Proposal Director Anne Fletcher: Hollywood's $34 Million Woman
It has got to be a great Monday for Anne Fletcher. Her third feature, The Proposal, shattered projections this weekend, taking in over $34 million at the box office. That's the biggest opening of its star Sandra Bullock's career -- by a long shot -- and ranks among the biggest ever for a female director.
Fletcher started as assistant to longtime choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman, then broke out on her own as a prolific film choreographer. She'd later prove to have natural directing chops, when producers of a modestly budgeted teen dance movie took a chance on her. That movie was the infectious Step Up, and it went on to earn over $100 million worldwide.
With follow-ups 27 Dresses and now The Proposal, Fletcher has established herself as a force to be reckoned with, not to mention that rarest of things: a bankable female director. (That "female" thing is a fact that frequently slips her mind entirely.) We talked with Anne about her blazing career, her favorite movie musicals, and the logistics of shooting a nude scene without ever showing crack.
I was reading an interview with Conan O'Brien recently. He plays guitar, and in it he said that comedy and music are inextricably linked, which is an interesting notion. You're a choreographer. I'm wondering where you see dance and comedy intersecting, if at all?
I don't know where they intersect, but I will say this. Because of my background in dance and my love of music -- I am obsessed, in like a cuckoo way, with music; it is my soul, my air, really -- and I think that I see things in movement always. Everything is a movement. And when I hear things, it's always in a rhythm, constantly.
I think comedy and music are linked that way. There is a certain pattern that they play out together. I definitely agree with him. He's much smarter than I am to articulate it, but that is exactly what happens with me. On this movie, we definitely got to play with it. And you either have a sense for it, or you don't. I don't know that you really can teach it. You either hear that it's right and it's musical and it's linked, or you don't. And hopefully I got that figured out. [Laughs]
It must be very challenging, though, on a quiet set, trying to orchestrate those things.
Nobody's quiet. Not on my set.
Part of it is I suppose choosing the right people, people who you think are capable and talented.
One of the big things, outside of having the script right, is that the cast is equally important. I've been very fortunate with this. Sandy and Ryan were already on the movie, but the rest of the cast -- I've been lucky all my career that I've been able to hire the people that I think are the best people for the job. And if you're allowed to do that, then you can tell the story, because you know what your tools are, which are the actors. I mean Dennis O'Hare, and Oscar Nuñez, Betty White, Craig T. Nelson, Mary [Steenburgen], Aasif [Mandvi] -- it just goes on and on.
And you know these people are brilliant at what they do, so you know that they're going to be able to translate exactly what you want. Now if you had somebody in there who didn't have those chops, your work would really be cut out for you -- and that's when you end up going in the editing room and creating comedic performances with the cuts, because that's where it all lies.
Can we talk a bit about your career? When did you get to L.A.?
I was 18, I moved out here to dance, specifically. And, on top of that, I wanted to be the next Andrea Martin or Gilda Radner. They were my icons. I grew up with Gilda, I grew up with SCTV, I was like, 'This is my life.'
Where did you grow up?
In Detroit. So I came out here, funny enough, because I wanted Sandy's career. And she wanted my career -- she wanted to be a dancer more than anything. And I wanted to be her. And we've come together, which is just unbelievable. We get along so well and we both have the same kind of ideas in the way we think things should play out, the physical comedy.
I was one of the fortunate ones that worked all the time. I was always the go-to girl to do all the comic dancing. I worked for Adam Shankman for a hundred years, as his dancer as well as his assistant choreographer. We worked in television for so many years, and I was always his comedic girl -- the one who could do the pratfalls, the sleeping dead body being thrown around by Chris Farley.
So slapstick comedy in movies requires a choreographer?
Sometimes. And things like in Get Smart, when they were going under the red lasers --that had to be choreographed and staged. Weird things, the most random things need a choreographer. Like The Family Man -- they said, "What was choreographed in that?" I said, "Exactly." But what needed to happen was they were in this tiny French restaurant and Nic Cage says, "There's no dancers. Let's get up and dance." He's falling in love again with Tea Leoni's character, and Brett Ratner needed to have some movement, but if you saw it you would never in a million years think there was a choreographer.
Sometimes it's just staging. For Catwoman, I did Halle [Berry]'s physicality -- her cat movement, for the entire film gave her a language of her own to pull from.
Were you and Adam confiding in one another that you could probably do a better job than some of the directors you'd been hired to work for?
Oh my god, never. I could never, because I know what it's like. I could never be disrespectful to the director, because it is the hardest job in the world, and you are there to support. I mean sometimes you work with different types of directors, and you're like, "Oh, that's interesting." You learn so much, because my brain would never go there.
But at what point did you say to yourself, "Gee -- I could take over this entire show."
I never had that thought. What happened was Adam got his first movie, The Wedding Planner, because of his sister. His sister was the producer on the movie, and she suggested they look at her brother. We were doing his short film at the time. They fell in love with him -- he's a genius, his mind is just unbelievable. So they gave him The Wedding Planner, and I came on board to be the liaison for him, because we had never not worked together.
He went off, took my dance career with him because I wouldn't dance for anybody else. And it took me a while to kind of figure it out, and I did Bring It On, which was the first movie I choreographed [alone]. Then I just started choreographing, and took over all the relationships we had made through the years. And I was as happy as could be.
But destiny came calling.
I had done this movie with a first-time director who probably shouldn't have been -- never was on a movie set, didn't know anything about it, and I was choreographing. It was early on. Adam kept saying, "I want you to direct! I want you to direct!" And I was like, "I'll get there. Don't worry about it." So this director, I'd go into meetings with my notes, and I'd say, "Okay, what would you like? How would you like the scene to play out?" He wanted a big musical number. So he was like, "Well, why the fuck did I hire you?" And I was like, "Well, I'm coming to you for some kind of direction. I mean, like, what do you mean, 'Why did I hire you?!'"
So I learned very quickly that he was relying on me completely to come up with everything, so I had meetings with the D.P, and the costume designer, and the set, and the actors, and I just designed all the scenes. And I just said, "Adam -- I get it. I get it, I get it now." But I still wasn't ready. I was like, I'll get there when I do.
Until one day -- and I wanted to do it, but I just wasn't pursuing it, it was just like, you know, someday I'll collect the money, maybe I'll write a little short, do it that route. And <span
class="pullquote right">Adam [Shankman] called me, and said, 'I ran into a producer who said, 'Who's the next you?'' -- meaning choreographer-turned-director -- 'Because we have this dance movie that we want to do.' And he said, 'Be ready, because you're going to get an interview.' And I said, 'What the hell are you talking about?! WHAT?!' I was in a panic -- "I'm not ready! I'm not ready!" -- but I'm never going to say no to an opportunity. I'm just going to go in and do my best and hope for the best, and I didn't want to have have any egg on my face.
Three-hour meeting. I went off to do Catwoman, and three months later I got the phone call, saying they met with some directors, and they really want you, and here's the clincher: "Since you've not directed anything, we would like to bring Offspring," -- which is Adam's company --"to produce it, as our safety." So I'm like, "You are giving me a movie to direct with dance in it, and essentially do it with my family?!" I felt like the luckiest person in the whole world. You've got to be kidding me. This is a silver platter moment.
But you stepped up.
[Singing] I stepped uuup! [Laughs] That's the long-winded end of it. But it wasn't something I was pursuing 100%. I knew it was something I wanted, but it just kind of happened, and you say this is where preparation meets opportunity and you just kind of go for it.
That's so great. And I'm trying to think of other women who are directing commercial, big-budget movies like this now and I'm having trouble coming up with other names from your generation.
Yeah, well Catherine Hardwicke did a great job with Twilight. That was a kick-butt movie. The box office was outrageous -- I mean really outrageous. Like, I can't compete with that! [Laughs]
But that audience was built-in.
Yeah, that's true. I don't know. I wish there were more women.
Does that freak you out at all?
[Shaking head] Mm-mm.
Do you feel there's something you need to be doing in your movies because you'll have people observing you as a "successful female director."
I don't think so. Because I was a dancer, our bodies were not men and women -- we were just dancers. I don't 'feel' like I'm a woman. People have to remind me, honestly, 'How is it to be a woman director?' And I'm like, 'Oh yeah! That's right -- I am a female director.' I have to remind myself, because I think your job as a director is to tell a story. And what's the best way to tell a story with the components that you have. I think that I have different things that bother me than men would have. I'm a tiny bit more sensitive to certain woman things, that I'm like, "Mm -- let's not do that, because it's a little weird."
Which brings us to this movie. Sandra's character is what you'd call the classic corporate bitch. How did you feel about approaching a story like that?
I loved it, are you kidding? Because I feel like -- this is so cheeseball -- but the moral of the story is "don't judge a book by its cover." Because when you actually peel back the layers of why this person up this very concrete wall that no one is allowed to cross, even living in the symbolic city of concrete mountains, if you will, there's something underneath. A reason why they did that.
So no, if there's a purpose, a reason -- I love it. I flippin' love it. To stereotype someone, then I'd be like, "We've got to fix this. We've got to figure out why this person is doing this." That would drive me crazy, for someone [behaving that way] just to be a bitch -- I wouldn't get into. There always has to be some sort of reason! [Laughs.] You have to explore it out.
Your last film, 27 Dresses, starred Katherine Heigl. What were some of the difference between the way she and Sandra Bullock approached the material?
That's a very tricky question because I think every actress and actor approach everything differently. That goes back to me being a choreographer and having worked with so many different directors, and an array of actors, and everybody has a different process across the board. And you get in there and figure it out in seconds -- "Oh, okay. They're this type of person. I gotta work it this way." As a choreographer, nobody wants to dance. So you've got to get into their psyche instantaneously, bring them down, make them feel comfortable, and know that they're not going to look stupid. And it usually works, and it's a great tool to have learned.
But everybody's different. Katherine is very much a technician, in the sense that she's on a television show, and things have got to move very quick, very fast. Sandy's a film actress, and she takes her time, and she really develops certain things as she goes. It's interesting how everybody approaches it. I think it's the way you grew up in the business, and the lessons that you learned in the business. Sandy is whatever needs to happen, let's make it happen.
How do they both react to getting a big laugh on the set? Do they really go for that?
Sandy more so than Katherine, for sure. I mean, in 27 Dresses, her character was more vulnerable, and shut-down, because she had lost her mother, and was a people-pleaser. It was a very different approach to the character, so her laughs were so endearing and so sweet based on that character. Sandy was much broader, and crazy set pieces, all these crazy things that were happening to her. The puppy, the nudity, the falling in the ocean...
How do you shoot a scene like that where two actors are completely nude? Is that complicated to do?
We choreographed it. We certainly choreographed it. It was the only thing we rehearsed in the entire film, was that scene before we started shooting, with my D.P. Because the typical way is to be above the chest or below the legs, and that's all fine, but that will ultimately be our TV version. It's cut that way for TV. But for the film, the audience knows it's coming, but they don't know what's coming, and I wanted it to be such a rewarding moment for the audience. So we choreographed it to the inch -- literally. No crack!
Were they naked?
[Nodding] Mm-hm. Sandy had little covers here [gestures to chest], little glue-ons, and they both had makeshift things below that my set designer made -- I mean, not my set designer, oh my god!
Maybe Ryan needed a set designer?
He's gigantic! Spread the word! [Laughs.]
One more thing: Your favorite movie musical of all time, and the musical you would make into a movie if you could.
That's a tricky question because there's so many good ones. My favorite musical -- well, there's two, a new one and an old one. The old one is Singin' in the Rain. You can't touch it, you just simply can't touch it, and please dear God don't let anybody remake it. And the new one is Moulin Rouge, which I found was a masterpiece. Baz Luhrmann's brain is like no other. His brain works like Cirque du Soleil, where it's so unbelievably, like, "How do they think that way? How is it possible?" I cried from the second the movie started, I just started to sob because I just thought it was genius.
What musical would I want to remake, that's a tough question because so many of them are such classic films that I have issues with wanting to remake them. I would say maybe Guys and Dolls would be great, it's on Broadway right now. That would be a good one to remake. And Damn Yankees they're thinking about -- Adam wants to do it. ♦