Interview: “Bachelorette” Producer Jessica Elbaum on the Impact of VOD, Alternate Endings & Braving Hurricane Irene

A peek behind the scenes of the new wild wedding comedy as well as inside Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's production company with one of the film's producers....Read More
Isla Fisher, Kirsten Dunst and Lizzy Caplan in Leslye Headland's film "Bachelorette"

Although the new comedy “Bachelorette” hardly resembles “Cinderella” — there are no magical mice around to help clean up the blood-soaked wedding dress that the bride’s (Rebel Wilson) friends ruin and race around New York trying to fix after a pre-nuptials evening out on the town — what unfolded behind the scenes for the film’s writer/director Leslye Headland and its producer Jessica Elbaum might best be described as a Cinderella story.

Both assistants at one time for Hollywood heavyweights — Headland ran Harvey Weinstein’s desk for a time while Elbaum was once Will Ferrell’s right hand woman before rising up the ranks of his and Adam McKay’s production company Gary Sanchez — the two have now made a movie of their own and as Elbaum’s quick to point out, “And the greatest thing is Will’s obviously a producer on it and now Harvey’s name is on it. It’s amazing.”

Indeed, “Bachelorette” is one of the first releases from Weinstein’s new label Radius, spearheaded by former Magnolia Pictures execs Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, who pioneered the pre-theatrical video-on-demand release, and has already done their former bosses proud, becoming the first film to top the iTunes chart before its release in theaters. But thanks to Headland’s distinctive voice and Elbaum’s position at one of the most daring production companies in town, it’s also unique in giving its impressive ensemble something to really chew on, perhaps setting a template for comedies on the fringe of mainstream that won’t pander or break the bank. After speaking with Headland earlier this week, I also had the opportunity to talk to Elbaum about the happenstance that led to “Bachelorette” making the leap from stage to screen, the script’s development process including an alternate ending, and the new possibilities that video-on-demand might offer a company like Gary Sanchez.

How did you first become aware of Leslye and “Bachelorette”?

Lizzy Caplan and I were developing a show [“I Don’t Care About Your Band,” based on the Julie Klausner memoir] and we had gone to New York to see the play “Bachelorette” because we had read the play and we loved Leslye’s writing. Lizzy and I and Adam Scott and Lena Dunham went to see Leslye’s play.

You could’ve shot a movie right there.

I know, what a foursome. And I flipped out for it. Lizzy and I started working with Leslye on this TV show and while we were, I asked Leslye all about the play and when she wrote it, why she wrote it, when she wrote it, how she wrote it. She had actually told me she had written it as a feature first and the studios sort of wanted me to lighten it up. You know Leslye — that’s just not something she was going to do. So I asked to read it and had Adam [McKay] and Will [Ferrell] read it next and they loved it too. [They] said if you could put a cast together and get some money, absolutely, let’s make this movie. Nobody really knew about [“Bridesmaids” yet], so that’s what they meant by getting a little bit of money because nobody was jumping onboard to make female dark comedies anytime soon. So we did that, we put the cast together.

This feels like one of those casts where nearly everyone involved in it feels like they’re on the verge of having their careers explode. Does that give it a certain vibe?

It was one of those things where it was so surreal to be on set everyday with what I thought was this perfect cast. Kirsten’s been around forever and I’ve been a massive fan of hers, so for Kirsten [Dunst], it was exciting for me to be seeing her do comedy again because that girl is funny. Then Isla is hysterically funny. I never really looked at it like these people were going to explode. Lizzy’s one of my best friends, so I’ve known for years what that girl has and so it was really fun for me to watch her because… I’m biased, of course, but it’s like you watch the movie and you’re like, “Did Leslye write these roles for these people?” Because it feels like these people were each born to play those parts.

We were on a pretty tight budget, we had a very tight schedule and with this cast, they all had other things going on. We had Hurricane Irene, so the fact that we made this movie, it’s incredible. If you know the term bashert, that’s what I think it is.

Hurricane Irene? Was it a tricky shoot to pull off?

It was, mostly because of weather and then time constraints. For example, the rehearsal dinner, we shot that scene, which was seven pages, in one day. That’s the [James Marsden] speech, the [Lizzy Caplan] speech, the cousin’s dance – that was an intense day. So a 23-day shoot and then constant weather issues, it was a challenge, but again, it’s like somebody was looking out for us because we made it work.

The scene in the subway with Lizzy and Adam Scott was not written that way. That was actually a scene where Adam jumps in front of a cab, they get into a cab, that’s how they get back to Adam’s mom’s house. But the first time we were supposed to shoot that, the hurricane happened and then the last day we were supposed to shoot that was the last day we had Adam because of “Parks and Rec” and it was torrential rain. So we said, “Oh God, how can we shoot a transportation scene in this rain?” And Leslye’s like, “Subway?” And of course, everyone’s like, “We don’t have the permits for that.” We just stole it. We went down there with a camera, the two cast members, Leslye, myself and sound and got it. If you talk to Lizzy, that was like her most exciting day of shooting. It was a lot of fun. But stuff like that [was happening] everyday, just thinking on our toes.

The film has that buzz about it. There’s a certain magic to it that’s built into taking place at New York at night, which I imagine changed things from the play. What was the development like from Leslye’s original script?

The ending was a little bit different. There was this whole storyline where Jenna, Lizzy’s character, had been heavy also in high school. So that’s how she and Becky bonded. And Clyde’s mom made the prom dress, which you see in the movie. But this prom dress that Jenna wore was actually going to be the dress that they gave to Becky. They fucked up the dress so much that they couldn’t fix it, but then Jenna had this brilliant idea, “I’m going to get the prom dress and that’s going to be Becky’s wedding dress.” But Kirsten actually said, “Leslye, I loved the script so much, but what girl would be okay getting married in a prom dress?” That’s when we really dug in. It was Will and Adam and Chris Henchy and myself and Leslye and we kind of reformulated that ending. Kirsten was spot on. I wouldn’t want to get married in a prom dress.

Pixar is famous for having a “brain trust” when it comes to scripts where their principles get really hands on with the story and the screenplay. Does Gary Sanchez have something similar?

Yeah, we workshop everything. We have roundtables. We work with a group of writers all the time just to always make things better and Funny or Die is right downstairs, so we’re constantly leaning on them for punch ups and stuff, so it is a little bit like that.

Gary Sanchez seems to be stretching the boundaries of mainstream comedy can be, particularly in the things you’ve produced, whether it’s this film, “Casa De Mi Padre,” or even “You’re Welcome, America” – or at least the audience for it. Is that actually a goal for the company?

I always say this – Will and Adam just want to make stuff that makes them laugh, but when they had discussed starting this company, they wanted to just work with filmmakers they wanted to work with, new, old, whoever, and just make weird stuff that maybe other people weren’t making. “Casa de Mi Padre” is a perfect example and “Bachelorette” also — not a lot of people were jumping at a movie where a bunch of girls are doing cocaine and dealing with issues like abortion and bulimia. I think the good thing about this company is that there isn’t a model. Anything goes. If it makes us laugh or it excites us, we’ll do it. And that’s a pretty great place to work to just be able to do something that you like.

Did the early VOD success spark any immediate conversation about getting more of these types of films off the ground since you have at least some evidence there’s an audience for them.

At Gary Sanchez, we weren’t familiar with this kind of model at all. We’ve never released a film this way, so we weren’t super educated on it, but now that it’s happened and it’s been so incredibly successful, we’re so into it. Of course, when you work on a film, you want a big theatrical release, so originally when you’re told, no, we’re going to do it this way, it’s sort of like well, I want to see my movie at the Arclight. But I really do believe for movies like this that don’t have a huge [prints and advertising] marketing spend, this is the smartest way. I would do this again in a second.

I think that “Bachelorette”‘s going to have such a longer life because of this release. Had it just come to the theaters, it would’ve just not had this built in hype and word of mouth. So I’m grateful for this model for sure. Even people that have watched it at home at least have said to me, “I loved it at home, it makes me want to see it in the theater.”

You had to have had that feeling as you’ve traveled the festival circuit with the film. What was it like going to the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland with it?

To be in Locarno watching your movie in front of 8000 people…crazy. It’s almost as if that didn’t happen. It was very, very surreal. But I’m just so happy that people are getting it and the people that love it, really love it and then there’s definitely people that don’t get it and it makes them mad. But we kind of like that. Making something that creates a polarizing reaction, you’ve done something good.

“Bachelorette” is now available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Google Play and opens in theaters on September 7th.

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