Paul Feig spoke with Solzy at the Movies about a wide array of subjects including Holler, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and Love Life.
Feig is also working on a new film for Netflix, which is expected to be in front of cameras in the spring. In the meantime, Holler–written and directed by Nicole Riegel–premiered today at the Deauville Film Festival in France. Tomorrow, the film will be available to screen for attending industry during the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.
When did you first learn about Holler and decide to sign on as an executive producer?
Paul Feig: I’m in this organization called ReFrame, which is through Women in Film, which is about getting more female filmmakers behind the camera. I’m an ambassador in this and one of the other ambassadors, an agent named Harley Copen contacted me and said, “Hey, I’ve got this young filmmaker who I’ve been trying to help out. She wrote this script and has this project she’s trying to get made that I think you would with being from the Midwest that you would respond to.” They had it sent over and I read the script for Holler. I just loved, Being from Michigan, I just love that world that it’s Midwestern and takes place in Ohio but just that people just trying to get by under hard economic situation, and also, the fact that it was such a coming of age story. It’s such an empowering story for this young woman in the lead of the film.
I took a meeting with Nicole and I was just so completely just blown away by her because she’s so confident and do exactly what she wanted and saw this movie so strongly. Her story is so interesting having been—she was in the army and made started making movies and training films basically in the army and kind of learned her craft there. When she got out, she wrote this script. The story was that she’d been trying to get this made for a while and just kind of couldn’t get anybody to do it, couldn’t get anybody really to help back her up on it. I just jumped at the chance to do whatever I could.
When we tried to find financing through many different sources but then we were able to connect with this company, Level Forward, that’s all about funding these smaller films from female directors. We went in there and just like she did with me, Nicole just completely impressed everybody. They just fell in love with the script, fell in love with her, and they put the money in so she was able to go off and do this film that she had seen so clearly. She had also had shot a short based on it that I also saw when I read the script. I just loved the tone and again, it’s such a sure-footed confidence piece of filmmaking you just go, Oh my gosh, this person’s the real deal and any little thing I can do to try to help, I will do it.
As far as being an executive producer, what kind of role did you play in the film?
Paul Feig: Nicole didn’t need a lot of help other than just getting this set up. I mean, this is a situation where I just wanted to get her the money to do it and then just completely stay out of her way because again, she just had such a clear vision. She headed off and did it. I helped put it in the good words to some of the actors that she was trying to get nailed down like Becky Ann Baker and Pam Adlon and all that but the minute they read the script and saw the role, they just jumped at it because they knew how great it was going to be. Nicole would occasionally call me during production with whatever questions or issues she was going through, just to talk them through. I was there as a cheerleader, really, because she didn’t need much else. I sort of just stayed out of her way and just wanted to protect her and make sure she could do what she did. You dream of these situations where somebody comes along and you just know you don’t have to micromanage at all. You know they know what they’re doing and you just sort of let them do their thing.
My next question was going to be about Becky Ann Baker and if you had any role in her casting.
Paul Feig: I was able to reach out just because Nicole is a new filmmaker and didn’t have these contacts. Nicole said to me, “My dream for this role would be Becky Ann Baker. I’m like, Well, I know Becky. She knew that I knew her. I reached out and Becky just said yes immediately because Becky really loves working with new filmmakers and just realizes what a good experience that can be. Same with Pamela Adlon. Pam just jumped on board. She’s got a lot going on with her show and everything. They were both just so wonderful to Nicole. It was a very hard production—just the conditions they were working under, where they were working, and all that. To have to have that kind of support from these two titans of the acting world really—that just was invaluable.
How disappointing was it to lose out on the red carpet premiere?
Paul Feig: It was devastating. I felt so awful for Nicole because what a giant moment for her to have to have gotten into South by Southwest, which is such a great festival. I was gonna fly in. We were all excited about it and then just to have the rug pulled out from under you that way was really—it was really something. Look, the fact that that allowed her to get into TIFF, Deauville, and Nashville, it’s exciting but we’ll always be grateful to South by Southwest for having taken the chance on her first.
Going into the press conference in March, what was going through your mind with regards to making the trip to Austin?
Paul Feig: I was all set to go and then I was in the middle of a production that was just about to close down. But even before that, I had to pull out of going because I couldn’t get there because things were getting worse with the virus. That broke my heart having to tell her that I think I couldn’t make it and then, a few days later, the whole thing got pulled. She was smart. She knew it was coming. I remember, she was like, “I’m not sure if this is even gonna happen.” But when it did happen, it’s just devastating. You work so hard for that. You want that moment with an audience to have this group experience and watch people enjoy and be affected and moved by what you do and then suddenly be denied that—she still is. TIFF is online this year. It’s really unfair—us raging against the heavens—that this kind of thing happened because as filmmakers, that’s kind of our bread and butter is being able to watch the audience be affected by what we do. I’m just very sad that she’s being denied that opportunity with this film.
You’ve been busy during the pandemic with doing live videos on Instagram during quarantine. Was this one way of giving back to the fans while people have been stuck at home?
Paul Feig: I went into quarantine. We had to pull the plug on that production I was doing—this TV pilot and then come back here. I thought, well, I can either just sit around, work, and get writing done but I’d like to help somehow but I’m not a medical professional so I couldn’t help with that way. All I could really do as a comedy guy—other than donate money—was to try to make people laugh and try to entertain people while we’re all stuck at home and then raise money in the process. I’d always been wanting to get deeper into mixology—I’m a big cocktail guy but hadn’t had a lot of experience with a lot of different mixed drinks and thought, well, I’ll learn on camera and we’ll have fun, and like I say, the most important thing was just presenting a great charity each day and then trying to raise money for them. It was my own lame attempt at helping.
It definitely brought highlights to my day—at least when I remembered to go on Instagram at the time.
Paul Feig: Thank you, Danielle. I appreciate that.
With the pandemic, has it made it easier or harder with regards to being creative?
Paul Feig: It’s made it different. We have the time to do it but the stress that we’re all under in a society; it definitely makes it hard to concentrate sometimes. I think the most evil thing that anybody ever did at the beginning of the pandemic was saying, “You know that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine when there’s a plague on.” It’s like, Oh, great. So now on top of dealing with this pandemic, we got to feel bad that we’re not writing one of the world’s greatest plays.
I think the first month or two, it was a little harder to concentrate. And then as time went on, we just tried to get back into it and did. I was always working. It has been good in that it’s refocused us on what’s important and given us a little chance to sort of step out of our very hectic lives, reflect, and be able to take in those very important moments in our society with all the protests and the movements going on. We need to take those seriously and the fact that we’re not so busy that it’s not just something we listen to on the radio when we’re going between meetings that we actually take time to focus on, think about, try to help, and try to figure out what the next steps are. I think if that if that is one of the good things that come out of this, that at least there’s something positive out of this terrible, terrible time.
Yeah. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was one of the few things that kept me laughing in early quarantine and I’m so thrilled for the second season renewal. It’s my understanding that you played a key role in suggesting Zoey be female?
Paul Feig: When Austin Winsberg came in and pitched the show to us, I loved it because I love musicals and was dying to do a musical. Originally, the lead character was male. And I said, the only thing is would you consider making it a woman just because I think it just will make it a more interesting show especially since it’s a show about a person in tech. I love anything that’s about women in STEM and just the idea that this woman—one of the only women in this tech company—dealing with all this stuff that’s going on with her because of this thing she’s going through and with her father and all that. It just seemed like the more interesting way to tell it. Austin was great. He was like, “Oh, that’s great. I would love to do that.” He took it and ran with it. The greatest thing about all of that is it gave us the great Jane Levy in the role. I truly can’t imagine anybody else playing that role. She’s just so, so good.
She’s phenomenal in that performance.
Paul Feig: Yeah, that’s a tough role. I’m telling you, man—that’s a tough show in general. I mean, kudos to everybody on that show from the writers and the actors to all the crew and everybody—they really work hard. We just won an Emmy. We are now an Emmy Award-winning show because Mandy Moore, our choreographer, just won the Creative Arts Emmy yesterday for the show so we’re award-winning, my friend.
Congrats! When do you expect the second season to start production in front of the camera?
Paul Feig: They just all went up there. Austin just went up there. They’re all quarantining under Canada regulations but they’re gonna start shooting in a few weeks. It’s happening fast.
I would definitely ask about Love Life but I have Roku and that kind of makes it impossible.
Paul Feig: Oh, no. So you haven’t even gotten to see it yet?
Paul Feig: It’s such a good show. I’m really, really happy with it. The great Anna Kendrick is just, as always, spectacular but then having Zoë Chao, Peter Vack, and Hope Davis—this cast is just unbelievable. I’m so proud of that show. I really, really am. I hope you get a chance to see it. Hopefully, HBO Max can work out the Roku problem because—we get it through our Apple TV. I want the world to see it. It did really well. We were second only to Friends on HBO Max in the ratings department so that’s pretty great. We even beat The Big Bang Theory so that’s a testament to Anna Kendrick and the quality of the show.
You’re going to direct a new movie for Netflix.
Paul Feig: Yeah, The School for Good and Evil, which if we stay on schedule—which we should be—we’ll all be heading off to London in the next couple months. We’ll start shooting it probably in the early spring over there. It’s a great project. I really love the books. We’ve got a great script for it and just the chance to get to create another big world is really exciting for me. I had so much fun on Ghostbusters working with all these designers, concept artists, and special effects people. We’re really trying to bring a very unique look and scope to this film. I can’t wait to get started.
How collaborative have they been as a partner?
Paul Feig: They’ve been great. They’ve been really, really great. We did Someone Great over there that I produced, that Jen Robinson did. They were amazing on that one. They let Jen do her thing and let us do our thing. I also had The Joel McHale Show over there and they were really fun to work with on that. I’m sad it didn’t go forward but we had fun while we were doing it. So far, I’ve been really enjoying working with the film department—Scott Stuber and the gang. I’ve got nothing but good things to say.
In terms of the virus, what will it mean for production?
Paul Feig: There’s a lot of precaution that have to be taken but it can be done. You have to be smart about it. It costs money but there’s no price too big to keep everybody safe. For the cast, it’s just a lot of quarantining and it’s not terribly fun for them to have to just basically be locked down the entire time. But if it makes it safe and it makes the on-set experience feel like it did in the past, you don’t have to worry about social distancing if you have quarantined with everybody—they can at least be able to interact and have the normalcy of acting in scenes. It’s really balls to the crew and all of us to be safe, to be wearing our PPE, and to be being tested and just being responsible. When you go home from the set, you don’t know go out, you just go home and stay home—you get up the next day and you come to set. It’s a little bit like boot camp. But again, it results in making content that the audience won’t feel is any different than content they were getting pre-pandemic. That’s great because not a lot of us want to shoot movies on Zoom and on our cell phones.