Exclusive: Making The Proposal

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Usually, a romantic comedy like Touchstone Pictures’ The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, would not be the thing you’d see us covering heavily here on ComingSoon.net, but every once in a while, someone produces a movie that isn’t quite the man-hating chick flick we’ve come to expect from the genre. That’s the case with The Proposal and what makes it so different is the creative team behind it, and the collaborative process that brought Peter Chiarelli’s script to fruition.

Chiarelli got some help shopping his spec script around from his new bosses, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, best known as the writers of sci-fi blockbusters like Star Trek and the “Transformers” movies. Once it was picked up by Touchstone through Mandeville Films, they brought on board director Anne Fletcher, who is one of a rare breed, having come to filmmaking from the world of choreography, following the likes of Bob Fosse and Rob Marshall (Chicago) as well as her long-time colleague Adam Shankman (Hairspray). It was kind of a given that she knew dancing when she directed her first movie Step Up, but she followed that with 27 Dresses, a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl that became an equally big hit and showed that she really had a good handle on comedy. (If you read our review by clicking on the film’s title, you’ll see that we already noticed Fletcher was one of those rare female directors able to make romantic movies that appealed to BOTH genders and not just women.)

The results are a high concept comedy starring Sandra Bullock as a New York book editor who must convince her personal assistant Andrew (Reynolds) to marry her so that she can stay in the country after her visa expires. (She’s Canadian.) He agrees under a number of conditions, but to get to know each other well enough to fool a skeptical immigration officer, she agrees to spend the weekend with Andrew’s family to celebrate his grandmother’s 90th birthday. Only thing is that they live in the boonies of Alaska and they’re kind of eccentric, to say the least.

A few weeks back, ComingSoon.net had a chance to speak with Fletcher and writer/producer Peter Chiarelli–you can read our interview with the latter here–about how they approached this decidedly different take on the romantic comedy.

ComingSoon.net: So it looks like I’m your last interview of the day, which basically means you’re going to be answering all the questions you’ve already been answering all day.
Anne Fletcher: You know what? Today was actually a lot of fun. Yesterday was the same question over and over again. It’s fine because then you really get to see what people respond to in the movie. You really do get a sense of it. Today has been a lot of fun, because there’s been a lot of international people and the questions are really just completely different. I loved it.

CS: How many times have you been asked “What is Sandra Bullock really like?”
Fletcher: You know what? It’s interesting. Really, none. I think maybe I got one who just wanted to know what her work ethic was.

CS: That’s a good junket when you don’t get asked stuff like that over and over.
Fletcher: I know. I mean, they probably met her and realized what she was like… A nasty, horrible woman. (laughs) I’m kidding ’cause I love her so much.

CS: I just talked to Pete a few minutes ago so I know the origins of the project. He didn’t mention how you came onto this, but he did say that Sandy and Ryan were already attached. So how did it come to you? Did Disney just throw you some possible scripts to work on and this one stood out?
Fletcher: Well, Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman, the producers over at Mandeville, they had the script, and I had known them from “Bringing Down the House” ’cause I had helped a friend, Adam Shankman, choreograph that. I’d known them from way back then, and they knew I was directing and they brought me in along with a couple other directors. I went in there and did my little song and dance and whatnot, and they asked me to meet with Sandy, ’cause they wanted to make sure Sandy was cool with it, and I fell in love with her. What are you going to do? I was driving home and went, “Please, let me have this movie, because I love her so much. I have to do this movie.” I think even on the drive home, Todd or David or both called and said, “She loved you and she wants to do it.”

CS: Had “27 Dresses” already come out at that point?
Fletcher: Let me think for a second. No, it hadn’t come out. We snuck them into see it, because it hadn’t come out yet. We showed Sandy and we showed Ryan. I think Ryan wanted to make sure I could be considerate to fellas. Jimmy Marsden, who was in “27 Dresses,” was a friend of mine from “Hairspray,” and I was like “I want to make you a guy. I don’t want to make you fussy.” “27 Dresses” is definitely formulaic and very romantic comedy, but I wanted to try to make Jimmy a little more of a man that men could actually relate to. So Ryan really responded to that as well. Yeah, they both enjoyed the film and could see me doing this one.

CS: I actually did like “27 Dresses” a lot. In my review, I mentioned that one of the things I liked about it was that it was one of those ridiculously rare romantic comedies where the guys aren’t treated like they’re jerks or idiots or the villains. That’s the case with both your movies, in fact.
Fletcher: Thank you so much. That actually means a lot to me. I really appreciate it, because I as a woman… I mean, we know that men are going to be dragged there by their wives and that’s just going to happen, so why should they sit through something that’s torture? I mean, we’re dragged to see men movies and we want them to be equally as good for us, but I also feel that if I’m going to fall in love with the lead guy, he better be a man. He’s gotta act like a guy.

CS: In this situation, it’s even funnier, because it’s almost role reversal where Ryan is playing the assistant to a powerful Type A boss, where the genders are almost always the other way around.
Fletcher: That’s exactly why we loved it, because the role was kind of written for a man basically and that’s why Sandy and I were like, “This is going to be so great.” I loved that twist. There’s moments in the movie I just love, like when Sandy says, “We’re getting married” and just watching Ryan’s reaction is just torture to me, still to this day. I’ve seen the movie a thousand times. And then as soon as he gets the idea to switch it on her, every time that happens I always say, “Let the games begin,” because now they’re on an even playing field, and it’s just so much fun to see what could come of that. I really love the premise.

CS: Ryan’s always been good at that thing, even going back to “Van Wilder,” that’s his thing to be nasty but likeable. The supporting cast in this is also great. How did you get them involved once you came on board?
Fletcher: Well, let’s see. Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. (Nelson), they’re just fantastic. You want the (father) to be at least Ryan’s height and one that would be a little bit more daunting to his son and have some sort of power over him. Mary Steenburgen is one of the loveliest people on the screen that you just want to eat up. When I did Gammy Annie, the only person I saw was Betty White. I mean, that’s the only way that could have been done ’cause she’s the best grandmother. She’s funny, she’s feisty, she’s independent, she’s sarcastic, she’s off a little and loving all at the same time. And it’s Betty White, for Christ’s sake! (laughs) And then Aasif Mandvi who plays Bob at the beginning of the movie, I’ve been a huge fan of “The Daily Show” since Jon came on. And Oscar Nuñez, he had a little show that he created called “Halfway Home” and I TIVO’ed it, I was a huge fan of the show. They only made ten episodes, but his character was slightly like Ramon, and Pete wrote it because there’s a huge Mexican community up there in Sitka, so I wanted to keep him Mexican and I wanted somebody who would be a little younger and that was Oscar. And then there’s Dennis O’Hare, and I don’t even know how to describe this man. He can do anything, and as you can see, he’s in everything from the most dramatic dramas to the most hilarious comedies. He’s a very gifted man. All in all, this cast is ridiculous. The script comes first, cast comes second and then my job is done.

CS: It definitely seems like Betty, Craig and Mary, they’ve done this kind of thing so many times before, it almost feels like you could almost let them go.
Fletcher: Yeah, that’s right, but they stayed right on the script. The thing that they bring, which is obviously their talent, but they’ve been doing this for so many years. Mary asked me a question, and I said, “You know what? I just need you to know that the three of you are a bonafide family to me. The only way I see you is that you’re the Paxtons.” Having been doing this so long with these people, they simply click into place, plus I’d like to say the stars lined up with this case. We’re all in a sense kind of cut from the same cloth. We all love to laugh and we all love to make people laugh, so we just enjoyed each other’s company so much. There was a chemistry between Sandy and Ryan, but there was chemistry from everybody, and for that, I’m pretty lucky.

CS: Pete said earlier that this is more comedy with romantic elements, whereas “27 Dresses,” while it had a lot of funny moments, it was definitely more romance. Were you able to do a lot more improv on this, just because of who was involved and how they worked?
Fletcher: We did, we absolutely did. We had a great script, and we had the ideas of certain things we wanted to play around with. We opened the door to certain things. Ryan’s mind is like no other. The things that come up in his brain and that come out of his mouth are just shocking and yet brilliant, so we would definitely leave room for that, plus you have Oscar and Dennis who are improv kings, and Ryan, and you have to allow that, because you never know what genius minds are going to get, and a lot of them are in the movie ’cause you could sit for hours and try to think of something funny that will just pop out of their head in seconds.

CS: Pete was talking about being on set and how it was so fluid with him writing on the day and working with the actors.
Fletcher: Yeah, we had a handful of scenes to rewrite that worked great on paper and then we would get it up on its feet with the actors and go, “Yikes, that’s not how we thought it was, let’s rework it and figure it out.” You have to do that, and I was fortunate enough to have a cast who was so collaborative and so super-smart, and we were all on the same page of how we wanted it to play out. It was hard at times and yet incredible, because it could have been harder. There are actors that go back to their trailer until you figure it out, and they never would go back. It was just like, “Okay, we’re going to figure this out.”

CS: I’m sure you get asked this a lot, both you and Adam Shankman, being that you both come from the world of choreography. It’s not that odd because Bob Fosse started in choreography, but he went on to direct musicals, while you and Adam are directing comedies. I wonder if you’re able to take from that background to do physical comedy like the scene with the eagle and the nude… I don’t even know what you’d call it. It’s not a love scene.
Fletcher: Naked scene. I don’t know. Adam and I had danced in and choreographed so many comedies and we’ve done some straight movies as well, but mainly comedies was our thing. I think we have a sense of comedy. I was in an improv troupe, that’s what I wanted to do ultimately was be a comic actress, that was my dream to be Sandy Bullock, to be quite honest, to be a physical comedy girl, which was unbelievable that I ended up getting to do that type of movie with her. It’s such a dream come true. We had always worked in choreography in the comedy world, and it just was an easy transition, because it’s stuff we love so much. Music and comedy is so connected ’cause it’s all about rhythms and timing. When’s the best time to go on, when’s the best time to come out? We just love it, so it was an easy transition for us, and then Adam went off and did “Hairspray” so he got his musical. Lucky dog. (laughs)

CS: As far as their naked scene, how do you arrange something like that when you know that the movie is going to have to be PG-13. I was going to say “How do you swing that?” but I just narrowly avoided that awful pun.
Fletcher: (laughs) I can tell you! When I read the script, it’s pretty straight-forward… they’re naked, and I instantly had a vision in my head of what I wanted it to look like, so all I have to do is convince my actors to be naked, which wasn’t hard at all, because once I explained what I wanted it to be, they were gung ho. “However you want to do this, that’s hilarious. It’s going to be really really funny, let’s go for it.” I also had producers and my studio that knew that I would be very delicate with how to do it, and we would pull it off. I knew that we could pull it off. It was just a matter of choreographing it with camera and getting it down to a science. It was all about the technical end of how to get the two of them to do that… without seeing anything.

CS: I saw this at ShoWest a couple months back and the movie went over so well with the exhibitors. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie get more laughs there.
Fletcher: Oh My God, that’s incredible and so nice to hear.

CS: What about Oscar? Did he do his own choreography for his big striptease scene?
Fletcher: No, I choreographed it, but going in with exactly what you were saying earlier about the improv, Oscar was blown away that he had choreography, because in his mind he’s like “What do you mean? I have a dance rehearsal?” and I’m like, “Well yeah, I have to cut you together. You have to be in the same spot.” And we didn’t show anything to Sandy, so it was all kind of new to her, but she loves to laugh, so certain moments, she couldn’t contain herself because it was just comical. But within the shooting of everything, Oscar would go off and have a field day with certain things, and then we’d get stuck on certain moves he did that we loved and went “Just repeat it again!” We have a couple of things where he’s going up in her face that he likes to call “The Cheese Platter, a little bit of everything.” (laughs) But yeah, there’s some of his moves that he came up with on the spot that are absolutely in the movie, because again, the actors know their characters more than you know their characters, so they’re going to give you a beautiful gift along the way. Either you’re awake for them or not.

CS: Now that you’ve broken into comedy with these two movies, do you feel you want to continue going down this route or do you have other things you want to explore that might be different?
Fletcher: I definitely, definitely, definitely want to keep doing comedies. It’s something that I love with all my heart, and I feel like I want them to be bigger. I want to keep going in that direction, but I definitely want to explore everything while I get the chance and people continue to hire me, because I love so much in this industry, everything from horror to dramas to comedy, I love it all! So we’ll see what the future holds.

CS: The reason studios make a lot of comedies because they can make them rather low budget, so is that at all limiting as a filmmaker or not really?
Fletcher: I think it would probably have been limiting in this film, only because the producers and the studio wanted it to have gigantic scope. Alaska is essentially a character in the film, so it needed to be bigger, which ended up costing more money because you’re visually enhancing the film and you want it to be big and beautiful. But yeah, I think the new comedies these days seem a little bit smaller in scale, but I dunno. It’s different. I can do a smaller budget and have a great time and be a hilarious movie or make it bigger and open it up. I think there’s so many ways to go into it.

CS: Do you think the next thing you’re going to be doing will be “Matadors”?
Fletcher: I don’t know if it’s next. We’re definitely in development with Disney and Offspring, and it’s going to be based on real men who are the Chicago Bulls cheerleaders and they’re real fans that created a little team together. They had their own girls’ team called the Lovabulls, like we have our Laker Girls here in L.A. and the Knicks Girls, but they also have the Matadors, that they decided to put their own male fan team together to root for their team. We have no script right now. We’re just in very early development and the outline process and we’re getting ready to do that.

CS: I saw the premise for it and didn’t realize it was based on a real story.
Fletcher: Yeah, it’s based on these people but the story will be something that we kind of create based on them, because they’re real dudes.

CS: The other reason I asked about the budget of doing comedies is because Adam went off and did “Bedtime Stories” which is such a huge budget comedy and I wondered if that’s something you’d ever want to pursue, something just crazy with a lot of CG.
Fletcher: Enormous. No, I love crazy… and I think this movie was pretty crazy. I’m very open to that. I’d be so excited to delve into that world and see what it’s all about, if in fact it’s the right project. I’m open to anything at this point.

CS: Do you have a musical in you that you really feel you need to tackle or would you not want to go that route?
Fletcher: I would definitely be open to hearing (something). I think any remake of a musical is difficult because they’re such classics in my soul that I can’t even imagine touching it. I’m even nervous that–not that the director would do a bad job–but that anybody remade “Fame” even, that far back. That was just thirty years ago. It makes my stomach cringe because it was just a MASTERPIECE to me. “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” But that’s just me. I don’t know if it were to happen, I don’t know which one it would be. I was saying earlier to somebody that “Moulin Rouge!” to me in the new world of musicals was again a masterpiece. I just think, “What an amazing mind that created that movie.”

CS: That’s a good example, because besides that and Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe,” there aren’t a lot of original movie musicals these days. Is that something you might be interested in pursuing?
Fletcher: You know what? I would love to say that I think I’m that smart… but I don’t think I am. (laughs)

CS: Are you nervous about taking on Harold Ramis next week?
Fletcher: Oh, that’s right. “SCTV” is my favorite show of all time. I’m in good company. It’s Jack Black and Michael Cera, give me a break. I’m huge fans of both of them and Harold, so you know what? It’s a little daunting, it makes me very nervous to open in the summer against these gigantic films, but hopefully, we have a niche and a place, and just a sense of relief from all the big gigantic films. I hope everybody does well.

The Proposal opens on Friday, June 19, but you can catch sneak previews in select cities this Saturday, June 13. Check out our interview with writer Pete Chiarelli, who has his own interesting story about the project.

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