Minx Producer Paul Feig Wants You To Trust Him As Captain Of The Ship [Interview]

Paul Feig is a dapper man. The producer of the new HBO Max series "Minx" knows a good suit when he sees one. When you interview him, a part of you looks forward to seeing what suit he's donning that day. In addition to his eye for suits, he's got an eye for exciting storytellers, like the creator behind "Minx," Ellen Rapoport. Set in the early 1970s, Rapoport's show tells the story of the first porno mag designed for women. 

The story is bigger than that, of course, but that's what's on the surface of the new comedy series starring Jake Johnson and Ophelia Lovibond. As a producer of the show, Feig believes his job is to hire the best and stay out of their way. He wants to hear the creator's voice, not the producer's voice, in the stories he produces. Recently, the filmmaker behind "Bridesmaids," "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call," and "A Simple Favor" talked to us about his experience on "Minx," why he enjoys laugh tracks, and the state of comedy today. 

'If I ever get on a ship and the captain is wearing sweatpants, I'm going to get off the ship'

You look dapper as always.

Thank you.

You, Christopher Nolan, and Sam Raimi are some of the few major studio directors who wear suits on the job. What do you feel it projects when you're on the set?

I always say I'm the captain of the ship. I'm lucky enough to have been given the captain's position on something. I know if I ever get on a ship and the captain is wearing sweatpants, I'm going to get off the ship. My father owned an Army surplus store, and every day of his life he was in a suit and tie, in the back warehouse and moving boxes around and all that. To me, it's always been, when you're in charge, you wear a suit. But I also look terrible in casual clothes, too. There's a little bit of ego going on there, too.

It's also just good style.

I'm a big believer in the clothes you wear are the calling card to the world. Whether you like it or not, people make a decision about you when they see you within seven seconds. It's either you go, "Here's how I want to present myself," or you go, "I'm going to work really hard to convince them I'm not what they see," but, why not make it easy from the get go? I guess apparently I'm saying I'm a banker or something. I don't quite know why I've adopted this, but it's all I got.

Captain of the ship. I can see that.

Thank you so much. As long as I don't run the ship aground, then....

I would trust you if I got on the ship.

I will go around those icebergs.

With "Minx," it's another feel-good show you've worked on that shows some points of view we don't always see. Like "Freaks and Geeks," do you seek out comedies that could make some audiences feel less alone?

I appreciate that, because that is — one of the goals in our company is to make sure everything is ultimately good natured. That it's super fun and you learn from it and you feel something from it, but that it's good natured. It doesn't end like, "The world sucks and people are terrible." I have no interest in putting that message out into the world. I always say I want things that I do to ultimately feel like a party, a little bit, which sounds kind of trite, but just that you have fun, even if it gets dark.

You're like, "Oh my God," you're scared, or it gets really weird, at the end of the day, you're like, "Oh, that was fun. The music's fun. And it's nice to look at." Got our costumes and our sets and everything and just this beautiful cast that we have. It's everything that I always wanted to do, which is what I tried to do with "Freaks and Geeks" all those years ago. Then when Ellen Rapoport brought us this one, I was like, "Oh, this is the next manifestation of that world, in a much more adult way."

And still comforting in some ways. Have you found, especially after lockdown and the last few years, studios seeking more comedies to make?

I'm on the fence right now about whether they're actively looking for it, but I think they're starting to get the message that we need more of it. Because I think we've gone through, in the past five years, to be quite honest — even six years now — a period where I think people were more kind of ready for a fight. I think for some reason comedy felt too frivolous for them for a while. I don't like that it did, but that's what I was picking up on. People get kind of hostile about a comedy trailer. Like, "Oh, what are they trying to pull over on us? We want fighting." That's why a lot of "Game of Thrones," all those kinds of things, there's lots of conflict in them.

Escapism can be important, too. During lockdown, some good laughs meant a lot.

I do feel, and I felt it coming up and maybe the pandemic really helped kick it back off, we're just like, "Oh, can we just please have a good time again? Everything's so heavy now." As a comedy guy, I'm just like, "Oh, please, bring it back." Because all of us in comedy, we're just trying to give you a good time. Trying to make you happy and make you feel less alone. I love what you said earlier about the show making you not feel lonely, because I was an only child, to me the TV was my friend, and I loved shows that had a laugh track, which everybody is like, "Oh." But I used to love it. It meant that I was not alone.

I remember that when "The Jetsons" had a laugh track and I used to watch it every day after school and then one day, for some reason, Hanna-Barbera stripped all the laugh tracks out of it. I was sitting at home and it came on and it wasn't getting laughs. I was like, "Wait, what happened? Are the jokes bombing? Where'd the audience go?" It always struck me, like, "Let's make it fun, so you're going somewhere with a group of friends that you like to hang out with every week."

Do you think laugh tracks just come down to execution? "The IT Crowd" does it well, for example. 

Oh my God. Totally. I think British comedy is great at it. Also, because I know that generally they tend to have a real audience there, but if not, I know that they'll steal from another show that had an audience and it's just explosive. It's fun. Chuck Lorre is really good at that, getting the crowd. It sounds like the crowd is there and it's fun and let's enjoy things with other people. I just can't wait until we can go back to the theaters and sit with people.

'It's a show about the American dream'

What about Ellen's voice and writing appealed to you?

What's not to love about Ellen's writing? When she sent us this script, we were just like, "Oh my God." It wasn't even a script, it was a pitch at first. Everything she was pitching, these characters, I was like, "They're so funny and fun. It's not what I thought was going to be." Because you hear the world of erotic magazine you're like, "Ooh, can this get too lurid or too ugly?" She just had such a positive take on all these characters and wanted them be positive because, really, it's not a show about an erotic magazine, it's a show about the American dream. It's a show about underdogs trying to achieve that.

That's what I love about Joyce when she comes into the show, she meets Doug, who's very sincerely trying to help her out. She's like, "Oh, well what you do is easy. All you have to do is show boobs." He's like, "It's not easy what we do." The fact that they learned from each other. That whole tone and story was in there, in Ellen's idea and then her script from the get go. After her great work, then it was just like, "OK, now we've got to find the perfect cast to be able to do this." Finding Ophelia is so amazing — to me, she's the new Mary Tyler Moore in this world, which is so great.

But then Jake, that character could be played so sleazily or so unlikable. You love everything he does, even when he talks in a way where she's just like, "Oh, OK. The way you express that is so not right but I get your point." It's kind of lovely. He's sort of this lovely guy who lives in this not subtle world, if you will.

When you're producing, do you try to be the producer you'd want as a filmmaker?

My whole way that I produce is, I'm there in the beginning, because, obviously, finding the piece of material is key. Finding the people that are going to do it. I know Ellen and love her work and then making sure we get to the right place, making sure we hire all the right people, get her the team, and then I want to get out of there. I don't want to be micromanaging, because I've been in those situations where somebody's like, "You should do this." It's like, "I know, but, this is my voice now." What I don't want when I'm producing somebody is to go, "Oh, they're doing my voice."

There are plenty of times I see stuff in all the shows I produce or I'm like, "Okay, I wouldn't have done it that way." But then I'm like, "You know what? I liked what they did because it's what I wouldn't have thought of." I actually think it's way better than what I would've thought of or, it's a different voice than I could bring to something.

I think that the most important thing when you're producing is, make sure you get the best people and then get out of their way. My father always taught me that when it came to anything, finances and accountants, all that, go get smart people and then don't micromanage them. I'm always watching cuts and reading scripts and all that and occasionally go, "Oh, what about this?" But, that's my gift, I don't want to be sitting on top of everybody and they don't want that either. Trust me.

Not many half-hour comedies are cinematic, but "Minx" has a real atmosphere to it. Some directors say comedy shouldn't be too pretty, but what are your thoughts?

Well, when I was in film school, back in the early '80s, I had old school teachers. One of our directing teachers, Eddie Dymitri, who did "Mutiny On the Bounty" back then. They all came from the school of, if the audience is aware of the director — meaning, they're going like, "Oh, look at that. Well, look at that shot" — then we've failed as storytellers. Now, the business has gotten a little different since then. What it's at now is, if a shot can be evocative and make you feel something, then you should do it. I like a style that is all in service of emotion and feeling so that you don't have to state something.

There's a great sequence in the pilot for "Minx" where she's pitching these magazines, but it's not going well. Then Rachel, our director, just does a quick montage of these timers going up, "bing, bang," and it's super fast shots, which is very stylistic but I go ... that just says to me, like, "Oh man, the day was a disaster." That's how you remember something. All I remember is this stack up of failures happening like that. I go, "That's the stuff I love." Or Doug and the team coming into a country club, walking down the stairs, these crazy outfits of the slow motion because, that's how everybody's starting like, "Who the hell are they?" That's great, but that's telling you the story through style.

'Oh my God. Are those autopsy photos?'

As a teenager of the '70s, what else rang true to you about the show?

Well, I remember as a kid when those magazines started going into 7-11. I remember when they started after, when the moral majority came in, they had to put pieces of cardboard in front of them and keep them behind the counter. I remember Playgirl Magazine hitting the newsstands. I remember my two cousins were buying these magazines and then we went to their house like, "Oh my God, they're reading Playgirl Magazine." It was a different time because you didn't have the internet.

They ran the gamut from Playboy Magazine that was kind of tame to some of the Larry Flynt ones like Hustler and all that. You're just like, "Oh my God. Are those autopsy photos? What's happening?" I don't want to say it's an innocent time because clearly the '70s were anything but innocent, but it was not as anything you wanted was there [like today]. It was a little more selective, let's just say.

Right. Ellen has fun with the times without sugar coating the times.

Yeah, exactly. We wanted to be honest, but at the same time fun and not gross.

I gotta ask: Why in the world haven't we gotten "Spy 2" yet?

[Laughs] Well, it could happen. I love that movie. That was one of the few movies I did that I created to be potentially a series of movies. But, who knows? Never say never.

One of the big Oscar snubs this year, without question, was "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar."

Oh, so funny.

So you were a fan?

I loved that. Kristen and Annie, first of all, I could watch them read the phone book, but it was so fun to see Annie get a big starring role with Kristen, because they're so funny together. I loved it. I just thought it was so silly in a great way. Just silly fun that was just fun to look at and colorful. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I couldn't have been prouder of the two of them.

Did it remind you of their early "Bridesmaids" drafts? Those were pretty wild, right?

Oh, yeah. No, there was some very "Barb and Star" stuff in the original "Bridesmaids” draft, which we loved. It was just weird, there was a tone we were trying to hit and so we wanted to make sure that we were walking the line, but that's why I was so happy when I saw it and went, "Oh good. They got to do a lot of the stuff that they didn't get to do in our movie."

"Minx" is now airing on HBO Max.