a lot, and we really wanted to honor the franchise. We wanted to write what our genuine version of the movie would be, and write it the way that we thought that it would exist if it were made. Rather than write the version where, halfway through, they're at like Pauly Shore's house.
CS: I think we wanted it to be a stunt spec. I think we thought—we'll write this in a month, and it'll be out. But as we started talking, we got so excited about living in the world. Almost to a fault. We spent so much time trying to cultivate this really rich, solid script. And we slowly realized, if we had shat this out in August 2020, A lot more people would have seen it. It would have been bad, though.
CS: Like, we could have gotten a writing job from writing the junk version of this, but then writing the good version of this disappears into the ether. But to us, it just felt more important personally to—years down the line, if someone sees this and sees that we really cared about this— it's more important than getting the junk version out fast.
JS: Did you have a North star? The most important thing to get right?
RG: Each character almost had a North star. We knew that Michelle wanted to feel like Jim's dad, and take that torch and have that bond with him. We knew that we wanted Stifler to process trauma, and get through this and come out on the other end of losing his mother. We knew that we wanted sad Kevin.
CS: We wanted the Milf Guys to finally fuck Stifler's mom. And I’m a humongous Jason Biggs fan, but I really wanted him to be the quieter backbone of one of these movies. He's already gone through so much shit that it would be nice if he was just there for the ride for one of these.
So we didn't want him to have too much. The opening sequence is like the tip of the hat to old physical Jim stuff. But for the rest of the movie, we didn't want him to be the focal point. He's married, he has a kid, he loves his life. He doesn't have the bumbling nature he used to have. We wanted there to be growth there.
JS: So you started with the characters, and then plot came from that?
CS: Those original texts were very much just "This is what they'd be doing."
RG: "We think Oz would be doing this. Finch would be living this kind of life."
JS: Did they all feel inevitable or were there any where you were diametrically opposed?
CS: Oh, I don't think there was a single opposition between to us.
CS: It always ended up being like "Yup! That sounds good to me!" [Laughs]. Because we know this franchise so intimately that we were making group decisions without consulting each other. It was very crazy how in sync we were with figuring that stuff out.
JS: So it opens with Stifler about to have sex with Becca, a woman that he employs who is roughly 15 years his junior. That's obviously exactly the type of thing Stifler would do, and so I understand not shying away from it. But it's also something that societally, we know can be a really bad thing. How did you thread the needle of "We need to be honest about who Stifler is, and maybe have him do some fucked up stuff?”
CS: Well, one thing that's kind of important to note is that Stifler doesn't really have sex in the movies until the fourth one. He's a very low status character in Wedding and especially Reunion because he faded. We wanted to show that he kind of has his life together at the beginning of this one. He owns this company, he's moving on with his life, but there's still a part that he hasn't let go of, which is that old Stifmeister vibe. I think we knew he was grown up enough to not be a full creep.
RG: Yeah, and I think we knew in writing we wanted to protect him a little bit. When you're writing it as two people as opposed to one, it's a lot easier to be like “Hey, does this cross that line?" And have that conversation before anybody else gets to read it.
CS: We also knew we had Stifler's dad in the picture later who was going to make Stifler look like a saint. So it was okay for us to be like, “He can do something a little weird and creepy, but it does feel natural to the character." As opposed to Stifler's dad who is a pure scumbag.
RG: And with Becca in particular, we knew we wanted him to be dating a young female version of himself, for him to then evolve out of that at the end.
JS: And one of the things I love about it is that every single character has their own arc. We see Becca's arc. It really feels like everyone is so fully formed. And I keep coming back to Kevin’s sadness. I wrote a note where the stripper bumps into him after he had a lap dance and blurts out, "Sorry, I can't afford a second!”
I think that's the saddest point in the whole movie for me in a really delicious and terrible way. It was gut wrenching. It didn't just make me cringe. It made me feel sad in a way like when I was 14 and at the end of Alpha Dog, you find out they're gonna kill him? I was in a pit of despair. And that one Kevin line made me feel the same way. So congratulations to both of you on that.
CS: Yeah, there's a couple Anton Yelchin lines in Alpha Dog near the end that are so heartbreaking.
RG: A lot of Kevin in this is coming from feelings I was having over COVID in general. This guy's trying to get his life together and get back on his feet, and trying to use his friends to catapult him into something new. But they're already like so far ahead of him in life. So it would have to be almost a slingshot if you're gonna physicalize it, where he has to reach up and pull himself forward by the small twigs that are his friends.
JS: That was a really great extended metaphor.
CS: It's funny how we each found very specific characters that wound up being our mouth pieces for what we were going through during this. I feel like I really had a lot of fun with Stifler's anger. Ray was a lot better at writing the true blue Stifler gag lines, and I feel like I was dealing with Stifler as this raw bundle of angry nerves.
JS: Were you going through anything like what Stifler was going through? What anger were you translating into it?
CS: I think people condescend to Ray and I about what we like because we like things that a lot of our peers think are silly or disposable. A lot of people think we're being ironic when we say we like the American Pie movies, or we wrote an American Pie movie. I don't think anyone thought for a second that we were being sincere.
And there's something kind of heartbreaking about Stifler trying to get his life together, but everyone still keeps trying to treat him like this idiot, this man child. You know, I can make my bed every morning and still listen to Boston ska punk. I can take care of my life and like childish things at the same time.
JS: That adds yet another layer to my appreciation of this screenplay. The way that we communicate with others about things they’re passionate about is—I think—a really, really big problem in both the world right now, and the age that we're at.
So not only is this script great, but it's important. [Laughs]
RG: [Laughs] Thank you for recognizing that.
JS: Thank you for helping me recognize it. To me, this feels more like a conclusion than I think anything I've seen in the American Pie franchise. Were you trying to write a conclusion versus a continuation?
RG: A little bit of both. I think that's what got us to want to involve Jim's kid, Evan. Because we wanted to kind of conclude and wave goodbye to the core group as they sail off into their adult lives, and know that they're gonna be okay. But we also wanted to leave the door open for the next generation.
Every generation, no matter where we are as far as the climate of sexuality and being a horny teenager, there's always going to be that feeling when you're that age of going through those things and starting to feel things in your body, and having these friends you don't know if you'll be friends with forever. So we did want to create a story based off of Jim's kid to set up a world where, if the story were to continue, you could follow Evan and his group of friends as they go through their version of growing up.
CS: But at the same time, we put in a line towards the end kinda calling out a lot of bad sequel reboot culture, which is just the kids of the originals living the same lives. Natasha Lyonne's character says, "What are you gonna have a kid who looks just like you, doing the same things you did?" And then we just have Evan walk by in the background.
But we also tried to make Evan's embarrassment it's own thing. Instead of causing him shame, it actually brings him success. There's popularity instead of scorn for what he goes through.
JS: I think part of the reason this felt like such a conclusion is because we're seeing them become the age that roughly Jim's dad was in American Pie. It feels like closing the loop on all of the arcs that we've had over the course of the franchise. But it's also true that they're just becoming the age that I’m around right now.
So do I just think the loop is closed now, but in 20 years—whatever point of life I’m in—will I feel like I'm ready for whatever the next American Pie movie is? And/or will you feel like you're ready for the next movie?
CS: You're making it sound like, in a way, one of my other favorite franchises, the Richard Linklater Before series. Every 9 years, we see Jesse and Celine. But I feel as strongly about both franchises! I do think using the title American Funeral is an ender. I can't think off the top of my head where you go after a funeral.
RG: The hard part is, speaking of colossal franchises, that after where we are in life, the next logical step has already been done by another franchise and that's Grown Ups.
RG: It just turns into Grown Ups at a certain point, I think.
CS: Well yeah, they have a lake house... they have a group of guys who come back for a funeral... oh my GOD, we just stole Grown Ups! [Laughs] Oh no!
JS: Holy shit. [Laughs] It was a prequel the whole time!
RG: Jim turns into Adam Sandler and that's why they call him Adam Sandler in American Reunion! Oh no!
CS: We ripped off Grown Ups. We should be arrested.
RG: I've never seen a Grown Ups movie. I'm gonna say that.
JS: I don't actually think you ripped off Grown Ups.
CS: I mean, look. Ray and I just want American Pie to be Marvel and Star Wars. Like, we would love to go do a movie about Oz and Heather's life because Ray and I are the biggest Oz and Heather fans on God's green earth.
We both got teary eyed separately, seeing American Reunion where they slow dance to Bic Runga's Sway again, the song they lost their virginity to. I was getting really choked up, I told that to Ray, and he said, "Yeah, I did too."
JS: So this is absolutely not the end is what you're saying. If given the opportunity, you would continue writing for these characters for the rest of your lives.
CS: Also, we bend the rules pretty hard. This movie ends with astral projection sex. We bent them enough that maybe new things could happen.
But yeah, we did think a lot about "Who's gonna be around for the next one?" And that's why we wanted to have a real loop close with Jim's dad, giving him two or three really big final torch passing moments which Jim and Michelle. That was very important to us.
RG: So if Universal Studios were like, "Yes, you guys can make American Pie movies until you die," we would definitely do that.
And Conor touched on the point about stunt scripts, the Seinfeld 9/11 stuff. We did take a few swings at times where we were like, "Oh these are things that are built into the franchise." Like Finch wanting to do tantric sex, that would could expand into a thing that would feel more stunt scripty, like the astral projection at the end. Or the dog barking and translating to "Milf." Those were all things that felt close enough to the franchise in earnest that we could take the swings.
CS: Right. We got really deep and emotional just so we could have a scene where Finch and Matthew Lillard spray each other with cum.
And yet, Sternal Journalists, even that last moment is deep and emotional. If you’ve made it this far, what are you waiting for? Go take a gander at American Funeral, and then check out more of their work at https://www.conorbait.com and https://www.raygordonwrites.com.
“Cat Daddy.” Song. I was listening to DJ Felli Fell’s “Get Buck In Here” earlier this week and thought, “Are there any songs out there as good as this one?!” So I googled “Songs like ‘Get Buck in Here’” and was reminded of this brilliant hyphy anthem from 2011.
“Equilibrium.” Art Show. I spent the weekend in Atlanta (hence listen to “Get Buck in Here”) with countless dear friends, and a couple of them took me to a way-too-cool-for-school-in-a-good-way art show. If you’re in Atlanta, it’s open Tuesday and Sunday at FreeMarket Gallery. Buy the painting by Tanner Wilson for me.
Grapes. Fruit. Man, I had some grapes tonight and they were so bomb. Go buy yourself some of the big green ones and enjoy your week with them! You’re welcome!
And that’s all, folks! Until next week, sending all the love!