Long after the cancellation of the now-classic Freaks and Geeks and somewhere between Bridesmaids and The Heat, Paul Feig became a champion of female-driven studio films. His work with stars like Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph and Sandra Bullock has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that (a) women are hilarious, (b) they can carry a movie and score at the box office and (c) both men and women will flock to the theater to see them, whether they’re puking in couture gowns or chasing down Russian gangsters.
During post-production on The Heat, 20th Century Fox signed Feig and his Feigco Entertainment banner (which he runs with EVP Jessie Henderson) to produce, write and direct comedies for the studio. They have several projects in development, including a female James Bond story starring McCarthy, Byrne, Jason Statham and Jude Law, and a Fox Animation film based on Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts, with Steve Martino attached to direct.
SSN spoke with Feig about what enticed him to sign with Fox, how he handles studio notes and whether he’ll bring McCarthy and Bullock back together for a spinoff of The Heat.
SSN: How did Fox woo you into the fold? Was it because you had such a positive experience with The Heat?
Feig: It really was. I had a great experience with that, especially when we got to post. They were so supportive and understood my process, and they greenlit all the million test screenings I like to do. I feel like I had a real team behind me. When the deal was brought up, I leapt at it. I’ve avoided deals my whole career because I never found [the right] partner.
SSN: A lot of directors despise test screenings and you love them. Is that because comedy is so subjective?
Feig: Yes, it’s a comedy thing. Our goal is to make the most people laugh in every audience. So I sit around in my editing room with my editor and put in all the stuff I think is hilarious, but the audience is going to tell me what is and what isn’t funny. I shoot a lot of extra material, and we’ll then do a test screening every two weeks, so by the time we lock picture, we’ve done about nine or 10 test screenings, and we know everything is working with audiences. With a big commercial studio comedy, you don’t want to take any chances. As one of my editors said, “You don’t want to have your first test screening be the premiere.”
SSN: Are you working on the lot?
Feig: No, that was the one thing I threw into the deal. I live in Burbank, so I didn’t want to drive across town every day, and they were very kind and let me rent space in an office building about five minutes from my house.
SSN: Are you developing projects with different divisions of Fox?
Feig: We’ve got about six projects in development right now, mainly with big Fox and maybe there will be some smaller ones down the line. It’s all the same team, and they’re very enthusiastic. It’s all comedy because that’s what I like to do.
SSN: You’re working on the Peanuts project with Fox Animation. How’s that going?
Feig: I’m on that as a producer. Animation is really all development. This one is really exciting for me. I like to say it’s my Star Wars. To get the opportunity to help guide that along is really a thrill.
SSN: You’re now known for female-driven films led by strong, funny, kick-ass women. Can we expect to see Peppermint Patty and Lucy front and center in the film?
Feig: I’m a real purist with that. Charles Schulz’s son and grandson and writing partner [Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano] are writing the script so we’re being very slavish to the original material. I’m of the mind that we don’t need to modernize these characters. I liked what these characters represented and the tone of what they had. We want to make it as entertaining as it was while we were kids while drawing in a new audience of kids whose parents will be nostalgic for it. We are finding ways to bring in modern technology too, but in a way that doesn’t break the purity of it.
SSN: Your films have definitely disproved the widely held belief that female-driven movies don’t equal big box office. Do you still have to push to get studio execs to think a female-driven action movie will work, or are you past that?
Feig: The good thing for me is that with [Bridesmaids and The Heat], I’ve got the cred to blast through that. We’re working on a movie now with Melissa McCarthy as a spy, and it has a sort of James Bond origin story. Its official name is Spy, but it is being called Susan Cooper, and we start shooting March 31. I don’t want [to be] the only person studios trust to make female-driven movies starring women, but the fact that I get to do it and get to experiment in that world is a dream come true. I just want to make sure there are other movies starring women that I’m not doing. Fox is very supportive. It’s just ridiculous that it’s ever been an issue, but I’m just happy that the movies I’ve done have helped crack the door open. I’m on a constant quest to blow the door off its hinges.
SSN: How do you feel about studio notes?
Feig: I never have a problem with notes because I think, within notes, there are always good ideas and valid points. What happens sometimes with notes is that they just get expressed as solutions, and I’m not as interested in people’s solutions as I am in hearing, “Here’s what I’m not getting.” That’s valid, and I can try to figure that out.
SSN: So you’re not one of those writers who fears studio notes?
Feig: I’ve spent my life studying the downfall of my favorite directors, and you can almost always point to the moment they stop being good as the moment they stop listening to people. The best people I’ve worked with, like Greg Daniels and Judd Apatow, are very open to notes and input.
That doesn’t mean you always take it, but there is something to that input. It’ll scratch the surface of something. You have to be forensic about it, so I don’t have an issue with notes. Some notes are hard to hear, but if you don’t fix things, that’s where all the bad stuff in the world of entertainment comes from—people not being hard enough on material.
SSN: What motivates you to make films?
Feig: I hate it when movies are made for prestige or to win an award. To me, if you’re making movies, your number one motivation [is] to entertain the audience. You don’t want the audience to feel like they’re watching someone’s desire to be cool or be arty or win awards.
I love movies that are challenging, but when I’m bored by them, I’m thinking, “This is just a guy trying to show me how intelligent or artistic he is.” That’s criminal, but that hurts other movies and puts suspicion on other filmmakers who don’t work in that way. It creates an attitude and a climate of, “What are they trying to get past us?” I’m sympathetic to studios who have gotten that pulled on them, where a filmmaker doesn’t make the movie they said they were going to make.
It all goes back to the question: Will people be entertained by this? I always think, “Would I rather have that movie that’s watched one time or that movie that people put on 30 times?” With Bridesmaids people come up and say they’ve seen it 30 times, and I’d rather have that.
SSN: Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock were so great together in The Heat. Can you say if they’ll both come back for the spinoff that’s in the works?
Feig: We wrote the script for it, and it’s really funny. It’s really just about getting the band back together. Everybody’s busy, and I’m doing my movie with Melissa, but we’re hoping we can entice Sandra back into the mix because she was so damn funny in that movie and the two of them were so great together. I’m extremely optimistic that it will happen because it’s written and ready to go.