If the summer movie season wasn't originally designed for guys, it's certainly been appropriated by them, both in theaters and behind the camera. Where the hottest months of the year once served as an even playing field for films of all kinds, they now operate with one edict in mind, bigger is always better, unless you're a shrewd enough filmmaker to find an opening and exploit it with a clever bit of counter-programming. Anne Fletcher hopes to be the exception that proves this rule with the release of The Proposal (which took the number one spot at the box office this past weekend with $34 million) a romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock. And while there's only two action scenes, one involving falling off of a boat and another about surviving a face-to-crotch attack by an overeager amateur stripper, the film seems poised to capture at least as many female hearts as its competition does male ones.
Cinematical recently spoke to Fletcher via telephone to discuss her work on the film, which is her third directorial effort after the original Step Up and last year's 27 Dresses, in addition to talking about taking a film straight into summer's heart of darkness, she reflects on what if anything her gender means to the movies she makes, and speaks about an early '80s Spielberg movie that still proves inspirational (and it's none of the ones you might think).
Cinematical: The summer movie season can be kind of a boys' club, to say the very least. How meaningful is it that the movie is coming out at the height of the summer?
Fletcher: It's very, very exciting because the studio feels like they really love the movie and they're behind it 100 percent, so it's really nice in that respect and it's incredibly scary at the same time, because you are going up against these enormous films that millions want to go see. So it's a little daunting, but it's exciting at the same time.
Cinematical: How do you discover the balance in a movie like this between physical and verbal humor? Is it in the script already, do you experiment on set, or do you find a suitable rhythm in the editing room?
Fletcher: I think all of the above. That is the truth. I think it really is everything: you have a great script with really great characters to build on, you have great actors to be those tools and to say these words and find their great moments with their characters, and then I think a lot of it is just instinctual. Sometimes you just shoot really big stuff, make it really over the top, and then you do a little less than [that], and when you're in the editing room, you go, how far can we go with this? How much do we want to pull back? Once you've got all of the pieces, you just find your rhythm in the editing room, and then what I like to do is have a handful of friends and family screenings to see and feel how the movie is playing. It really dictates where you need to be conscious; the audience is the best way to tell how the movie is playing. But you gather all of your pieces and hopefully they're the right pieces and you put them together and pray that they all work (laughs).
Cinematical: Is there a specific example of something in The Proposal that you had to dial back, or you realized you could build bigger?
Fletcher: No, Todd, because my instincts are perfect (laughs). Actually, no, not really. You can step back and really look at the movie how you want to see it played, and it doesn't mean that I'm right, but I like to look at it through the eyes of the audience and go, if I was in the theater – and I love romantic comedies – how would I want to see this movie play out? Do I want this to be a little bit more over the top or just to be a little bit less than that? I personally don't like when things are pushed too far, but comedy, I'm always on board for. The bigger, the better, the louder, the funnier, I'm so happy for, as long as it's set somewhere in some grounding. And then, the emotion, I just try very hard not to push that because it can be a little bit over the top, but I try to put myself in the audience's position and then you really do find that works, because people really buy it. The scene around the fire with Gammy [Betty White] and Sandra's character, that was a tricky one, because there was so much that we did. You realize there's a tone to the movie and you want to stay with it, as much as you want it to be funny and over the top. Sandy and Betty's scene, it could have been a 15-minute number, I loved it so much, but people get bored.
Cinematical: How tough was it to make Sandra Bullock comfortable in that scene? She really goes for it.
Fletcher: That's all her – I never have to convince her of anything. If it's funny and it works, she's 1000 percent on board; she doesn't bat an eyelash, she just goes for it with everything. Especially the naked scene, I thought was going to be the tricky scene to convince them to get naked because I wanted to shoot it specifically a certain way, and neither one of them batted an eyelash because they understood how funny it could be if we actually pulled it off.
Cinematical: How easy was it to know how much to make fun of Alaska given the fact that, pun intended, it's been put on the map so prominently in the last few months?
Fletcher: Thankfully, we were done shooting the movie when all of that craziness happened. I mean, I'm glad; I think I joked about putting her head on a bus depot, you know, I the background. I think we were done, so for that I was grateful. Because really, before she came into the forefront – I love "she," I don't even have to say [Sarah Palin's] name – we shot it in Massachusetts and we were building this cottage in an actual, real world, and I just wanted to do it with respect and make it the best Sitka that we could, so the people of Sitka would be proud and not think we were poking fun. Hopefully we succeeded, but thankfully the movie was done before Alaska became popular for why it is.
Cinematical: Journalists don't often get to talk to directors of romantic comedies because there seems to be a perception that these movies sort of direct themselves. Do you think you have a specific sensibility that makes you well-suited to directing these kinds of movie?
Fletcher: Well, I did 27 Dresses because I did want to go into comedy really badly, and the way up there from Step Up is to do romantic comedies. So that's where 27 Dresses came in, and The Proposal came because it was offered to me, I wanted to work with both of them so badly, and I love comedy, which this had a lot more comedy to it. The fact that anybody would think that a movie would direct itself is such an insult, and not to you, but I would love for anybody who thinks that to actually come and spend a day on set and actually do the job of a director and see how easy the job is (laughs). It's insulting because there's so much heart and soul that goes into something, for all directors, and sometimes they hit the mark and sometimes they miss it, but to assume that it just kind of unfolds is just horribly insulting, and ignorant, quite honestly.
But, why am I well suited for this? I don't know. I love comedy, I love relationships, I love anything that's grounded in something real. I think romantic comedies, fluffy as they can get also have real people in them with real problems; in 27 Dresses, Jane was a people pleaser which I am very much, and you lose yourself to other people. So I identify with that, and a lot of women identify with that. The same thing with Sandy's character, she's lost her family and put up all of these walls. They're all fun and silly and they are what they are, but there's a lot of thought that goes into it, and again, I love anything that's relating to something that people can identify with on some level. But I don't know – it's kind of hard to answer the question why I'm well-suited for it. I don't have any idea (laughs).
Cinematical: Well, certainly I was only making an observation, and not directing a criticism at you.
Fletcher: No, I promise that I didn't take it as that at any level whatsoever. I hear that a lot, just so you know.
Cinematical: Well, further along those lines, does your gender matter to the material you pick or the way you execute it, or does that impact your choices at all?
Fletcher: I don't think so, because some of the best romantic comedies were done by men. So I don't think so, and I don't think where I'm going has been influenced by me as a woman. I think I probably have a different insight into these movies because I'm a woman, but like I said, many, many men have created some of the best romantic comedies we have to this day. I think anybody will say whether it comes to gender or race, if the movie is about that, then there is a great deal of care that has to go into it, but the bottom line is a director is hired to tell a story, and I think that is the focus: who are these people, why are they here, where are they going, what's happening to their lives, and the gender and race and all of that, especially in the romantic comedy world, it's part of the story but doesn't really play into it. I don't know – because I'm a woman, I don't know any different. But I haven't sought out romantic comedies because I'm a woman, it's because I want to go into the comedy world. You kind of have to prove yourself, that you have some kind of sense of humor and that you understand comedy before you go from Step Up to a big comedy.
Cinematical: Were there any summer movies either when you were young or when you started directing that were inspirational or meaningful to you?
Fletcher: I wish I could answer that, but honest to God I don't have any idea what time of year any movie came out. You know, it's funny, but I have this generalization, it's completely general, but I really believe in my soul that men quote and women don't. Women will experience a movie on a totally different level, generally speaking, and they'll go, "I loved that movie" or "I didn't like that movie" and that will always stay on them, but they won't remember a single quote. And men will experience a movie in an entirely cerebral way and be able to quote lines 50 years from now – and they connect with each other through them. So to remember a summer movie is not going to happen in my brain (laughs). [But] inspiration or just love the movies, I think they all are inspirational on some level – all of them across the board, whether they're the worst movie or the best movie, there's always something to grab from that you can love or appreciate. But Moulin Rouge, by the way, is one of my all-time favorite movies; to me, it's just a masterpiece. And Fame, Cast Away, and Waiting For Guffman, which to me is just the greatest flippin' movie. Chris Guest is the best. And as a choreographer, 1941, the Steven Spielberg movie, there's a scene in the club that I still to this day will watch because it's so perfectly designed on every level choreographically; there's a ton of dance moves, in a club, there's a full-on story going, and I think it is so well-executed that on every level I will always refer to that scene because it inspires me on every level as a director, as a choreographer, staging scenes, the cinematography. It takes you into the film and it's perfect storytelling, with so much chaos – but that's obviously Spielberg, right? He's one of the best.