Since creating “Freaks and Geeks” and directing the breakout hit “Bridesmaids,” Paul Feig has used his creative clout in Hollywood to advocate for original stories featuring women in leading roles.
From “The Heat” to “Spy,” Feig has been a major proponent of female-driven comedies, and sure enough, his upcoming “Ghostbusters” reboot stars four fabulously funny women. He’s also producing a mother-daughter comedy for Fox that will star Amy Schumer and be directed by Jonathan Levine.
Feig has gone to the online mat for his movies, mixing it up with ignorant fans unwilling to give the new “Ghostbusters” movie a chance. After enduring months of “misogyny and insults” aimed at him and his female cast from online carpers about the reboot, Feig snapped and tweeted, “Go fuck yourself,” among other things.
It was a regrettable though justifiable response from the otherwise mild-mannered filmmaker, who has typically worn a tuxedo while directing multiple live-action hits. Speaking of his enviable track record, Feig just scored his first success in animation with “The Peanuts Movie,” which grossed $45 million at the domestic box office despite facing stiff competition from the latest James Bond movie, “Spectre.”
Feig recently spoke with TheWrap about why he avoided making sequels to some of his biggest hits, the downside of social media and the spoiler culture it spawns and what Hollywood needs to do to ensure that women are paid as well as their male counterparts.
What are your thoughts on equal pay for women in Hollywood? If you felt your actress weren’t being treated fairly, would you take a stand on their behalf?
I’m glad we’re having this debate, but there are two levels of it. There’s the business side of it where, leaving gender out of it, your paycheck is based on what you made previously. Nobody’s going to get an enormous raise unless they prove that they’re a box office draw. That’s across the board, for men and women. Now if a woman is an equal box office draw and she’s being paid less than a man, then that’s criminal and I wouldn’t allow that to happen.
But it’s also a chicken-or-egg thing, because there aren’t enough quality female roles to launch actresses to become box office draws, so it self-perpetuates. You’re not giving women the roles to become big stars who command big paychecks. It’s a bigger problem than a glass ceiling on paydays — we’ve gotta fix the scripts.
The conversation should be had, but an actress has to be given an opportunity to shine. Jennifer Lawrence should be paid every cent as much as her male counterparts, and probably more because she has proven to be a bigger draw. But Hollywood is not going to be altruistic about anything unless it means they’re going to profit from it.
We need more leading roles for women, and they don’t have to be “strong female characters,” because I hate that term. People don’t mean it in in a derogatory way — they just mean “good” — but people have weaknesses and vulnerability and insecurity. They don’t have to be superhuman, but if they’re not completely human and relatable, then that’s not a good role either.
You shared a lot on social media about “Ghostbusters,” from casting news to photos of the costumes and proton packs. Do you feel pressure to engage with fans or is Twitter something you actually look forward to checking each morning?
I look forward to it. It’s a fun clubhouse for me, but there was a period where I dreaded it after “Ghostbusters” was announced, because the backlash made it a bummer. People ask me if I run my own Twitter account and I wish I could say I was too busy or cool that I don’t, but I like hearing the bad stuff.
I never used to block anybody, but in the last month there has been four or five people I blocked who were making my life miserable. I got pulled into something last month and it felt good in the moment but I’m not proud of that fact.
It was actually Pitbull who had the best take on it. He said, “If your phone is filled with negativity, why engage with that?” Well, I want to know what people are thinking, and social media helps you get inside people’s heads. You have to keep in mind that 500 people don’t speak for 500 million people, but it allows you to see what people are worried about, and maybe I’ll even change something because of it.
Social media is a hugely important tool, you just can’t get eaten up by it. I was having dinner by myself the other night and I live-tweeted the meal. I’m making jokes and they’re joking back and it was like having a dinner companion, which was nice, especially as an only child.
These days, everyone is looking for a scoop and no one seems to care about spoiling a movie. Is it frustrating to go to a junket to promote a movie and get asked a majority of questions about another project?
It’s nice to be involved with something that people care about. Most of everything I’ve done has been an original idea, so you spend most of your career hoping you can get people interested in it. So when you suddenly get a movie like “Ghostbusters,” it’s daunting at first because you have a responsibility to the property and its fans.
When I was promoting “Spy,” I’d get all these perfunctory questions about “Spy” and then the interviewer’s face would change and there’d be a newfound energy about “Ghostbusters.” The downside to the Internet and social media these days is it’s spoiler central, and that’s a huge bummer.
I didn’t want certain cameos coming out because I wanted to protect the pure experience, but we live in such a spoiler age and people never even write “Spoiler Alert” before they put something out. I would leak some of these things first to show them the way I want to, but it was always done with a heavy heart.
When I was a kid, there weren’t all these entertainment shows and websites. I didn’t know “Star Wars” was coming out until a week before! When “E.T.” came out, it was like, “What’s that?” Suddenly, you’re blown away by something.
But not everybody knows what’s coming. These days, one outlet will post it like it’s common knowledge, when really, this intellectual property was stolen from our set. Everyone’s joyously revealing this stuff and you’re sitting there going, “What the fuck?” I just wish somebody would check with us, but at the very least, put up a spoiler alert. As a storyteller, especially in comedy, you just want to surprise people. Can you imagine if it had leaked out that Darth Vader was Luke’s dad? That would be a travesty.
Given Hollywood’s current creative climate, how have you resisted doing sequels to “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” so far?
There’s a lot of different reasons. I’m not vehemently opposed to them, but I’m kind of glad we didn’t because it has allowed me to do other things. Kristen [Wiig] didn’t want to do a sequel to “Bridesmaids” and that’s her baby.
On “The Heat,” Katie Dippold and I broke story for the sequel, but Sandra [Bullock] didn’t want to do it. I was able to go do “Spy,” and as much as I’d like to do a sequel to that movie, I’m not sure we’ll do one. I just like doing different things. It’s more fun to do new things and play around with genre, because as a director, you don’t want to get bored.
One of my director idols is Howard Hawks, who bounced around between “His Girl Friday” and “Bringing Up Baby” and “Scarface” and Westerns. That’s what was fun about being a TV director — you could jump from show to show. I’d never done a medical show and suddenly I’m doing “Nurse Jackie.” If I was still directing TV, I’d be trying to do “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.” So I’m not opposed to doing sequels, but I’m glad I’m haven’t done any yet.