Following the world premiere of Blockers at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, director Kay Cannon joined Cultured Vultures in a phone interview to discuss the film.
Thanks for joining us today. How is the post-SXSW whirlwind been treating you? It’s been so great. I feel like the response to the movie has just been overwhelmingly positive. How can it not make you feel good? It’s been a real delight.
You’ve written scripts for television and movies for a number of years. At what point did you start to seriously consider moving behind the camera to direct? It really wasn’t until I met with Nathan Kahane at Good Universe. He asked the question of, “Even if they do a good job, are you tired of seeing other people direct your material?” He was kind of like, “are you ready to do it yourself?” I hadn’t really thought about it. I had such respect for directing. I also have respect for going to school for the thing that you’re doing and I hadn’t gone to film school. It wasn’t until he posted the question that I was like, you know what? I AM tired of other people doing my material. I AM ready to direct. That’s when it happened. That was when I was still with New Girl.
What was it that attracted you to the script for Blockers? I thought the script was super funny. I could relate on two different levels. I could relate being a teenager who lost her virginity and I love that it was from the female perspective. What worked for me more was the fact that I am a parent to a daughter. I would just look at my daughter —at the time, she was two years old when I got the script— and we were on vacation in Maine. I was looking at her and looking at how beautiful perfect, smart, and funny she is. One day, she’ll grow up and decide to have sex and might get hurt and things might change for her. That’s a little scary for me even though I’m a progressive parent. I really wanted to tell this story because I feel like it’s an underserved story and I felt like, in a way, even though it’s an R-rated comedy full of raunch and vulgarity, it’s kind of like a nice story almost for my kid in a way.
In directing Blockers, how do you feel you grew as a director? I had never done anything R-rated before so I felt like I grew a lot. I really relied on Point Grey, like James Weaver, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and Josh Fagen. They knew rated R comedies really great. They know what they’re doing there so I grew in that way. I felt like I can manage it all now in terms of things I can put out there in the world. I think the next challenge for me is to direct something that I write.
Is there anything that’s anywhere near ready on that front? No, there is not but it’s a process. It’s takes a while. I’m getting there. I just finished Blockers!
What was the most valuable thing you learned from your time working at 30 Rock? My goodness. Working at 30 Rock was like going to graduate school in comedy writing. Everything that I’ve applied to my other jobs since 30 Rock has all been because of what I learned at 30 Rock. I feel like every single thing —how to write a joke, how to write a story, how to come up with stories, how to break stories, how to create interesting characters— is all from the education that took place there. I was extremely lucky that that was my first job. I was extremely lucky that I was there for as long that I was there. I’m extremely grateful.
Was there an improv instructor that had a meaningful impact on your career? Oh, good question! Susan Messing, I remember taking her first class. Her class to me was like, you when you’re improvising and you’re like I don’t know what I’m doing and you have an epiphany. You feel like, oh, I’m forgetting it now. She was the teacher where I had the epiphany. The way she teaches made me understand how to do long-form improv or how to improvise at all, really. I love how tough she is and how she kicks people out if they’re late. I just think she’s brilliant.
I’d agree with that assessment. She actually showed up in another film playing at SXSW! Oh, she did?
The Bill Murray Stories. There was a bit in Chicago where they’re talking with Susan, Charna Halpern, Mike Thomas, and Joel Murray at Second City. Right.
As far as Chicago goes, do you have a favorite Chicago movie? Yes, The Breakfast Club. It’s kind of a tie between The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I like those. I discovered them rather late in life but I like the both of them. I’m a lot older than you. They hit me at the right time. Also Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; have you seen the movie?
Yeah, I own it. You know when Steve Martin and John Candy are getting outside of the hotel out in the middle and nowhere, and they’re sitting on their suitcases. That was filmed in the town where I grew up in, literally out in the middle of nowhere.
Wow, I did not know that! So how did you get into improv? Second City came to my college and they did a show. I thought it was awesome. Like most little kids that cable, Saturday Night Live is everything to them. I had designs to do that for a living. Once Second City became a place that you can do that, I started taking classes at Second City. From there, it sort of–I didn’t understand that there was a whole world of improvisers or just a whole community. Once I saw that, it’s like, then you’re just hooked, right? I was taking classes everywhere, interning at iO, doing Comedy Sportz, and doing anything I could possibly do. I did shows at The Playground.
Thanks again for your time and congrats on the film! Thanks! It was so great to meet you!
Universal Pictures will release Blockers in theaters on April 6, 2018.