Austin Film Festival awardee Paul Feig talks ‘Alf,’ female comedies, movie jail, Donald Trump and more

Paul Feig at the 2016 Austin Film Festival. (Credit: Jack Plunkett AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL)

Paul Feig at the 2016 Austin Film Festival. (Credit: Jack Plunkett AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL)

He may be now be known as that guy who makes all the really good female comedies, but Paul Feig is so much more. In addition to directing “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and “Ghostbusters,” the latter two he also wrote, Feig created “Freaks and Geeks” and has directed episodes of some of the best TV shows of the past decade, including “Arrested Development” and “Mad Men.” The dapper director with the voice of an NPR affiliate station in Michigan received the Extraordinary Contribution to Film award at this year’s Austin Film Festival and appeared in conversation Sunday with the festival’s executive director Barbara Morgan. Below are 10 takeaways from that chat:

  1. This ain’t Feig’s first rodeo. He has been coming to AFF since 2002 and won an audience award for his second feature, “I Am David,” at the fest in 2003.
  2. Feig got his start in “show business” when he moved to Los Angeles as a young man to serve as a tour guide at Universal Studios. He was under the impression that the “tour guide was the conduit between lay people and showbiz.”
  3. He turned to “The $25,000 Pyramid” to earn some money during his nascent stand-up comedy career. It worked. He won $29,000, which helped support him for five years a comedian.
  4. Before cracking into the industry, the former script reader wrote many spec scripts, including one for “a very special episode” of “Alf,” in which Alf worked at a suicide prevention hotline. He teased the audience with the idea that one day he may offer a script reading for that at AFF.
  5. “Freaks and Geeks” started as a memoir that he translated to a television show. The dodgeball scene from the pilot was torn from the pages of his real life, as were most of the characters. The only character not based on someone Feig actually knew? Lindsay Weird, played by Linda Caredellini. She was the platonic ideal of the kind of big sister Feig always wished he could have had.
  6. Feig’s stand-up career informed his filmmaking. He would tape his stand-up act and go back and listed for what jokes got laughs and what didn’t work. He applied that same technique to test screenings of films, looking to see what resonated with audiences and what needed to be excised or honed.
  7. Feel the pain. Feig said that the painful personal stories are the ones that give you the best and most relatable material.
  8. Big tip on writing comedy: “Don’t try to be funny.”
  9. On why he wasn’t a good actor: He thought too much and you could see it in his performances.
  10. Turn out the lights. “The only true way to end a series is to kill everybody. That is why ‘Six Feet Under’ was the best ending ever.” #spoileralert
  11. Biggest lesson he ever learned: Jason Segel killed in his audition for “Freaks and Geeks,” but he wasn’t the kind of person Feig had envisioned for the role, so he was prepared to pass on the 6’4″ kid from Southern California. But producer Judd Apatow convinced him to hire Segel and figure it out from there. “If you get a great person, tailor that role for them. Take the strength,” Feig said.
  12. Why comedy? “Life is too short to try and depress people.”
  13. After two box office bombs, Feig was making promotional movies for Macy’s. One of them included Donald Trump and a bake sale, apparently. Feig was stressed out from the work and said Trump, whom they wanted to get in and out as efficiently as possible, “was so nerve wracking to work with.” Feig said he almost had a nervous breakdown working on the project and was suffering what sounded like something of an existential crisis surrounding his career and his future. A day or two later he got a call alerting him that the long-gestating comedy about bridesmaids was back on. He was hired to direct soon thereafter. And the rest is history.
  14. Feig said finding his groove as the man who directs women was “the happiest day of my life.” He admits that he isn’t great at writing male characters, in part because he doesn’t relate to hyper masculinity and he’s always related better to women.
  15. As for the state of female comedies, “It’s better than it was but it should be way better than it is.”

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