DID YOU READ

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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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