Back in 2000, Road Trip, a movie starring Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott and Tom Green, became a bit of a sensation, making a whole lot of money off of a pretty small budget. Four years later, even though it was a completely different creative team, the raunchy EuroTrip was released in theaters billed as “from the producers of Road Trip.” EuroTrip would wind up having a higher budget and would make considerably less money than Road Trip. (It is actually very difficult to find someone who actually saw EuroTrip in theaters.)
Then a strange thing happened…
Today, EuroTrip – directed by Jeff Schaffer (currently a director and producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm), Alec Berg (executive producer on Silicon Valley), and David Mandel (showrunner of Veep); only Schaffer was allowed a full directing credit – is considered a cult classic, while Road Trip has largely been forgotten. And a huge reason for this is that EuroTrip had a secret weapon that even the filmmaker didn’t quite know they had at the time – a catchy song of betrayal that is played throughout the film called “Scotty Doesn’t Know.”
Early in the film, Scott Thomas (played by Scott Mechlowicz) is dumped by his girlfriend, Fiona (Kristin Kreuk). Later that night at a high school graduation party, Scotty watches his whole life collapse when a garage band singer (still, shockingly, played by Matt Damon) starts performing a song called “Scotty Doesn’t Know” that chronicles, in great detail, the illicit affair between Damon’s singer and Fiona as the two dance, gyrate, and sing the song right there in front of a humiliated Scotty. Matt Damon ends the song by literally screaming and wagging his tongue toward Scotty.
It’s all this that convinces Scotty to head to Europe at the last second with his friends in a quest to find his German pen pal (Jessica Boehrs). While Scotty is in Europe, the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know” becomes an international sensation.
Fourteen years after the film’s release, “Scotty Doesn’t Know” is still an anthem, still played at proms and parties. And, maybe even more absurd, considering the tone of the song, it makes people happy. It’s almost impossible to hear “Scotty Doesn’t Know” and not smile.
Ahead (because why not?) we will take you through the complete history of “Scotty Doesn’t Know” from the perspective of the filmmakers, actors, the band who performed the song, and even a musician who wrote the other version of Scotty Doesn’t Know that wasn’t used in the film and hasn’t been heard until now.
(When I spoke to the filmmakers, they were, let’s say, a little surprised this was going to be the topic of conversation.)
Jeff Schaffer, Director: This is a fantastic use of everyone’s time.
David Mandel, Writer: We thought we were making the movie to come out and be very popular then! It turns out, what we really did, is you wait 20 years and then it’s very popular. So we’re taking it very well.
Schaffer: We did make the movie to be like the movies we used to watch when we were growing up as teenagers – when you’d go to a friend’s house whose parents had an unlocked liquor cabinet.
‘EuroTrip,’ even the parts that were set in the United States, were filmed in Prague. During filming there was a SARS outbreak and the Gulf War was happening and it was difficult to find actors who were willing to fly to Prague for a cameo as the lead singer of the band. But there was a famous actor already there shooting a movie that the three filmmakers had gone to Harvard with.
Schaffer: Here’s what happened. We were shooting this movie in Prague. And it was during the Gulf War and SARS and we had a very limited budget. So we didn’t have the money to fly people from Los Angeles to Prague, nor did people want to get on a plane from Los Angeles to Prague.
Mandel: Even if we had the money, no one wanted to come. It seemed dangerous in some weird way.
Schaffer: So our pool of talented actors was reduced to, “Who’s shooting a movie in Prague right now?” And Matt Damon was shooting The Brothers Grimm in Prague. We were talking with him and his head was shaved because he had to wear a wig for that movie. And he had just stopped smoking so, in his words, he had “swelled up like a tick.” So he was buff. And we were talking to him so we said, hey, we’ve got this thing, would you like to do it? And he’s like, “That sounds fun, I’d love to.” And he was like, “I can do it on so and so day,” which I think was literally June 21, which is the longest day of the year. And, of course, we are shooting a night scene, in Prague, with five hours of darkness.
Mandel: And it hasn’t hurt that Matt has luckily had a career as well. People who don’t know about the movie hear the song or see the scene and can’t believe that’s Matt Damon, which can be very helpful.
As Damon performs, the camera often pans to Scotty, who has what has to be the pure definition of “defeated” written across his face. Scott Mechlowicz, who plays Scotty, adds a critical component to this scene by not overdoing it. The look on his face sums up how we’ve all felt at some point in our lives. That feeling of, “My life is about to go to shit.”
Schaffer: We had a version where Fiona and the lead singer were having sex in the pool house and Scotty was stuck there watching it.
Mandel: There was definitely a version where Scotty got stuck watching them and that kind of just went away in the draft.
Schaffer: But with what we filmed, it was a tricky thing in the edit room, how many times can you go back to him?
Scott Mechlowicz, “Scotty”: Yeah, no need to paint gold. The song spoke for itself. When a certain absurdity level is reached, all you should really do is sit back and witness it.
Schaffer: And, luckily, he gave us a variety of shamed faces. Because you want to hear the whole song, but you have to go back to him for a while. He did a great job.
Mechlowicz: Matt Damon was great. “Scotty Doesn’t Know” follows him around, too. I think in the third Bourne film, if you listen closely, it’s playing in his little covert earpiece as he’s sniping someone. It helps channel his rage. He was there shooting Brothers Grimm with Heath Ledger. They used to go to the same bar on weekends during shooting. When I was first driving out to California for college to be with my girlfriend, I wrote in shoe polish on my rear window “I’m going to see about a girl,” so it was a real treat working together.
In a Reddit AMA, Damon was asked about why he shows up in EuroTrip. Damon responded, “I was in Prague shooting The Brothers Grimm, we were in rehearsals, and I had a wig in that movie, and so Alec and Dave and Jeff were making EuroTrip and they said ‘Will you come play this, you know, [Henry] Rollins kind of insane, bad version of a suburban, you know, punk band guy?’ And I said ‘Yea, I’m in Prague.’ So I showed up and I’m sitting there, and I’m like ‘I’m wearing a wig, just shave my head, let’s just go for it.’ And we did it, and put a bunch of piercings all over. And ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know,’ the song, was actually written by one of my college roommates brothers, and in the band, one of my college roommates is actually in that back up band, Jason, is playing guitar in that group. So it was kind of a family affair.”
So let’s back up a little bit. Where did the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know” actually come from? Who wrote it? Before Matt Damon was up there on stage lip-syncing it, who is actually performing “Scotty Doesn’t Know”? Also, as it turns out, there are two completely different versions of “Scotty Doesn’t Know.”
Schaffer: I remember sitting in the office in Prague and we were trying to write some lyrics. We sort of went back and forth. We knew what the song was supposed to be, which is exactly what it is: it’s a guy singing about sleeping with Scotty’s girlfriend with Scotty’s girlfriend up there in front of Scotty.
Mandel: The guys who wrote the song, the band Lustra, is his backup band. Those are guys, some of which, we went to college with. One is also a brother of a guy we went to college with. And Matt was also at Harvard around the same time and knew some of those guys as well. It was a great day to be a Harvard graduate, so that helps.
Nick Cloutman, Lustra: Our guitar player had gone to school with David and our former guitar player was in the Lampoon with him. They knew about our band and we are looking for this song that has to basically play to the main character through the entire film. So they were like, “Would you guys be interested in taking a stab at it?
Mandel: We were punching up the song lyrics the way we punch up jokes in the script. As far as we were concerned that was dialogue and we wanted it to be as funny as possible, except it had to rhyme a little bit.
Cloutman: I thought they were looking for more subtle innuendos. And they weren’t.
Mandel: Lustra had some good lyrics in there, but because we knew them we could talk to them a little easier and say, “Why don’t we try something like this?”
Schaffer: We weren’t trying to make a catchy song, necessarily. We were trying to make a song that was telling this joke. We were trying to make what’s the most embarrassing thing you could do that could happen to you after graduation?
Cloutman: I already had the annoying riff to the song lying around. I was like, I should do something with this, but I don’t know what. If you can imagine it slowed way, way down, in my head it always sounded like New Order. They were looking for pop-punk in the vein of a lot of music of the day, like Blink-182 or Sum 41. So we wrote for the genre.
Schaffer: In the end, it’s a damn catchy song.
Mechlowicz: I remember the first time I heard it thinking, let me hear it again. It’s like an earwig that burrows into your brain. I think the Soviets used it to Manchurian Candidate people.
Cloutman: We were in competition with another writer.
Mandel: It was a different thing with different lyrics. And it was good! But this was just catchier, to us. I remember, very distinctly, Ivan Reitman and the other producers wanted the other version. And we had to fight a little but because we thought the Lustra version was just musically cooler and we just really liked it.
The other version of “Scotty Doesn’t Know” was performed by Matt Mahaffey of the band sElf. It’s a very different version, with the only similarity being that the phrase “Scotty doesn’t know” is repeated in the chorus. It sounds like a song that could have easily been on the radio back in 2004.
Matt Mahaffey, sElf: I was approached by the filmmakers. An extremely cool, laid back team from my recollection. Someone was apparently a fan of my band, sElf, and thought my sense of humor might work for the song.
Schaffer: I really liked sElf and was very psyched to meet him.
Mahaffey: I was told that it was a punky “cheatin’ song” that was needed, from the point of view of an unabashed cheater. I was briefed about the basic subject matter, names of key characters, and that was it. No real scene context. It was a thirty-minute meeting in the valley, I wrote it in 15 minutes when I got to my studio and was as punky-crude as I could muster.
(You can listen to some of Mahaffey’s “Scotty Doesn’t Know” below.)
Mechlowicz: Oh wow, I never heard this version. There could only be one “Scotty Doesn’t Know.”
Schaffer: And then we didn’t use it. And I realized I would not be getting backstage passes to any sElf concerts. A sacrifice I was willing to make for the movie.
Mahaffey: I was thinking that it had a really good shot, as the filmmakers liked it a lot and were cracking up with each new version we tweaked. Sometimes it’s not that you did a bad job, per se, but simply that you were hired too early on in the process and your work serves as an example of what not to do. The final version, I thought it was a bit more “sing-songy” and worked a lot better in the context of the story after seeing the film.
Schaffer: So we had a recording of the song and Matt Damon in wardrobe. And it wasn’t, “this is going to be a catchy song,” it was, “this is going to be a great scene!”
Mandel: We didn’t have all these pieces together until those five hours on June 21st. There were no rehearsals, no nothing, it was just “let’s go.”
Cloutman: We show up and the stylist was like, “What did you guys bring for clothes?” At some point they were like, “Well, we need something for Matt, too.” So they selected a shirt that I brought. My dad was an art director and ironically made the design for the shirt Matt is wearing that says, “Get off my case.” So I was like, “Yeah, you can totally dress him in my stuff if you want, just make sure I get it back.” So at the end of the scene I watch Matt Damon walk off the set in my shirt and I’m like, “shit.” I mean, I’m not going to be like, “Hey, Matt Damon, can I have my shirt back?” So the running joke is Matt Damon stole my shirt.
Mandel: Matt had learned it. We didn’t record him. His mic wasn’t plugged it. It’s not like there’s a rare Matt Damon track of it. But we sent it to him and he learned it. And obviously the band was the band – they weren’t plugged in either – but they were legitimately playing it. And I think that all helps everything. Just visually, it’s not all actors pretending to play the guitar.
Cloutman: He really went for it at the end when he sticks his tongue out and is like, “Ahhhhhhh!”
Schaffer: A little bit of trivia: the scream at the end, Matt did that big tongue-wagging roar, he didn’t scream when he was doing that. He was just making the face. That scream is actually our music supervisor for the movie, Patrick Houlihan, which we added in post.
Mahaffey: I honestly didn’t know the movie ever came out until I heard “Scotty Doesn’t Know” in a film I happened to be watching one night. I was like, ”Oh! I guess that was EuroTrip!”
‘EuroTrip’ was not a hit movie upon release. But it found a new life on DVD and cable and, kind of crazily, in 2006 Lustra’s “Scotty Doesn’t Know” hit the Billboard Hot 100, two full years after the film’s theatrical release. “Scotty Doesn’t Know” became a song with a life of its own that helped bring ‘EuroTrip’ to the status of “cult favorite.”
Cloutman: One morning I got a call from this writer at Billboard and I was like who is this pranking me? He said we charted on the Hot 100 and we were one of the first unsigned bands, other than Lisa Loeb, to chart independently.
Schaffer: Really? It did?
Mandel: I’m not sure we knew that. No one alerted us to that one.
Cloutman: What happened was we got this overwhelming response from people on MySpace. The fans were ultimately responsible for us charting on Billboard.
Schaffer: You learn something new every day. I’m posthumously happy.
Cloutman: The untold number of Scott’s lives we’ve affected.
Mechlowicz: People quoted the movie from the outset, but it definitely exploded a little later. There was absolutely no social media back then, so it seemed to have caught fire once people were able to share. It’s strange to have a hit movie a little after its release.
Schaffer: Matt even said, “I don’t get it. I was Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan, Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity, and people walk up to me all the time and just go, ‘Scotty doesn’t know!’”
Mandel: With any hope, when Matt Damon dies – and hopefully not for a long time – but when he dies, this is what they lead with. That’s my hope for the legacy. They don’t even mention Good Will Hunting.
Schaffer: At the funeral, Ben Affleck plays this acoustic.
Mandel: Anecdotally I hear from people all the time, “They played it at my kid’s senior prom,” or, “My kid’s band learned to play it.” And that’s just the best thing in the world. In a weird way, that’s what we were setting out to do with the whole movie. Somewhere, some young drunk person is enjoying some form of EuroTrip.
Cloutman: One of the more memorable stories we were approached with, there was this girl, I want to say in the Midwest or Indiana. It was her friend contacting us. She said her friend was in a car with some other people to get pizza and the car got t-boned. This girl was dragged out the car by paramedics and was put on a stretcher and ultimately went into a coma. But as she was slipping into this coma, her phone started ringing and she had the “Scotty Doesn’t Know” ringtone. In her dazed state she started singing along to it. It’s one of those things where you don’t consider you’re going to be attached to something that has this positive meaning for people.
Schaffer: We set out to make a really funny movie that had a cool song in it and it seems like, now, there’s this really cool song that reminds people there’s this really funny movie.
Mechlowicz: We’re all always asked about a sequel. I think everyone is up for it. If people want it, we’ll do it. If there is ever a sequel, you can be assured the first sound you hear in the trailer will be “dananananana dananana dananananananananananana.”
Mandel: Let’s just say Dreamworks has not exactly been demanding one.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.