Q&A: Paul Feig
The "Bridesmaids" director on how he dealt with the movie trailer being trashed -- and spying on an audience opening weekend.
The director of Universal's smash Bridesmaids, which has earned nearly $288 million worldwide, has high hopes that Globes voters will look past the "chick flick" veneer of his movie and see what he sees: a relatable drama, with laughs. Here, the TV vet (Freaks and Geeks) sounds off on Oscars, his friend Judd Apatow and how Twitter saved his movie.
Why do you think comedies aren't more represented during awards season?
What we award in this business tends to be showier. Our movie's tone is very grounded. We also did a lot of stuff off-script to capture lightning-in-a-bottle improv moments that you can't re-create. All of this doesn't afford me much latitude as a filmmaker. With comedy, you just can't get too showy. Nobody loves doing the fun stuff with the camera more than I do, but that's just me showing off and takes people out of the story. It's much harder to figure out the flow and pace of a comedy. With a drama, you don't have the added stress of, 'Don't make them cry too many times.' All of this is why it's so disappointing that comedies don't get more recognition.
What kind of resistance did you encounter when you told people you were directing a "wedding movie?"
Most peoples' eyes glazed over. And when we decided to call it Bridesmaids, that was a huge strike against us. I literally had to spend a year of my life defending it. 'It's really good, I swear! The cast is amazing!' -- there was a lot of dancing around. People looked at me like I had Stockholm syndrome. But there was no lacking in enthusiasm from Universal. Donna Langley was so supportive. Also, having Judd helped, of course. He was the key to everything.
The Globes is the only major awards show to recognize comedy movies in their own category. Do you think there is a perception among Oscar voters that comedies are too lowbrow to contend for the industry's biggest film prize?
There is a crowd-pleasing quality to a movie like ours. We tried hard to get laughs, and I think that's looked upon as "pandering." Period costume films are fun to discover, but they're not relatable. It's more, "Wow, that's cool -- did it really look like that back then?" Whereas with a comedy, you're like, 'Yeah, that's me, that's my friends.' No matter what, I want people to relate.
What's the secret to creating a relatable comedy?
The reason most comedies don't win awards is that the filmmakers put the comedy first. This means you have to create a story around the jokes. Judd works the way I work: Build it like a drama first, then make it funny. I'm convinced that's why our movie did so well. If people hadn't been engaged in Kristen Wiig's character's story -- a woman who was doing well, everything falls part, life beats the shit out of her -- the movie would not have done as well. The movie is not about a wedding.
There was a lot negatively aimed at the film in the weeks leading up to its May release, with Universal taking lot of heat for the trailer. How upset did this make you?
It was like, "Really, ours is the worst trailer ever?" I will admit we had a really hard time trying to figure out what to do with it. The movie's tone was both outrageous but also very emotionally real. But if you highlight those scenes, it's going to just look like another chick flick, so we thought, "Let's go outrageous with the first trailer." It also felt like an unfair personal attack on Kristen, which upset me. But when Nikki Finke offered her mea culpa about dissing the trailer -- albeit still a snarky one -- that was a great moment.
What do you remember most about opening weekend?
Universal had done a great job of setting up word-of-mouth screenings. I like to say that we are the movie that Twitter built. I was online for a solid week watching all the tweets pop up that raved about the movie. Then on opening day, my wife and I had Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben [Falcone] over for dinner, and all these e-mails were coming in about the numbers going up and up. After dinner, we piled in the car and drove to the ArcLight. We stood in one of the theaters and just watched the audience laugh. I was so relieved, and happy.
How hard is it then to see a critical and commercial hit like Bridesmaids still be an underdog during awards season?
You really have to do what we do and not really care about the awards part. I loved Mark Whalberg's performance in The Fighter, but I remember people saying, 'He didn't really do anything.' It was an amazing performance. It's harder to be underplayed. That's why I loved The Fighter: It's a drama, but it's funny and emotionally engaging. That's what every movie -- comedy or drama -- should be.
OK, so you don't really care about awards?
(Laughs) No, no, I do. The awards world can be ridiculous, but I'm not one to bash it. I love awards! When I've been nominated for Emmys and when I won my DGA Award, I couldn't have been happier. I always liked getting a gold star in class.