By Jeffrey Buck
This is Part II of the interview with Michigan native Paul Feig. Be sure to read Part I if you have not already.
Jeffrey Buck: Did you watch a lot of movies as a kid?
Paul Feig: I definitely watched movies but I wasn’t a Quentin Tarantino where I saw every movie that was ever made, that kind of thing. I liked the movies that I liked. I was way into science fiction. My best friend, the one who drove out to California with me, Mike, he and I were way into SciFi so we would see every single science fiction movie that came out. And comedies, I would go see those. Woody Allen, [too.] I loved ‘What’s up Doc?’ When old black and white comedies would come on TV or be in the movie theaters I would always go and see those. But I didn’t like drama. I would try and do everything I could to not see any dramatic films until I got to college. At Wayne State, the first kind of dramatic film I saw and really fell in love with was this Francis Ford Coppola film called ‘The Conversation.’ And that’s the moment I was like maybe I do like dramas and [it] put me on the road to liking to do stuff that was both comedic and dramatic. Because it’s really the most honest way of storytelling. Anything that’s so dramatic with no laughs in it is almost as dishonest as a comedy where everything is funny and there’s no kind of heart to it because life is very much your laughing one minute, you’re crying the next, and something terrible happens and somebody tries to make a joke to try to pretend it’s not happening and cheer themselves up. And that’s the tone I like. The whole creative [thing] I do now is to try and create what’s the most honest, hopefully the most funniest thing but also what’s the most kind of emotionally honest thing, the kind of thing where you don’t go as an audience member , ‘Well that’s stupid’ or ‘That wouldn’t happen.’ Because that to me is when you fail as a filmmaker, [and] the audience doesn’t believe something; I think you’re kind of dead in the water.
JB: What’s your favorite Detroit Musical act or artist?
PF: Jack White. He grew up in the same area as I did and went to the same music store as I did, Huber and Breese. It is over near 14 Mile and Groesbeck. I love Jack White. He’s my current favorite Detroiter. Not that I don’t love all the other Detroiters but he’s on the top of my list right now.
JB: What was your favorite restaurant?
PF: Growing up it was a place called Gino’s Surf which was on Lake St. Clair. And that was the fancy place we’d go to whenever my dad wanted to go out for a nice dinner. We’d go to Gino’s Surf because it was right on the lake. In the wintertime we’d go. In the daytime, like after church on Sunday, you would see people driving snowmobiles around on the ice all over the lake and guys ice fishing. And when it wasn’t frozen it was always very pretty out there with boats and stuff. So yeah, Gino’s Surf was definitely the top for me, as good as it got. I don’t know if it’s still there or not but it was really good at the time.
JB: Who’s your favorite athlete?
PF: It was the Tigers. I really like Mickey Lolich, I was there when The Bird, Mark Fidrych was there. That was really exciting. I loved Isiah Thomas. I think that the Tigers were always my favorite. Actually one of my prized possessions is an autographed baseball from I believe 1968. It has like Al Kaline on there and Mickey Lolich. That was when Billy Martin was managing them. That’s up in my office very close to my desk all the time.
JB: What’s your favorite car?
PF: I’ve always liked the old Charger, you know the old Charger that had the big fin on the back, or the spoiler, the one that went really high. It looked like a race car. As a kid I was like “that’s the car I was going to have.” I was so determined that that would be my car, and [I] still haven’t gotten one. Someday.
JB: Did you eat at the Coneys downtown?
PF: After shows at the Fisher my dad would always take us to Coney Island. It always blew my mind as a kid. Even still today, I couldn’t ever get over that you would order a hot dog and within five seconds whatever you ordered whatever the combination would be on the table. Like it just blew my mind as a kid [you’d say] “coney island with no onions and extra mustard” and bam it would be on the table! So I was always very impressed with that. I loved those. They are actually out in LA, out in the valley here where we used to shoot some stuff for The Office. There is an authentic Detroit Coney Island hotdog stand, the owners are obviously from Detroit, we were shooting in their parking lot once and they brought some out to us and they were so good. It was such a flashback. My dad was really obsessed with them. We would go to the one’s downtown and the ones in Mount Clemens where I grew up and the ones at the mall. We ate a lot of coneys. There was one we used to go to all the time in the Macomb Mall that was right by the front entrance where we’d come in. I can still see exactly what that place looks like in my head.
JB: Favorite place to go in Mount Clemens?
PF: I was in the theatre and drama club and all of that and we all would hang out at the Elias Brothers’ Big Boy. It was at Gratiot, across from this K-Mart, and Utica Road or something and that was our fast food hangout. We would just stay there all night, bring a game of Trivial Pursuit with us and sit there all night and order food. Every night, they all knew us and let us do it. But I used to love doing that. I have some of my fondest memories of just like laughing with my theatre friends all night at that place. But my favorite place actually as kid to go to in Detroit or Michigan was the Oakland Mall. In front of the Oakland Mall for a long time was a restaurant called Farrell’s which, if you look it up, there was a chain of them in the U.S. back in the ’70s but there was one of them in the parking lot of the Oakland Mall and it was like an ice cream parlor that served food but it was all like Banjo players and the waiters and waitress were really funny and then you would order a thing called the Zoo and it was this giant bucket filled with [an] ice cream sundae and all this crap and they would put it on this stretcher and run around blowing this horn and run back and forth with it. Everything was a performance. And then when you left you would have to go through this old-fashioned candy store to get to the register and you would buy all [of] this candy. So I always had every birthday at Farrell’s. Many times when my mom and I would go out to do anything fun we would always go to Farrell’s. One of my goals in life was to be a waiter at Farrell’s. I was always like, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up,’ be a waiter at Farrell’s and get to be really funny with people and make announcements to all the diners. They had this thing on the menu on Sunday’s called the pig trough, and if you ordered it and finished it they would make an announcement to the restaurant and give you a ribbon [that] they would pin on you that said “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s.” [I] could never eat the whole thing but I would always try to do it because I was so desperate to try and get the ribbon. The desperation to be in showbiz was alive even back then.
JB: What got you into writing your kids series of books?
PF: I’ve always loved books. The irony of it though is as I kid I hated reading books because at school I was made to read books I didn’t care about. I remember they tried to make us read, Madame Bovary, and I remember I was in misery because I couldn’t get through it and I couldn’t understand it. I just wanted to read stupid shit that they wouldn’t let you and I think that’s one of the big reasons I wrote those Ignatius McFarland books. I was like, “I want to write a book that I would have wanted to read as a kid.” And so I’ve written two of them and want to write one more because it’s sort of a trilogy I was doing. And then the memoirs are just fun; I don’t know, I like the written word. I love reading books and what I like about books is it’s storytelling — that’s not dependent on people having to sit in any one place. When you do movies or TV you’ve got to get people to come to a theatre and watch it at the same amount of time as everyone around them and [with] TV you have to be around the television but with a book, I read at a different speed than you read and other people and how we enjoy a book is completely up to us and I like that. I like the sort of democratic nature of that so for me it’s a nice balance between movies and television because I love doing movies and TV obviously but sometimes you feel you need an outlet and it’s fun to have an alternative way for people to enjoy, hopefully enjoy, what you do.
JB: Are you planning or currently working on any projects with ties to Michigan?
PF: There’s a project I’m developing. One of my pet projects has always been to turn my two memoir books, one is called “Kick Me” and the other “Superstud”, into either a movie or a TV series. So that’s something I’m always thinking about. So now in Michigan with its tax breaks you can shoot there and save money. Actually a friend of mine Nick Stoller shot a movie with Jason Segel, Five Year Engagement, in Ann Arbor. Kind of excited of the thought of shooting back in Michigan because I’ve spent a lot of my time with like Freaks and Geeks trying to recreate Michigan so now it’s like oh god I can just go shoot there. I am definitely hoping to shoot something there at some point.
JB: What from Michigan, if you could, would you bring to California?
PF: It would be all the green, all the trees. The green grass — I mean, I really miss that. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over not having that out here. I’ve been out here 30 years and that lack of green everywhere really depresses me. That’s my one big complaint about LA is it’s all just so brown. Like brick houses where everything out here is stucco. There’s a richness to the way Michigan looks. It’s just because you grow up around it and fall in love with whatever you grow up around but that’s what I really miss. If California could look like Michigan then I would be very happy out here but it doesn’t.
What you do miss out here–and it sounds ridiculous to people who don’t live out here– is you really miss the seasons. I do miss the winter occasionally, not the dead of winter where you’re out scraping ice off your car at six in the morning and the inside of your car is freezing. And back then all car seats were vinyl, so you’d get in and the seat would be fucking freezing. That I don’t miss, but I miss sitting inside and it snowing outside and [looking] beautiful and playing in the snow and walking through the snow. When it’s cold out you can put on a jacket, I do miss that a lot. I miss fall and the colors turning. I don’t miss the summer so much because I hate humidity. So that’s the one thing here is you don’t get the humidity. I just absolutely wilt when it’s humid out. I actually do miss winter but I don’t miss summer.
JB: Have you been to any of your class reunions at Chippewa Valley?
PF: No, I haven’t been to any. I always hear about them but I’ve never been able to get back because of timing and work. It tends to happen during times that are really busy so sadly I haven’t gotten back for any. I don’t keep up with that many people, occasionally people pop up on either Facebook or people will email. When I moved out to USC I had a real problem with being homesick. I missed everybody and I almost couldn’t function out here. And I remember like two years in hitting a point where I was like you know what I have to either commit to being here or move back to Michigan. And since I knew I moved out here to be a part of the industry I kind of made that leap so I think mentally, even though I still really like everyone I grew up with and still talk to, I really cherish those moments, I did a bit of a separation [thing] where you kind of go “well my life is out here now,” just for self preservation more than anything really. But now I have a nice life out here, I’m married and have a nice circuit of friends and all that. But like anyone, where you lived that’s where your home is. I’m always a Michigander at heart and have such a love for the Midwest and I’m always defending it out here, trying to make sure it’s portrayed honestly, not in a way, sometimes people on the coast can be very cynical about people in the middle of the country and I’m fighting them on that because I find that extremely obnoxious.
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