I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Anne Fletcher, director of the recently released on Blu-ray film, The Guilt Trip, starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a Mother and Son duo taking a stressful but meaningful road trip together.
Anne Fletcher is sadly a rarity in Hollywood, in the ranks of the precious few female directors working for the major studios. Anne has a solid filmography under her belt as director, having helmed films such as the dance drama Step Up and the successful 2009 Sandra Bullock comedy The Proposal. Besides her work as director, Anne has provided choreography expertise on projects as varied as the robot boxing film Reel Steal, Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi series I, Spielberg’s Catch Me if you Can, and the animated feature, Antz.
HTF: Thank you for taking some time to speak with Home Theater Forum today. I wanted to start by telling you that I reviewed your film The Proposal when it was released on DVD, so I went back to look at my review to see if I was kind or critical, and it turns out I was very kind in my review.
Anne Fletcher: You're so sweet. By the way, I feel like everybody has the right to their opinion and I hold nobody to it (laughs).
HTF: I wanted to ask how Barbra Streisand became involved with The Guilt Trip, for her to come back and star in this film after some time away from leading roles. And how did you find working with such a legend?
Anne Fletcher: Well, it wasn't an easy thing to get her to sign on the movie. It took me a full year to convince her to do the movie. She felt, as I am assuming you did that, she's done this part; She has played the Jewish mother, the overbearing mother, and thought “I've already done this” so why should I do this. But this movie is so much more than that. It's a very small and incredibly simple story with just two people (Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen) with the smallest of secondary casts. It’s a story about a mother and son taking a road trip and what that looks like in reality and not over the top. We don’t get in to any car chases with the police or anything like that. It's a very simple and incredibly sweet story written by Dan Fogelman, based on the trip he took with his own mother. And that was the thing I identified with in the film. It’s real nature; it's my relationship with my mother. It is about mothers who love too much, a beautiful and horrible quality, and how suffocating it can be.
So I told Barbra that's basically what this is, a real genuine performance from her, for her to be a legitimately real woman so women who go to this film or children with mothers like that can identify with her so much that they don't see Barbra Streisand anymore, they see her character Joyce Brewster.
HTF: And that was the appeal hmm.
Anne Fletcher: Yes, and it’s hard because she is so beautiful and it’s hard not to make her glamorous, but that we need to bring it down. I said that I need you to be in sweat suits and to be an everyday woman. Once she committed to the project we had a great year of doing this. She came to work every day completely prepared as a bona-fide actor, as a legend, and there is a reason she's a legend because she comes so prepared. She relies on nothing but her preparation and her instincts and her talent. She doesn't phone it in. She's there, completely present. And when working Seth [Rogen], the sparring dialogue, they connected, became partners respecting each other in such a beautiful and amazing way
HTF: And as a female director in Hollywood, still sadly a rarity today…
Anne Fletcher: She had my back since Day 1. I think it was important for her to support a female director because she too had gone through that [as a female director] and I don’t think she felt like she had much support back then. People didn't really have her back as much as they do now in this day and age, and she was my partner. She was 100 percent there for me. She is such a great, beautiful, spiritual, hilarious, wonderfully and delightfully normal and real woman, and I wouldn't exchange that experience with her for anything in the world.
HTF: When I think of films that I have found very funny through the years, many times they have actors that tend to have excelled in dramatic roles, excel at them. So I'm wondering if you, if you think that there is something about understanding humanity when you are so good in a dramatic role that you can naturally gravitate towards comedic roles because you ‘get it’?
Anne Fletcher: It’s such a hard question to answer. I would say in part definitely it's true. It has to be because there are not that many people who truly understand a natural sensibility of comedy. You either have it or you don't. It's not something you can learn, I mean obviously from Funny Girl, which is big physical comedy; Barbra is a woman who understands what works and what is funny. And she understands that even the most subtle of performances, just a finger move or the smallest of things that are just genuinely funny and, and grounded in reality. And I'm assuming that has to do with her connection to humanity.
HTF: So you have enjoyed a fantastic career in choreography, what drew you to directing, and how much of your choreography background do you rely upon when you are setting up shots or how you want actors to move around a room or the camera to move around the actors.
Anne Fletcher: I got into directing from choreography. I always had been working in film and television as a choreographer. I like to call it my greatest classroom of all working with different directors and producers and genres and actors. And you're constantly working from a character place because the dance sequence is there to support either the characters' arc or the story's plot. I was lucky enough to have a very dear friend, Adam Shankman, who called me one day and said you have an interview to direct a movie. Apparently, Eric Figge, over at Lionsgate, called and said he needed a choreographer turned director, somebody who is ready to do this, for a film called Step Up. I had a three-hour meeting with them and my only goal in that meeting was to walk away with no egg on my face. Fortunately it went beyond just that and they called me two months later and hired me for Step Up.
HTF: And how that choreography experiences influences how you approach directing?
Anne Fletcher: Every move I make is physical. Every thought I think is dance. When I set up the camera – just like when I was a choreographer - you are putting pieces together for the camera to see it, not just proscenium, so physically your body and how you can get the camera in to elevate what's going on or step back…it's all a dance to me. My cuts in the editing room are musical. The way they speak. That’s one of the things that Barbra and I connected deeply on as she is the same way. If the dialogue is not rhythmic like a song, it has to bein a certain rhythm for it to feel real. She and I would constantly find those beats; although that's the only time Barbra would sing with me is trying to find the rhythm of the dialogue. But I feel with my dance background that it is all connected.
HTF: So related to music. So you executive produced the Step Up sequels and the incredibly talented Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead) was brought onboard to score Step Up 3‑D, did you have anything to do with that and how important do you find compositions, scores in your films?
Anne Fletcher: Well, I was brought on as Executive Producer for the second one just because I had something to do with the first one. I didn't want to have anything to do with them if I wasn't going to work on them, but I wasn’t the person who hired Bear, but regarding the music in my films, like in Step Up, I got to create all of my music before we shot any film. I worked with the music director and we hired other artists out there to create all of our music, and then I had a composer come in and lay down the backdrop of the emotion of what's going on. I feel like music is key. It can make or completely destroy any good piece of work. I prefer the subtle push and opposed to a giant push [of music]. Sometimes I think people want more music in the movie, or more score, and sometimes I feel like the performances are already great and enough for the scene. But sometimes when you add music to a scene you can be like ‘oh my God’, I didn't, know how great that could be with that piece of music. And one of the first things I hire is my music and my mixers, because the mixing is equally as important. Without good mixing, a good score can sound junky.
HTF: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that would be in line with what composers that I have spoken would say. How to score, when to score, and when not to do so.
Anne Fletcher: Exactly. And it's really one of my most favorite things to do when I go into an orchestra pit and hear all these instruments play the score that's either gonna move the audience or not. But it always moves me as I'm just so enthralled with the whole experience.
HTF: Well it was a great pleasure speaking with you.
Anne Fletcher: You as well Neil. Thank you so much.
HTF: Take care and all the best for the future.