When you write about movies, it’s normally the cool thing to interview directors like Wes Anderson or Werner Herzog or Woody Allen or other auteurs whose movies are taken seriously by cinephiles and movie lovers. Then every once in a while, you interview a studio director who is just so much fun to talk to, someone who so clearly loves movies and having fun, that honestly, you’d talk to him if he was directing a Miley Cyrus movie. Given director Andy Fickman’s long-time relationship with Disney, that’s not a completely unfathomable possibility either.
ComingSoon.net has spoken to Andy Fickman a number of times over the years, but we first met him at Comic-Con in 2008 where he was giving fans an early look at his second movie with Dwayne Johnson, Race to Witch Mountain, and that infectious enthusiasm towards making movies was immediately apparent.
Normally, a female-driven ensemble comedy like You Again, which opens today, wouldn’t hold much interest for us, but on learning that Fickman directed it, we made an effort to get him on the phone, realizing once again that we wouldn’t have a chance to see his movie before talking to him. (Thanks Disney!)
We did know that the premise involved Kristen Bell returning home for her brother’s wedding to find that her high school arch-rival, played by Odette Yustman from Cloverfield, was going to be his bride. Just as that rivalry resumes, her mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, discovers that the bride’s aunt (Sigourney Weaver) is her own nemesis from high school, and that competition is renewed as well. And then there’s Betty White, who literally could show up in any movie, say a single line and immediately make it funnier.
We did the best we could without having seen the movie, knowing full well that Andy’s fanboy enthusiasm would keep things rolling if we ran out of questions.
ComingSoon.net: One of these days I’ll actually get to see one of your movies before interviewing you. I don’t know when that might be, but someday. Andy Fickman: (laughs) It’s become a tradition, so you just keep with tradition.
CS: Anyway, when we spoke last year for “Witch Mountain” which was I guess March 2009, was this movie already on your radar? Is this something you originated originally? Fickman: No, I mean it might’ve been just coming in. It was actually really strange because right when I left to start the press tour for “Witch Mountain” I took 20 scripts with me and Disney had slipped “You Again” into my pile and said, “Look, it’s a kind of really fun, ensemble comedy. We don’t know if it’d be something that you’re interested in, but give it a read.” I took it with me on the tour, Dwayne and I had just gotten to Mexico City. We had just opened #1 the night before in the States. I got up at a couple hours before interviews started and I just started taking scripts off the pile and reading them. I got to “You Again” and I just fell in love with it. I thought it was absolutely charming. By the time I finished the press tour, they had negotiated my deal when I was in London. I was thinking before leaving for that trip that I had a couple of months off for some R&R and regroup. I landed and the very next day came in to Disney to start a production meeting. They put calls into all my crew that I just said goodbye to and said, “Don’t go anywhere. I think we’re gonna circle the wagons again.” It happened very, very quickly. I think it’s probably the fastest I’ve ever gotten involved in terms of a movie and then moved that movie into production that quickly.
CS: I felt like “Witch Mountain” was pretty fast after “The Game Plan,” too. Fickman: Yeah, it was, but we got hammered by the writers strike, so we started developing “Witch Mountain” when we were in post on “The Game Plan.” By the time we did promotion on “The Game Plan,” we already had somewhat of an idea about “Witch Mountain,” and then the writers strike sorta slowed us down just that period of time waiting, where here it was just step off a plane and… it’s kind of like writing a new story every time, like you kind of have to shake the cobwebs out and think, “Okay, I now need to start getting a little muscle memory about this script that I’m getting ready to talk about.”
CS: You said you were able to get the same crew on both movies? That’s such a rarity when you’re making studio movies. Fickman: Well, I’ve been very lucky. I didn’t have everyone the same. The DP I used a lot already jumped onto another movie, but I ended up with David Hennings, who’s an amazing DP, but yeah, or the majority of my crew, I was able to sort of circle back up and get ’em. You’re right, it’s very much a rarity. I love trying to keep tabs on my crew, knowing where they might be, so just in case you have to circle the wagons, you can get an idea how easy that will be or not.
CS: Did you immediately think of Kristen for the lead role being that you had worked together years earlier? Fickman: Yeah, well, one of the things that was going in the script that favored her to start with was when they handed it to me they said, “Just so you know, we have given this script to K-Bell to read. You might want to consider her. Maybe that’s something to put in your mind.” She and I are always looking for stuff, so I immediately read the script thinking of her. In doing so, once I knew I liked it, I’d called her agent, Tracy Brennan over at CAA, because I didn’t want to call K-Bell first, just in case she hadn’t read it or didn’t know what I was talking about. I was like, “Are you guys familiar with the script ‘You Again?'” She goes, “Yeah, we kind of like it, but it would just, it would all depend on who the director is.” So within about 20 minutes I was on the phone with K-Bell and we both just at that point just said, “Okay, this’ll be the movie.” It was that thing as you said, having worked together over a decade, finding a movie that we both fell in love with and that was so perfect for her voice and so sort of keyed into what I was thinking was funny and emotional and heartfelt. You’re always looking, but when you get it in your hands, we both made sure we sort of cleared our schedules and just made it work.
CS: I remember you did “Witch Mountain,” because you wanted to do a big action movie, something different. After that, were you itching to get back to doing another straight comedy? Fickman: Well, the truth is that a lot of the scripts that I was reading at the time post-“Witch Mountain” were a lot of action movies and some of ’em we’re still developing. It wasn’t so much looking for comedy as much as I always like mixing it up and I feel like “Reefer Madness” was such a fun, indie, cool, little, “Wicked” type movie and then diving from that to “She’s the Man” which was a teen comedy, and then “The Game Plan” was a family comedy and “Race to Witch Mountain” was adventure. I think I was looking for something that I hadn’t really done yet, and this was very much an adult, female-driven ensemble comedy. Again, nothing that I could look back and feel like, “Oh, this is territory I’ve done before.” It has a lot of heart to it, so I think that’s what I responded to was a combo of things.
CS: It’s still PG, although Touchstone regularly does PG-13 movies. Was there a lot of racier stuff you had to cut out? Fickman: No, and it was so not conscious at all. It was just the nature of the script, as the script was written. We would sort of joke around sometimes that, “Oh, you know, we all responded to a script that nobody says ‘sh*t,’ ‘f*ck’ or damn in this script.” (Laughs) So, we weren’t even having to cut around it; we just simply filmed like it was just never written in the script. We also never got to a place where anybody at the studio was telling us, “Oh, by the way, we would love if you could slip in one of those.” That never happened either. We were very lucky that the studio sort of believed in the material. Then, when we got into editing, we sort of noticed how clean it was. (Laughs) It’s still very suggestive and fun and all of that and it doesn’t lose any of the comedy, but we were highly aware later on that like, “Oh, we did a movie where we weren’t trying to figure out how to cut the word ‘balls’ out of it.”
CS: Kristen had done a lot of racier movies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Couple’s Retreat” which was kind of tame but still have a lot of pretty racy stuff in there. I don’t know if you do a lot of improv, but I feel like Jamie Lee Curtis has been in a lot of R-rated comedies before. I was wondering if there was any kind of improv where they would go in that route and you would have to pull that back on set? Fickman: We improv-ed all the time. I specifically put a cast together that was very comfortable improv-ing and sort of creating off-book, so every once in a while, somebody would say something or something would happen that we all thought was hysterical, but we knew tonally would be like, “Oh, that will never actually make the movie. That one’s racier,” and that was more just us trying to crack each other up. It was really great having that many actors who could improv. A lot of the comedy that happens in our movie I think are just spontaneous moments that they discovered.
CS: I’m not sure if it was subconscious but you ended up with two of the biggest genre heroines of the ’70s in Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver fighting it out with each other. Was that something deliberate or something that just happened? Fickman: It really did just happen in an odd way. Now, we always kept talking. We started with Jamie, she was our first one on board. Then, Jamie’s such a strong actress, you needed to find another actress who ultimately Jamie could feel slightly outgunned by. You know, Sigourney was always the top of that list. Then, when we got Sigourney, the two of them had never worked together before and really didn’t really know each other well. So, when we go them together, there was certainly this fanboy moment in me on day one of rehearsals where I’m like, “I have Ripley and Laurie Strode.” We’re literally going to have “Alien” fight “Halloween.” Every boyhood, childhood dream of mine from watching those movies and loving those movies just exploded in my head. Then on the set, when you’d get the two of them going, the crew would all be like, “Well, Sigourney has killed aliens, but Jamie has killed her brother who refuses to die.” So we would take bets on who we thought could win the fight.
CS: It was literally the first thing I thought about when I saw the trailer. I was like, “Oh my God, he’s got the two of them in a movie.” I’m really surprised they’d never done a movie together. I’m sure they must have fought over some of the same roles in their careers as well. Fickman: Oh yeah, they both worked for Cameron, there’s a lot of things. Interestingly enough, they had somewhat similar lives in the sense that Jamie also obviously her two parents, strong West coast representation of kind of acting, and Sigourney’s father was one of the key architects of early television. You have these two actresses who grew up in sort of East Coast, West Coast, but both kinda grew up in the business and then found themselves doing it. Definitely, there were a lot of parallels with them, and certainly two very strong iconic women who kind of represent the posters of woman alone doing battle against a big evil monster.
CS: As far as the last two actresses, you have a woman who’s maybe the most obvious casting, because Betty White is a slam dunk, then you have the least obvious which is Odette, who hasn’t really done any kind of comedy at all. Let’s talk about Odette first. How did you know she could be funny and get into that mode with all of those other actresses? Fickman: It was really interesting because she was being pitched to us and I knew her work from “Cloverfield” and her work from “The Unborn,” but she’s never done a comedy, so there really wasn’t anything. There was no secret gem of a Sundance movie that they were gonna send my way for me to look at and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s awesome.” What ended up happening was… I love to have meetings with actors first. It really gives me a chance to understand their personality, and a lot of times you can get a sense of how like somebody is or how funny someone is. My first general meeting with Ody, I was just smitten with her. I thought she’s really got a lot more – she’s so used to playing women in jeopardy, but this is a chick who should be in a rom-com, like, she’s very funny. Her stories, she was making fun of herself in the conversations. When we started bringing her in for auditions she was up against, as you can imagine, that sort of who’s who of every female actress in town who’s done a comedy before, and all wonderful actresses, and we were really lucky with the choices we had. Odette, every time she went to work on her audition or her screen test, her mix and match and chemistry reads with Kristen Bell and with Jimmy Wolk, everybody would look at me like, “Is it just me, but she’s really special?” By the time we did the final screen test and we took everything into the studio for presentation, and she was sort of our lead choice going in that we were showing everybody, we didn’t know how much of a fight we were gonna have ahead of us, and it was just wonderful that we didn’t have any fight. The studio fell in love with her, and really brave of her, that first day of rehearsal and first day of filming you’re on the set with so many comedy geniuses in any direction. You look one way and there’s Kristin Chenoweth and Victor Garber and you look the other way and there’s Betty and Jamie Lee and Sigourney and you’re opposite K-Bell. That’s just a lot of comedy and it’s her first one out the gate, but never looked back, and there was never a daily that we ever saw where we questioned that she just has a natural instinct.
CS: How about for you as a director? Were you intimidated by having all that talent at your disposal yourself? Fickman: No, I think for me, I’ve been very lucky, by the time I pull the trigger on casting and we finally land that person, it’s always someone that I felt very comfortable in that role. I think I was curious how she would do with everyone else, but I never had a fear factor. I think I was far more tip toey around Betty White because at that point, all I knew was she’s this amazing icon, but she was 88 years old and I didn’t know how long could she work during the day? Did I have to talk to her like she was Mr. Magoo? I just didn’t know how to approach it. Such a lesson learned because on the very first day of rehearsal, what we all discovered is nobody is sharper, nobody is more alert, nobody is more on it or on their game than Betty White from start to finish, and whether it was four o’clock in the afternoon or four o’clock in the morning, Betty is just golden. She is the ultimate professional and kept us all on our toes because just when you start thinking like, “I’m a little tired,” you look over at Betty and she’s like, “Let’s go,” and so much heart and warmth. She became just such the cheerleader and the mascot through the whole show.
CS: She’s quite a phenomenon too, because if you told me 10 years ago… or even five years ago… or even two years ago that she’d be the biggest comic actress out there right now, I would not have believed you. It’s pretty crazy. Did you get her before “The Proposal” came out? Fickman: When I read the script, “The Proposal” had just come out, or it was coming out, but when I read the script, jokingly enough, we just kept referring to the Grandma Bunny character as “the Betty White character.” The way the description read and in my head I just thought of Betty White. All through casting we kept calling it “the Betty White character” then about halfway through casting we all realized, “Oh, we should actually see if Betty White’s available to play the Betty White character.” That’s what we ended up doing and we were just so thrilled that she said “yes” and came on board. By the time we were done – and everybody just treated her like she was Betty White from “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Golden Girls” and like, she’s amazingthen when we were in post, she did the Super Bowl commercial and then “Saturday Night Live” exploded and “Hot in Cleveland.” She’s had this wonderful explosion with people kind of rediscovering her and new people discovering her as well, which is so wonderful. All of that came when we were in post looking around being like, “That’s our Betty White.” Like we’re so thrilled that everyone’s enjoying Betty the way we do.
CS: She’s also your best chance at getting men to see the movie because she has a huge gay fanbase apparently. Fickman: That’s interesting. I just got done doing “Heathers” as a musical concert in New York, and when we were there in New York, we have such an amazing cast, the first name that everybody wants to know about is Betty. It crossed all demographics, so we’re hoping that they’ll go see her.
CS: I remember you mentioned the “Heathers” musical when I talked to you last year. Of course you performed it in New York when I was in Toronto for the festival, so I completely missed it. How’d it turn out? Does it sound promising, that it might go to Broadway? Fickman: Yeah, we have such an amazing team, Larry O’Keefe, who got the Tony nomination for “Legally Blonde,” and Kevin Murphy who won the Emmy Award for “Reefer Madness,” for lyrics. They’ve written just remarkable songs, and we’ve really been partnered with Dan Waters who wrote the original movie and he’s been our partner every step of the way. We had some very successful readings here in L.A., then to go do it in New York, we were sold out, standing room only. The response was just through the roof. Now we’re sort of reconnecting with all of us to determine which avenue we want to follow for the next step in terms of the launch of the full show. It was really, really just so exciting to be there during that period of time, and fun to have so much support from our cast. I love when your casts all blend together like that.
CS: I was curious whether you bring a lot from your musical comedy background to the movies you direct when they’re not musicals? I haven’t seen “You Again” yet, but there are a lot of great choreographers who become comedy directors like Adam Shankman and Anne Fletcher. I was curious, do you bring a lot of that background when you do a movie as well? Fickman: “You Again” definitely has a lot of that. Shankman and Annie Fletcher and Kenny Ortega, I think, are great examples of choreographers, who have such a great sense of comedic timing. I think that comedy is not too dissimilar from the rhythm that one needs in doing a musical. It’s all about the beat, it’s all about where something lands. It’s all about the rhythm and how long you could keep the audience engaged before you need to change it up. I think that choreographers have a fine tradition of making that crossover to directors in a big sense. Shankman and Annie Fletcher are just some of my favorite directors working today, and I think that they’ve learned a lot of that through it.
CS: Obviously, you’re writer, producer, director, you’ve got a lot of movies in development, an insane amount some might say. Do you have any idea what you’ll do next after you finishing promoting this one? Fickman: There have been a couple of them. I’m developing a really fun movie called “TMI” at Universal with Anna Faris that is very much an R-rated romantic comedy. She’s such a delight to work with, so we’re excited about that coming together. Then at Fox, I’m developing with Billy Crystal a family comedy called “Us and Them,” very much in line like a “Parenthood” type movie. Billy’s truly one of my heroes and the opportunity to work alongside him and develop this material is really exciting. You’re always playing that game of like what gets the green light first? (laughs) So both of those movies are moving in the right direction, and I would be lucky and thrilled for either or both of them to go.
CS: Yeah, I’d love to see Billy doing something again because being the age I am, his comedies are ones I loved and I feel he hasn’t done anything in a long time. Fickman: Well, he did like, the voice in “Monsters, Inc.” but he’s spent a lot of time developing his Broadway show which also came out as a book and (had) just such critical acclaim. I think that this is a project that’s an original idea of his, so yeah, you go work in his office and you see “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers,” and all of those posters and you realize as a reminder just, “Wow, what a movie star he is and what a strong voice of comedy he is.” So excited, really excited to work with him.
CS: Another thing I wanted to ask about is “Boy Scouts vs. Zombies,” which is fairly recent and it sounds like one of those evocative titles where you immediately know what you’re going to get. Is that something you’re still developing? That’s your own project? Fickman: That was a script that a friend of mine, a very prolific producer, Todd Gardner, brought me this material and the writers were very fresh and exciting voice. It’s just a fun movie, and we realized it would be something different that we could put together. The title alone got me, but when I read the script and started working with the writers, I was sort of hooked. We’re in the process now of putting the pieces together of where the actual home of it will be, but the response has been so great, we’ve just been having a ton of fun. It’s one of those things that it’s rare that you read a script and then you literally go, “No, literally it is ‘Boy Scouts vs. Zombies.’ (laughs) Close your eyes and imagine boy scouts and imagine zombies and you know your movie” and that made us all smile, so that’s always a good start.
CS: So what happens if all of these three get greenlit all at once? Do you have to then make a personal decision on which one you want to do first? Fickman: (laughs) These are high caliber problems to have, but I find in Hollywood nothing ever works on the timeline that it’s supposed to work and every time I think a movie is getting ready to get greenlit, it doesn’t, but another movie that I wasn’t thinking gets greenlit immediately races to the forefront. I’ve found that it’s best to just take a seat back and watch and see what comes together, and as a director, just continually nurturing all of em and making sure my vision and my input are there. Hopefully, I’ll get to yell “action” on ’em some day.
CS: When I talked to you last year, I got the impression “I Walk with a Zombie” was gonna happen right away. Fickman: Yeah, it got slowed down. We were very conscientious of the scripts and making sure that the material lived up to it. Just in the past four months, three of the four of them, our scripts are exactly kind of now coming into fruition. Jeff Betancourt (horror editor) who’s been working, so all of our scripts, we’re doing readings of “Body Snatchers” and a reading of “Five Came Back.” We’re doing those within the next three weeks, and we finally got them to a place where we’re ready to share and feel excited about ’em. I think any time you do adaptations and updates from movies from the ’40s, it’s always the challenge of making sure not only are you providing something fresh, but are you still being true to the Val Lewton name? We never wanted to do something that was just a name only. Our touchstone for RKO and Twisted Pictures and myself and our other producers has always been, “It has to be done the way Val Lewton would’ve wanted it done. I feel like we finally can look at each other and everyone say the same thing. We feel like, “Okay, we’re on that page now.”
CS: I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Val was one of the biggest influences for Martin Scorsese for “Shutter Island.” Fickman: Sure. Yeah, he’s been a longtime, huge Val Lewton fan. What was also interesting was when we were filming “You Again,” somehow the Val Lewton movies came up. Sigourney Weaver literally just grabbed me and said, “You don’t understand, ‘Five Came Back’ is one of my all time favorite movies.” It’s the movie that launched Lucille Ball. She remembers every inch of “Five Came Back” and was thrilled that we were doing an updated version of it. We’ve spent endless hours talking about it. Lewton has had his hands in a lot of people’s lives in terms of encouraging (them) and giving them something to look forward to from the movies.
CS: So she asked for the first read or is the movie too precious for her that she wouldn’t want to be part of a remake of it? Fickman: Oh, you know what? I will guarantee you that we gave that information to the writers right away (Laughs) and said, “Look, nothing would make me happier than giving that script to Sigourney.”
CS: It’s great having worked with Jamie Lee and Sigourney, because you now have two great actresses you can get for any of those movies. Fickman: Yeah, I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity in my career to work with so many great actresses and that every time I read a script, I always look backwards at who the actress was that I might have – you know, “Is there something for Kyra Sedgwick? Is there something for Carla Gugino? Is there something for Jamie Lee?” I feel very lucky that I still have those relationships and that the actors, we would all come together if we found something else.
CS: Is Adam still attached to direct “Zombie”? Fickman: Yeah, yeah, Adam’s still attached to do that and we’ve been now focusing on budget, focusing on location and focusing on design elements as well because it’s gotta stand out, be unique. Adam is such a gifted visual effects guy too and has really taken the charge in terms of the recent work he’s doing on the designs.
CS: Have you and Dwayne talked at all about what you might want to do for your triptych, for your third movie together? Fickman: We’re always, always, always throwing around ideas. I think we would be very happy for many years to come to keep finding projects to do. We have a good time working together, and the audience seems to enjoy the results. He’s just a great guy to have on set. It’s always nice to see the respect that he shows the rest of the cast and crew. He’s a real leader that way, so I think aside from his obvious crush he has on me, which he can’t seem to let go of. I don’t like to talk about it too much, but it is a bit of an obsession.
CS: Is “Johnny Quest” something that might happen? I know it’s been in development for so long. Fickman: “Johnny Quest” I think was one of those things, it’s a wonderful piece of material. I know that it’s been through various incarnations, and at one time, I think we were all sort of eyeing it. For the most part, it’s gone through so many changes now, I’m not sure which direction the studio is taking it, but Dwayne and I, we haven’t really been focused on that for some time now.
CS: The last thing I wanted to ask about was the Cher musical which is the latest thing that’s been thrown out there with your name attached. Fickman: It’s the biggest nonsense… All I could say at this point was “no comment” because there’s nothing there to actually – some day there could be a comment. Every once in a while, we read things on the internet and I’m like, “Really? Really?” I think sometimes people get whiff of something that they’ve heard and then it sort of maybe gets a little bigger than..
CS: Have you met her though? She’s doing a movie with K-Bell (note: as soon as that came out of my mouth, I couldn’t believe that I’d picked up that nickname) so I thought you might have met her. Fickman: Yes, I’ve seen her show and have had the pleasure of meeting her. I do know that K-Bell just loves her and loved working with her on “Burlesque,” but honestly, there’s nothing on my end, there’s absolutely nothing to report.
CS: Listen Andy, it’s great talking to you again, man. I really hope I get the chance to see this movie Friday or Saturday or one of these days. Fickman: I’m looking forward to it. We’re really excited. It’s our little ensemble comedy against some of these bigger movies that are opening this weekend, but we think people that go will have a really great time.