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Altered State Police: An Oral History of 'Super Troopers'

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Stolhanske: The powdered-sugar moment! That was part of the fun of it. Writing that joke and then going on set to watch it come to life.

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Heffernan: The scene where I pull a car over and I call the people chickenfuckers? Those are my parents in the car. They said, "Can we be in the movie?" I said, "Yeah, you do this part." I didn't tell them what it was and we did like 25 takes with me calling my parents chickenfuckers, which was a fun day.

Soter: We still laugh about what a good sport Brian Cox ("Captain O'Hagan") was but, at the same time, he was sleeping in a van during night shoots. Somebody walked in on him in the shitter once because there were no locks on the doors. 

Heffernan: There were plenty of other days where you would look over and see Brian Cox and you would catch him gazing off into the distance with that,"What the fuck am I doing?" look on his face.

Soter: He saw the spirit of what we were up to and he saw that it was just a bunch of buddies doing this thing together and the family aspect of it. I like to think that was charming enough to satisfy him. It's a miracle that he didn't snap the way that he deserved to have snapped. It was bush league all the way around.

Stolhanske: Part of the fun we like to have is that we write jokes for each other. For example, having Kevin jump over the burger counter. We always thought, "Ah, that'd be funny," and Kevin would roll his eyes. It's our way of being comfortable in the fact that we've known each other for so long that we can make fun of each other without hurting anyone's feelings.

Soter: Anything that has any sincerity or any kind of romantic notions to it is the part that we're like, "I hope people don't barf during this part of the movie."

"I'm coming back! It's killing!"
Chandrasekhar: At the 2001 Sundance festival, I ran into Harvey in a bar about 45 minutes before the Super Troopers premiere. I said, "Come on. You developed this movie. You've got to come see it. It turned out great." He said, "I would love to, but I've got a meeting at midnight. If I come to your movie and people see me walk out, you're not selling the damn thing." I said, "Well, I don't care. Harvey, I want you to buy the thing. Watch what you can. We'll put you in the back and you can sneak out." He said, "In Sundance, there's no sneaking out for me." I said, "Come on!" So he comes to the movie and everybody sees him there and they're all looking around. When Harvey Weinstein comes to your movie at Sundance, it's a big deal. It could be huge. 

We screen the movie at 11:30 at night and that crowd was high and they were drunk. It was a very friendly crowd. You could tell there was excitement in the air. So I thought, "We’ll get through the opening and see what happens." Very quickly the laughs started to come and by the middle of that opening, it was like people were going to rip the seats out. It was just this explosion of laughter and energy that you couldn’t deny. It was fantastic. 

Sure enough, at five-to-midnight, Harvey walks out and sees me loitering around in the lobby. He goes, "I'm coming back! It's killing!" And he leaves. The guy did us the biggest favor. With 15 minutes left to go in the film, he comes back in, slides back into his seat, and at the end of the screening there's this excitement. He comes up to me and says, "I'm going to do you a favor. Come meet me at the bar." We met up at the bar for last call and had a drink with him. When people saw us hanging around with Harvey after that movie, the other studios were like, "Oh, shit. We'd better fucking get on this." He created a market for the film basically by shadow play. He didn't even see the middle of the movie. He said, "When you hang out with me, you'll sell your movie." It went as well as it could possibly go.

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Lemme:  At Sundance, a bunch of Utah State Police heard about the movie and they came to the second screening. Afterwards, they were like, "Oh my God. You captured it." Usually in movies, either cops are portrayed as dicks or they're just idiots. They said, "You actually captured what it's like to be a police officer. We play all those games when we're bored." 

Heffernan: I don't ever think there was a moment where we were like, "Holy shit!" It was such a slow burn for that movie. We were super excited when we sold it and super excited at how widely Fox Searchlight distributed it, but we never expected any of what happened later. 

Soter: Its initial run was okay by the standards of the size of that movie and the fact that there was nobody in it. Everybody was more or less pleased, but at the same time there was some disappointment that it wasn't this breakout hit. So then we kind of settled into what do we do next? It was probably a year and a half until we started going out into the world and having people approach us in pretty considerable numbers. 

Heffernan: It's pretty awesome because we definitely didn't expect it. I think until we started going out and touring and doing live comedy, I don't even know if we appreciated how far the reach was of how many people love Super Troopers, until you go and you meet the people. We made this little movie for a million bucks, and we scratched and clawed to get it made — and now it's in the cult-classic pantheon of comedy movies. It's exciting to know that, at least when you get your obituary, you'll have something there that people will recognize.

Lemme: It was really the DVD thing. It caught on and, all of a sudden, years after the film came out people were starting to recognize us and talk about the movie a lot. That’s when it really blew up.

Heffernan: It did good in theaters, but it was definitely a DVD/home video type of movie and hit at just the right moment in time. That was when it became a huge hit for Fox Searchlight. On DVD, it was making the equivalent of their biggest blockbusters. They were pretty happy.

Lemme: I think it's that way with comedy in general. People need to watch it many times. It's one of those things where it's just in the DVD player and going in the background while they party. And then, one day, they're like, "I've seen this movie 50 times. Let's take it out of the DVD player." Or it's the thing they keep watching throughout their high school or college years.

Heffernan: You realize that it's also being passed down. It makes me feel a little old, but we'll go and do shows and there will be a ton of college kids at the shows that discovered the movies. It's really cool to see.

Stolhanske: I've heard a lot of people say, "If those guys can do it, then we can do it!" I think our film has an accessibility that shows that a group of friends can get together and make a film.

Soter: In reality, the movie was written over a process of us just spending years together smoking grass and drinking beers and trying to crack each other up. We've come to realize that, somehow through some sort of osmosis, the sense of a bunch of guys hanging out really ended up on the screen — and really became the way that it should be consumed. If you talk to anyone now, when they describe watching the movie, it's always some sort of communal party-like situation, which is great.

Heffernan: We went on to win a Stony Award, man. High Times magazine gave us a Stony.

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"Do you have any idea how fast you were…Super Troopers!"
Chandrasekhar: There's all this stuff that's done with computers and trying to figure out what people like and what type of people like what kind of thing. You can predict who, in different environments, is going to be one of our fans. If you go to Whole Foods, the only people that will stop you are the checkout counter people or butcher group. At sporting events, like Dodgers games, it's like we're Brad Pitt. People who drink love us. As you get into anybody over 40 or 45, they really just don't have a clue. It's just a generational thing.  

Lemme: Kevin and I do a live standup comedy tour and our shows are sold out with these Broken Lizard fans. A lot of them come dressed in costumes. Routinely we have police officers and people dressed as police officers in our crowd.

Chandrasekhar: We were on the road doing live shows and I think we were in Ohio. I stayed in the van. The other guys went into a Burger King and, as there often is, there was a bit of excitement. At this time, one woman hadn't seen Super Troopers but all her co-workers had. So she approaches the guys and says, "You guys did that movie. That cop movie. Oh wow. That's cool. I'm such a big fan. We're all big fans." And then she says, "So where's the black guy who makes all those noises?" [Laughs] Again with the Police Academy! They all said, "Oh, he's in the van." 

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