It's an embarrassing thing to get shushed. Especially so when you're trying to be professional. But watching a scene from the Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow comedy Trainwreck unfurl on the monitor before me, I couldn't control myself. When Schumer delivered the final one-liner of a supremely funny scene, I laughed. Hard. So hard that even though I was outside at the far end of the driveway, some 30 feet away from the house where the scene was shooting inside, my laughter was a potential sound problem. I prevented further reprimands by literally biting my hand as I watched Apatow direct Schumer through three alternate endings, each crass and hilarious. Hours later, I left the set visit with teeth marks on my palm, and a big smile on my face.
After the Charlie Sheen roast made her notorious, Amy Schumer gave Comedy Central a surprise hit with her satirical and feminist sketch show Inside Amy Schumer. From there, the wickedly funny comedienne earned a development deal with R-comedy mastermind Judd Apatow. And so Trainwreck, a rom-com about a men's magazine journalist (Schumer) falling for a dorky sports doctor (Bill Hader), was born.
On a sunny June day, my trek out to Douglas Manor, Queens put me face to face with Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow, where I learned lots of reasons to be pumped for Schumer's upcoming Trainwreck.
Trainwreck's inspiration came from Schumer's life and stand-up. It's far from a biopic. Still, those familiar with Schumer's comedy special Mostly Sex Stuff will remember the scene that laid before us giddy pack of reporters on that day. Playing "Amy," Schumer sits in a circle of prim suburban moms, made up of comics Claudia O’Doherty, Nikki Glaser, and Bridget Everett, as well as Brie Larson, who plays Amy's sister, Kim. A charming baby shower is winding down into a game of secret sharing. But while these prissy moms spill secrets about sneaking ice cream and allowing their kids to watch Breaking Bad, Amy's got some real dirt to dish. And she does in a way that hilariously derails the party, allowing her to exit with a one-hitter and zero fucks given.
This isn't your average rom-com. The scene we witnessed seems a great introduction to a romantic comedy that refuses to fall into the standard tropes. Amy is not a klutzy, virginal career girl. She's an unapologetic trainwreck. And her journey does involve romance, but not the suggestion that a nice boyfriend will fix her life. "I think Amy would vomit if that was the main conclusion people took from it," producer Barry Mendel told us. "Trainwreck is about somebody who is not ready to settle down, being dragged kicking and screaming into settling down. And it’s a great vehicle for Amy’s talents, because it takes such dead aim at the kind of bourgeois idea that the only true path to happiness is to find a relationship and settle down."
Brie Larson supported this theme, explaining that while Kim and Amy are very different people, they don't judge each other's choices. Larson offered, "The beautiful part about the two of them is although they’re so different, they still really love each other... They’re very supportive of each other."
Schumer believes you're a trainwreck too. "I think everyone is, you know, partially a trainwreck, " she confessed, "I’m just, for some reason, more willing to share that with everybody." Speaking to how Trainwreck's Amy is different from the persona Schumer has put forth on Inside Amy Schumer, she said, "I think it’s just a way more vulnerable side of me than people have seen on the TV show."
Trainwreck's cast will melt your brain. At the time of our visit, LeBron James, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller were all set to appear in this comedy. Shortly thereafter rumors of Daniel Radcliffe scoring a cameo arose. Schumer admitted she wrote the script as a sort of wish list, putting "a Tilda Swinton type" as her boss, "And they're like, 'No, Tilda's going to do it," she recounts with a still-stunned smile.
John Cena plays Amy's ex. LeBron James plays himself/best friend to love interest Bill Hader. Colin Quinn takes on the role of Amy's dad. But that's not all. Mike Birbiglia, Jim Norton, Dave Attell, Kurt Metzger, Robert Kelly, Pete Davidson, Nikki Glaser, Bridget Everett, Rachel Feinstein, John Glazer, Russell Park, Vanessa Bayer, Norman Lloyd, Tim Meadows, Kyle Dunnigan and Method Man have all shot scenes for Trainwreck. But of all these seriously hysterical stars, the consensus on set is that John Cena will be its scene-stealer. Barry Mendel smiled, "In the table reads we’ve done, rehearsals, he’s been the standout, funniest thing in the whole movie."
Apatow played coy about directing Schumer's movie. "We had been developing it for a year," he recalled. "Usually I don’t direct material that I produce, because I usually feel like someone could do it better. But this is the first time I thought I had something to add. It’s much easier to ask someone more qualified like (Greg) Mottola to do it, but I thought I could do well by her."
Schumer remembers the call vividly, "It was one of the last days filming this last season of my TV show and he called. I could feel that it was an important phone call, so I stepped outside and the AD looked at me like, 'Are you out of your fucking mind?'…and Judd said, 'I’m going to throw my hat in the ring to direct this.' And I’m like (joking), 'Oh, I had my eye on a couple other (directors).' And I just felt all the blood rush to my head. I'm like, 'Don’t cry your makeup off, because the AD is already going to beat you up!' … I remember just, being honest with him, 'I’m trying to play this cool, but this is a very big fucking deal, and I don’t want you to think I don’t know that.'"
The crew reveled filming in New York City. "I’ve shot the hell out of The Valley," Judd Apatow joked, "There’s nothing left to do there." Guided by the eye of Girls cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, the production lensed all over Brooklyn, set up shop in at the popular Manhattan tea shop Alice's Teacup, where Schumer confessed she couldn't resist their scones, and Madison Square Garden, where part of the finale takes place. And Schumer happily shared, "There’s also real classic shot of 59th street bridge, straight out of Woody Allen."
Superbad helmer Greg Mottola directed a bar sequence in Brooklyn. "That was the day my daughter graduated from elementary school," Apatow said explaining his absence, before joking this section will probably look better than the rest. Four real Brooklyn bars that exist within a couple of blocks of each other play as the backdrop of a date turned pub crawl. After Amy lays into a hipster bartender, ("Can you ride your unicycle forwards and backwards?") she and her date flee to a cocktail and oysters pub, then a Mafia hang, sake bar, and a punk club. So in a word: Brooklyn.
The final jokes will be determined by you. The baby shower exchange was shot again and again, with its performers throwing in different jokes at Apatow's urging. Improvisation is a signature of his directorial style, but how does he decide on which will make the final film? "Preview testing," Apatow offered, "Usually we have our gut for what we think works best, but if you show people, and it’s dead silence at the end, then at least we have a few different options to replace some lines and see if we can make something work. Especially in a scene like this, when you know these moments need gigantic laughs, I never want to get stuck in a preview when I have no way to fix it if the audience says, ‘Oh, we don’t like that one.’ Because it is a conversation with the audience when you make these comedies. So we try to test as much as we can, and have a lot of ways to adjust things as the audience tells us what they understand and what they’re finding amusing."
Cinephiles Alert: Trainwreck is shot on film. "We shoot an enormous amount of film," Apatow said, referring to the long runs and various alternate takes he's known for. "But when we first budget the movie, we’ve done this enough that we know how much it costs. It’s not insane. It might be close to insane, but I want to shoot on film because I feel like pretty soon they’re not going to let us. It does seem like it will be 5 to 10 years, people will say it’s too expensive to shoot on film, because all of the labs have closed. And it looks way better. A lot of people say it looks the same, technology, video looks the same as film. We did actual comparisons where we had a video camera and a film camera and we did tests. Video doesn’t look anything like film. I shot This is 40 on video, and I liked the look of it, but it is very, very different."
Apatow wants to make Hannibal Buress his next star. "There’s something great about working with people who are trying to break through because they work so hard," Apatow said, explaining what spurs him to take risks on the likes of Steve Carell, Amy Schumer, and Jason Segel. He calls Buress's standup "brilliant," and shared, "We‘re actually working on a documentary, you know, of something that he did. Hopefully I’ll get to put something together with him. He’s one of my favorites. He makes me laugh really hard. He’s right up there. He’s one of my top two or three right now."
Trainwreck opens in theaters on July 17.
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