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Paul Feig Walks Down the Aisle With “Bridesmaids”

Paul Feig Walks Down the Aisle With “Bridesmaids” (photo)

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Paul Feig is nothing if not open. As the author of two wonderfully observed memoirs – “Kick Me,” covering his childhood and “Superstud” chronicling his twenties, with his TV series “Freaks and Geeks” to semi-autobiographically fill in the rest of his early years — he’s let audiences grow up with him. With sharp, self-deprecating wit and warmth, he’s been the best teller of his own story, one that’s led him from an adolescence in Michigan where a respite from constant teasing in junior high was making TV commercials for his father’s hardware store before he eventually took center stage himself to the slings and arrows of being a standup comedian and actor. However, partly out of his considerable humility and just as likely because it would ruin some of his schtick, the one area of his life that hasn’t been as nearly well-documented has been the success he’s found as a director.

Since the demise of “Freaks and Geeks,” Feig has quietly left his fingerprints on many of television’s best shows such as “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Weeds,” “Mad Men,” “Arrested Development” and “Undeclared” (the latter two you may already know we’re fans of), as well as two features, “I Am David” and “Unaccompanied Minors,” that deserved better. That’s why it’s a welcome development that his latest film “Bridesmaids” is loud in many respects.

A brash, occasionally raunchy comedy that belies the messy yet emotionally acute story of a woman coming into her own, it is first and foremost a showcase for its star Kristen Wiig, who with Annie Mumolo wrote the film which places Wiig’s not-coincidentally-named Annie squarely at the crossroads of an uncertain thirties. While everyone around her is easing into comfortable domesticity, Annie has seen her own small bakery business fail and the only thing she’s settled into is a routine of casual sex with a handsome cad (perhaps in the only way a relationship with Jon Hamm could be considered unhealthy) and an untenable living situation with her British roomie (Matt Lucas) and his blustery sis (Rebel Wilson).

Although Annie’s many anxieties are crystallized by her friend’s invitation to become her maid of honor and ultimately face the responsibility of leading a motley group of women down the aisle, “Bridesmaids” does the reverse for its star and director, allowing both Wiig and Feig to confidently strike a balance between rangy and surreal humor that takes full advantage of the comedienne’s versatility with extreme behavior and the authenticity that’s been a hallmark of Feig’s work. Originally commissioned by Feig’s old partner-in-crime Judd Apatow after Wiig’s scene-stealing turn in “Knocked Up,” “Bridesmaids” feels as though it’s the first film that has permitted Feig to be himself, which in turn has let the director do the same for his actors.

Naturalism and honesty were terms that came up quite often in the hour Feig graciously took to sit down to talk about “Bridesmaids” and his directorial output thus far, a conversation which spans from the surprising first film he worked on with Apatow through what he’d like to do next as well as why the auteur theory doesn’t apply to comedy, his preference for strong openings and ambiguous endings, and when he realized he wanted to reach a bigger audience.

A burning question for me that I’ve never heard you talk about is your first film with Judd Apatow, which also featured Ben Stiller and many of Adam Sandler’s future creative team (Allen Covert, director Steven Brill, producer Jack Giarraputo) — “Heavyweights,” the 1995 Disney comedy about a kids’ fat camp. What was that experience like?

That’s funny… it was fun. My history with that is Judd and I were standups together, so we’d known each other since the mid-’80s and hung in the same groups. We all used to hang out at this place called The Ranch, which was like the Higgins boys (“SNL” head writer and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” announcer Steve and “Malcolm in the Middle” star David Anthony) and Gruber (Dave Allen), who played Mr. Rosso from “Freaks and Geeks,” Dana Gould, Judd, all those guys. We were all comedy nerds. It was like the comedy Algonquin roundtable in this place.

I always kept up with Judd and then he was writing movie scripts. He had done “Celtic Pride,” I had gotten into standup and was really pursuing acting. I remember he ran into my wife somewhere [while he was working on “Heavyweights”] and she asked, “Is there anything in it for Paul?” So I came in and auditioned for that part [of Tim, one of the camp counselors] and got it right away. It was nice. Then we just all went to North Carolina and made this movie. Judd was producing and Steve Brill was directing it and [we] just had a lot of fun. They cast a lot of kids [out of Hollywood], but then they found a lot of new kids just in North Carolina.

We stuck fairly close to the script, but we were doing some improv and it was a very open environment. Judd’s always very good creatively nurturing people to be funny, so if they have something they want to try, they can. It was just a really fun process with having Ben Stiller around and all the kids. I think we all felt we were making something that was pretty good and actually thought it was going to do a lot better than it ended up doing, which was kind of a bummer for all of us because we felt like we had maybe found a style we were enjoying. But it was a really nice launchpad for these kids and every once in a while, I’ll run into some of them and obviously, I see Kenan [Thompson] on “SNL” all the time and actually, we’ve reconnected recently with Shaun [Weiss], who played Goldberg in “The Mighty Ducks” movies. But it was a blast. I had no end of fun during that shoot.

05072011_PaulFeigDirecting.jpgShortly after, you made your first feature “Life Sold Separately” as a director after that. Was that a moment where you realized you could take control of your own destiny?

I think it planted the seed for me because I had gone to film school at USC and graduated in ’84 from there and then was always writing behind the scenes. But I was a standup comedian, which is kind of like writing and directing yourself. Then when I was acting, whenever I’d be a regular on a show, I would write a script for it. But I remember always being inspired by Judd — once you see one of your group do it, you’re like oh, I guess we can do it. Before that, there’s always a feeling like oh, it’s a club I’m not allowed into — we’re not allowed to make movies. Judd was just bold enough to do it. That’s why I was always trying to figure out how to make my own indie film and then right around ’97, that’s when I wrote and directed and starred in [laughs] “Life Sold Separately,” which never saw the light of day, but at least it broke the logjam for me of going, “Oh cool, I know I can write a feature-length film, I can actually make it” even though this was going to be shot in only six days. I’m glad I took the leap away from acting into going behind the camera because it’s much more satisfying – I love acting and I still do, but it’s much more satisfying to be able to make the stuff.

Was that actually always the end goal for you?

My ultimate end goal was I really wanted to be Woody Allen. I thought I was going to write, direct and star in all my movies and then quickly realized I only had limited talent as an actor. I got really into the idea of getting really good people and then making them their best and having them do all the heavy emotional lifting on the screen and then to be able to support them and shoot them right. Because I had seen enough movies where I could tell someone was doing a good performance, but they weren’t shot right or the script didn’t serve them right or the storytelling, the tone was too big or too…just off. It always felt like I’d rather be in service of really talented actors, comedic actors and get the best out of them versus me having my limited abilities. I can almost live through all the people I work with in a way and make them better and yet get more satisfaction out of controlling the whole thing.

As a low-budget, down-and-dirty shoot that was your first feature, did it shape you as a director? [A diary of the film’s screening tour is here.]

I was always a late bloomer. I was always the last one to learn how to ride a bike, the last one to learn how to walk according to my parents [laughs], so I always felt like I was behind the curve a little bit. When I was at film school, I was really into writing and helping out with stuff, but even making our little short films, when a big project came up — I remember I was supposed to do this big project that a friend of mine wrote and then couldn’t do, one of the big senior thesis movies — I kind of chickened out, partly because I had problems with the script, but then I got so nervous about being in charge of a crew I fabricated this thing of “oh, I want to change the script” and wanted to change it so much that I knew they wouldn’t do it. So I always felt like I didn’t know if I could really be in charge of people. I was afraid because to me, directing a movie always meant you’ve got to be firing people and yelling at people and all that. I can’t do that. That’s just not who I am. So I stayed away from it for a while and then the desire to do it outweighed the fear, so when I put “Life Sold Separately” together, I just thought I’m going to go for it.

The first day was a pretty good day. I really prepared everything and hit the ground running and everything was great. The second day, we got bogged down in something and I got way behind and my [assistant director], who was a great guy, but he’d been in the business longer and felt like I didn’t have what it takes to do it, was really taking advantage of that to get on me, like “you’re behind. You’re not going to catch up.” About halfway through our day, I remember having an internal panic attack, going, I don’t think I can do this. I might pull the plug on this because I’m not going to be able to figure my way out of this. All the actors were there and we were setting stuff up and everybody’s looking at me what to do and I remember just getting that flop sweat like, just walk away from everybody right now. So I said [to the crew], “Just one minute, I just have to figure one thing out. Everybody, hang on.”

So I remember walking off into this field because we were shooting in a field and thinking to myself, if I close this down now, I will never do it again. I will somehow have sent the signal to people that I’m a panicker, I will fall apart and that’s going to be it. I also remember thinking I want to do this. I want this career. I have to figure it out. So I take a deep breath and turned around and came back in. Basically, instead of having this big scene where I had all this coverage, I was like I’m just going to shoot this as a one-er and shoot it all, so I did and it actually worked out fine. It was not the greatest way to do it, but it got me right back on schedule. Suddenly, I just had this blast of confidence. Even sitting at lunch, I was giving my AD [grief], like “You didn’t think I could do it, could you? You’ve got to trust in Feig!” [laughs] I got cockier than I should’ve gotten, but it was what I needed because it was this moment where I left all my younger-life insecurity behind and like you know what? Everyone’s insecure about it. Just do it.

05082011_FeigBridesmaids1.jpg In recent years, you haven’t been writing as much, but a lot of people tend to get into directing to protect the writing. Was that the case with you?

I haven’t been writing as much. I do miss it. I did get into it partly because of that. I heard this and started parroting it, which is I don’t trust any writer who doesn’t want to direct because it means you’re not invested in your stuff. I still kind of believe that, but I’ve also realized…when I first got in, like any first-time writer, you get very precious about your words. There’s nothing wrong with that because sometimes you write something great, but I found that that’s actually the more destructive way to go into things because you get so inflexible that you don’t utilize the talents of the people that you hire, be they on the crew or if you have a good creative team around you, but mostly because of the actors.

Film students love to tell the Hitchcock stories about [the director saying], “run to the camera” and the actors saying, “What’s my motivation?” “I’ll tell you when you get here.” Ha ha, that’s so funny, actors are so dumb – that’s kind of the thrust of it, but that’s actually not cool because what that means is you’re not letting it come to life. You’re forcing people to say things in a certain way. Sometimes your wording is so clever or specific you need to hit it so that it serves the story and the tone, but you’re also cutting off this natural talent and realism that people bring to something.

I went into “Freaks and Geeks” like this is my life story that I wrote, so “don’t touch anything!” Judd was the one that really cracked me open. Certain actors would come in [to audition], I [thought] they’re great, but they’re not like what I envisioned. And he said, “yeah, but they’re great, so let’s tailor the part for them.” At first, I was like, oh, you can’t do that, but suddenly I realized he’s right. Let’s not get rid of a good person, let’s hang on to them and the script is malleable, especially for a TV series where it’s going to have to go for eight seasons hopefully. Why would you want to make it so specific that you’re not getting anything from the person that’s going to help inspire you to write the show?

There’s still a lot of projects I’m developing [as a writer], but I don’t feel like other than a general story sometimes, I’m the one that has the ultimate written word on it because I want the story, the emotions and the structure to be right, that’s where the writing needs to go. That’s why I’m almost afraid of stuff I write sometimes because I get so precious about it [and] I don’t want to be. It’s nice to have a great script that somebody else wrote or a great story, and to then go, okay, and now let’s get in there and really make it our own, the actors’ own. Writers hate to hear that because it sounds like they’re just fucking with stuff, but at the end of the day, if the story’s solid and it works and the dialogue’s great, then all we’re looking for is how to let everybody put their own spin on it so it becomes a living, breathing thing and not a record of something that somebody wrote.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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