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‘Bridesmaids’ caught improv on film

Pic's helmer uses two cameras to get laughs

Catching lightning in a bottle seems easy compared to what helmer Paul Feig did to capture all the fleeting moments of improvisation that occurred during the filming of “Bridesmaids,” which opened wide to a weekend gross of $24.4 million.

For starters, he cross-shot many of the comedy’s dialogue scenes: in two-way conversations he pointed different cameras at different actors, rather than the usual practice of having both cameras — one shooting wide and the other close up — trained on the first actor, then shooting the scene over again with the cameras filming the other person.

“We do so much improv and throw so many curve balls at the actors while they’re performing that we record both sides of the conversation at the same time,” Feig said. “You have these amazing moments that happen and if you’ve only got one side of it, it’s impossible to re-create it again on the other side; you lose that first-time magic. This type of comedy is never the same when you say it twice.”

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The only problem with cross-shooting, he said, is that “most cinematographers just despise it and refuse to do it.” In the past, to his regret, some have even talked him out of it, causing the loss of precious spontaneous moments.

But Feig had no such issues with “Bridesmaids.” He turned to d.p. Robert Yeoman, who had previously used the method on “Get Him to the Greek.” “Bob had gotten into that style and it was a no-brainer to hire him.”

Like “Bridesmaids,” “Greek” is another comedy from the Judd Apatow factory, which has created films and skeins that have pervaded American humor for more than a decade. Many of the same actors, directors, writers, producers and below-the-line people have moved from show to show. Feig and Apatow previously collaborated on “Knocked Up” and TV’s “Freaks and Geeks.”

While they use improv, they never shoot a scene without knowing its “emotional roadmap,” Feig said. “We have the basic idea, like, ‘You’re meeting this person for the first time and by the end you’re weirded out by him.’ And when you cast actors with an improv background, in every take they come up with something new.”

“Bridesmaids” materialized in 2007 as a script written by “Saturday Night Live’s” Kristen Wiig, the film’s star, about a woman down on her luck whose attempt to get her life together is derailed when she agrees to be maid of honor for her best friend’s wedding. Wiig had acted in “Knocked Up” as well as the Feig-helmed “Unaccompanied Minors.”

The project got a table read, notes were given, then it disappeared for three years.

“Judd said it was dead,” Feig recalled. “Then I heard from my agent they were going to make it at Universal. I called Judd, and suddenly I was attached. It felt like I had come back home.”

The revived script was further massaged by co-writer Annie Mumolo and, in a twist, the Midwest-set pic filmed in the Los Angeles area over 51 days. The film’s $38 million budget was whittled down to $32 million with the help of California’s tax credits.

Bookings & Signings

Skouras Agency booked d.p.’s Robert Richardson on Marc Forster’s “World War Z,” Peter Suschitzky on David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” Jakob Ihre on Daryl Wein’s “Lola Versus” and Jesse Green on Henry Lu’s “Run to the East”; production designers Stuart Craig on Michael Hoffman’s “Gambit” and Sharon Seymour on Ben Affleck’s “Argo.”

Montana Artists booked UPM David Witz on Kirk Jones’ “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; d.p. Stephen Kazmierski on Bill Guttentag’s “Knife Fight”; production designers John D. Kretschmer on Showtime’s “Homeland,” Robb Wilson King on Lifetime movie “Bling Ring,” Meghan Rogers on David Wain’s “Wanderlust” and Brandy Alexander on TV Land’s “Happily Divorced”; editor Jonathan Schwartz on Showtime’s “House of Lies”; costume designers Kelli Jones on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and Jenni Gullet on Fox’s “Fringe”; and 1st AD’s Richard Cowan on Eric Van Looy “The Loft” and Chad Rosen on Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts.”

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