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Paul Feig On Why He Insisted on Making ‘The School for Good and Evil’ as Practically as Possible: ‘I’ve Got Such CG Fatigue’

”It’s not fun for me to watch a movie where I know nothing exists, you know?“ Feig explained to TheWrap

“The School for Good and Evil” is now streaming on Netflix, and true to its fairytale roots, it has action, adventure, and a whole lot of magic. But it’s not quite as fake as you might think — director Paul Feig was insistent upon it.

That said, he also took on the project for the excitement of doing something with a lot of effects. “The School for Good and Evil,” now streaming, follows Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) as they’re plucked from their village and taken to schools for good and evil, which are responsible for training all the storied heroes and villains of the world. But when Sophie ends up in the school for evil and Aggie gets dropped in the school for good, Sophie starts to deteriorate. After all, she believes she’s a princess, and Agatha didn’t even want to come to the schools.

She comes to embrace a dark presence looming over the school, and uses blood magic in the process. Her new evil friends? Well, one of them has a literal fire demon living in her body by way of a magical tattoo. There’s a bit of magic in every scene.

Talking with TheWrap, director and writer Paul Feig admitted that the film required “more effects than I’ve ever done before,” but he made a conscious effort to “seamlessly put them in so people don’t really know they’re effects.”

That’s largely because, as an audience member himself, Feig is a little bit tired of movies — particularly genre movies — being so reliant on CG technology.

“As an audience member, I’ve got such CG fatigue over the years, that I’m just kind of like, it’s not fun for me to watch a movie where I know nothing exists, you know?” he explained.

You can read TheWrap’s full conversation on the making of “The School for Good and Evil” in the video below.

OK Paul, I want to start with the thing at the heart of this movie: fairytales. What is your favorite fairytale? What’s your go-to that like, sets the basis for everything?

Well, here’s the issue. I actually really didn’t like fairy tales when I was a kid. They scared the hell out of me. You know, especially the Grimm’s, and all those things. So I honestly was not a fan of fairytales. And so when this project came along, it was like, ‘Oh, good. This is my chance to sort of take my revenge on fairy tales,’ if you will. (laughs).

Have you come around now that you’ve worked on “The School for Good and Evil”?

It’s hard to say! I mean, what I like about fairytales in general is that they are morality tales, you know, and then they are these kind of guidance and cautionary tales for people. So, I find them fascinating. But I don’t know, all the origin of the original ones, they’re pretty brutal! I mean, they really end very brutally, so I’m still hard pressed to kind of pick out a favorite, I hate to say.

That’s fair! Well, in this movie, you have some of what people think of as just Disney fairytales, which were actually Hans Christian Andersen. But then you’ve got ones like Arthurian legend. So what were the challenges in balancing all of this, and not making it feel derivative?

It was a tough adaptation! And it was honestly being adapted for, I think, six years before it even got to me, when it got sent to me as a script. So, you know, the book is very big, and Soman [Chainani] has put a lot of really interesting ideas in there.

And so it was really about how do you pare this down, tell that story effectively, tell the most important parts of the story in a way that the fans of the books will really respond to, but how do you also then bring in a whole new audience that doesn’t need to know anything about the books? Because I have a real issue with going to a movie and I’m like, I don’t know what’s going on. They’re like, ‘Oh, you need to know the comic, you need to know this.’ It’s like, well, it’s a movie, I shouldn’t need to know anything coming in. So really tried to walk that line.

And you know, and Soman was invaluable. I kept him very close during when I was doing my work on the script. And I would always consult with him and go like, ‘OK, what things do the fans respond to the most? What would they miss? What lines do they like?’ And then when I had to do whatever changes and additions and, you know, kind of connective tissue, always kind of going to him like ‘You like this? Does this work?’ And such kudos to him for not being the precious author who’s like, ‘You can’t.’ Because I can’t work with somebody like that. Because then it becomes like, ‘You can’t do this, that,’ and then it’s hard. It’s easy to go off the rails in a weird way. So, long answer was, it was it was a challenge. But I’m really happy with where we ended up.

I’m always I’m the weird one that’s like, I would rather see the movie first, just because that way, if it’s different, if it’s wrong, I can still appreciate the movie as its own thing.

I love that! Honestly — because now I’ve been involved in a couple, like when we did ‘A Simple Favor’ — you know, people go on the internet, like, ‘I have to read the book before I go see the movie.’ And I’m just like screaming, ‘Please no, wait!’ Because it’s going — like the book you enjoy, it’s okay to kind of know where a book’s going sometimes. But a movie, if you know where it’s going, to me, it takes the fun out of it. I mean, obviously we try to make the movie so there’s gonna be fun, regardless. And so with this one, I think yeah, I personally say go buy the book, by all means. But then, see the movie and then read the book.

I’m curious, with the story being such a spectacle, how much of this movie was done practically? Because there are a lot of effects in there. But with movie magic, you guys can do a lot of things that people don’t necessarily expect.

A lot, a lot. It was really important to me to not have people up against green screens, to not have people acting against tennis balls, and people, you know, [in] the balls suit, the tracking suits that they wear. Because, at the beginning, it was like, ‘Oh, we should do the wolf guards digitally.’ I’m like, no, I want guys in suits, with animatronic heads, walking around, because the actors have to have something to act against.

And I also want to be in the environment. So we built those enormous sets. I mean, those sets are all practical. We did a little bit of set extension to fill in holes in the top of the ceilings where we had to hang lights. But otherwise, those sets were massive. And you know, the only real green screen we did was some of that stuff outside in the beginning, or with Rafal, and all that just to kind of change skies and all that kind of thing. But no, it was very important to me that we do as much in camera as we could.

the-school-for-good-and-evil-charlize-theron-image
Charlize Theron in “The School for Good and Evil” (Netflix)

Wait, you’re saying that those talking wolf guards were actually there on set?

Oh, yeah. And they were animatronic too, they actually talk. All we did then, is we augmented their eyes and their ears to give them a little more expression. But otherwise they were they were fully practical.

That is wild. I wouldn’t have thought that’d be plausible.

Well you know what it is, as an audience member, I’ve got such CG fatigue over the years, that I’m just kind of like, it’s not fun for me to watch a movie where I know nothing exists, you know? I mean, I was a big ‘Star Wars’ fan. And when we saw ‘Star Wars,’ like, those were models. However they shot them, those were models that I knew existed somewhere that people built. And that meant everything to me. And as time went on, I’m kind of like, OK, everything looks really cool, but it’s not really there. So I kind of feel like I’m watching a video game a lot of the times.

And so even our scenes that are kind of very CG, like Hester’s demon, that, we built a big kind of puppet version of that, that was green. And then we had the puppeteer Mikey, who was our hero, who would, he would act it out, you know? So I could shoot it the way I wanted to, I could change like, ‘Oh, it should get closer. It should do this. You should react this way.’

And then like, the Storian, that’s practical. That was just Mikey with this thing. He made that work. And then we just kind of, you know, painted out the sticks, the green screen sticks. So yeah, so again, everybody’s acting with the actual props and the actual effects.

I’m curious how this compares to working on “Ghostbusters” in 2016. How does “The School for Good and Evil” stack up to that, in terms of scale and practicality?

Well Ghostbusters, actually, we did a lot practical in that, a lot of our ghosts, and then we would augment them. So if you look at the Big Time Square fight, those are actual stunt guys in costumes doing that. We put the glow on them and kind of added the backgrounds and all that.

What was nice about this — Ghostbusters was very kind of segmented in where we did special effects. Because it was the practical world, and then into the ghosts, we would have to kind of augment.

Ghostbusters 2016
Sony

This world, there’s so many things we had to augment, because it’s constant. If you watch this movie, there’s just constant things that are special effects, from blood magic to finger glows, which, even the finger gloves are practical, but we had to put these big extensions on people’s fingers. So, they glowed for light interaction, but then we had to go in and digitally make their fingers not gigantic because it looked like they hit ‘em with a hammer.

But it was just, the amount of of effects that had to be dropped in. Certain sets we had to modify, like the whole theater of tales we shot in this big cathedral, which looked great, but it didn’t have enough texture. So we kind of went in and augmented some of it with just different kinds of light shafts and adding like, chandeliers that we didn’t have. So that kind of thing. It was augmenting things that we had, and just kind of really doing more effects than I’ve ever done before, but really loving how we kind of seamlessly put them in so people don’t really know they’re effects.

Well, you mentioned Hester’s demon — did you really want to set it on fire?

Well, we had a fire version! We built this this kind of exoskeleton with these pipes that then had fire. So actually, when Hester has it rising up behind her, we shot that with the fire bar. And then that was painted out and then we put in the effect. So it’s all about light interaction. You want to have, you know, if you don’t have the light interaction, it starts to look fake, it looks more like like CG, you know what I mean? But if people actually have things that are interacting with their faces in that way, then it changes everything.

The whole last battle scene was lit with with flame bars that we had. When she started doing those fireballs, we have these different flame bars all over the set that were pushing out these big fireballs. And John Schwartzman my DP, he said, ‘I like the way this looks,’ like ‘I don’t want to augment this, let’s just have that going.’ So we had, I mean, weeks of these fireball coming out, lighting everybody up. That’s why you see everybody’s, you know, the light’s constantly changing of people’s faces. And I just I think it gives us such depth and texture.

Before I leave you, I do want to ask: you’ve directed so many movies with great female pairings. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in “A Simple Favor,” Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in “The Heat,” and of course, Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso now in “The School for Good and Evil.” Who do you have next? Who are you trying to pair up next that I can thank you for?

(laughs). Oh, man. Honestly, the project is the thing that tells me what the pairing is going to be. Honestly, I’ve never gone into a project going like, oh, this is this, I want to do this for somebody, you know,? Either I write the script, or if I find it comes to me, it’s like, OK, let’s get this right. Let’s make this character make sense. And then it becomes who would be right for this? And kind of build it that way. Because I think when you build it the other way, sometimes, you’re gonna cut off a dimensionality to the character, because you’re just kind of fitting it to somebody, if that makes any sense. And I really think we need to be hard on the characters before we even start to make them real in the real world. Because their internal logic has to be right. So at least that’s how I work.

“The School for Good and Evil” is now streaming on Netflix.