Judd Apatow has made a career assembling casts of likable, painfully funny Everymen and telling honest, relatable, sometimes tragically human stories. Often, those stories are the product of his own experience – be it stand-up comedy in Funny People, fatherhood in Knocked Up or the experience of middle-age in This is 40. For his latest film, Trainwreck, Apatow steps behind the camera to direct another kind of story – Amy Schumer’s.
Working from a script by the fast-rising comedian, Apatow has again assembled a first-rate cast to flip the script on the average rom-com, focusing instead on the not-at-all-together “trainwreck” of a female lead. We sat down with Apatow to talk about his experience directing and shaping Schumer’s script, as well as get a progress report on the next Pee-Wee film and his long-in-development project with Key & Peele.
Many of your movies are based on subjects or experiences that you’ve been able to relate to personally — comedies about dating, parenthood, stand-up and aging from a distinctly male point-of-view. What attracted you to a romantic comedy from the female’s POV?
Honestly, I just wanted to work with Amy. It didn’t start with male or female, it just has to be funny. I heard Amy on the Howard Stern show, and she is such a good storyteller. I thought to myself, “These sound like movies!” It’s no different than finding Seth Rogan funny and wanting to work with him. So I called her and asked her if she had any ideas. She had a script she was working on, but I suggested she maybe try writing something more personal. Then she developed the outline for ‘Trainwreck.’
With Amy Schumer both writing and starring, how closely did you work together to craft each scene? Or did she give up the reigns on her story to you as a director?
Well, Amy had never written a screenplay before, so we spent a couple years just talking about this idea. The script was a way for her to explore different personal issues that were important to her, a lot of it was her family dynamic and trying to make the idea super funny while trying to be super honest. I felt like I understood what she was going for, and there was a moment where we didn’t have a director for the film and we were working so closely I didn’t want anyone else to take it. I thought, hey, we should finish this.
The level of improv in this movie is amazing. What’s your process for exploring and improvising scenes?
We start with a great script and great scenes so we’ll shoot the scripted version first, make it great, and then look at what else we can get from it. For instance — when John Cena is with Amy and she tells him to talk dirty during sex. We shot all of Amy’s great jokes first and said, “Okay, John, let’s improvise more, keep going!” And as he improvised, we found it was really funny when he used fitness metaphors, so we’ll write jokes off that. We always begin with a very clear scene that Amy constructed, and we’ll edit the improv in. Or sometimes we don’t. Whatever works for the scene, but it’s not haphazardly babbling.
Do you envision alternate versions for the DVD — similar to the Anchorman release — or do you consider this release the definitive edit?
We have an unrated version which will be longer, but this will be the definitive version. When you’re doing a movie that’s sillier like Anchorman there’s more room to play around, but since this film is more of a dramedy, we wanted to stick to the original version of what was written.
We picked up on the Key & Peele sports reference. Obviously, that feels like a natural collaboration. What’s the status of your project together?
I actually am writing a movie with Key and Peele as we speak! We’ve been working on it for some time, hopefully we’ll be able to shoot it one day. They are a couple of my favorite comedy minds of all time, and are very busy with a bunch of fun projects, so I’m hoping we can do something within the next couple years.
So what can you say at this point about the new Pee-Wee film?
It’s all shot! We are editing as we speak, everyone is in the room with director John Lee and everyone is very happy with how the shoot went. Now it’s just about getting it cut and it’s very exciting. It’s like a gift. That character made me laugh more than anyone else on Earth, so to get more of him is such a pleasure. We had the best time, and I’m excited for people to see it the first half of next year on Netflix.
What’s next for you as a writer? What’s the next major life experience that merits that much creative attention?
I think after the process getting Trainwreck out there, towards the end of the summer, I’ll start to think about what to write next. I’m working on a TV show called Love for Netflix, kind of an R rated rom-com series that will be coming out on Netflix.
Trainwreck will be in theaters on July 17, 2015.