What we learned from Judd Apatow

Variety's Creative Leadership Award: Judd Apatow

James Franco
“I first met Judd at the audition for ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ He made me feel that I was exactly the person they wanted to work with. In fact, they ended up writing the part around me, which is what they did with everyone. That approach was a very important lesson. It showed me how powerful the effect can be when one brings himself into his work. If you look at most of Apatow’s projects they come from a very personal place: ‘Freaks and Geeks’ was based highly on Paul Feig’s and Judd’s personal experiences mixed with the experiences of the actors and the other writers. The other big thing I learned is improvisation. We didn’t do much on ‘Freaks and Geeks’ because we had a quick turnaround schedule, although of all the directors Judd shot the most because he did the most improvisation. After I did ‘Pineapple Express’ I learned how to be open with a scene, how to look for spontaneous moments, and how to work with others so that we found the comedy while the cameras were rolling. It’s a process that creates a very realistic kind of acting because the actors aren’t lulled into a routine way of doing a scene; everyone is on their toes because they are really listening because they don’t know what the other people are going to say. Just like life. As for advice about the business and my career, he helped me a ton when I hosted the Oscars. He wrote me a GREAT monologue. But unfortunately the producers didn’t use it for some very silly reasons. We worked up some great material for the Oscars that they didn’t use. It really would have been a different show if they had used it. So, when I was about to go on, and we knew that none of the great stuff he had come up with was going to be used, he told me that this would be the greatest acting challenge of my life, that I should go out there and pretend to like the horrible material I had been given to do. I tried, but I guess I couldn’t follow that last bit of advice. I really did my best, but I hear my disdain for the material showed. Whoops.”

Kristen Wiig
“The biggest thing I learned from him was to let go and trust. I know that sounds generic and broad, but when you write your first script you want to get everything right. You work on dialogue, scenes, description, and spend so much time on trying to get your vision across, and Judd was so great. He’d say, ‘This scene’s great, now write it again but this time add these two characters,’ or ‘This joke is really funny – now come up with ten more.’ And it’s hard when you’re married to your first ideas, but so much stuff came out of him pushing us to keep rewriting. So we’d rewrite scenes and send them, and he’d constantly give us feedback and helped us shape the whole movie. For instance, originally the whole second act was us going to Vegas, and that whole sequence on the plane was his and Paul [Feig’s] idea. He told us, ‘Write this scene where you don’t actually end up going to Vegas and your character messes things up.’ And it was scary as over the four years we worked on ‘Bridesmaids’ that was the one part of the script we left alone. We didn’t get a lot of notes on it and the table-read went great. So we felt, ‘This part is really working!’ But suddenly Judd creatively challenged us on it and it all changed. People would tell us, ‘You’ll be rewriting till you do ADR,’ and it was true. We wrote every day on set, and it taught me to not be married to anything, to try a new perspective with new jokes – whatever it took to improve the script. And not just in the writing – it taught me personally to just let go and trust myself. And through all this, he’s so supportive.”

Jake Kasdan
“I’d done a movie, ‘Zero Effect’ starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in 1998, and the next year Judd called me out of the blue and asked me to direct the pilot for ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ Even though I’d never thought of doing TV, he was so persuasive – and that was the start of a very close collaboration, including TV shows like ‘Undeclared’ and ‘The TV Set’ with David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, and the ‘Walk Hard’ movie which we co-wrote, co-produced and which I directed. Right from the start he taught me this approach to making comedies that was so new to me – write the best possible script and get the strongest cast possible, and then keep writing to the actors’ strengths, to make it truer and more resonant. So he taught me that the writing process never stops, through production and into the editing, and to use rehearsals and improv, and then incorporate all that into the script. And now that’s how I approach shows like ‘New Girl.'”

Lena Dunham
“Judd is an expert in every arena from merchandising to personality management to communicating visually. But my favorite part of his role on ‘Girls’ are our late night phone calls. The advice Judd dispenses to me after hours ranges from the practical (“get enough sleep”) to the existential (“we all feel like frauds half the time”) to the romantic (“please keep dating horrible men so that we have enough disaster stories.”) Judd is the perfect mix of unimpeachably wise advisor and insomniac high school pal. During the casting process, Judd is always a massive help. He asks you to test every improbable angle. Allison Williams’ character was written as an anxious sassy Jew and he instinctively knew that a shiny WASP who smelled of vanilla was the funniest possible solution. He pushed me to meet her and I’m glad he did. Being on Judd’s set I was so struck by how comfortable everyone (and I mean everyone) is giving him their creative two cents. Even when it’s mayhem, it’s masterful, because he takes just what he needs to open up the world he’s creating and then stays true to his own stubborn vision.”

Michael Cera
“Working with Judd was the first time in my career that I felt like a peer. In the beginning I would quietly make a joke here and there, and somehow by of the end of the shoot I felt like I was among my oldest friends. That feeling remained for years after we wrapped until one by one, in the classic Hollywood tradition, they all changed their email addresses.”

Variety’s Creative Leadership Award: Judd Apatow
Funny people father figure | What we learned from Judd Apatow | Clan grows with ‘This Is 40’ | Taking tutorials to students
Return to the Hollywood’s New Leader 2012