By Robin E. Simmons
Last Saturday, I hosted a Q&A with director Anne Fletcher after a screening of “Hot Pursuit” at Cinemas Palme d’Or, where it is playing. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.
Can you tell me a little something about your journey to directing?
In a nutshell, I came to Hollywood from Detroit to dance and met a lovely man, producer and choreographer Adam Shankman when we danced on the 1990 Oscars’ show. We became good friends and one day he said, “You should be directing.” Later I got a call from him and he said I have a music video for you to choreograph and direct. And that’s how it started. One thing led to another…
Do you prefer movie directing to singing, acting, dancing, designing choreographer or your other creative endeavors?
It kind if is on one level because it incorporates everything. And you get to work with great people who are experts at what they do. However, performing is what I miss because I love it so much and it’s the most important thing in my life.
When you first got the screenplay, did it have another title?
Originally the movie was called “Don’t Mess With Texas.” But that phrase is copyrighted because Texas uses it for an anti-litter campaign, so we couldn’t use it. Texans are very serious and wouldn’t let us use it under any circumstances.
How did the movie come to you?
It came through Reese Witherspoon’s production company. She’s a producer with Sofia Vergara.
Was the movie you shot the same screenplay that originally came to you?
We reshaped it a bit to fit the two stars. In the first test screening, people wanted to like Cooper, Reese’s character, but wanted to know why she’s so weird, so we reshot some scenes including the opening. That softened her character up a bit. We added other physical comedy bits as well.
So you put a lot of value in test screenings?
I like test screening. They are my favorite part of the process. Audiences will tell you how they feel about the movie. With 400 people in the theater, there’s an energy in the room you can feel in the room. And remember, you are making the movie for them! “Hot Pursuit” is not a labor of love as in I have to make this movie that’s in my heart. I did it for fun. But when you get it in front of an audience, they will tell you what is working and what is not.
I think there’s a peculiar thing with a test screening, that audience is seeing the movie for the first time. And that’s something you can’t do after weeks of editing.
That’s absolutely true. You’re so close to it — but when you get it in front of real people it all becomes very clear. I like to talk to test audiences and have them fill out forms regarding the film’s specifics.
Regarding Reese and Sofia, I thought these two women had great chemistry on screen. But when there was downtime while shooting, how did local residents react when they stumbled across these two beautiful women?
We shot in New Orleans in the dead of summer. Not only was it hotter than you can imagine it was 150% humidity! Nobody should have to experience that! On our first few days of shooting, people would just come up and take pictures of us. Sofia understands social media and really worked it. Sofia’s from Columbia and she moves from a place you don’t want to approach her. But she’s the most personable, kindest and nicest person you’ll ever meet. Mostly, people left us alone.
I was born in New Orleans and graduated high school in Dallas. And I thought maybe this film was actually shot in Texas.
That’s great. We were limited in our shooting to stay within a 30-mile radius of New Orleans. We had William Creber, a great production designer. The scene with the billboard and the truck crash with all that cocaine was an actual vintage Texas billboard.
Can you comment on being a female director in a male dominated industry? Are there special challenges?
I don’t know what it’s like being a male director. There’s definitely an imbalance in the industry, but I don’t think the higher up studio executives are thinking, “I’m not going to hire that person because she’s a woman.” I’ve never had the experience of sexism or knowing someone was chosen over me because I’m a woman. I’m hoping and praying everything is based on merit. I’m sure I was hired for this movie because they — Reese, Sofia and Bruna Papandrea (Reese’s producing partner) — were intrigued to have a female at the helm. Plus they really loved “The Proposal” I think that was part of their decision, but I wasn’t the only director in the running. Women are pushing really hard and we’ll keep pushing until there’s a balance and equality.
One thing I really liked about “Hot Pursuit” is that even though a female centric team put this movie together, I never thought there was an agenda. I also liked the sense of discarding political correctness and instead just having fun. The world is a grim place. We need silly fun just to detox!
Thank you. Sometimes we need to see a movie just to relax. When Chris Farley was alive I’d go see anything he was in. I’d just run to his movies to be silly and laugh and escape my life. Action comedies have been a male genre at its core for many years. And I didn’t want to throw two women into the mix and say, “Just behave like men.” I wanted to make sure the women presented in the right way. We are crazy and zany and layered — just like men. I know men will be dragged to these female centric films and I wanted to make sure there was a balance. Hopefully it’s universal enough so everyone can enjoy it. I wanted to make sure it’s not too girlie and there’s stuff guys can relate to.
When you began this project, did you sign up for “PG-13” or “R” rating?
It was originally rated “R” mainly because of the language. But I wanted the language to fit these women, one from Colombia and one from the South. Swearing is easy and fun, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit the characters.
And it’s not necessary to be funny. At the same time, I didn’t want to distance or alienate any of Sofia’s huge fan base from “Modern Family.”
What’s the core audience or demographic for this film?
It’s a chick flick. Really aimed at teen girls.
According to exit polls, teen girls have given “Hot Pursuit” and “A” rating.
I wanted to be respectful of the two women in the lead because they are actually representing all women.
What’s in you future? Do you have a dream project?
I wish I had an answer. I have a few things in development. But it’s a strange thing, when you release a movie, whether it does well or not, sometimes it wipes the development slate clean. I just finished “Hot Pursuit” three weeks ago so more than anything, I really need to just unwind.