Paul Feig | Geek Cool

film_freaks"That's why we all got into the creative world, because we want to do stuff, and we want people in large numbers to enjoy it. I'd rather go through a studio route and then put my personal stamp on—bring that personal experience, bring that love of character, bring more human and real reasons why a character is doing something, and add that to a bigger thing."

 

 

 

Although it's hard to come up with reasons to complain about a job wherein I get to hand-select people whom I admire to interview, things never really work out as planned. To pick an example at random, the other day I interviewed Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks & Geeks, one of my three favorite television shows of all time, but instead of being able to harass him with F&G questions for the duration of my 20-minute interview, I was required by the constrictions of his publicists—and the acknowledged purpose of the interview in the first place—to get some column inches for his new film, Unaccompanied Minors. Not that there's anything wrong with Minors, but it's like getting to interview Orson Welles on the condition that you ask him about Transformers: The Movie instead of Citizen Kane.

film_feigLuckily for me, there are always ways to bend things in the direction of the topics that you want to talk about. While Unaccompanied Minors is a film targeted squarely at a younger audience, there is plenty within it to appease the hardcore F&G wiener in us all, be it similar themes regarding geeky kids, divorce, and the bonding of kids across different cliques or cameos from the Feig oeuvre regulars, such as F&G's Dave (Gruber) Allen or Steve Bannos (not to mention the number of Arrested Development and The Office cameos—both of which are programs Feig has directed a number episodes for). But Feig didn't cast his TV buddies strictly to appease his fans. "For me, it's like, literally, ‘Who's the funniest person I can find for this role?' he says. "I just really hate wasting any frame of film time if you're doing a comedy on somebody who's not funny… I love the old movies, like Bringing Up Baby. Every single person on that movie is funny; there's such an economy of characters. By doing that, you get extra comedy that you don't normally have.

"I don't ever say I'm making something for kids; I say I'm making something about kids for adults, " Feig explains about his track record. (Apart from Freaks, Feig has written two acclaimed memoirs of his geekedy childhood, entitled Kick Me and Superstud: Or, How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin). To the uninitiated, it might be hard to ascertain his intended target audience. Feig continues, "Especially with a movie like Unaccompanied Minors, clearly, it's a movie for kids to enjoy, but I never face it that way. All you're doing if you say ‘I'm just making it for kids' is ‘I'm going to be dumb. I'm going to dumb myself down, and I'm going to talk down to kids.' All you do is sell them short, and you just hurt the comedy."

Even to the initiated, though, Feig's decision to direct Unaccompanied Minors has caused some ripples. The Freaks & Geeks message board, still going strong some seven years later (and which is funded directly from Feig's pocket, who sometimes posts on the board himself, as does F&G producer Judd Apatow, of The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame) and populated with the hardest of hardcore Freaks fans, has found a lot of members blindly accusing Feig of selling out and making a crappy, impersonal Hollywood movie. "The Internet is the place for all of us disaffected, kind-of geeks who were all beaten up in high school, and it's kind of become a safe haven," explains Feig. "But now it's a place where all the people who used to get beaten up are beating everyone else up. Nobody should feel sorry for a poor guy making a movie, but please, this is my safe haven, the Freaks & Geeks Web site; at least give me the benefit of the doubt."

The board posters' primary complaint seems to be that, as Feig's career progresses, he seems to be less and less inclined to make very personal works (it is well known that pretty much everything about Freaks & Geeks, from the setting to the horribly embarrassing things that happen to all of its characters, are based on Feig's own childhood experiences). It isn't that his work has ever dipped in quality—a look at the episodes of Arrested Development and The Office he directed will tell you that-but that he no longer mines his indescribably awkward youth for material. Feig elaborates, "It is a little intentional. The things I do that people like, they appeal to a very small audience. Some people call it ‘selling out.' Find me any creative person that doesn't want the highest amount of people looking at their stuff. That's why we all got into the creative world, because we want to do stuff, and we want people in large numbers to enjoy it. I'd rather go through a studio route and then put my personal stamp on—bring that personal experience, bring that love of character, bring more human and real reasons why a character is doing something, and add that to a bigger thing. I can only write about my life so many times before people go, ‘All right, enough. Why do we care about you?'"

Besides, it's kind of moot these days to talk about what a goober Feig was in high school, because it clearly fertilized the career he has today-still inarguably a terrifically cool one. Case in point: I talked about the forthcoming interview with my various peers—attractive young girls, all—who uniformly became my new best friends by sheer mention of his name. When confronted with this irony, Feig replies, "Say! I couldn't be more thrilled about that fact. I refuse to believe it, but that's very cool. When I first started doing Freaks & Geeks and writing these books and stuff, it wasn't really cool to remember the worst parts of your childhood. So many people with Freaks & Geeks were like, ‘How do you remember that stuff? I don't want to remember those stories from my life.' Well, why not? Why would you not want to celebrate these ridiculous things that have happened to you?"

Martyring your childhood to improve your adult life may not seem like the best idea, but when your childhood is already dead, why not make it a hero? If Feig can do it, anyone can. | Pete Timmermann

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