We were lucky enough to be one of only two blogs to get time with Greg during his very busy schedule to discuss this movie and I would like to thank him for his time.
Check out the interview below, click here to read our review of the movie, then here to see the World Premiere video report and then click here to see everything there is to know about Paul with all our coverage!
Greg Mottola: It’s been a long road. We shot the movie Summer 2009 and it’s been a year and a half of post production. That’s mostly because of Paul being completely CGI and we didn’t have a gigantic budget so we needed to move slowly to make sure we weren’t wasting any money. I learnt the hard way not to go fast with CG and special effects. It’s the biggest budget I’ve ever had but it’s the equivalent of having a big movie star like Brad Pitt in the movie and spending a third of your entire budget on one thing, on one person and in this case it’s a CGI alien. So we had to be really careful with money and everything else.
The shoot wasn’t very long, it was only 50 days which is more time than I’ve had with any other movie but this is a movie where the main character is a special effect. We had 600 effects shots and every time Paul is in the scene you have to do a pass of the scene with a grey ball for a ‘reflects the light situation’ then a pass with someone in a green suit walking around. We’d have to do digital stills of the entire environment, then with a puppet in, with a puppet out, then sometimes there’s be a stand with ping-pong balls on for eye-line. Every time Paul was in a shot, you’d have to do about 6 other takes of it and it just slows you down. Now I know why special effects movies have these incredibly long schedules. I think we were doing something that most other movies that have elements like this would have been 80 day shoots at least. But we just decided what the hell and see if we can do it and I’m actually really happy now with the final result but if you’d interviewed me about five months ago, I was a nervous wreck about this thinking it was going to end my career!
Had you used CGI in your previous movies before?
Greg: Nothing other than painting out a boom shadow and things like that.
Strangely you end up thinking the same way but the process is so different. An analogy would be trying to direct someone via Twitter from the other side of the planet. I’ll give a note to the animators about what the acting should, what Paul’s motivation is in this scene and what he’s expressing and how we should see it on his face. You don’t tell an actor how to move their eyebrows or where to look necessarily so you get into the real nitty gritty of Paul the creature is actually doing.
The challenge here is that we’re trying to get a naturalistic, comedy performance out a CGI character. It’s not The Mask or Roger Rabbit as far as the character is, he’s supposed to be in the same environment as they are. He’s supposed to be a three dimensional flesh and blood organic being.
So he does have blood does he?!
He does have blood!
It’s even different to a Pixar character because those you can employ a certain amount of exaggeration. They can have giant smiles or over the top things to get across feeling and those guys are brilliant at doing that but but here, he had to interact with real-life humans and if he were like that, it would feel very strange. My thinking going into it was like, he was the furthest development of Human evolution like in 2 million years we’d look like Paul. Our heads would get larger, where we’d shrink down and our eyes would get bigger.
It was really interesting but it tries your patience. You have to try and remember some idea you had about something two months ago because you’re seeing the animation long after you’ve said it.
It was a huge learning curve for me and I think now I’m much better at it than I was at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning and I didn’t know what I was getting into!
Before we shot the movie, we did a test. We shot some test footage very cheaply, how it would work and what the process would be. Bill Hader was kind enough to be the voice of Paul and shot it with Simon and Nick. We got a Winnebago at Shepperton Studios and shot a scene from the film and the difference between what that looks like and what it looks like now is so different. Double Negative (the special effects house) kept telling me the difference between getting it the first 80% is half the effort and then that last ten or twenty percent will completely change what you feel when you’re looking at him. It’s things like putting in Paul’s adam’s apple when he talks or when he rubs his face, his skins moves or tendons in his neck moving when he talks and it’s all things which happen in your peripheral vision and usually you’re just watching his eyes when they’re talking. His eyes in themselves were months of work as they were gigantic. When you see it on the big screen, it had to be interesting so they modeled layers of his iris, then a sheet of cornea over it, adding depth and light reflection. Every scene we shot, they would then be in reverse reflection for what Paul would be sitting in front of and map it over his eyes. You can see his iris change, if he looks into the light hit shrinks down, if he blinks or if he’s stoned, it’ll open up again!
I was walking through the animation studio once and they introduced me to the guy who was in charge of ‘blinks’ and ‘eyelid’ work and that’s what he did, all day long until 2 in the morning for the past five months. Those guys are really amazing.
We made a list of who we thought made sense. Simon and I actually met the day Superbad opened. He was looking for an American director who came from indie films who was not obvious. He’d actually seen my tiny independent film The Daytrippers and both our agents though we should meet! It was like a blind date! He’s just finished How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and it was the day after his last night of shooting. He hadn’t slept and it had been eight years since I’d made a studio movie and I was anxious so it was a great when he was exhausted and I was anxious!
He told me he was writing the script, he had written it and he used Harvey Keitel as the voice. Cut to a year later and we’re trying to figure out who it could be. It became clear that we’d get someone who was a great comedy improviser and the studio wanted someone who had name recognition but we wanted someone who was incredibly funny. Paul is a very Americanised alien. He’s been on the planet for 16 years and Simon and Nick’s characters are afraid of their own shadow where as Paul is confident and opinionated. The script was always designed as an Axel Foley type character from Beverly Hills Cop where the character doesn’t change but changes the people around him. He is sort of like an older cooler guy who takes you under his wing and gives you advice within your own life.
I loved Paul as a character as I thought he was totally unapologetic about who he is. He has opinions that are factually incorrect but he doesn’t care. He has personal things he reveals to them that are really funny. By the end of the film, his personality really rubs off on those guys and should just embrace who they are in themselves.
So, back to the original question, we were thinking who could work with them chemistry-wise and met with Seth and it just clicked. We spent two weeks in pre-production with Seth in a motion-capture suit going through lines and running scenes. Joe Lo Truglio who plays O’Reilly, a government agent, we asked him to be the voice of Paul off-camera while we were shooting. We then had to come back pretty much re-doing all the lines as there was a mis-match as people started to change performances, things would work in a slightly different way or the timing was different but at least we had them as a reference about who Seth’s Paul was.
I don’t want to say too much about Sigourney’s character as there are some surprised attached to her character. Suffice to say she comes into the movie much later on. Jason is the villain of the film. He’s the main agent pursuing them, along with two junior agents, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio. Needless to say they’re not terribly good at their jobs and get very side-tracked by alien balls!
I worked with Jason on Arrested Development and it was interesting when we asked him to do this as I didn’t think he’s want to do it. He’s the villain and doesn’t have a million laugh lines and it was very different to the people he usually plays. Jason is great in the movie and it’s really fun to see him do something he hasn’t done before. It’s an incredibly dry performance and I’m so happy he agreed to do it.
Thanks so much to Greg for his time and to Universal Studios for giving us the interview. You can follow him on twitter here.
Paul is released in UK cinemas 14th February – go and see it cos it’s great!!