Reefer Rewind is a Grow series that takes a closer look at some of the best stoner films of all time and provides random factoids about the cult favourites.
Around 20 years ago, Half Baked showed up on my VCR and things were never the same again.
Like most, I discovered the film well after it was released on the silver screen. It didn’t last long in theatres and like so many other stoner films it was a complete flop at the box office. Even CNN proclaimed after its release that Dave Chappelle’s career was over.
The question is have you seen Half Baked?
“But have you seen it, on weeeed?”
Chappelle wanted to make a weed movie so he pitched it to Universal who loved the idea. The problem was that Chappelle brought on his friend Neal Brennan, who was completely unaware they were even making a movie.
Usually, these things take years to develop, but not Half Baked. Chappelle pitched the film in February, with zero script written, and they were rolling film by July.
Even though the movie has gone on to become a cult classic, Brennan disliked the final cut. The vision he had for the film sort of took a backseat to what director Tamra Davis and Universal wanted. Once Half Baked got into production, people stopped listening to Brennan and Chappelle’s ideas, resulting in a film that was not what they pictured. Brennan said it now looks like a “weed movie for kids,” when they wanted it to be a weed version of Larry Clark’s Kids.
What makes the film tick though is the cast. Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Díaz, Harland Williams, and Jim Breuer are the stoners who carried the film. But it’s the cameos from Tracy Morgan, Jon Stewart, Tommy Chong, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Janeane Garofalo, and Bob Saget that also provide the constant giggles.
Some of the characters that were created were based on real-life people Chappelle knew including “the guy on the couch.” That role was inspired by a friend of Chappelle’s who constantly crashed on his couch while he and Brennan toiled away at writing the screenplay. In the film, the role of the Guy went to comedian Steven Wright.
Another tidbit you may not have known is that although the story takes place in New York, it was actually filmed in Toronto. The exterior where Kenny (Harland Williams) is locked up is Toronto’s R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, the same facility that was used as the Elsinore Brewery in 1983’s Strange Brew.
Also, the prop and colour design of the apartment where our favourite stoners live was inspired by the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal Recording Studios. The connection makes sense, considering Davis was married to Mike D of the Beastie Boys.
Believe it or not, no real pot was smoked on set. Davis ran a professional set and so instead of weed, actors smoked a tobacco-based substitute to stand in for marijuana in the film (though there are some rumours that the scene with Snoop Dogg featured the real deal).
That also included Jim Breuer, which is kind of hard to believe. However, Breuer kept things pro except for one time. In one of this stand-up comedy specials, he talks about how one day he was dismissed from filming and decided to get high in his trailer after a hard day’s work.
Suddenly, a PA knocks on the door and says he has to go back to set to shoot one more scene. Tony Award-winning actor Clarence Williams III (Samson Simpson), who took himself far too seriously, said he was quitting the movie unless they finished all his scenes that day. So, Jim dragged himself to set to say, “sucks to be you, man.”
Apparently, it took many takes.
So although puffing on weed was kept to a minimum on set, many members of the cast and crew kept blocks of the fake medicinal marijuana as a joke after production wrapped.
In the end, there really aren’t a lot of crazy stories when it came to the filming of one of the greatest stoner comedies of all time.
Maybe Chappelle’s original vision wasn’t completely brought to screen, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The original ending of the movie was supposed to be much darker. In it, Thurgood abandoned his girlfriend Mary Jane and jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge after the joint he threw away.
He was supposed to die but luckily the film lives on.