Paul Feig has a pretty impressive list of television shows and movies under his name. He has cultivated a strong fan base from his work on Freaks and Geeks and his recent comedies like Bridesmaids. He has also been praised for not being afraid to put women in the center of his comedies.
But that praise has also come with some backlash. So what has he learned and does he have any regrets? Will we ever get a sequel for Bridesmaids or Spy?
Well, he gave us answers to those questions and more at Tribeca Film Festival in his director talk with Michael Che. The Cheat Sheet also talked with him exclusively about his more recent projects.
Here are 15 things you probably didn’t know about the funny director.
1. His response to backlash from the Snatched cast’s ‘Formation’ video
At this point, the director and producer is no stranger to backlash. But the one that the cast of Snatched got was for a very different reason. The cast of Snatched filmed a parody video to Beyoncé’s “Formation.” What the cast thought probably would be a fun idea, offended many who consider the song to be about black female empowerment and touches on serious subjects like police brutality. So was Feig surprised by the backlash?
“Yeah, people react to a lot of things,” he told The Cheat Sheet. “And I always try to be very sensitive to it because you know it’s important to me what people’s reaction to something is. Yeah, but you just kind of do what you do, I mean that’s something that Amy [Schumer] really wanted to do and you know she put it together with Goldie [Hawn] and everybody and Wanda [Sykes] and they all thought it was really fun.”
He then went on to recognize that the parody might have missed the mark. “At a certain point, you sort of want to balance between just having fun and putting up fun stuff, but also try to be, you know, conscious and not putting people off.”
2. Amy Schumer was the one to get Goldie Hawn for Snatched
Goldie Hawn is a hilarious actress, but we haven’t seen her in quite some time. So how did she get back on the big-screen? “I worked with Goldie on an HBO pilot. It didn’t end up going, so I knew her, but it was really Amy Schumer,” explained Feig to The Cheat Sheet.
“She wanted Goldie because she’s so influenced by her and she was really the one that said ‘I want her to play my mom.’ So we did a chemistry test with the two of them on-screen and they were so good, that like the minute we saw it from the studio on down we were just like, ‘This is done.’ And she was wonderful.”
3. He still gets recognized for his role on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Heavyweights
If you know Feig from his work as an actor then you’re not alone! When asked if he ever gets recognized for his older work he answered, “For Sabrina, [the Teenage Witch],” he then continued. “Once on like a subway in London someone recognized me for that because it played over there. And occasionally for Heavyweights. But fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often though,” he revealed during the Tribeca talk. “That’s what I love about recorded medium.”
4. He loves working with women for two reasons
The director is known for making movies that feature women. When asked about why this is, he first said it was a lack of juicy female roles.
When I got in the business I just got so frustrated. Even before I was in the business, just watching things, especially comedy. Women have such terrible roles especially because like growing up I was watching with my mom these movies from the ’30s and the ’40s with Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn. They were really equals to the man, and now you just watch it devolve into women [who] were just eye candy, or they were perfect, or they were mean.
But the other reason is that he just gets their humor! “Selfishly, I have more fun working with funny women, because I’m not like a guy’s guy. I like hanging out with guys and I like the humor of guys, but it’s not where my brain goes,” he said.
5. He was completely surprised by the backlash from die-hard Ghostbusters fans
Remakes can be touchy for people who love an original film, but Feig explained at the talk that he was shocked by the flak he got for specifically casting women in the Ghostbuster remake’s main roles. “It is frustrating just because, like, why is there any kind of litmus test on this?” he said.
I was just coming out of film school in my early 20s when Ghostbusters came out. I was going to see it opening weekend and I thought it was hilarious. ‘Oh my god what an amazing idea for a movie,’ but that was kind of it for me. I didn’t realize it was like religion for sort of a generation of boys after me. And it turned out to be the ultimate boy’s movie for some weird reason. A lot of guys, it was their thing, so I didn’t realize what to them [was] a sacrilegious thing I did. Which is kind of like, ‘Oh come on guys grow up.’
6. Women in STEM have come to him and thanked him for the movie
Although some didn’t like the Ghostbusters remake, it was important to many women. “It’s when I get contacted by women and girls who are now interested in science and are going into science. Women would write in and say, ‘If I had this movie growing up as a kid I would be an engineer by now.’ That’s when you go like, ‘That’s important!'” he said at the talk, referring to women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
7. He regrets how he responded to the film’s backlash
“The first volley of terribleness came in and it honestly kind of threw me off for a couple of years. I just wasn’t used to it,” explained the director at the talk. “If I could go back into the time machine now, I would just go ‘Don’t even read it, just put it away’ and I never would have referenced it. That’s the biggest mistake I made.”
He continued to explain how it seemed like the power dynamics changed after he responded. “They’re victims and you’re a monster.”
8. He explained why Bridesmaids’ Oscar nominations were so impressive
The comedy Bridesmaids was nominated for Best Writing and actress Melissa McCarthy was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. An Oscar nod is rare for comedy, but why is that?
“Because when comedy is done right it looks easy,” explained Feig at the talk. “It has to because [of] sweat, ‘sweaty’ is a word we use in comedy all the time, like, ‘Oh my god this joke is so sweaty,’ because you see it working so hard. It’s the reason why Steve Carrell never won an Emmy for his performance on The Office.”
9. He was in ‘movie jail’ for two years
Although Feig is pretty successful now, he did have a few bombs that impacted his career. “I’ve been there. I was in movie jail. I made two movies that were hugely unsuccessful,” he said at the talk. “It’s a simple thing, movie jail. It means you make a movie and everyone’s into you like the studios [are like], ‘Oh he’s great he can do all these other things’ and the movie comes out, doesn’t do well, and suddenly you go ‘Hey, what about those other jobs?’ and they go, ‘Eh.’ And you’re in there and they don’t let you out easily.”
The director tried to make a comeback but was shocked to find out that it would be harder than he thought. “I remember the most sobering moment was about a year or two after Unaccompanied Minors had bombed. I was up for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I loved those books. They were so funny so I was like ‘Oh cool I want to do this’ and I got all the way to the top, I had the job, and all of a sudden before it came down they were like ‘Oh actually they don’t want you.'”
10. It was Judd Apatow who helped revive his career
“Thank god for Judd,” said Feig. Judd Apatow asked him to come to a reading of Bridesmaids, which helped him get out of “movie jail.”
“I always referred to that movie [as] strike three because I had two big strikes,” Feig explained, “If I blow it again, then forget it. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to direct TV anymore.”
11. He struggled to find a name for Freaks and Geeks
“That word wasn’t around,” he said referring to “geeks,” but it rhymed with “freaks” so they went with it.
He also struggled with identifying which social group he belonged to in high school. “We didn’t think of ourselves as nerds. There were nerds in our school who were like central casting nerds. They carried the briefcase and you know all that stuff. But we were just kind of awkward.”
Correction: This post previously said Feig was referring to “freaks” but he actually meant geeks wasn’t around when he was growing up.
12. The character Lindsay is the sister Feig always wanted
When asked if the characters on the show were based on him or people he knew, he said it was a mix of both. But the character of Lindsay came from a very interesting place. “Sam was really based on me and then Lindsay was based on the sister I always wanted. I was an only child. I always wished I had an older sister,” said Feig at the talk.
13. Rose Byrne’s character in Spy was different before she was cast
Rose Byrne plays a funny and snobby villain in Spy, but that wasn’t who the character was at first. “But the part wasn’t at all written that way for her at all,” explained Feig. “It was supposed to be kind of this rich, sort of bratty like, teenager character.” When she read the part, however, it didn’t sound right so they found a new persona for the character.
14. Everyone was shocked when Chris Hemsworth started improvising on Ghostbusters
Chris Hemsworth is an action star, so he was a little different from the rest of the cast. According to Feig, he started to fit right in by improvising. “He gets there and starts f***ing improvising and he’s hilarious!” said Feig. “The ladies keep looking at me like, ‘Is that one of yours?’ ‘It’s him!'”
Correction: This post previously said it was Jason Statham who surprised everyone by improvising on Spy, but Feig was talking about Chris Hemsworth.
15. We probably won’t get a sequel to Spy, Bridesmaids, or The Heat
Feig said the first Bridesmaids worked because Kristen Wiig’s character started as a mess and got her life together. He said that if they wrote a sequel then they would probably have to undo the character’s work. But there was a sequel he did write.
“We wrote a sequel to The Heat. Katie Dippold wrote the most hilarious sequel to The Heat and it’s like a take on Silence of the Lambs. We desperately wanted to do like a horror-comedy,” explained Feig. “But Sandra [Bullock] didn’t want to do it.”
But what about Spy? Feig said that Spy didn’t make enough money to make the studio request a sequel. But he also assured the audience that sequels for these films could still happen.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 28, 2017.
Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice
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