Published June 17, 2013
Movie brings Hollywood director
By Nico Rubello firstname.lastname@example.org
In the forthcoming action-comedy film “The Heat,” a prominently featured crimson yearbook provides a bit of background for Sandra Bullock’s character. But the yearbook bears a striking resemblance to director Paul Feig’s own high school yearbook.
It’s no coincidence, explained Feig, a 1980 Chippewa Valley High School graduate. It was, in fact, the latest homage to the Mount Clemens native’s hometown.
Feig, 50, has for years been including shout-outs to his hometown, the most notable of which being 1999-2000 TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” which he created.
“Freaks,” inspired by Feig’s time at Chippewa Valley, was canceled by NBC in 2000 after one season, but has since endured as an acclaimed cult hit and launched the careers of James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel.
“My goal with ‘Freaks’ was really to show off all the stuff I grew up around, even down to having Faygo pop and whatever references I could get in,” he said.
Feig in recent weeks has been on a whirlwind promotional tour for “The Heat,” which brought him, on June 8, to the Emagine theater in Royal Oak. There, a theater full of moviegoers saw an advanced screening of the movie, which is due for general release on June 28.
Among the crowd were 34 students, alumni, teachers and administrators from Chippewa Valley Schools, including former radio and TV class instructor Walter Tycholiz, who Feig credits with giving him his first exposure to radio and TV production.
Tycholiz remembered the time when Franco, then an unknown actor, walked into Chippewa Valley to research for his role in “Freaks.” Tycholiz called Feig to verify the actor’s story, and after he had, Franco stayed for hours talking with students.
Chippewa Valley High School Assistant Principal Tony Fiorvento was there to greet Feig at Emagine. He said he has followed Feig’s career, and remembers the time he and close friend Pete Tocco hosted a high school variety show their junior year.
The next year, the duo re-formed, upon the urging of their teacher Jackie Faddell, to perform a parody song “Beef Fritters,” which jested the lunchroom delicacy to the tune of “Teen Angel.”
“They write it on the fly, both try out (for the show) with it, we put it in the show, they win the show with it,” Fiorvento said.
Feig — dressed in his usual three-piece suit and tie, his hair neatly parted — fielded questions during a post-film Q and A. Afterward, he greeted some of the Chippewa Valley guests one-on-one, including greeting this year’s two graduating students who received his grandmother’s namesake scholarship.
Fiorvento said the Clara Feig Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to graduating seniors at Chippewa Valley.
“I’m just always amazed with things getting more and more built up,” Feig said of coming back to his hometown. “It’s kind of cool. But it’s very easy to get lost here now because you go, ‘Wait, where am I? This used to be a field.’”
Thumbing through the 1979 yearbook, Feig’s junior year, the future “Bridesmaids” director appears a handful of times, goofily holding a lollipop over one eye, acting in a school play or emceeing a school variety show in costume.
“That was how I combated being sort of a nerd, was just trying to be funny,” Feig explained. “I put myself out there, as far as drama club and being the emcee at the talent show and doing the radio-TV program. I learned early on to channel my awkward fear of personal interaction into performing, and that helped me normalize.”
Even as a youth, he was often making others laugh, recalled cousin Laurel Cebrian, of Bloomfield Hills.
She said Feig would dish out quick, jokey observations, with his grandmother’s flea market Christmas gifts being one target. (Everyone got toaster tongs one year.)
“He always liked entertainment,” Cebrian added. “He always loved it, always worked hard at it. He really was focused.”
Feig has always enjoyed Michiganders’ sense of humor, he said.
“It has a high litmus test for what they think is honest or not,” he said. “With my work, I’m always trying to go, ‘What’s this character really like?’ I’m not just trying to go funny and crazy. I want to be like, ‘Oh, I believe that character actually exists,’ and then we can have fun with that.”
In high school, Feig participated in the radio and TV program, forensics and drama.
Feig remembered his parents, Sanford and Elaine Feig, supportively taking him as a teen to do open-mic stand-up at the Delta Lady, a former biker bar on Woodward in Detroit. “Other people would do really dirty acts, and I’m a 15-year-old kid and I would get up and do whatever stupid jokes I was doing,” he laughed.
His dream growing up, he said, had been a job as a performing waiter at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, near the Oakland Mall in Troy.
As a high-schooler, Feig got his start writing, directing and acting in commercials for his father’s store, Ark Surplus at Gratiot and Metropolitan Parkway.
“I was a kid from Mount Clemens. Show business couldn’t have been farther away, and yet I wanted to do it,” he said.
Nowadays, Feig said, there’s never been a better time to get into show business thanks to the Internet. One of the actors in “The Heat,” who goes by the name Spoken Reasons, was picked up after they saw his YouTube channel, he said.
“There’s no barriers anymore,” Feig said. “If you make a little video and it’s funny, and you put it on the Internet, it’s going to go everywhere. Hollywood, they look at that. There are people who get deals from that.”
In recent years, with the box office success “Bridesmaids” and the coming release of “The Heat,” Feig has found himself serving as one Hollywood’s chief advocates for more progressive roles for women in comedy. He recently wrote a guest column in “The Hollywood Reporter,” titled “Why Men Aren’t Funny.”
“I love to advocate for it,” he said. “I never thought I would because I never thought I’d have to.”
Likewise, “The Heat” puts a feminine spin on the time-tested buddy cop movie, and stars two women who are outsiders in their own male-dominated profession.
Instead of backing down, FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and foul-mouthed Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) wreak rampage, bullying and blasting their way, in comedic fashion, through an army of misogynist colleagues, spurned lovers and a drug syndicate.
Feig said his female friends in high school, including Ann Lipinski, were some of the funniest people he knew. “She and I were just like these misfits that hung out, but (she was) super funny,” he said.
Once he entered show business, he began to wonder why funny women he knew in real life weren’t funny on-screen.
“They’re not allowed to be funny because they have to play the bitchy girlfriend or the mean wife,” he said. “So then it became almost a crusade. And it still is, and will be for the rest of my career, if I can do it, to just go, ‘Let’s break down this wall.’ It shouldn’t’ be woman or man — it should just be funny people.”
Looking ahead, Feig said he hopes to develop a movie starring a James Bond-like heroine, and he is already eyeing a sequel to “The Heat.”
“I want to keep trying to make movies with strong, funny women,” he said. “I’d love to do another TV series, too, but I really enjoy making movies. It’s sort of the ultimate challenge because to tell a complete, satisfying story in an hour-and-a-half to two hours — it’s one of the hardest things you can do. So it’s fun to keep trying to crack that.”
For more information about “The Heat,” visit www.theheat movie.com.