Mindy Kaling and Nancy Meyers — two titans of romantic comedies and layered, human storytelling overall — gathered Saturday in a wide-ranging conversation about their experiences as filmmakers in a changing market.
At Produced By, the annual conference of the Producers Guild of America, the pair had an hour to share a wealth of information about their respective tastes, challenges, budgets, marketing strategies and more.
The chat was timely, thanks to Kaling’s Amazon Studios comedy “Late Night” hitting this weekend, but served as a fantastic excuse for an audience on Burbank’s Warner Bros. lot to overhear two influential creatives get to know each other.
Here’s a bit of what we learned:
Mindy appreciates modern comedy, but wants something more aspirational.
“Right now I feel like the main journey of comedy, the through-line of comedy right now, is kind of a sloppy, improvisational feel with grownups who are acting a little bit younger than they actually are, trying to get their s— together,” Kaling said.
Meyers deadpanned: “A little bit younger? You’re so politically correct.”
Kaling swore she’s “not a snob, I love all comic movies … [but] my taste is skewed toward 80s, 90s — I love the Mike Nichols movies, the Nancy Meyers movies, the Nora Ephron movies, James L. Brooks. The movies where people are professionals, they have their s— together, they dress well, they go into a professional environment with ambition. But they’re funny about what they want.”
Writing for a movie star has pros and cons.
Kaling felt she took a risk in writing “Late Night” exclusively for Emma Thompson, in that no one but the British star could have done the role as it was written — especially for a woman Thompson’s age. Meyers said she found that process beneficial.
“I wrote a movie for Jack Nicholson, and I’d never met the man. I had only him in mind,” Meyers said of the acclaimed 2003 film “Something’s Gotta Give.”
“I think it’s great. It gives you a voice in your head, you’re not so alone,” Meyers said. Kaling volleyed back, asking if she had written the 2015 film “The Intern” specifically for Robert De Niro.
“No, I didn’t. It came to me late, after I saw ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ … I saw something in that movie that was a different color than all these comedies he does,” said Meyers.
Studio marketing can be tough.
Kaling praised Amazon for its “shared vision” for “Late Night,” which was shot in only 25 days and made on the cheap (it sold for top dollar, some $13 million out of Sundance). Both the filmmakers and Amazon agreed it needed to look and feel like a lush studio effort, especially in its marketing rollout. Meyers has had a different experience in her years.
“If there’s substance they call it a dramedy, which I find confusing,” Meyers said to a laugh from the crowd.
“I have found … a repetitive situation that if there’s a scene where someone is not being particularly funny, I have to beg for those moments. Can you just show that there’s more to the movie? I just think it makes people remember them and come back and tell their friends about [them]. They tend to show only the broadest comedy, just to make sure everyone knows it’s comedy — because then men will come.”
Meyers has made many a film about the emotional, sexual and familial lives of women, and finds that content where a leading woman “is crying? Or in a fight with someone? I have to beg for those moments.”
Budgets can come with tears.
Meyers asserted that 10 years ago, a studio like Warner Bros. would have made “Late Night” with a sizable budget, as opposed to its indie route and eventual sale to Amazon this year. The “It’s Complicated” director shared that she broke down in tears on the set of “The Intern” over financing.
“I was very unused to the budget. I wasn’t crying because of that, I was crying because it was hard. I was given half of what I was used to, and it was hard for me,” said Meyers. Limited resources, however, can lead to creativity.
When producing her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s film “Home Again,” distributed by the defunct Open Road, Meyers said an opening scene where a younger version of star Reese Witherspoon was to romp around a wild 70s Hollywood party was cut from the shot list off the bat.
“We wanted 100 people, and they said ‘No scene in this movie is going to have 100 people in it,'” Meyers recalled. Instead they chose to establish backstory through a series of still photos in a scrapbook, “and Hallie wrote a great narration [for it].”
Other odds and ends:
Kaling hates reality TV, but loves true crime and murder shows. Meyers has seen exactly two superhero movies: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.” Meryl Streep could not travel to the West Coast to shoot Santa Barbara-set “It’s Complicated,” it was filmed in the dead of winter in Brooklyn. Kaling is open to making a horror movie after seeing Joran Peele’s vision for “Get Out” and “Us.” Meyers’ most meaningful fan interaction was on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, when a woman pulled up a bar stool and asked, “How did you know my life?” Kaling’s funniest on-set experience, she said, was season two of “The Office” when Steve Carell dressed as Santa Claus, and a larger coworker sat on his knee as Carell pretended it wasn’t painful. They are both in love with “Fleabag.”