Parodying oversized action flicks and sharply mocking the political landscape in the contentious and anxiety-ridden mid-2000s, South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker—along with screenwriter Pam Brady and hundreds of puppets—brought us Team America: World Police. Here are some facts about the movie that nearly made the pair swear off moviemaking altogether.
1. THE 1960S PUPPET SHOW THUNDERBIRDS WAS AN INSPIRATION.
Stone and Parker were not fans of the show growing up, but when they rediscovered it as adults they quickly recognized its comedic potential. Shortly after that, they read about the sale of the script for the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. "And we were like, 'That's genius. That would be the best puppet movie ever made,'" Parker told The Boston Globe.
2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE A DIRECT PARODY OF THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.
Then their lawyers explained how much of a potential legal disaster that would be.
3. IT'S A GENERAL TAKE ON JERRY BRUCKHEIMER'S MOVIES.
In developing the movie, Parker and Stone repeatedly found themselves asking one another what Bruckheimer—the producer behind such action movies as Con Air, Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, and Top Gun—would have the characters do or say in each scene. Stone, Parker, and Brady studied Top Gun, plus Alien and S.W.A.T., and read Joseph Campbell to help them write their script.
4. THE CITIES WERE MADE IN ONE-THIRD SCALE.
In order to create the Team America world, Stone and Parker brought in architect David Rockwell—designer of the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre, several W Hotels, and the Nobu restaurants—as a visual consultant, as well as production designer Jim Dultz (Muppets Tonight). The movie was filmed in a Culver City, California warehouse.
5. THE PUPPETS WERE 22 INCHES TALL.
6. MATT DAMON’S PUPPET LOOKED WEIRD.
Matt Damon was made into an idiot in the film because his puppet, Parker and Stone noted, didn’t look like him. The creators apologized to Damon, who the two are friendly with. The actor later said he thought their portrayal of him was “brilliant.”
7. MICHAEL MOORE WAS STUFFED WITH HAM.
The skulls of the exploding puppets were loaded with latex, rubber, blood, and dried fruit or meat. Michael Moore got ham. Matt Stone didn’t appreciate Moore’s editing of Bowling for Columbine, in which Stone appeared.
8. HANS ZIMMER WAS HAPPY THAT SOMEONE WAS MAKING FUN OF HIS ACTION FILM MUSIC.
According to Parker and Stone, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer—who has scored a number of action movies over the past several decades, including many of Jerry Bruckheimer's films—said he hoped Team America would “put the stake through the heart of this genre.”
9. IT WAS CLOSE TO GETTING AN NC-17 RATING BECAUSE OF THE PUPPET SEX.
10. STONE NEVER WORKED HARDER IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
Stone and Parker worked 14 hours a day from May through September, taking just one day—July 4th—off. For a time, three units were shooting at the same time. The two didn’t see the final, complete cut from beginning to end until after it had already been screened in some theaters.
11. A STUDIO EXECUTIVE THOUGHT PARKER AND STONE HAD SCREWED THEM OVER.
The opening scene starts with a very cheap replica of the Eiffel Tower, and an equally poorly constructed puppet. When Paramount executives first saw the footage, one executive exclaimed, “Oh, god, they f*cked us!” The film's $32 million budget was spent largely on the remainder of the movie. Parker, Stone, and producer Scott Rudin waived their fees, which totaled $7 million, to help get the movie made.
12. GEORGE CLOONEY AND ALEC BALDWIN WERE FANS.
Clooney was a South Park fan from way back, but Parker and and Stone didn’t inform him that he was going to be made fun of in their movie. Clooney didn't mind: "Trey and Matt are still friends of mine," the actor told Empire magazine. "Remember, I helped get their show on the air."
Alec Baldwin thought the movie was funny, even though his daughter’s classmates would tell him “You are useress to me, Arec Bardwin” like Kim Jong-il in the movie. Stephen Sondheim, Russell Crowe, and Elton John also loved it.
13. SEAN PENN WAS NOT A FAN.
Sean Penn wrote a letter to Parker and Stone, expressing his outrage with the movie, and the letter quickly went viral. Which thrilled the filmmakers. "We read the letter and it was like okay, well, he seems to be pissed off. But there’s no single thing he could have done to help this movie more," said Parker. "Now we’re on the front page of everything again. It’s like, you go to Drudge Report, big picture of Team America, Sean Penn’s letter, and I’m just like, 'Thanks.' I mean, we’re seriously like, 'Dude, thank you.'"
14. THE NORTH KOREAN EMBASSY TRIED TO BAN THE FILM IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC.
The Czech Foreign Ministry claimed the North Koreans were denied the request.
15. STONE SAID MAKING THE MOVIE WAS "THE WORST TIME" OF HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
He also claimed that he would never make another movie with Parker again because of all of the stress he had been through. Parker said that if someone threatened to kill his family, he still wouldn’t make another puppet movie. Parker and Stone are currently writing the movie adaptation to their hit musical The Book of Mormon.