Published on August 2nd, 2011 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Bridesmaids director Paul Feig on casting, test screenings, and when vomit is more than just vomit

We’re on the homeward stretch, folks! Here’s what Paul Feig had to say during his “Master Class” at the Just For Laughs Comedy Conference, interviewed by Richard Crouse.

(But first: Before a francophone industry exec takes the stage to introduce a panelist, can someone run pronounciation drills with them? The room squirmed, just a little bit, when Mr. Feig was called “Paul Fag”.)

On women in comedy:

“I read the script first and really liked it. I’ve worked with a really funny women… and I think women are really underserved.”

“It’s so stupid that it’s 19 – wait, I’m so old – it’s 2011 and it’s such a big deal that women are starring in a funny movie.”

He watched School of Rock, which he loved, “and Sarah Silverman pops up and she’s playing the bitchy girlfriend.”

On casting:

“Casting is 90% of directing. “

For the auditions, “what we like to do is write sides that aren’t in the movie”. Long paragraphs that let them show their personality. There’s also an improv component.

Rose Byrne was chosen as the nemesis because she wasn’t a comedian. “It was coming out to be too arch if we had a funny woman doing it.” She was able to base it in reality.

Feig noted that Steve Carell does the same thing, grounding everything in reality, and the funny things turn out to be funny.

“He’s just committed to the reality, and I really love working with him.”

On script development:

“My problem with a lot of comedies is that they’re built from the comedy down. You really have to face it as a drama.” If you’re on board with the characters and the emotional aspect then you’re in a better position to add the comedy.

On the Bridesmaids scene in the bridal shop:

“We needed to have a strike against Annie, which is that she can’t admit when she’s wrong…. So how could we tell that in the funniest possible way?”

“Vomit and defecating aren’t that funny on their own… what’s funny is the circumstances around them doing it.”

On how to hold audiences:

“It’s so easy to lose the audience….I’m a big fan of opening the movie with something big. Some of my favorite movies start slow, but you can’t get away with it these days.”

“If you can use that bigness to invest people in the character right away, you’re set.”

“We wrote really funny, mean stuff of him being asshole-y to her…. And it was hilarious. We brought together our hipster friends and they all cracked up, so we’re high-fiving each other. But we did our first test screening infront of a real audience, and it was silence. People were invested in Kristin [Wiig] so fast.”

On external feedback:

“I have no problem with getting notes from studios, and everyone hates it because they’re dumb.” Even the oddest feedback can be helpful, because if you translate what the note is actually trying to tell you, “it’s always ‘I don’t understand this’, and that’s what you want to know.”

“You set up a reality and you stick to it. Nobody wants to play a game with someone who wants to keep changing the rules. Quotable!”

“I think the most useless thing when you’re cutting a movie is to do a friends and family screening. They love everything.”

They held eight test screenings for Bridesmaids. The structure didn’t change, but individual scenes and jokes did.

“We record the laughs [from the test audience]…Nothing settles an argument faster.”

On working with the right people:

Judd Apatow and Greg Daniels are great to work with because “both of them are brilliant at knowing that we don’t know”.

“When you see (Apatow’s) name above the title, it gives us the permission to cast people who aren’t a-list.”

On the longevity of a film:

If you’re all about pop culture commentary, people will only like you for as long as they get your references. “If you’re having fun with the human condition, people are never going to get tired of that.”

Advice for young filmmakers:

“You have to do stories about what you know…. It has to be based about something that happened to you or something you know about. You won’t be able to tell an honest story if you’re outside of your comfort zone.”

“Ask yourself what would really happen. ‘What would I do?’ That really gives me a level of authenticity.”

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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