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STRANGE WILDERNESS

Wilderness So Strange
"It is estimated that the faster a shark swims, the more distance he covers in a given period of time.” – Peter Gaulke, Host of TV's "Strange Wilderness”

"Strange Wilderness” began its life nearly a decade ago as a series of independently produced short videos by former "Saturday Night Live” writers Fred Wolf and Peter Gaulke. "They started out as little parodies of wildlife shows,” explains writer and producer Gaulke. "Fred and I went out and shot them with the help of John Burrud, who actually has a real-life wildlife show. His father Bill used to host ‘Animal World' and other travel and nature shows back in the ‘60s. So John helped us produce these little shorts which we eventually got onto Comedy Central.”

A few years later, Gaulke came up with the idea of making a feature film based on an absurdly inept wildlife show host, for which he and Wolf wrote a script.

"Peter and I have been writing set piece comedy for years,” says writer and director Wolf. "We've done stand-up together; we've written TV shows together and worked on ‘Saturday Night Live' together. "

Getting their first movie made proved to be a big challenge – until they received the support of one of Hollywood's biggest comedy stars. The duo went as far as to shoot a version of "Strange Wilderness” on video to show potential backers. "We had some good screenings of that, and we had a lot of people interested in making it into a TV show,” says Wolf. "But not too many people wanted to make it into a movie until Adam Sandler and his producing partner Jack Giarraputo read the script. As soon as those guys stepped in, it was just a totally different world. Suddenly we knew what it was like to get our phone calls answered.”

Happy Madison, Sandler's production company, brought the project to Level 1 Entertainment, with whom they had previously produced the 2006 comedy "Grandma's Boy.” Paul Schwake, Level 1's chief operating officer, fell in love with the script immediately: "It's funny from start to finish. It's got great pacing and a lot of funny jokes. You're following these guys on their adventure to find something really absurd and seeing what happens to them along the way.”

"This species is extremely rare and can only be found in two places on earth: The Northern and Southern Hemisphere.” – Peter Gaulke

"This movie wouldn't have been the same without the cast we had,” says Gaulke. "We were really lucky. I think they sort of came out of the woodwork when they heard the name Adam Sandler. It definitely helped us get the script read by actors.”

"Originally it was going to be the journey of two guys and a couple of their crew members,” adds Wolf. "When it became an ensemble comedy, I think it made it easier to get more comedy in. We got some great actors in the movie and they brought it to life. We write our little scribbles and then the next thing you know they're reading it and getting laughs. ”

At the center of the film is Steve Zahn ("Daddy Day Care,” "National Security”), who plays the accidental host of his late father's wildlife show, a character named after co-creator Peter Gaulke. "Getting Steve Zahn was a big deal,” says Schwake. "He's funny; he's got great comedic timing. He's vulnerable, but he's got enough spirit to lead the rest of the group through their adventure.”

Zahn was Gaulke and Wolf's first choice, but the actor was in the midst of his own "strange wilderness” when the part was being cast. "He was in Vietnam shooting a Werner Herzog film and I guess Herzog is sort of famous for, like, living in tents, and no craft services and all that sort of stuff,” says Gualke. "His agent got him the script somehow, but he had it for a solid month and couldn't read it.”

Picking up the story, Zahn recalls: "

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