I’m walking into an auditorium wearing a Comic-Con badge. I can see many extras sitting in seats and I also notice the crew setting up for a shot. A production assistant tells me to keep walking towards the stage. Eventually I’m stopped. An assistant director tells me to sit in a specific seat in the middle of the second row. If I had walked in a second later, I’d have been told to sit somewhere else. At this moment I had no idea I’d just won the lottery. A little while later, more extras are shuffled in and the other seats are filled up with visiting journalists. The setting is a Comic-Con panel and we’re the crowd the camera will be focused on. Eventually Simon Pegg and Nick Frost walk into the auditorium and I realize the two empty seats in front of me are going to be their seats and I’m going to be in the movie! As a huge fan of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I’m beyond excited. A few moments later I’m handed a digital camera and told to look at the stage and to pretend someone like George Lucas has come out and to start getting excited. I really don’t have to act. Hit the jump for a lot more:
Last August, when director Greg Mottola’s Paul was filming in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was invited – along with a few other online reporters – to the set to watch some filming and interview the cast. While some set visits have you sitting behind monitors and away from the action, Universal put all of us front and center in Paul and had us acting as extras in some of the Comic-Con floor shots. While I’ve been able to visit a number of movie sets due to working for Collider, this was the first time I’ve been put front and center for a shot in the film. Needless to say, it was an experience I’ll never forget.
Before we go any further, a lot of you are probably not going to know a lot about Paul. Unlike most set visit embargoes that are lifted right before a movie is going to get released, Universal is letting us run our visit before they’ve even released a trailer! So to make sure you’re caught up, here’s the official synopsis:
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.
For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town—a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Collings (Frost).
Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.
Paul is directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola, from a story by Pegg & Frost. Joining the comedy’s cast are Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner and Sigourney Weaver.
While I have a lot to say about the set visit, let me start with the most important thing: everything I saw and learned on set tells me this is going to be an awesome movie. Not only did Simon Pegg and Nick Frost write the film, but they have a ridiculous cast and it’s absolutely geared at all of us. Trust me, if you’re reading Collider, Paul is going to be a shotgun blast of greatness to your skull.
When we spoke to director Greg Mottola, he told us he was trying to shoot Paul like a Spielberg film. He went on to tell us, “There’s a very low-key part of the film that’s very conversational and jokey and talky. And then there are these huge set pieces and chases and explosions and craziness and sci-fi fantasy stuff.”
If you’ve seen either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, you can begin to guess the tone. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m probably more excited to watch the conversations between Pegg and Frost than seeing the explosion scenes (although I’m definitely excited to see those too).
Mottola went on to tell us, “The movie begins at Comic-Con. It’s Graeme and Clive’s fantasy first American road trip and the destination is to come straight to San Diego Comic-Con. In fact, they have very little interest in anything to do with America except for that and Area 51, and they’re going to sort of hit the UFO sites in the southwest of America.”
Another important thing I learned on set was how this isn’t going to be a repeat of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz where Pegg’s character is in charge. He told us during an interview:
Pegg: For starters, this is a two-hander. It’s not me. The central characters in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead were my characters, Nicholas Angel and Shaun, and Nick’s characters just stole the show, that’s what they did. Whereas this is like we’re both the lead in this film and Nick’s character is probably a little bit more confident, a little bit more assured than mine. Graham [Pegg’s character] is a bit more messy, less proactive. Paul’s kind of like Ferris Bueller, you know, he kind of affects everybody around him and never really is affected himself.
Of course many of us were wondering where the idea came from and was it something they had just come up with. According to producer Nira Park, this has actually been a movie they’ve wanted to make for awhile…even before Shaun of the Dead had wrapped:
Park: Actually when we were shooting Shaun of the Dead and we were shooting the record-throwing scene, and it had been raining for about a month in England, and we had like four days to shoot that sequence and we kept never finishing it because of the rain. And Simon [Pegg] and Nick [Frost] one day came–they were on their lunch–and they drew this cool picture of an alien. I can’t remember what the tagline was at the bottom, but they gave it to me and they said, “This will be our next film and we’ll film in America where it always is sunny. And when we finished on …the Dead, I said, “Were you being serious about that, because it’s a really great idea.” And they said, “No, no. It was a joke on the day.” And then a year later we started talking about it, and I don’t think Simon ever really seriously thought that it was a movie he wanted to make. It was just a funny tagline, a funny little drawing. And then when we finished Hot Fuzz, I kept thinking about it and I said, “I really think we should do this. It could be great.” And so we talked about it a bit and Simon wrote the first scene, the opening scene, and I sent it to Working Title and Simon’s actually really enjoyed with me that I’d done that and Working Title said they wanted to do it.
So that was the genesis of the project. Now back to the set:
Because every set visit is different, you never quite know how it’s going to go and what you’re going to do. Our Paul set visit started by visiting the wardrobe department. An important thing you need to know is that a movie has to have the rights to use anything with a copyrighted image, so when we got to set, we were told many of us would have to change if we wanted to be in the movie as the t-shirts we were wearing weren’t cleared for the film. After a few minutes of looking at some t-shirts, I was given one to put on – along with an official Comic-Con badge.
While we were waiting, I noticed we were standing in a huge holding room filled with extras. All of them looked like they had been transported to New Mexico from Comic-Con as they were all in costumes and dressed up like they were going to the Saturday Night Masquerade Ball. I saw tons of Star Wars references and plenty of other movie and TV shows, but the highlight was seeing a few people dressed up like Pegg and Wright’s characters from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. At some point during the Comic-Con scene, I’m sure they’re going to walk by their previous characters and audience members who get it are going to laugh a lot.
The other thing I realized standing in the extras holding room was the Comic-Con scenes in Paul were going to be bigger than I expected. You see, when a movie builds sets, they often build just enough to film a certain shot or scene and it’s sometimes not a 360 degree set. But when I walked onto the Comic-Con set, I was absolutely blown away…
The Comic-Con Set
Not only did they get real signs, carpeting, and stands from Comic-Con, they had real vendors like Sideshow Collectibles and a few comic book companies. With the set visit happening just a few weeks after the real Comic-Con, I felt like I had been transported back in time and space. Trust me, when you see Paul, you will be convinced they filmed on the real Convention floor.
Also, they didn’t just build one or two rows and try to cheat getting the shots. The floor was so massive and so detailed, that when we separated from each other to walk around, you had to really look around to find each other again. The other thing about recreating Comic-Con in so much detail was when we had breaks, we were literally walking around like we were going shopping. If they had opened the doors to the public, they would have thought a real comic book convention had come to town. I want to say it was all “mind-blowingly impressive”, but that would be a massive understatement.
Being an Extra on the Comic-Con Floor
Since so many extras were in costume and looked authentic to what people really look like at Comic-Con, it’s going to add another level of believability to Paul. You can never go wrong with Stormtroopers walking around in a shot (well, maybe in a period drama). Also, many extras had giant bags like they give at in San Diego, so it was just another little touch that made everything come alive.
So back to me being in the movie. At some point during Paul, Pegg and Frost will walk onto the convention floor and off to the left nd standing behind a dealer table, you’ll see me trying to sell comics to some other extras (provided the camera picked me up in the shot). We were told to try and interact with the other extras and to not look at the camera. Standing beside me were a few other online folks and we were all smiling from ear to ear.
While I don’t know how much of the movie is Pegg and Frost standing just inside the doorway and on the convention floor, they filmed the shot with a dolly and it looked like it might be a 360 shot getting their reactions to being at Comic-Con for the first time. I think that’s one of the reasons they build the set to such a scale.
A little while later, we watched them film Pegg and Frost playing a virtual type game on the convention floor. It was in another area of the Convention floor and I’m going to guess it’s either part of a montage featuring Comic-Con or a brief standalone moment. Of course, I was only on set for a few hours and have no idea how much of the Convention really features into the story. I think it’s all the first 5-10 minutes of the movie and it’s going to set up who they are.
Sitting Behind Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
As I said at the beginning of my set report, the highlight of the entire set visit was sitting right behind Pegg and Frost and knowing I’m actually going to be in the movie!
Like I said, if I had walked in a second later, or the assistant director had told me to sit somewhere else, I’d perhaps by on the cutting room floor. But he didn’t, and because of that, you’re going to see my stupid face on movie screens around the world! I really hope Mottola used the take I liked.
But kidding aside, the scene I was in took a little while to film. Once Pegg and Frost got to set, things moved pretty fast. Mottola spoke to the camera people and to the actors and he was trying to get a shot of the crowd going crazy and Pegg and Frost reacting to something on stage. We were all told imagine someone like George Lucas or someone on that level had just come out and we were all losing our minds. Again, I was excited in spite of imagining George Lucas.
While some directors might try and figure out what they want while on set, Mottola clearly had his ideas set up beforehand as he had the camera department lay out a dolly from the stage to in front of where Pegg and Frost were sitting in the front row. On take after take, the dolly moved in and Pegg, Frost and the crowd reacted to whoever we all imagined was on stage. I think we did around eight takes.
As you can see in this picture, the place was packed and it’s going to look awesome on screen.
Writing for Collider, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many movie sets, but getting to be in Paul is truly something I will never forget. As a huge fan of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the fact that I will most likely be on screen with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost makes this something I’ll take with me forever.
While you never know how a movie will turn out, I have 100% trust in everyone making this film. Until Pegg and Frost make a bad movie, they’re on the same level as Pixar to me: they can do no wrong.
Paul hits theaters on March 18, 2011.
For more Paul set visit coverage:
And if you’re going to Comic-Con, you might want to check out this panel:
PAUL: PANEL: 4:45pm- 5:15pm – Saturday in Hall H
Paul — Scheduled to appear for Universal Pictures’ sci-fi comedy-adventure Paul are a who’s who of film comedy. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad) will be joined by cast members Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead), Kristen Wiig (Date Night), Bill Hader (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover), Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models), Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet), and Sigourney Weaver (Baby Mama) as they discuss the movie about two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage to Comic-Con ultimately takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who takes them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever. Q&A session to follow.