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Paul Feig Talks His Love Of 'Girls,' 'Mad Men' & Why He Thinks 'Freaks & Geeks' Would Have A Better Shot On TV Today

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage July 1, 2013 at 11:01AM

If writer/director Paul Feig had only been responsible for creating the cult hit "Freaks & Geeks" that would probably be enough to endear him to cinephiles forever. Loosely based on his experiences growing up as an outcast in suburban Michigan (and shepherded to the small screen by pal Judd Apatow), Feig's magnum opus is still finding viewers over a decade after it was unceremoniously cancelled by the network. Though it only ran for 18 episodes, to this day the series frequently pops up on Best-Of lists and its cast of former unknowns -- James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, John Frances Daley, etc. -- are practically Hollywood fixtures. Hell, two-thirds of them just co-starred together in "This Is The End." After his show went off the air, Feig also mined his awkward experiences growing up for two hilarious non-fiction books ("Kick Me: Adventures In Adolescence" and "Superstud: How I Became A 24 Year Old Virgin") and has probably directed at least one episode of your favorite show ("The Office," "Nurse Jackie," "Bored To Death," "Weeds," "Mad Men," "30 Rock," "Parks And Rec," "Undeclared" and "Arrested Development").
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The Heat
Why he chose "The Heat" as his follow-up to "Bridesmaids."
As we discussed above Feig certainly had his choice of projects after "Bridesmaids" blew the doors open for female-led comedies. And though he explored a few other directions he eventually landed on the script for "The Heat," by "Parks And Recreation" writer Katie Dippold. "After 'Bridesmaids' I was really in a quandry about what to do next. I was developing things like 'Bridget Jones 3' and nothing felt right. I didn't know what to do and then out of the blue this script dropped into my house called 'The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy.' And I was just like, 'Oh my God, this is the greatest idea ever.' It was weird that it hadn't been done before or at least that I know of." Feig read the script trepidatiously on a plane concerned that it wouldn't live up to its concept but found himself laughing out loud through the entire flight. Sandra Bullock was interested in the role of uptight Sarah Ashburn and 10 pages in he knew exactly who should play the wild card Shannon Mullins. "10 pages in I just thought 'This is a home run for Melissa.' And it got funnier as I was reading it [imagining her playing the character]."

Judd Apatow Paul Feig
On his first film, the flop "I Am David."
Though many people think of Feig as the creator of "Freaks & Geeks" they may not be aware that before "Bridesmaids" he actually had made 3 prior films that all flopped upon release. His 1997 self-financed effort "Life Sold Separately," his 2006 John Hughes homage "Unaccompanied Minors" and in between a 2003 survival drama called "I Am David." "The first movie I did was a drama about a kid who grew up in a Communist labor camp and has to escape so you can only imagine how people flocked to that film," Feig said. "It was right after 'Freaks & Geeks' and my mom had died and it was a story about finding your mother that I really responded to and I shouldn't have made it but I'm proud of it. So I put all this time into it and we do a test screening out in Irvine California. And people love it and give it high scores and we go, 'Great, we did it!' And I'm watching as everybody is filing out of the theatre and there is somebody at the door handing out white envelopes to everybody. And I said, 'What are they giving them?' And they said, 'Well, when we told people about the movie, nobody wanted to come so we had to promise we'd give them five dollars each to show up.' " Ouch. He said he knew then that his film's fate was sealed and that in the end "I don't think a movie could have bombed worse than that one did."

Feig says TV is a writer's medium and that a bad script is no excuse in film.
As a filmmaker who has logged more hours in TV than doing material for the big screen he described the importance of the writer in each medium. In TV, they run the show but for films, it's ultimately up to the director. "As a director with a writing background, the knowledge of writing is really important especially if you direct movies. The difference between movies and TV [as a director] is that in TV you are a facilitator because it's a writer's medium. It's as if you are making a movie and you go 'You can direct 10 minutes of this movie.' You have to be in sync with the general vision of it," he explained. "When you're doing a movie you are the storyteller. My DP from one of my films was telling me about some actress who had directed a movie. And I said, 'Oh how'd she do?' And he said, 'She did great but it was too bad she got stuck with a bad script so the movie wasn't good.' I was like, 'You know what? When you're moviemaking, that's not an excuse. You are the person. It's your job to fix that script, whatever it takes.' The best way to do it is working with great actors if you didn't write it yourself or to work with great writers if you didn't write it yourself. The natural inclination is to jettison the writer but for this movie I said to Katie Dippold, 'I want you on the set with me every day. I want you with me the entire time...' And she was my sounding board."

Mad Men finale 1
On directing "Mad Men"
Since Feig had been on hand for "Mad Men" during its first season (he directed episode 9 of Season 1), many wondered if he had a hand in helping his "Freaks & Geeks" leading lady Linda Cardellini get cast on the show this season. (For those curious, she appeared as Don Draper's love interest Sylvia.) "I had nothing to do with getting Linda on that show but Matt Weiner who runs 'Mad Men' loves 'Freaks & Geeks.'" As to how he ended up working on the show before it became a phenomenon, he went onto explain, "I got sent the pilot of 'Mad Men' and I dress like this all the time so I just responded to the look of it!" Feig said, motioning to his signature three-piece suit.

"I thought, 'That's a great looking show!' And thought yeah I want to do this and I signed on to do it. When I went there for the first time to meet with them they said, 'Oh I'm sorry sir, casting is down the hall,'" he laughed recalling as he explained to them that he was actually the director. "The funny thing is when I watched the pilot for the first time -- the pilot is awesome -- but I remember going, 'I don't know. It just looks like it might not be fun. That lead guy [Jon Hamm] just seems so humorless and I don't know if I can get through a week and a half with this dour guy. And I show up on the set and see this surfer guy with scraggly hair who's joking around with everyone and I'm going, 'Is that the guy?' And it's Hamm who's just the biggest comedy geek in the world and he's like now one of my favorite people in the world and one of the funniest guys I know." Feig went onto cast Hamm memorably as Kristen Wiig's asshole fuckbuddy in "Bridesmaids" and came close to doing another project with him. He said of the experience, "It was a thrill to get to work on that show."

He loves Woody Allen.
"When I was very young my cousin took me to a double-feature and the first one was called 'W' [the 1974 thriller starring Twiggy as a woman being stalked by her ex] and it was this horrible movie about a man stalking a woman and at one point she had dogs and he kills the dogs and paints with blood on the walls. So I was just sitting there in misery watching this thing. And it ends and I'm thinking 'Ugh, we've got to get out of here.'" His cousin however persuaded him to stick around for the second film on the bill which turned out to be Woody Allen's 1969 breakthrough "Take The Money And Run." He called the experience of watching the film a "religious moment" and said it taught him the possibilities of what comedy can be. "That was a real big deal for me. And a few years later Time Magazine had him on the cover and it said Comedy Genius. And I didn't think you could be a genius at being funny [but that really opened my eyes]." He went on to name Golden Age directors Howard Hawkes, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra as well as Blake Edwards and John Landis as other influences. "I liked filmmakers who did things that made audiences feel good. I know that Capra took the hits for being 'Capracorn' and these kinds of things but I like that. I want to find a way to do that where it doesn't feel corny or manipulative."

Girls Lena Dunham
He's a huge admirer of "Girls" and also loved "This Is The End."
Though "Girls" may be one of the only great comedies on TV that Feig hasn't worked on, he had nothing but praise for the show and it's creator Lena Dunham. "Lena's a friend but I really admire what she does. I loved what she did with 'Tiny Furniture' and I was kinda blown away by that movie personally. I love anybody with an original voice is what it basically is. You want to have a take on the world. That's all I care about really, I don't like people who just do things just to do it or chasing what's hot right now. All I really care about is 'What is your take on the world?' I know what my take on the world is. I'm into the underdogs and want to show people who are trying to find their place in the world. And I'm so excited when I get to see other people's takes on the world."

"I went to the premiere of 'This Is The End' and it's complete guy humor but I'm so proud of Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg, co-writer/director] because this is your take on the world and you're telling it in this crazy way. But it's actually weirdly sweet and completely nuts and way over the top. But again, if somebody's trying to do something different and say something, I think it's great," he said praising his former 'F&G' castmember Rogen. As for those still on the fence about whether or not to check out "The Heat" this weekend Feig offered a final summation. "Comedy is comedy. My goal is to have men and women look at a poster and if there's two women on it they go 'Those are funny people. I like those people.' Not men, not women. Funny people should get their chance and let's get rid of chick flick and guy comedy and let's just make comedy." Amen.

"The Heat" is in theatres now.

This article is related to: Paul Feig, The Heat, Freaks & Geeks


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