Paul Feig on directing comedy and women in ‘The Heat’
Paul Feig may have co-created the beloved “Freaks and Geeks” with Judd Apatow. But it wasn’t until he directed “Bridesmaids” that something he made himself was a success right off the bat. He started out as an actor (and he still puts in appearances), but gradually slipped behind the camera, where he’s directed lots of TV (including “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development”). His fourth film, “The Heat,” reunites him with Melissa McCarthy, who pairs with Sandra Bullock for the only major movie this summer starring women.
What’s it like directing comedy instead of performing it?
I love it, because for me as an actor I had my thing that I was good at, but I didn’t have the range where I could do everything. Whereas with directing, I get to do that, because it’s all about the people I hire. There are projects I have no business doing, but if you get the right people you figure it out. For me the fun is finding the right people.
But your voice still shines through as a director.
That’s what I like about movie directing. With television, which I love doing, you’re a bit more of a facilitator. Whereas with movies you are the storyteller. Obviously you have writers and you’re nothing without them. But you’re the one who says, “This is how it has to be.” A cinematographer once told me about a star who directed something, and I asked, “How’d it turn out?” And he said, “Well, they did a good job but they had a bad script, so it didn’t work out.” As a director you can’t fall back on, “Well, I had a bad script.” It’s your job is to make that script not bad.
Did Sandra Bullock have trouble adjusting to this improv style of comedy, which she doesn’t usually do?
She’s the first to admit she was a little thrown the first couple days, at how loose we play. Then she really snapped into it. When I’m getting the world together, I do rehearsals with the actors very early on. I want the actor to fit their character so well that they can just become that character. Then it’s not improv-ing, it’s just talking like that character.
You still work with film, not digital recordings, correct?
Yes. I mean on television, all I work with is HD. But with movies — I’m not a luddite, I just like film. It’s very friendly to my actors in a way that HD isn’t. There’s a quality. I see a difference — I’m sure no one else does. I like grain. Especially for this movie, I wanted it to feel like an old ‘80s cop movie. I shoot about 12 ½ minutes per load, and with HD you can roll for an hour straight. I want those built-in breaks. Otherwise I’d get off schedule, and I’d wear out my actors. It keeps everybody on their toes. When film is going through a camera, it’s a much different event than when HD is just lumbering along on this tape.
You were in some ‘80s/’90s comedies yourself when you were young: “Three O’Clock High,” “Ski Patrol”…
There was a period when that never stopped playing [on TV]. (Laughs) I really enjoyed my acting career. Getting a role in a movie, no matter what it was, was the most exciting thing in the world. I remember when we were doing “Ski Patrol” thinking this was my big break. But even then I always felt like I was going to end up behind the camera. I really started out wanting to be Woody Allen, and I was going to write and direct and star in everything. I was trying to move that way. But I had this creeping suspicion I was not a leading man.
“Bridesmaids” was supposed to start this rash of studio films starring women. But this is one of the very few.
I’m sad there’s not more. But my first concern after “Bridesmaids” was that there would be an onslaught of movies starring women that weren’t really good and were just trying to be outrageous. But what happened is it went the other way: Nothing’s happening. It’s us and the indie world is doing this, with “The Bling Ring” and “The To Do List” and “Bachelorette.” We’re the only movie this summer from a studio with women in the lead role. I don’t know what the hang-up is, but I wish they’d get going. I don’t want it to be that everybody waits for me to do it.