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Paul Feig Talks Other Space, The Office, And More - Exclusive Interview

Paul Feig has cemented himself as one of the most prominent comedic writers, producers, and directors in Hollywood, with a string of blockbuster hits like Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters (2016), Heat, Spy, and beloved shows like The Office, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, and Freaks and Geeks.

Among his crowning achievements is his 2015 space parody, Other Space, whose existence got lost in space when Yahoo! Screen went under. However, the sci-fi streaming service DUST has come to save the day — rescuing Captain Lipinski (Karan Soni) and the UMP cruiser from the black hole they were sucked into by lousy marketing and a failing platform.

Paul Feig has worked with a slew of A-list talent — and he always has a place in his films and shows for actors he's worked with in the past. Looper spoke to Feig in an exclusive interview to dish on Other Space, The Office, Freaks and Geeks, and his work with Melissa McCarthy.

What new fans need to know

Response to the first season of Other Space was pretty amazing, and the series obviously has powerhouse talent behind it. What's the one thing that you personally want new audiences to know about Other Space?

Well, that it was made by people who love science fiction and who didn't want to make fun of science fiction. We wanted to have fun in the setting of [a] sci-fi environment and playing with some of the tropes of sci-fi, but never making fun of sci-fi because we all love it too much.

So there's a lot of press for the show's transition to DUST. Is there a possibility of a second season?

I would love nothing more. It's been one of the greatest upsets in my life that the show died so early, never got seen, and we never got to make more. We had such a supergroup of talent, both in front of and behind the camera. I and the rest of the team are desperate to make more, and I truly, truly hope somebody lets us.

Do you think all of the actors would be on board?

Yeah, definitely. It was a really special time we had because we were sort of... It was under the pressure of sort of a low budget and a very tight schedule and a very strange facility we were shooting in. We actually shot the whole show in this weird old warehouse that was an old medical bracelet factory out in the back of the valley in the middle of nowhere — to the point where we had to build our sets to fit in around the offices and the warehouse and confined to the warehouse. Because of that, it just made it this really scrappy thing that's sort of bonded us all even more. And everybody just had such a great time, and to only do eight episodes of something just feels like you're just getting in the swing when everything stops.

If you do get a second season, what are you most looking forward to for the reunion, and do you think it will be like no time has passed, or will there be obstacles and reunion tears?

I mean, I feel like it's been five years and I think because of the nature of the show of them being trapped, I think it'd be the most fun thing to drop in on them five years later and see exactly what has gone on on that ship and how they've handled it over the past five years. I think we could really have some fun with people's expectations on what would and wouldn't be happening. And also what their attitudes are and actually where they even are in the alternate universe — if they've even passed into yet another alternate universe. There's a lot to unpack and a lot to explore.

Right, you could even add the time jump into the whole plot, which would be fun too.

Definitely, and the fact that the spaceship has been recording them the entire time, [the] perfect way to catch up on some of the highlights in the last five years.

On-set shenanigans

Oh, that would be fun. Do you have a favorite moment from the Other Space set?

Gosh, it was all so fun because I mean, this was a tight schedule. We shot three days per show, which normally you do five days per show. So it was very tight, but what I loved was just the way that we shot, which is a way that I learned to really perfect on The Office is that docu-style, which allows you to kind of, with the two cameras, shoot everything. Each take of the scene is a complete take of the scene. So it allowed us to really play, for the cast to get to [make] alternate jokes and [make] some improv jokes and really play around and be loose.

It was really important to me that everything happened at the same time. So A.R.T. was not dubbed in later. It was Trace Beaulieu offscreen with a microphone, being able to react and play with the cast in real time, as he and the puppeteers rolled him around. And then Conor Leslie playing our computer, she was in another room so she was projected onto that screen and it had her eyes, and she was able to see through a security camera on top of the screen what was going on. So everything played in real time. Everything was lightning in a bottle, we could play around, we could surprise people with things. And so that's just always sort of meant the most to me about that show.

Feig's fave Office episode

Other Space feels a lot like a space mashup of comedies, like The Office with a goofy leader and apathetic employees and then Community when the show breaks the fourth wall and shows the alternate universe plot. Did you draw any inspiration from any of your own projects or other comedy shows?

Well, I definitely learned a lot doing The Office. I had learned a lot from Arrested Development before I went to The Office. But really The Office was such a training ground for how to do a great workplace comedy that also had that documentary style. I think personally, the mockumentary is sort of the best way to do TV comedy because of the fact that it's all performance capture.

We're not setting up one little closeup and doing that a bunch of times and going "Okay, let's go onto your coverage" and all that. Again, those cameras are moving around, and you have the camera people working on it who come from reality TV and just know how to film things in the moment, they know when to zoom in, they know when the audience would lean forward and when they wouldn't and how to reveal things. Then we just kind of adjust them as we go, but a lot of times, you don't have to because they're so intuitive. So again, it just puts all the onus on the performances and the interactions that these actors are having with each other.

Do you have any favorite memories from The Office?

Oh gosh. I mean, there's so many. Gosh, I mean, the very first episode I did [was] "Office Olympics." I remember we were doing the scene where Michael Scott decides he's going to buy this condo, and he has to sign the papers, and he just has this meltdown where he starts to lose breath, and then he grabs onto the stove for support. The burner comes off, and then he's out... You think that's a problem that he's out on the back patio just huffing and puffing. And I remember I was laughing so hard I was crying because every take, Steve Carell would just do some new thing that was so hilarious, but so relatable.

Just somebody was having a total freak out about something, and I love that. Also, just shooting the entire dinner party episode was so much fun because it was such a weird little passion play that took place in this small area. And I also loved shooting the Pam and Jim's wedding. I mean, shooting that dance number where they come down and recreate that video. Yeah. Then also getting to [shoot] on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls with them getting married, which was so romantic and beautiful. I have so many great memories from that show and that cast and working with that whole team of both writers and actors.

The perfect quarantine show for sure.

It really is. It's sort of the ultimate comfort food show really. It's so relaxing and fun and reassuring.

It makes you feel like you're failing at life a little bit less.

Yeah, exactly.

Digging into the comedian pool

What has it been like working with a strong group of comedians over the years with projects like Other Space and The Office, do any performances particularly stand out?

Well, I mean, it's everything. Obviously, coming up with the ideas for the show and writing the pilot and just kind of launching it into something that will be the best that it can be is a big part of it. But nothing really matters until you get your cast. And so that's the most important part. Obviously, I've been lucky enough to get to assemble great casts like on Freaks and Geeks and on Other Space and on my movies. But then I've also been very, very lucky to get to come into projects that are up and running with amazing casts, like The Office, like Arrested Development. And it just shows you just how that is just 90 percent of the job is finding the right people because then you just get out of their way.

You set these things in motion as a director, and you sit at the monitor, and you watch it happening, and you're experiencing it like an audience. The lucky thing about being a director is I get [to go in] and interact and make things happen that is an audience at home sometimes you're like, "Oh, I wish they would do this." I get to go cool, try this.

So it's the most interactive way to be an audience member, but that's how I direct. I direct as if I'm an audience member, cause I'm just enjoying the show, I'm enjoying what's happening. And then I get the ability to hopefully make it even a little bit better or to add things that somebody else might not have thought of. Or get to encourage these performers to try something that isn't necessarily in the script, to use what they're feeling, and use their creativity and invention to make it even better.

That can only happen when you have great people running the shows who have the confidence to let that happen and who aren't saying, "No, they can't improvise, they can't make additions to the script." Which all the best shows I've been on have wanted the performers to do add-in. And the more frustrating shows I've been on have been the ones where they wouldn't let them change a word. When you assemble a team of amazing, creative people, the last thing you want to do is then sit on them and not let them have their influence.

Life in Other Space: The 2020 edition

Other Space came out in 2015. How do you think the premise fits in with life in 2020?

Well, it's definitely the perfect quarantine show. [Laughs] I think we all feel like the crew of the cruiser right now, stuck in our pods. Everything I do, I purposely try to make sure it doesn't have a lot of cultural references in it because those are the things that really age a show or a movie. Other than a very heavy Matthew McConaughey running joke that we have in our second episode... We had much more fun inventing new references for the future. That was fun to me: [the] fact that you're in the future [and] you get to fill in all the time that has happened between when the show takes place and [what] hasn't happened yet.

And so there's a lot of fun in doing that. We have a good number of those kinds of jokes in the show. But I really just think it's the perfect time for this to come back out. 

I mean, I've been working tirelessly for the last five years, driving my agents crazy, just saying this has to come back, we have to get it out somewhere, get somebody to stream it again. I want to make more. I want people to see the originals. I've been pushing this show forever. I put it up on my Tumblr feed in a URL that was shareotherspace.com and trying to get people to watch it. I just don't have that much reach on my social media. I could not be more grateful to Dust for making this happen.

What scenes or characters are you most proud of from Other Space?

Oh gosh. I love them all. I really, I love A.R.T. so much. I was such a big mystery science theater fan that to get Joel [Hodgson] and Trace [Beaulieu] back together and Zaillian, the two of them together make me laugh so hard.

Yeah, they're golden.

So weird. I mean, actually, A.R.T. is out in my lobby. I was able to procure A.R.T. after the show was done. So he sits out in my lobby, waiting to come back to life. But I have a special love [for] our third episode where A.R.T. dies. I just think to me, it's just kind of... It's just so funny [with] the way that whole episode kind of moves and then the way it ends. It just destroys me. But I loved every episode.

I love every moment. I so wish we had gotten to make more because I remember when we did it for Yahoo! Screen, there was a moment when they were like, "Oh, do you want to do 12?" And I think we just thought we [were] going to make these and then we'll make another batch. We'll just do eight to start and then... Now, I'm like "we should've made 12." The lesson to everybody out there: If somebody offers you more than you wanted, take the more.

Working with Melissa McCarthy

With movies like Heat and Spy you worked with Melissa McCarthy quite a bit. What was that experience like and what qualities draw you to work with actors on multiple projects?

Yeah. I mean, first of all, Melissa is just such a genius and what's great about Melissa is she's brilliantly funny, but she's also a great actress, and that's the big difference. I know plenty of really funny people, and I love them, and they are great in certain things and roles. But in order to really carry a project and be the star of something, you have to really be a great actor who [can] put parts of yourself on the screen and be charismatic and be relatable and all that. And so, someone like Melissa... It's not like we always go "let's do the next thing together," it's always kind of 'that was fun,' and then they'll develop the next thing, and it's like, "you know who would be perfect for this would be Melissa."

So, I mean, honestly, we never got to any number and into any of our projects, having gone the previous project, like let's do the next thing. We just kind of keep coming together in that way. Because casting is everything, and it's really about the perfect person for the perfect role.

And even if I love somebody and love working with them, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be the perfect person for the next thing I'm doing. But that's why my last few things I've been working with other people. Working with Anna Kendrick has just been one of my great joys of life and working with Blake Lively, the same thing. And Amelia Clarke and Henry Golding.

Finding the right fit

It's kind of who best serves the story. But the people that I work with over and over again are the people that a lot of times I just know are going to come in and make something much better. That's why I love to cast a lot of these people in very small roles. I wish I had bigger roles for a lot of them cause they're all so talented. But I know if I bring Zach Woods for a one-line role, he's going to turn it into something really funny.

Or in Heat, I, you know, I had Nate Corddry and Jamie Denbo, when I had the big clean of the Mullins' dinner table, their two roles didn't have any lines. It was just supposed to be a big family around this table. But instead of just casting just two extras who looked right, I said to both Nate and Jamie, just come on board. I know [there are] no lines, but we're just going to play around.

And so out of that, Nate gets this amazing runner that becomes one of the funniest things in the movie, this thing about "are you a narc, are you a narc...?" That was just complete improv that he started doing with Sandra [Bullock]. And then Jamie Denbo with "are you a boy or a girl," all that stuff — it just came from having funny people and getting out of their way and just setting up opportunities for them to then be funny and be in the moment.

And then we get to sort it all out in the editing room. But I'd rather have that... I have a real aversion to what I call "they went that way" roles or actors, which you kind of have somebody [who] runs... The star runs up [and then someone says,] where are they? "Oh, they went over there." And it's a nothing moment versus if I put somebody who I know is inventive and funny in there, they're going to come up with something that's going to make it a moment that is worth watching and not just functional to the story.

Choosing a favorite TV child

You've had so many hits under your belt, but do you have a favorite TV show or movie that you've worked on?

Oh gosh. That's like picking your favorite child. As self-serving as it sounds, I mean, honestly, Other Space is one of my faves because I never got to... I've been lucky enough to work on a lot of shows that have stood the test of time: The Office, Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, and even things like Madmen and 30 Rock to be a part of. But Other Space was the one that I was proud of that there's nothing more frustrating as an artist and you feel it as a writer that you do some great work and nobody sees it.

It's the most gutting thing in the world. And so that's why I just said the last five years walking around going, I have this show [called Other Space]. The people that saw it really loved it. We have a very rabid but tiny fanbase because nobody else could find it. The year we came out, I went to Comic-Con, and there [were] two people dressed in one cosplay [of] one of our outfits. And it was the happiest moment of my life.


I know! But then after that, it went away because nobody saw it. So I never saw it again. And I was like, "Oh, shoot." I want cosplay of our costumes. I'm such a fan of that kind of thing.

All right, next Comic-Con, we'll have to hit you up.

Yeah, come on.

The future of Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is often considered a cult classic. And in the age of streaming, a lot of shows that maybe didn't get as much notoriety as they deserved when they aired are gaining a lot of momentum now. So how would you compare the initial response to Other Space to that of Freaks and Geeks, and what do you hope this show gets out of its new home on Dust?

Yeah. That's a great comparison. Freaks and Geeks was considered a real failure when it first came out, although ironically, and just shows you where network television has gone, we were considered the lowest-rated show on NBC, and we had a regular audience of seven million people a week, which today would make you a giant hit.

But by the standards back then, we were a real bomb. But we had a loyal fanbase. It was online and spread the word, and tried to save the show. And it was really four years later when finally Shout! Factory put the money in to get our music rights so they could put it out on DVD. So the fact that people could find it after that, that's something that never used to happen [on] television back when I was coming up.

If a show did go into syndication, which meant it had to go for five or six or seven seasons, it was just gone. To have it then be a critical hit and then just completely disappear — occasionally somebody comes up to me, "You did that show, Freaks and Geeks, I heard that was good" — again, it's just gutting. When that kind of came back through DVD and then eventually got on streaming and all the places, it was such a nice feeling.

I'm desperately, desperately hoping that Other Space gets to have that same experience because this cast is so good and our writers were so good, we were so inventive with that show and worked so hard on it that I really do think it can get a bigger fanbase. And then hopefully that will lead to us having to do more because... It's not like everybody's in their 80s now, they're all in the tops of their careers. So it's not like it's going to be a fab reunion show where you go, "Look how old they are." They all pretty much look the same. I'm the only one that looks old now.

It would be interesting for Freaks and Geeks. What would that even look like?

I know! Well, that's another one where we could do it. Cause now they're all... I would say I don't think we could do it because we couldn't afford the cast, they're all too big of stars.

Oh yeah. That's fair. Well, you could always do the whole "their kids are grown up now" or "their kids are in high school now."

Exactly. People have brought up doing reboots of that, and I'm like "Ehhh..."

Acting vs. directing

You've done a fair amount of acting both in and out of projects you've directed. How does the experience of acting in shows like the original Sabrina differ from the parts that you've taken on in your own shows and movies?

Well, when you're an actor on a show, for me, it was always the greatest thing to become a regular on a TV show, because you just felt like you're just [getting taken] care of. They're going to dress me, they're going to cut my hair, they're going to make me look good, and they're going to write lines for me. And I was lucky enough to be on shows where they would let me play around with the lines or add things in. So it was always, to me, just pure fun, even though acting is definitely not an easy job. 

But it was still just nice to kind of be taken care of in that way versus in [my own movies]. I don't necessarily, even though I do pop up in my movies, occasionally — I don't love doing it because it's such a relinquishing of power, if you will. Because when you're the director, you're there, you're telling anybody what to do. You're kind of judging everybody, "You better do this, this, and this."

And then suddenly the minute you get in front of the camera, you are so vulnerable because, first of all, everybody you've told how to do something goes "Well, that's not good. You're telling me what to do, and now you're not very good." So I'm just so stressed out when I get on camera about that. 

Actually, [in] my last few movies, I haven't even done it just because it's like, you know what? I've been in other people's projects, and that's been really fun. I was in Paul Lieberstein's movie Song of Neck and Back, in which I played the doctor. And he said, "I want you to do this — a little role as a doctor." And I show up, there's like eight pages of dialogue for me, which was terrifying because it gets harder and harder to remember big monologues as you get older. I enjoy it, but I'm much happier behind the camera.

I appreciate your support of Other Space. It's my baby. I'm glad it's getting back out into the world.

We hope we get a season two!

Yeah, me too. Fingers are majorly crossed.