Kay Cannon created the Pitch Perfect franchise but never directed one. She makes her directorial debut with Blockers, a much more R-rated girl comedy. Well, a girl comedy that sends their parents on edge two.
When Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz, read our interview) find out their daughters are planning to lose their virginity on prom night, they set out to stop them. It goes poorly for the parents but very well for audiences who want to see them fumble and fail.
Cannon spoke with Monsters and Critics about directing Blockers. Blockers opens Friday, April 6 in theaters.
Monsters and Critics: Have a lot of your interviews today asked you about being a female director?
Kay Cannon: [Laughs] Do you want to start with that one?
M&C: I hope this is a different spin on it because I get it. I want people to amplify women’s voices, but you don’t want to make it this exotic thing. You’re a capable director.
KC: I’m glad you just said that because I’ve been kind of saying the same thing when I get asked it. In this last call I did realize, hold on. I don’t think of myself as a female director because I’m the woman.
I just think of myself as me who’s directing this movie. I don’t approach this job any different than I do all my other jobs. I want to work hard. I want to do a great job but I’m the boss and I’m doing it.
That’s just how I think about it. I don’t think about any of the pressure. I didn’t feel pressure. The only pressure I felt was I of course wanted to get it right because you want to do a great job and I want the movie to do well.
I want to make a great movie, but I didn’t feel the pressure of if I don’t, I’m ruining it for women everywhere.
M&C: There are institutional roadblocks, so how do we talk about this without making it that women are different?
KC: I don’t know. How I try to talk about it is what happened with me, which is that I was hired based off potential by a bunch of guys. From Good Universe and Point Gray, they actively sought me out and offered me to direct this movie when I hadn’t directed before.
I think that happens all the time with guys. It rarely happens for women. But there needs to be systems in place where studio heads and producers actively seek out really talented women because we’re everywhere doing lots of interesting things.
Go and see their work. Get to know who’s out there.
M&C: Could women seek out seek out companies with forward thinking people like that for themselves while we try to change the system?
KC: Yeah, I think so. To digress for a second about the business, I’ve thought a lot about how in 2015, there was the summer that just happened to be female driven comedies that did crazy good business.
It started with Spy. Even Hot Pursuit made money. Pitch Perfect 2 did gangbusters. Mad Max was second to that and starring Charlize. That’s not a comedy, I get that, but you’ve got this strong woman at the helm. And then Trainwreck.
That happened in 2015. You would think in 2017 the numbers would’ve increase.
M&C: I would’ve thought they’d increase after Bridesmaids.
KC: Yeah, so we have this short term memory. We don’t, studio heads do. They just get nervous and they just do what they know they think works.
They just need to have longterm memories and understand that we do great business and that our stories that are underserved need to be told.
M&C: Was it important to show mixed families and diverse girls in Blockers?
KC: Yeah, for sure. The movie is set in a suburb of Chicago. I don’t know if you noticed with the prom, all the kids in that high school were very diverse. I had all different kinds of people hanging out with each other and mixed the groups that you might find in high schools that are kind of cliche.
Hannibal Burress as Brenda’s second husband. That was really important to me. I wanted to just really feel like what it feels like when you’re in Chicago.
M&C: Where did you or the writers hear about butt chugging?
KC: I don’t know where they heard it. When I read the very first script that I got, butt chugging was in it.
When I went to the producers, I was like, “I definitely want to direct this.” I had all my notes and thoughts and things I wanted to change.
I think they thought I was going to say, “I don’t want to do this butt chugging thing.” Instead I was like, “We are definitely doing butt chugging.”
Then I looked up a bunch of videos to see if it was real.
M&C: It is?
KC: Well, it is but it’s not like people successfully do it. The Jackass guys tried it so I watched Steve-O try for a long time to get it to work.
You know when it hits Ike in the face, that’s basically what ends up [happening]. If too much got up there, you’d die.
M&C: What did Ike say in the blindfold scene when even the subtitles couldn’t tell?
KC: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.
M&C: He can’t remember either.
KC: I feel like, because I’m pretty good at reading lips, I felt like it was something like, “We go on vacation together.” I don’t know. I don’t remember.
M&C: Were there meetings about the size and color of the panties John Cena eats?
KC: There weren’t meetings but Sarah May brought me ten different ones. I was like, that feels like the right mix of I’m trying something new but I’m not so sexy because I’m a young girl. Like something you’d buy at Victoria’s Secret.
M&C: And they could be mistaken for the joke.
KC: Yeah, exactly.
M&C: Ike said he improvised the Inferno bit. What else in Blockers wasn’t in the script?
KC: Well, Ike is just so good at improvising. He does these long runs. He added all the Uber jokes. Outside the car, that was all him.
Most of the stuff was me just yelling jokes at them that weren’t improvised. If it was improvised, it almost always came from Ike.
M&C: Are there any scenes that were taken out of the movie?
KC: There was a whole storyline about the daughters getting into a big fight with each other. I realized that’s not what the movie was about.
M&C: I’m so glad you cut that. It’s so refreshing that they were consistently positive and supportive.
M&C: Was directing the car chase like getting to do your own Fast and the Furious?
KC: I really liked doing that. Whenever I work on a project, I did this with Pitch Perfect all the time, I try to take what we’ve seen before and try to flip it a little bit. Whatever trope there was.
I came up with this idea that the car goes upside down and just stays like that and teeters that way. That was really fun to be a part of that.
But when we were doing the car chase, I was following them. I had to do the whole where Sam pukes on the window.
I was in the car doing that. It did feel like, because it’s so cool because you’ve got all the cameras flying around you. It was fun.
M&C: I think we could tell that Pitch Perfect 3 just wasn’t the same without you. How much of your original treatment or script ended up in their final film?
KC: Aww, that’s nice for you to say. I just wrote a couple of drafts. Mostly for my first draft, it was my idea to go on the USO tour.
A lot of the story came from mine but no dialogue really. There was only one joke of mine that was in there.
Anna Camp says, “Remember I told you how my dad killed bin Laden?” And then Anna Kendrick’s like, “I would’ve remembered that information.”
M&C: No franchise has ever actually ended when they said this is the last one, so do you think you’d ever go back to it?
KC: I won’t. I think they should make however many they want to make if they can. It was time for me to move on.
Pitch Perfect was like my baby. Pitch 2 was like my teenager and then Pitch 3 I feel like it went off to college and has left me and doesn’t call very often. [LAUGHS]
M&C: Was directing always part of your path?
KC: I knew that I wanted to direct but I didn’t know it was going to be film. What I really wanted was to have my own show on TV.
So when Girlboss happened for Netflix, that was a dream come true for me. I wanted to have the experience of show running that first year. If we had had a second season, I would have definitely directed episodes for the second season.
The fact that my first time directing is a big studio movie, I could’ve never seen that coming.
M&C: Was Girlboss kind of a bummer because you came right when Netflix started getting picky? This whole time they were spending all the money giving everything a chance, and now they started tightening the belts.
KC: I mean, look, if we had gotten a second season, I would’ve had to split doing the movie with being back in the writers room for Girlboss.
I don’t think the movie would’ve been the movie. I would’ve lost control. I wouldn’t have been around which would’ve been terrible. I wouldn’t have wanted that. So in a way that failure was kind of nice for this movie.
But yeah, it was still a bummer. Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy three weeks before we launched and there were other things at play. I just felt it was bad timing across the board.
M&C: Would you like to be a writer/director?
KC: I think that’s the next step. I’m kind of nervous about that. At least when you’re directing someone else’s material, you can be like, “Oh, I’m gonna change that.”
When it’s your own and you’ve got to really be good about hearing other people and getting notes and making it better, not getting protective over your own stuff.
You just want everything to be good. When you’re the writer and the director, for better or worse, it’s on you. I really like collaborating so to have something that was just myself would feel a little odd to me.
M&C: What are you writing next?
KC: I am writing a comedy for Sony. I’ve only done movies with Universal and I feel a little bit like I’m cheating on them. I’ve got some projects percolating in both TV and film.
M&C: Do you have interests in other genres?
KC: Girlboss I sort of did that where it was a dramedy. I like that. I don’t know if I’d ever do straight up genre. I think I like to laugh too much.
We had a couple really serious scenes in Girlboss and it was such a bummer to shoot those and be sad and quiet.