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Exclusive interview: Pitch Perfect 3 director Trish Sie on the tough song choices and explosive action of the trilogy’s finale

Pitch Perfect 3
Beca (Anna Kendrick) leads the Bellas in Pitch Perfect 3

Pitch Perfect 3 claims it is the last Pitch Perfect movie. If so, it would be the first franchise to ever end after declaring a final chapter. For now, it does feature the a cappella group the Barden Bellas in what they expect to be their farewell tour. Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and the whole gang return. After college, the Bellas go on a USO tour, in which Amy (Rebel Wilson)’s long lost father finds her.

Trish Sie directed Pitch Perfect 3. A professional dancer and director of music videos, Sie made her feature film debut with the dance franchise entry Step Up: All In. She remains musical in Pitch Perfect 3, which opens Friday, December 22. Sie spoke with Monsters & Critics in Los Angeles for an interview about Pitch Perfect 3.

Bellas in Pitch Perfect 3
The Barton Bellas reunite in Pitch Perfect 3.

M&C: Was it harder to pick songs when they’ve done two movies already?

Trish Sie: Yes, because so many of the good ones are taken. Yes, and some songs are just not available. The people will never license them or they cost too much. You know you can’t have them. There’s kind of a limited number of songs that have existed in the world that you can use. When they’ve used up a lot of the good ones, it’s tough.

M&C: Was Freedom always their last song?

TS: No, Freedom was a choice that was made fairly late in the game. We knew that was an important musical choice and we could go so many different directions, including an original song or a throwback from way, way back, a current song done by another artist.

We went around and around on that and we ended up picking it quite late. Mostly because this moment had to feel so inclusive, it had to feel like everybody understood the moment and the emotion behind the song, that an original song was too risky and potentially too alienating if you’d never heard it before.

No matter how many times you try to seed it in the movie before that, it’s still going to feel like Beca’s world and we’re just looking at instead of we all know this feeling, we all know this song, we can all sing along. For that reason, you can’t have her doing a Sia song. It can’t be a current song.

It has to be something that’s a bit of a throwback. We wanted everybody in the audience to have heard this song before. We looked at certain songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are a lot of people who don’t know those songs, so we wanted it to be a song every single person in the audience would know and know what it meant.

M&C: So this was after George Michael passed away?

TS: Yes. That song, maybe it’s just because all of us love George Michael so much and his music, that song just felt like an instant brain wiring shortcut to a certain emotion which is empowerment and do your thingishness and good person. That song has such positive associations for everybody.

Rock n' roll band Evermoist in Pitch Perfect 3
The Bellas face off against rock n’ roll bands in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: Did having a cappella vs. instruments make the sound mix really tough?

TS: Yes, thank you for asking that. It made it really, really, really tough because we want those bands to be huge and rock n’ rolly and we wanted the a cappella to kiond of sound quaint next to it. At the same time, the Bellas are our girls. We’ve got to root for them. Their numbers have to be huge and great too.

Sure, they’re mic’ed in the shows so you can get away with a little bit of bumping the volume, but it was tough because you want to be rooting for the Bellas but you also want them to be blown out of the water. In real life, that’s what would happen if an a cappella group got up against a rock band.

M&C: Whose idea was it to make Pitch Perfect 3 more of an action movie?

TS: I feel that was Elizabeth Banks’ idea. By the time I came on board, while we reworked the script quite a bit after I joined, it was always one of the fundamental principles that Fat Amy was going to be an action hero. All of us were so sold on that idea, that was never up for debate.

M&C: When you’re doing your action movie, what were some shots you just had to get?

TS: The shot of them jumping off the boat with the exploding behind them, holding hands and one of them looking terrified and one of them looking kind of pumped up, that was important. Fat Amy using sausages as a nunchuck because she’s actually a really good nunchuck handler. I really wanted that.

I really wanted the overhead shots of some of the fights. I just love that. I think that’s such a great angle to shoot fighting from. I definitely wanted her crashing through the skylight. We had a lot of different options for what she did when she crashed through the skylight, but her using the fire extinguisher as a smoke shield, those were my must haves.

Pitch Perfect 3 action
On a USO tour, the Bellas get embroiled in a real life adventure in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: This is the first Pitch Perfect where Kay Cannon shares writing credit with another writer. What were Mike White’s contributions?

TS: I think she definitely wanted to send the girls on this USO tour and she definitely wanted Fat Amy to be an action hero. I think Mike White filled in a lot of the gaps about the kidnapping. It was all quite different than it ended up being, but filled in the gaps about the kidnapping and rescue.

The original idea of Beca charting a course for herself in music reluctantly and all of them going on a USO tour and Fat Amy having this action line was all Kay’s work. Mike was a lot of tone and humor and amping up the action.

M&C: The Pitch Perfect movies are so empowering to women and young girls look up to the Bellas. What does it say when the Bellas decide to “tart it up” to impress DJ Khaled?

TS: I’m really glad you asked this question. That was an actual improv line that Rebel Wilson throws out and the other girls grabbed onto because I think as actual human beings, these actors didn’t love the idea that oh, we’re going to wear sparkly sexy clothes and that’s how our characters think you get ahead in life.

So we tried to turn that on its head because none of us, as women, are very comfortable with the idea or the message that that’s what you do. Like, that’s how you do it and if the Bellas can do it, we all can do it, good job guys.

First of all, it is a disaster for them and it doesn’t work out and that was hopefully the lesson learned.

Second of all, just putting a little bit of a point on it and acknowledging even to ourselves what they’re doing and being a little self-aware about the fact that bad decisions are being made and we know that. We’re doing something for the wrong reasons and we’re going about it wrong. Even the Bellas can act like idiots sometimes and here’s an example.

It felt important to say, because I think a lot of girls do that, a lot of people. A lot of the world encourages you to do the wrong thing or do something for the wrong reason or be shallow or be an idiot or throw yourself out there in a way that’s not true to yourself.

I think it was important they end up making a mess because they weren’t going about things the right way. That’s not how you get ahead. That’s not the right way to do it.

Because the whole message of this movie is not that, I think the actors felt a little uncomfortable with the fact that they were going to get all dressed up and go to try to impress a guy, not that it matters that he’s male. I think it was important to acknowledge they’re doing something stupid.

Brittany Snow and Anna Kendrick
Brittany Snow and Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: Was the choreography a very different animal in Pitch Perfect 3 than on Step Up: All In?

TS: Very much. I wanted it to be at least a tiny bit believable that they’re singing while they’re doing this? I’ve never seen an a cappella group in real life do the kind of choreography that the Bellas do.

We did actually step it up, and the choreography is pretty intense, but I still wanted it to be like look, if you’re young and you’re in shape, you could sing while you were doing this? Step Up choreography, you couldn’t possibly sing while you’re doing it.

The basic ideas are the same. You want some levels, you want some changes, you want to tell a story with it, you want to focus on some details that have a bit of poetic metaphor to them.

You want shapes. You want contrast. You want dynamics. You want moves that somehow represent the characters and what they feel or do in the moment. It’s all shades of the exact same thing.

M&C: Were the other bands on the USO tour something you could create new to Pitch Perfect 3?

TS: Yeah, because I come from a music background. My brother’s a rock star [for OK Go]. I love the world of rock n’ roll and the fact that there were these rock bands on the tour was one of the things that made me so excited about taking this movie.

The Whisky Shivers, who are Saddle Up, are friends of mine in real life and were before this. So they’re an actual band. It was great to be able to hire them because I love those guys.

Trinidad James and DJ Looney are an actual working duo as well. Getting to put together Evermoist and getting to hire these other people who I really like and really admire, not just because they’re good musicians, because they’re fun people, I knew they would just bring a great attitude and be so fun on set. That was really fun.

M&C: Who named Evermoist?

TS: I’m trying to remember what the first name we went with was. We couldn’t get anything cleared. We wanted it to be vaguely dirty all the time. Versions of wet, there was Dew and I think Moist.

I wanted to name them Pain Us, and they’re like, “We’re Pain Us!” Nobody thought that was going to be funny.

Clearing these names is really hard. They’re like, “Oh, there’s a soccer team named Dew” or something. You can’t use them. We kept shuttling back to clearances all of these names and we got increasingly ridiculous because we were getting fed up with them being like no, no.

So Moist wouldn’t go because they’d be like, “We are Moist!” That didn’t work. I think Max Handelman, Elizabeth’s husband, was finally like, “What about Evermoist or Perpetually Moist?” So we started riffing on moist.

M&C: And you finally found one!

TS: We finally found one that there is no band called Evermoist or soccer team or preschool in Albuquerque or something.

Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins
Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgens return as the announcers, only now they’re making a documentary in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: No franchise has ever actually ended when they said this is the last one. Do you think there’ll be a Pitch Perfect 4?

TS: I have not heard that there’s going to be. I really haven’t heard that there’s any rumblings. I think people would probably go see one. Maybe they’ll wait to see how this one does. I don’t know.

M&C: Of course. They wouldn’t say now, but claiming this is the last one seems premature.

TS: Of course. Not that I would be the one to hear, but I have not even heard any chatterings or murmurings.

M&C: This isn’t even a stretch. There could be new freshmen. They could have a reunion tour. There are all sorts of ways to do Pitch Perfect 4.

TS: I think there’s definitely ways to do it. They’ll probably just wait and see what the money says.

Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick
Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: Were there any songs that didn’t make it into the final cut?

TS: There is a song that is greatly abridged. When Fat Amy’s dad sings to her in the casino, that was originally a much bigger, longer thing. That got shortened.

M&C: Did DJ Khaled see this as a good promotional opportunity for his music?

TS: I think he was mostly interested in the acting angle. He told me he really wants to act. He really likes being a character. Of course, I think he’s always promoting his music but to me it really seemed like what he liked about the opportunity was, “I get to be an actor in a movie.” He’s obviously charismatic and interesting. This was mostly about him as a character and him as an actor.

M&C: What kind of movie would you like to do next?

TS: I wouldn’t mind doing some more action. I really enjoyed shooting the action stuff. I really like watching fight sequences come together and I really like shooting them. I really like pyro.

But, I also having come from music videos, having a music background, I love music. What I love most about this movie is the characters and working with the actors as actors.

Whatever I do next, I would love for it to just have strong characters who I can dig into it with, have a little bit of meat on their bones character-wise and be able to just tell an interesting story about interesting people.

I do like that in this movie, it’s not about girls fighting with girls. It’s not about girls laying down everything for love. Those things happen, sure, and women are thinking about those things sometimes. I like that this movie is about something different than that.

Whatever I do next, I would like it to be about people doing something interesting with their lives, taking some kind of chance, dealing with something besides boy troubles or mean girls. I like funny. I like people to laugh.

Pitch Perfect 3 USO tour
The Bellas entertain the troops in Pitch Perfect 3

M&C: Did the boy troubles come as a function of the actors from the previous films not being available for Pitch Perfect 3?

TS: No, I think it was just because that’s part of life. There is chemistry. You’re not going to be on a tour with military guys and other musicians and music industry people and guys and girls and people of all types and not have sparks erupt between certain people.

So sure, we show that, but I just didn’t want to lean on that. People like that. I like romance too. I like love and I like flirting. It seemed like it would’ve been weird not to do any of that. I just didn’t want that to be the thing we lead with.


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