05.15.11

Bridesmaids Director Paul Feig's Overdue Triumph

While Paul Feig has risen to small-screen success directing hits including The Office and Mad Men, his feature films have bombed. Until now. Fresh off his early box-office glory, he chronicles his bumpy ride to the top.

In honor of Bridesmaids’s weekend debut, I have decided to share select entries from my director’s journal—the one that I keep under my bed that has a picture of kittens on it.

Sunday, December 5, 2004. 10:34 a.m. PST

My first real feature film, I Am David—about a 12 year-old boy who escapes from a concentration camp—has been released this weekend in 226 theaters across the Midwest by a studio that inherited it from a smaller studio they acquired the previous year. (I made one called Life Sold Separately in 1997 for $30,000 that hardly anyone has seen, so it doesn’t really count … though I still like it.) All in, I spent three years making I Am David and trying to get it distributed. As I sit in the bathtub this morning, I receive a call from one of the heads of the studio, who proceeds to yell at me about how poorly my movie has done at the box office, despite an almost non-existent marketing campaign. After a five-minute tirade, he hangs up, and I fall into a deep depression.

Total I Am David production budget: $7,000,000
Opening weekend gross: $160,346
Total worldwide gross: $292,376

Friday, December 8, 2006. 5:42 p.m. PST

My second feature film (yes, I’m still not counting that $30,000 one), a kids’ Christmas movie called Unaccompanied Minors, starring Lewis Black and Wilmer Valderrama, opens in 2,775 theaters. A friend has told me that the manager at the Sherman Oaks Galleria theaters told him that they’re expecting long lines for my film today. I take my wife to the theater to bask in the sight of hundreds of eager children waiting to see my film. We arrive right after show time and approach the ticket booth. When I ask the bored teen behind the register how many tickets they’ve sold for the current show, she looks at her computer screen and says, “Well, the theater holds 220 people, and 211 tickets …” She pauses and squints at the screen for a few more seconds, then finishes her sentence by saying “… haven’t been sold.” I slump out of the lobby, secure in the knowledge that my movie is essentially a bomb. There is a loud metallic bang as the door to my Movie Jail cell slams shut.

Total Unaccompanied Minors production budget: $25,000,000
Opening weekend gross: $5,815,474
Total worldwide gross: $21,949,214

Friday, May 13, 2011. 11:44 a.m. PST

My fourth feature film (okay, I decided to count the $30,000 Life Sold Separately now), the female comedy Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, opens today in 2,918 theaters. I’ve talked to several people in the industry, and it has been decided that if the movie can make over $20 million, we would be considered a success. I rejoice in the fact that I now have a number I can neurotically obsess over.

Many theaters decided to do midnight screenings last night, and reports from friends seem to indicate that lots of people showed up. I am terrified, but feeling optimistic. This is, until I receive an email telling me that the take from the midnight screenings was “not great.” I deflate and hear the squeal of the Movie Jail cell door as it starts to close again, the same door that my friend and producer Judd Apatow had so graciously opened by bringing me onto this project. Depression sets in.

Friday, May 13, 2011. 12:16 p.m. PST

I receive an email from the studio informing me that the matinees are over-performing, and that we are on track to possibly make over $22 million at the box office this weekend. I receive this news while in the bathroom. I wonder if this potentially lifts the I Am David being-in-the-bathroom-when-box-office-reports-come-in curse, or if merely being in the bathtub is to blame. I vow to never again take a bath the weekend I have a movie opening. Depression lifts.

Friday, May 13th, 2011. 4:12 p.m. PST

Another email comes in from the studio, informing me that the matinee numbers have softened a bit, bringing our weekend estimate down to $20 million. I envision similar emails to follow throughout the evening, saying numbers have continued to soften and the movie has dropped into the low teens and is now considered an underachiever. I envision Deadline’s Nikki Finke nodding and saying, “See, I told you so.” I decide that my entire bathroom is to blame, and that I have given the bathtub a bad rap by singling it out. Depression looms once again.

Friday, May 13th, 2011. 9:20 p.m. PST

The studio emails that our Friday estimates indicate a weekend gross between $20 and $22 million. I decide that there’s no more unsettling word in the English language than “estimates.” But I am starting to feel good. The Movie Jail door seems to not be moving and is slightly ajar.

Saturday, May 14, 2011. 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. PST

I spend the day driving around to various theaters and begging my way in, claiming to be the director of Bridesmaids. I show my ID several times and twice have to point out my name on the movie poster in the lobby. Once inside, I find theaters that are close-to-full but none that are sold out. I realize that I have no idea how to turn this reconnaissance info into actual empirical data, and so just try to enjoy listening to the sound of various audiences laughing at the movie. I end the journey completely confused and unsure of the future, although am quietly pleased to find that Nikki Finke has admitted publicly on her website that she was incorrect about her predictions of our underperformance. I find myself wanting to send her a ticket to see if she might actually enjoy our movie.

Saturday, May 14, 2011. 9:17 p.m. PST

While having a couple of cast members who live in my neighborhood over for dinner, I receive an email from the studio informing me that our Saturday shows are up 40 percent over Friday, and that the new estimate for the weekend is $23.5 to $24.5 million. I make a noise like a small child who’s just opened a Christmas present containing a puppy. I announce the news to my cast members. Booze is consumed. The bathroom has been exonerated.

Sunday, May 15th, 2011. 8:49 p.m. PST

Nervously waiting for the final report on today’s box office totals, but none have arrived. Maybe they don’t send them out on Sunday nights. I have no idea. I’ve never worked on a movie where it mattered, at this point. Friends are over who haven’t seen the final version of the film, and so we decide to go see it. But when I try to buy tickets online, most of the theaters near us are sold out or have no seats together. And so I am torn between being happy that my movie is doing well and aggravated that I can’t get four tickets to see it.

I have no idea what the box office future holds for Bridesmaids, but I’ve decided I’m going to allow myself to enjoy this night and to look back on this weekend as something that was really nice and very exciting. I’m thrilled that audiences saw our movie—that a lot of them seemed to really like it. But whether they liked it or disliked it, I’m proud of it and honored to have gotten to make it with so many talented and wonderful people in every single part of the process. And in the end, even though this is a business and box office matters, I think that’s the part I’ll remember the most.

Off to see my movie. I hope we have good seats.

Actually, strike that. I hope we have terrible seats.

Total Bridesmaids production budget: $32.5 million
Opening weekend gross: $24.6 million (estimated)
Total worldwide gross: Who the heck knows?

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Paul Feig is a filmmaker, writer, director, and author. He is the director and producer of Bridesmaids , which is his fourth feature. He is a three-time Emmy-nominated writer/director and DGA Award winner, best known for creating the series Freaks and Geeks and serving as director and co-executive producer of The Office. Feig has directed multiple episodes of Arrested Development , The Office , Nurse Jackie , Bored to Death , Weeds , 30 Rock , and Mad Men. In addition to his film and television work, Feig is the author of two comedic memoirs released by Random House, Kick Me–Adventures in Adolescence and Superstud, Or How I Became a 24 Year Old Virgin , the latter becoming a New York Times and Los Angeles Times best seller.