I was told that Bridesmaids was going to be hilarious, but I wasn’t forewarned that, actually, I was really going to get drawn into its story. The big surprise for me was how I came out of the screening feeling that I’d really been invested in Annie, Kristin Wiig’s character, and where the story had taken her.
Recently, I got on the phone with the film’s director, Paul Feig, to discuss how he balanced the need for emotion, storytelling and comedy, and what effect this had on how they shot and edited.
Here, then, is Paul Feig’s guide to how he made Bridesmaids.
We worked so hard on the script and the girls wrote such a great script, and then Judd and I developed it even more with them, so that we knew all of the moves were in there. We knew exactly what we needed out of each scene , but we could then try different ways to say that one thing. There are projects that are made that are all improvised that really go off the rails because there’s no infrastructure but there was a really solid infrastructure for this.
In the development of it, a lot of thought went into making sure it was going to be honest and we weren’t doing things that the women’s movies or romantic comedies of the past have done that we thought weren’t right or were fake or didn’t work…
…but once you get on set with the funny women, it becomes just about them being as funny as they can be. That’s why we liked to hire very funny improvs, actors who have done improv and are good at it.
I like not working with movie stars because baggage comes along. We were a pretty baggage free cast because, beyond knowing the faces, people didn’t really know people that much, though Kristin is very well known here.
A lot of people didn’t understand at first why we had cast Chris O’Dowd. I could even imagine that Chris is the most popular guy on British television because he’s so funny. He’s got such a light touch, and even in the dramatic scenes he’s improvising. He’s really a fully rounded actor.
I cross shoot everything so we’re shooting both actors at the same time, and they really can just go and do their thing, be honest and try to make each other laugh, surprise each other or get on a tear about something. There is a trade off to do things this way. You don’t get to be quite as filmic as you would like to be at times, because the emphasis is on the performance, but I don’t mind that. I try to pick my moments when we’re not in dialogue scenes to move the camera and do stuff with it.
But at the same time, you have to be in tune with what an audience is expecting from the film. They want a funny film and they want to see the people they think are funny being funny and they want to follow the story and get the emotion out of it.
Even though I love filmmaking where you can take it to the next level visually, a movie like this doesn’t have that expectation to it and I don’t want to be the guy who is trying to impress people with great shots but leaving them cold, emotionally.
There are other movies that I’d like to make that are much more filmic, but this is not that movie. I tried to pick my moments, but even still, I just wanted the audience to have a good time.
The scene with the cake is the perfect is example of getting to pick your moment. I didn’t storyboard that – I used to storyboard a lot, but I don’t any more – so I just came up with a list of things I’d want to show. I had a style I knew I wanted to see, and a feel, and I knew I wanted to put music to it, though I didn’t know that was the song I wanted to use.
That was one of those moments where I felt “I get to be a filmmaker now and do something with the camera” and it’s also an important moment in the movie. It’s the moment in which you realise she isn’t a total loser, that she was a very together person and just has fallen from grace at the moment. I’m very pleased with that moment, it’s like “Okay, I can direct.”
The two most important moments in the movie are that cupcake baking scene and right before that when she’s standing in front of the wall of her accomplishments and we see the picture of her standing in front of her old bakery. The stuff that she does going forward in the film can be irritating and I think that if the audience weren’t wanting her to be the together person she once was, they might not stay with her when she destroys the baby shower, or when she walks out on Chris O’Dowd in the morning. You need the audience to root for her, and whether they know it or not, I think these scenes make them invest in her so much more.
When we first edited the movie, Bill Kerr edited it like a drama. We don’t even care about the jokes on the first pass, we want to make sure that it works emotionally. Then we start replacing things or finding the funnier versions of things, and we build it up from there.
We sacrifice so many jokes in the editing room because they hurt the emotional story. But on the DVD you see these “Line-o-Ramas”, this wealth of jokes and how funny they are, and you watch them asking “Why isn’t that joke in?” and it’s because it hurts the emotional story. The comedy always has to come second.
You get back into the emotion with test screenings, “Is this going to put off an audience? Is this going to make women react badly?” The good thing was, even our first screening of the film, with the first cut, did really well with a test audience so we felt we’d kind of hit it and we just needed to fine tune it after that.
I’m very happy that the press were talking about it being a comedy with women because it puts a spotlight on the fact that there aren’t enough of these kinds of movie. Women don’t get to be portrayed honestly this way in comedy. It was one of the motivations in my wanting to do the film.
So many comedies have such a little boy’s view of the world, that women are there to ruin the fun, they’re the ones there to force us to do what we don’t want to do, and I find that so boring. And I know so many funny women and I want them to be able a showcase.
And now you know how, so go make your own.