Paul Feig takes “the heat”

How writer-di­rec­tor Paul Feig gets the best out of his casts and crews

Fast Company - - Cotents -

How the writer-di­rec­tor has elicited break­out per­for­mances from Melissa Mc­carthy, Seth Ro­gen, Kate Mckin­non, and more.

From his late-’90s TV show Freaks and Geeks, which launched the ca­reers of Seth Ro­gen and James Franco, to fe­male-driven come­dies such as Brides­maids, The Heat, and Spy, which did the same for Melissa Mc­carthy, Paul Feig (pro­nounced Feeg) has demon­strated a knack for elic­it­ing mem­o­rable break­out per­for­mances. His lat­est film, out this month, is the comedic who­dunit A Sim­ple Fa­vor, which stars Anna Ken­drick and Blake Lively as fem­i­nist odd­balls whose hu­mor is laced with an omi­nous edge. As he gears up for his next pro­duc­ing projects—the women-in-the-work­place TV pi­lot Girls Code and the Netflix ro­man­tic com­edy Some­one Great, star­ring Gina

Ro­driguez—feig shares his tips for un­lock­ing cre­ativ­ity and cre­at­ing a more bal­anced work­force.


To draw the best per­for­mances from his ac­tors—and the most laughs for au­di­ences—feig cre­ates a loose, al­most free-for-all at­mos­phere on set. He es­chews re­hearsals and avoids telling ac­tors what he en­vi­sions for a scene. “I set it up, and we just roll the cam­eras and go for it,” he says. “Be­cause what’s in my head isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the best thing, and would limit [the ac­tors].” With the plot-driven A Sim­ple Fa­vor, there was less room for the kind of im­prov that typ­i­cally takes place on a Feig set, but the di­rec­tor made sure to let Ken­drick play around phys­i­cally. “She’s al­ways throw­ing her arms out, put­ting her hands on her hips, and flap­ping her el­bows around,” Feig says. “I wouldn’t know how to di­rect that. It’s not like I would go, ‘You know what you should ac­tu­ally do? Use your hands more!’ ”


For Feig, even the most mi­nor of char­ac­ters is as im­por­tant as a lead. He is adamantly against what he calls “they went that-a-way roles”— the kinds of per­func­tory char­ac­ters whose only func­tion is to re­spond when one of the stars asks, “Where’d they go?” He cites Al­fred Hitch­cock as his inspiration: “A lot of his com­edy came out of in­ter­ac­tions with those sec­ondary and third-ary, if you will, char­ac­ters.” In­deed, Feig fre­quently casts co­me­di­ans in seem­ingly in­con­se­quen­tial parts. Sil­i­con Val­ley star Zach Woods has


ap­peared in three of Feig’s films (in Spy, he was simply “Man in Pur­ple Tie”). “Ev­ery time I put [Woods] in, he ends up im­prov’ing some­thing,” Feig says. “So we’ll get, like, three ex­tra jokes for a role that would nor­mally just be a burnt-off ” char­ac­ter.


Feig says he owes his rep­u­ta­tion for dis­cov­er­ing quirky ac­tors to “throw­ing the doors open wide” when he’s cast­ing. “There’s a real pre­dis­po­si­tion to go, Okay it needs to be some­body in their early thir­ties who looks like this and has this eth­nic­ity and [is] beautiful. And you just limit your­self so much,” he says. To fill out the cast of teenage mis­fits in Freaks and Geeks, Feig and pro­ducer Judd Apa­tow held open cast­ing calls in Van­cou­ver. One of their finds was Stephen Lea Shep­pard, who played über-geek Har­ris. “I was just walk­ing through the room to see if there was some­body who looked in­ter­est­ing, and I saw some weird kid with his head down and hair hang­ing in his face, read­ing a book in the cor­ner.” Feig brought Shep­pard in to read for a part and fell in love with the teen’s dis­af­fected man­ner. Not only did Shep­pard land a role, he be­came some­thing of a muse. “We kept writing more and more stuff for him,” Feig says. “He’s all over the se­ries.”


Feig has proven to Hol­ly­wood that fe­male-driven come­dies can, in fact, be block­busters, and even when they’re not (see: Ghost­busters), they can prompt im­por­tant di­a­logue. But even he didn’t see the real-life gen­der-equal­ity pic­ture un­til a cou­ple of years ago. “To be hon­est, I spent so much time con­cen­trat­ing on get­ting women in front of the camera that I haven’t been as good about get­ting them be­hind it,” he says, ad­mit­ting that his mostly male crews have his­tor­i­cally been made up of long­time friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors. Feig has since com­mit­ted to us­ing in­clu­sion rid­ers—a stip­u­la­tion that at least 50% of a cast and crew be com­prised of women and peo­ple of color—on all of his fu­ture TV and film pro­duc­tions to challenge what he calls the in­dus­try’s “de­fault setting.” On Some­one Great, all the depart­ment heads are fe­male, as is the di­rec­tor, di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy, and pro­duc­tion de­signer. “We have to put our money where our mouth is,” he says.

Feig says that a di­rec­tor’s nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion is to con­trol things when work­ing with ac­tors. He tries to do the op­po­site.

Feig’s im­prov col­lab­o­ra­tors, clock­wise from top left: The cast of the short-lived, much-loved Freaks and Geeks; Blake Lively in A Sim­ple Fa­vor; Feig and Melissa The Heat. Mc­carthy on the set of

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