Director Trish Sie Discusses Turning ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ into a James Bond-Like Film
Pitch Perfect 3 doesn’t necessarily mark the end of the series (as promos & marketing imply), but instead suggests a move for the franchise into a completely different genre: the action-adventure. Yes, you heard me right – an action adventure film. Pitch Perfect 3 ostensibly splits into two different storylines: the ‘A’ plot is exactly what you would expect – the Bellas, struggling with post-college life, meet up for one last music tour, where Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) encroached to pursue a solo career; but in the ‘B’ plot – Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) reunites with her no-good father (John Lithgow), a mobster with nefarious intentions. The first half of the film focuses on the ‘A’ plot, the same-old-same-old of the first two films (singing, dancing, rivalries, flirtatious romances), but around the midpoint, the film shifts completely into Fat Amy’s B-plot – introducing kidnapping, fight-sequences, explosions & villainous ‘Bond esque’ monologues to the ‘Bella-verse’.
It’s a slightly startling genre shift, yet somehow feels of piece with the tone of the series. As filmmaker Trish Sie quickly pointed out – Pitch Perfect has always dealt in the absurd, so merging the franchise with ‘James Bond’ doesn’t feel so out of left-field as the concept may initially seem. In fact – if there’s ever a Pitch Perfect 4 or a Fat Amy & Beca spin-off (which bet-me-five-bucks-there-will-be), it feels wise to skip the whole singing-acapella competition and just dive right into the action-comedy. If The Fast and Furious franchise could transition from a ‘Point Break’ cops-and-robbers riff to an ‘Oceans 11’ team-heist series, then there’s no reason The Bellas can’t make the jump from belting tunes to punching gangsters.
In the following interview with filmmaker Trish Sie, she discusses adding the action-adventure element to the Pitch Perfect verse, how the script changed during development, and if there’s a line for going too far over the top. For the full interview, read below.
Of note: there are some spoilers in the below interview
I really like that everyone in Pitch Perfect is just really nice to one another…
Trish Sie: I liked it too. I was big on that even when I came onto this a year ago and things were considerably less dark than today. We don’t need another movie about girls being mean to each other. When you’re working on a movie like this, you’re wondering where [is the] conflict. The logical thing is that the [Bellas] turn against each other at some point. There were several versions of the script where we tried that out. What if two of them want to sleep with one of the soldiers? It all felt wrong. It’s better to find conflict from the outside because it’s important to see people being nice to each other.
Yeah – a lot of the films out today seem very cynical and then you watch this movie and it’s pretty refreshing…
Sie: Yeah and to some degree, when we were making [Pitch Perfect 3], we were wondering if it was too syrupy; but I feel like it’s the medicine we need right now.
Joining the Pitch Perfect franchise two films already in – what is the process to acclimate yourself to the series?
Sie: I had to balance two things at the same time. I would always have to test myself and imagine this movie standing on its own. Imagine this is the first and only movie. Imagine what you would want it to be and try to stay true to that. Then at the same time you have to honor what came before and you certainly have to honor the people who watch the movie, fall in love with the characters, and want to see a certain kind of movie out of this third one. It helps that I’m a fan of the other movies. because then it becomes a question of what did I like about those movies, what made me be like, ‘Oh, that was good.’ Stick to that. That’s what I kept trying to do.
So much of the fun of theses films is based on the interactions between the cast…
Sie: They’re at their best when they’re loose. Some of it is improv. Some of it is just letting them rehearse a lot and talk to each other because they really do play off each other well. They’ll give each other ideas and encourage each other. A lot of it is collaboration and take after take after take. You watch them get into a rhythm and give each other ideas and play off each other. They know each other so well that they’ll throw something out there and someone else will pick it up. It’s pretty cute. There was a lot of ‘just let the camera keep rolling’ or ‘don’t yell cut’. We’d do scenes not necessarily in takes but in bursts. Just letting it get playful to the point you’re not aware the cameras are rolling.
Was there a script in place when you came on board?
Sie: There was a script. The version that we shot though is quite different. I don’t think it has much in common with [the original] script. It went through a bunch of rewrites and got a major overhaul.
What did the original script look like?
Sie: The basic bare bones of the story are the same. They get together. They go on a USO Tour. Beca becomes a pop star in the end. A lot of what we played with was what impels [The Bellas] to go on that tour in the first place. We knew we wanted them all to be out of college and having a shitty time, but what were they doing, what were their jobs –we played a lot with that. How many were trying to make it into show business versus pursuing other fields? …The biggest change came in the second and third act with the kidnapping.
Sie: Originally [the kidnapper] was a love interest of Amy. It was this sleazy Russian mobster guy, which now with everything that is going on I’m so glad we didn’t do… But [the film] always started out on a yacht as the opening teaser and then goes back… Well, actually it didn’t always go back. In some of the scripts that was the start of the movie and then Amy meets a Russian mobster and has this illicit affair. There were a lot of changes. We played with a lot of shit. Eventually, again, I didn’t want to see girls being mean to each other. I really didn’t want to see girls sacrificing their morals for a guy and I didn’t want to see girls dropping everything for love. With those ethical flags down, that helped us. One of the things I said in my original pitch to get the job was we don’t know much about Fat Amy. This is a good chance not just to see her do something new, but to learn more about her past. What if it’s her dad [as the kidnapper]? The reason I came up with that – when we were talking about casting ideas and the guy was still a Russian mobster, I threw out the idea of Jemaine Clement playing him. They were like, ‘Interesting because his accent is sort of Australian.’ That’s what started it. Obviously he’s not old enough to be Amy’s dad, but that got us thinking we could take this in a whole new direction. Similarly it used to be that Fat Amy got kidnapped and all The Bellas had to come save her. I liked that and it was good teamwork, but I also thought this needs to be about everybody empowering themselves. Your friends support you and help you, but your friends don’t save you. You save your own ass – so we switched that around with Fat Amy rescuing the Bellas, instead of The Bellas rescuing Fat Amy. A lot of things changed. The basic bones of it were they go on an adventure, there’s a kidnapping, there’s a creepy guy, there’s a USO show, but we definitely moved parts around and reinvented things.
How did you settle on that action movie aesthetic you bring in here?
Sie: That was one of the first things. Beca’s going to have this ‘A’ story with her music career and success. That’s for sure. Then Fat Amy’s going to have the action hero-line. It’s just time for that. So many of her physical moments in the past movies have been such hits with her rolling around the ground or going down the stairs. All of those have been such iconic moments, that it just seemed the most logical thing to do is to take Amy physically over the top. That was never up for debate. Fat Amy was going to be an action hero.
Yeah – I’d pay to see the Pitch Perfect James Bond film
Sie: We really tried to nudge it in that direction with the score and some of the sweeping shots of Niece in the background to bring a little ‘wink-wink’ of James Bond to the whole thing.
Is there a line for going too far over the top? What is that line for yourself?
Sie: I usually have to be reeled back from going too far because I will go and I’ll keep going… But what I used to hold myself back was just going back to the characters and thinking what would they do. If the audience is going to be asking a question, try to answer it for them instead of leaving it hanging. For instance the scene with Amy and Beca on the back of the boat – they’re about to go their separate ways to [rescue The Bellas]. We wondered if [that scene] was necessary and we toyed with cutting it. Some people said that maybe it slows things down. Like we want to see what happens now. We’re into the action so let’s go, go, go… But I felt like this was an important moment. There’s no reason for Beca to trust Fat Amy. Fat Amy is a loose canon and a complete maniac. I felt like it was important to acknowledge that. Anna Kendrick felt the same. This was a scene that we tweaked and rewrote based on notes from her. Beca’s not an idiot and Beca’s not a lunatic. Fat Amy is. So why is he doing this with her? It felt important to put them on the back of that boat and have a moment where we acknowledge that ‘No, Amy, you’re a really unreliable person. I don’t have any other choice but to do this with you right now but like people are going to die, right?’ It felt necessary to remind people who these characters are because we’re about to go into something that is asking a lot of our audience. It’s hopefully fun enough to outweigh that leap of faith you have to make. If you keep reminding people they are who they are and they have this history and they have this past and we are aware of who Beca is, we are aware of who Fat Amy is, you keep reminding people of that, then I think you can go a little further. The reason Fat Amy punches that shark in the beginning is I had this thought originally that I wanted her to jump over one to be like, ‘See we’re jumping the shark here.’ At one point we had a scene written where they lift a rowboat over a shark. We wanted to say that we’re aware that we’re jumping the shark, but we’re hoping you buy it because at the end of the day, we’re trying to stay true to the original feeling of the movies and the original characters. Aubrey projectile vomits a couple times in the first movie and Lilly does snow angels in the vomit. If you don’t have some degree of absurdity, you’re not in Pitch Perfect world. It’s just what flavor of absurdity do you use?
Pitch Perfect 3 opens everywhere on Friday.