Hopefully you had a chance to read our earlier report from the set of Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, but as a fan of the film’s director Judd Apatow ever since his feature film debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin, part of the appeal of visiting the set was to see him in action. This one was particularly interesting because he’s clearly been taken out of his comfort zone, first because he didn’t write the screenplay but also because he’s filming on the East Coast and in New York City for the first time.
Although he was pretty busy on the day ComingSoon.net visited the set, he did take some time to talk to the small group of journalists visiting the set in between takes.
Q: I was really excited to hear you were shooting in New York, because obviously you shot everything else in California. I didn’t get to go to the set of your other movies because of that. Tell us, what’s that experience been like for you? Has it been very different than what you’d expect it to be?
Judd Apatow: It’s funny, because I grew up 20 minutes from here in Syosset, so it’s a sort of homecoming to be here, but I never spent this much time in the city at all. So I visited, but I’ve never been in the city for four or five months in a row. I moved to California right from high school. I went to USC and just stayed in California, so this is my longest stretch in the city and it’s been fun. I mean, it’s just a different playground to think of sets and locations and try to figure a way to shoot New York that hasn’t been shot that way before. It looks really pretty. I mean it definitely looks better than the valley. I’ve shot the hell out of the valley. There’s nothing left to do there.
Q: Have you talked to other filmmakers that have done movies here, like Adam McKay or David Wain or any of those guys.
Apatow: I didn’t. We shot “Zohan” here, but I wasn’t on set really, and we shoot “Girls” here, so I’m familiar with the places that they’re shooting.
Q: And you’ve got Jody (Lee Lipes, Cinematographer)…
Apatow: And Jody, we’ve had fun with Jody first season of “Girls” and I wanted to use a lot of people that knew New York really well and could come up with interesting locations. Kevin Thompson, our production designer, I haven’t worked with before, and he’s been incredible in finding the nooks and crannies of the city that aren’t overshot.
Q: We heard about a bar sequence in Brooklyn, so you were using a lot of actual bars for that?
Apatow: Yes, there was one day that we shot in four different bars, but I didn’t shoot that sequence, because that was the day my daughter graduated from elementary school. So I had Greg Mottola shoot that sequence. So if suddenly the movie looks way better for five minutes, you’ll understand why.
Q: When did you know you wanted to direct this film?
Apatow: We had been developing it for a year, and it just was going well and we were all in sync and having fun, and I thought that we would have a good time doing it. Usually I don’t direct material that I produce, that I’m overseeing, because I usually feel like someone could do it better, but this is the first time I thought I had something to add. It’s much easier to ask someone more qualified like Mottola to do it, but I thought I could do well by her.
Q: Is there a sense of additional pressure when you’re directing someone else’s script?
Apatow: I don’t feel more pressure. What’s easier about it for me, mentally, is that when I direct, I’m very willing to throw the entire scene in the garbage when I get there in the garbage, so I don’t honor anything that I’ve done, but Amy has written a great script, so we shoot it, and then we enhance it, but I tend to just get to the set if I wrote it and think what if I was totally wrong the last year and a half, what would I do, and that makes me more neurotic, because I know I’m allowed to chuck it out. Here I am not, so I’m just trying to do a good job with it.
Q: Amy was telling us a little bit about what a really incredible cast you guys have and a very unexpected cast. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Apatow: Yeah, it evolved in a really interesting way. We didn’t have any grand vision for who we would cast in the movie, but piece by piece it’s become a very eclectic, unique cast. John Cena came in and read for one of her boyfriends and we laughed so hard and then we did a table read with him and he got the biggest laughs of anybody at the table read, and then LeBron James. Bill and I went and met with LeBron James about playing Bill’s best friend in the movie, LeBron James, and he was really funny and we had a great conversation with him about something that we could do that would be interesting and unexpected with him, and then Claudia O’Doherty, she’s from Australia. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of her stuff on YouTube. She’s a great comedian and live performer, and so we keep discovering new people we haven’t worked with before, and then we have a lot of people who’ve acted on Amy’s show and comedians who are actors from the Comedy Cellar. Who else is in the movie? Colin Quinn plays Amy’s dad. I think it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen him give. It’s really emotional and very funny. Norman Lloyd is in the movie, who is 99 years old, and he’s on stage with Orson Wells and starred in Alfred Hitchcock movies, and he plays Colin Quinn’s best friend in the nursing home where Colin Quinn lives because he has MS and Method Man is in the movie. I’m trying to work with every member of Wu-Tang Clan, so I’ve done Ghostface Killah, RZA, and now Method Man. So it’s time for Raekwon.
Q: How’s your relationship with Amy evolved from developing the script, writing the script to being on the set where you’re directing her as your actor?
Apatow: Our thing has been very easy the whole time. We’ve just been in sync about what we wanted to do. My system is set up to not be too stressful. We grind on the script. We polish the script. We shoot the script, and then we say what else can we get. So by the time we’ve gotten here, we’ve discussed things for a really long time. There are no surprises when shooting begins. We rehearse a lot. We set rehearsals five months before the shoot begins, so every time we cast an actor, the next week we bring them into the office and we play around, so it’s worked really well for her. You basically either get each other or you don’t, and if you’re basically in sync, it’s fun, and if you’re not in sync, it’s a nightmare. We’ve been getting a kick out of each other’s sense of humor, and it’s been fun. She’s probably the hardest worker of any writer I’ve ever worked with. When I give her notes on the script, she’ll give it back to me in three days. Most people it could be a month. I could never hear from them again. She really turns it over. She’s very disciplined.
Q: How would you categorize the notes you gave her as the script was being developed?
Apatow: Well, generally I just try to get people through a first draft, because I think it’s good to just write fast and see what happens. It’s a way of figuring out what’s in your mind, and then slowly we try to decode what happens and that gives you clues as to what she’s thinking about and then each draft have it make more and more sense, and then we start polishing it, but it is about trusting that if you don’t think about it too deeply at the start, you might reveal something that you wouldn’t if you overthought it.
Q: She said to us her first draft was a pure manipulation to get you on board. She said she wrote it with you very much in mind, like interesting you with sports and things.
Apatow: Oh, I don’t really follow sports that much, so that was a miscalculation. You mean more to direct or to get me on board just to want to make it?
Q: She was vague about that, but she said she was completely ecstatic when you called to say you were throwing your hat in.
Apatow: Yeah, because she could have said, “I was thinking Tarantino.”
Q: It would be a very different movie then.
Apatow: She could have put her foot down.
Q: In this scene, Amy has three different punch lines, so you obviously have shot it a bunch of times with different punch lines. How do you decide which one to go with?
Apatow: Just the preview testing. Usually we have our gut for what we think works best, but if you show people and it’s dead silence at the end, then at least we have a few different options to replace some lines and see if we can make something work, especially in a scene like this when you know these moments need gigantic laughs. I never want to get stuck in a preview when I have no way to fix it if the audience says, oh, we don’t like that one, because it is a conversation with the audience when you make these comedies, so we try to test as much as we can and have a lot of ways to adjust things as the audience tells us what they understand and what they’re finding amusing. I mean this is one of the scenes where she is watching something that is making her uncomfortable.
Q: It seems like that style of working almost seems like a throwback to studio sitcoms, where the audience isn’t laughing at something, then you try to tweak it on set. Is that an influence for you?
Apatow: I think so. I always heard that that’s how they’d do it in “Cheers” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” They had a studio audience there and they worked, tweaking on their feet, but I think we knew that a lot of the funniest scenes, from our childhood were created on the spot, like Bill Murray in “Caddyshack,” pretending to be a golfer, saying it’s a Cinderella story. I always was aware that when they did “Diner,” Paul Reiser made up most of what he said. That fascinated me, that when you make a movie the actors could make a contribution like that, so I’ve always been open to it. Anytime that I could see the outtakes from “Stripes” and you can see Bill Murray’s improv, I’m so happy. So, over the years, since we did “The Ben Stiller Show,” all of us who believe in this approach to it, have been refining how to do it, so I think that’s why movies like “Neighbors” are so funny, and what Stiller does, because we’re just always exploring the moments until they tell us we have to go home.
Q: To that end, Barry (Mendel, Apatow’s production partner) was saying you’re shooting on film. Is that ever a budgetary concern, because obviously you’re going to be shooting more?
Apatow: Yeah, we shoot an enormous amount of film, but when we first budget the movie, we’ve done this enough that we know how much it costs. It’s not insane. It might be close to insane, but I want to shoot on film because I feel like pretty soon they’re not going to let us. It does seem like it will be 5-10 years, people will say it’s too expensive to shoot on film, because all of the labs have closed. And it looks way better. A lot of people say it looks the same, technology, video looks the same as film. We did actual comparisons where we had a video camera and a film camera and we did tests. It doesn’t look anything, video doesn’t look anything like film. I shot “This is 40” on video, and I liked the look of it, but it is very, very different.
Q: Since this is aiming to be a subversive romantic comedy, do you feel like shooting on film helps with the look because the genre tends to be shot on film?
Apatow: Yes, and we’re in New York and we want it to look beautiful, so it seemed to make sense in this situation.
Q: You mentioned Bill Murray before. I’ve always been surprised you haven’t brought in more of your heroes or other people you could theoretically reach out to and try to do something with them. So is that something you just don’t try to do?
Apatow: Well, earlier in my career, I tried to write movies for a lot of people I looked up to, and they always said no and I thought maybe it would be easier to write movies for people who are unemployed and they tend to say yes, but a lot of those people that I look up to, I might be really hard on myself about feeling like I don’t want to bother them unless my ideas are as good as my favorite films of theirs, you know, that I grew up on. So, it might be my bar is too high, “Oh, that’s not as good as ‘Ghostbusters,’ why would I bug him?”
Q: To be fair, he has done things that are not as good as “Ghostbusters”…like “Garfield.”
Apatow: Well, there’s something great about working with people who are trying to break through, because they work so hard and it’s fun to try to crack the code of why people would go see an Amy Schumer movie. What is her persona on screen? It’s like that, kind of moment in people’s career seems very interesting to me. I’ve just always liked that, and I like the level of enthusiasm for people when they’re working on one of their first projects, because they’ll just stay up all night. They’ll kill for you. I mean, everyone works really hard throughout their whole careers, but you know, if you’re doing the “40-Year-Old Virgin,” you’re getting, Steve Carrell working on it, and I think it’s fun and it makes for a happy set.
Q: To that point, Amy was talking about how when she wrote the script, she wrote a “Tilda Swinton type” and then was told that you guys could get Tilda Swinton. Can you talk about that conversation?
Apatow: Well, we hoped we could get Tilda Swinton. Yeah, she wrote that in as a description of how she might look, and then I had met Tilda Swinton years ago and she showed interest in doing something in our comedy world, and so it happened to time out perfectly for when she was going to be in the United States and we built our schedule around it, and she was amazing. She was really, really funny. We just jumped on the phone with her and talked to her about the character. She plays an editor at a magazine, where Amy works and you know, she got a kick out of it. She did a lot of research and created a really interesting, bizarre character.
Q: I want to ask about the music, because there’s been a lot of great music stuff in your other movies. For “This is 40,” you even reunited Graham Parker and the Rumour. Have you started talking about the music at all and how it’s going to play in the movie?
Apatow: We’re just beginning to talk about how to do it. I’ve been trying to think of what the sound of the movie is, and I keep thinking about early 1970s New York rock and roll. So, we’ll start placing things and see if that’s correct or completely wrong.
Q: It’s not something you work on during the script stage. It’s really after you’re cutting it.
Apatow: As soon as something is edited I can put some sounds to it and see if it feels right or not. We just started getting cuts back.
Q: This year, you have a great graduating class as Seth Rogen had a pretty big hit with “Neighbors,” Jonan Hill had a hit with “22 Jump Street,” and Jason Segel has another movie coming that will probably do well (“Sex Tape”).
Apatow: That’s a great movie. I’ve seen it.
Q: How does it feel to see these guys have grown out of the nest and doing so well?
Apatow: I’m thrilled that everyone is writing and producing and directing. Yeah, I have very maternal feelings about everybody and I’m happy that no one’s in trouble. I feel like everyone is employed, everyone is trying to do great work. They’re all really nice people, and they’re all friends with each other. So, that seems to be the wonderful miracle of the “Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared” experience is that everybody is productive and they all like each other and that, in some ways everyone has stayed connected. And some of what they’re doing is remarkable. I just saw “The Interview,” Seth and Evan’s new movie and it is hilarious and insane as anything I have ever seen. I’m very excited for them. They have quickly become incredibly strong, legendary comedic directors, so it’s just, as a fan, when they say, hey, do you want to see a cut, I get excited just to see something good, to make me happy, you know, because they just keep reinventing the form.
Q: I was really impressed by “This is the End” because I went to set and they work really fast as directors.
Apatow: They’ve always been great and people don’t realize that Seth and Evan were producers on most of my movies and they were always incredibly helpful and made a gigantic impact on the success of those movies. So, it’s not surprising me at all how good they’ve become.
Q: How often are you discovering and looking for new talent?
Apatow: I’m not actively looking, but every once in a while, you just stumble upon somebody. I hadn’t met Amy, but I knew her stand-up a little bit and I heard her on the Howard Stern show one day, just talking abut her life and her family, and I just loved her attitude and it was very warm, but brutally frank and I thought, “Oh, I’d love to see her turn that into a movie somehow,” but I wasn’t listening hoping I’d find somebody. I just keep my antennas up and look at stuff. Generally every few years, you get excited about somebody.
Q: And you yourself have been doing stand-up while you’re out here.
Apatow: I’ve been doing stand-up while I’m here. I haven’t been able to do stand-up, because I have kids and there are no clubs near the house. I can’t really leave everybody at night when I’m supposed to be helping them with their homework, but I’m stuck here with nothing to do, and I’d rather get out of the apartment than stare at the walls. So I’ve been going to the Comedy Cellar at Fairmount and I think it’s helped me to be funnier here, because it wakes up some dormant part of your brain that’s tuned into what’s making people laugh.
Q: Have you been writing material specific for that?
Apatow: Yeah, I just started writing jokes and when I get off people don’t seem mad at me. I followed Andrew Dice Clay the other night, and I held my own. The night didn’t fall apart when I got on the stage. He was insanely funny and it’s just fun to be around that scene and all those people. So many really inspired comics floating around. So, it’s just been fun, as a comedy nerd, to have a reason to watch everybody.
Q: Is that at all intimidating, one getting back in the stand-up, but also having everyone know you’re Judd Apatow? Does that bring a lot of pressure to your set?
Apatow: I don’t think about it too much. I just dove in, but I do well enough that I don’t feel like I’m embarrassing myself and it’s been fun to see how good I can get at it, because I’m not trying to do it for any reason. It’s just a joke experiment in a lot of ways and it’s fun to do it and then watch my favorite comedians and now that I’m doing it, realize how good they are. If I do stand-up and then later in the night watch Hannibal (Buress), I’m so much more aware of how brilliant his act is and how hard it is to get to that place. So it’s been fun.
Q: Do you have any plans to work with Hannibal coming up?
Apatow: I hope to. We‘re actually working on a documentary of something that he did and hopefully I’ll get to put something together with him. He’s one of my favorites, he makes me laugh really hard. He’s right up there. He’s one of my top two or three right now. I saw Chris Rock last night. He was really good. Dave Chappelle came in last week. It was really fun.
Q: What kind of days do you work as far as how many hours? Do you have a very specific number of hours you like to work each day?
Apatow: We’re supposed to do 12 hours a day and I try to, I’m not pushing anybody. I try to get home, my daughter Maude is here, so I don’t want the days to become days and nights, but it’s a reasonable schedule. It’s not like we’re underscheduled, so we have to work late everyday. We have a sense of how long it takes to do each thing after doing so many movies.
Q: How long is this sequence that you’re shooting now?
Apatow: It’s a big sequence in the movie, so we’re shooting it over three days. We shot most of it, this is the last major piece of it, but it was all about Amy feeling under pressure to settle down and being around all of these suburban people and not fitting in. Did it make you laugh the first time you watched?
Train wreck opens int theaters on Friday, July 17.
(Photo credit: Nicky Nelson/WENN.com)