TV

Paul Feig On The Long Road Of ‘Other Space,’ The Success Of ‘Love Life,’ And So Many Karens

I’m honestly not sure where Paul Feig finds the time for all his various projects, two of which are sticking their landings during this strange time. In addition to executive producing HBO Max’s recent debut of Love Life (which is already gearing up for a second season), he’s seeing the results of a 15-year-push (as creator) for Other Space to see a fitting light of day. You may have already heard about the show’s history as a casualty of the short-lived Yahoo Screen service. Fortunately, the uproarious series has been resurrected from a premature grave and will stream via Dust on August 1.

Yep, Other Space is finally getting its due. Sci-fi and comedy lovers can soon journey to 2105, far away from our current troubles, and witness the highly-flawed maneuverings of a young, inexperienced space crew (including Karan Soni from the Deadpool movies and Dave Franco, who’s now moving into directing) as they tangle with robots and aliens and other mysterious entities. There’s also an antagonist named Karen (Bess Rous), and since Feig was gracious enough to speak with us, we had to talk about his apparent Karen fixation within his past writings.

The show will be available for binging through On Demand with the DUST app, which is available for free on the Roku app store and at watchdust.com. While we spoke to Feig, we also dove into some Love Life matters, and of course, I couldn’t resist tucking in a Bridesmaids-related question.

It’s been quite a laborious, winding road for this series to surface in a place where everyone can watch it.

We made this five years ago, and we made it while I was in the post-production of Spy, but the backstory is that it’s something that I first created back in 2005 at NBC, which is where we did Freaks and Geeks. So, I wrote it and really loved it. I’m a lifetime sci-fi fan and always wanted to do a comedy that was true to sci-fi, and they all really loved it there. But it was a single-camera show, and they thought maybe it should be multi-cam, so I wrote it that way, but they didn’t know what to pair this with. They usually like to pair very similar shows for an hour if they’re half-hours.

And just like that, it went into the vault?

It [was] in my files for about nine years, but I could never really let it go, it just stuck with me. I saw it very clearly in my head. I loved the characters and the setting and the idea and all that. One of my old assistants found it, and he was like, “You have to make this.” Right at that moment, we got contacted by Yahoo!, which was trying to get into the streaming world. They wanted three different series with good budgets, so I immediately pulled out Other Space as a passion project that I’d been trying to make. We brought on this amazing team of performers and writers, and it was a scrappy little show that wasn’t so cheap that it was terrible, but it was lo-tech enough to be fun in a way.

More focus on characters and jokes, less dollars spent on space-y effects.

I was so proud of it, and it was a hard thing to make … in an old warehouse in Sun Valley, which is in the middle of nowhere as far as Hollywood knows, and we had to build the interior around this old medical plant. They made it very inventive and creative, and I really worked hard on it and put it on Yahoo! Screen, which just didn’t catch on. It was the kind of thing that nobody could ever find. They didn’t get it out there, they just did marketing on the Yahoo! website versus traditional marketing, so the bottom line is that nobody knew it existed, so it folded pretty quickly. It was our show and the sixth season of Community that got picked up, but it was gone.

Given that Yahoo! Screen became the Community graveyard as well, it really hammers home how that was a serious streaming-service misfire.

I was out of my mind because I had this thing that I was very proud of, and the people that watched it, loved it. We had a fanbase, but it was tiny, so it made me crazy because I had this thing that I think people would enjoy. We were trying to sell it to other streamers, but once something gets canceled, it’s generally hard to get it picked up, or it was back then. I had it streaming for free on my Tumblr site, and I was trying, through social media, to drive people to it but couldn’t get the reach that I needed. And out of the blue one day, Dust popped up, and they were fans of the show and wanted to do it, and I will be eternally grateful to them. Because not only did they want to air it, they wanted to do promotion for it. We never had that chance, so even the fact that I’m talking to you about it right now is wonderful. I’m happy as a clam, and hopefully, [it will] get more of a fanbase. I’m just so proud of the show and everyone in it.

What was the biggest thing that kept this show stuck on your mind?

I loved it. The only sci-fi comedy that I remember seeing as a teenager was Quark, which was this Richard Benjamin show that we just thought was really funny. There were shows like Red Dwarf out of England, and those kind of things, but not really very many. And then I would see things like Spaceballs, which would be funny, but they were making fun of sci-fi and sort-of the people who like sci-fi, the tropes of it. And I just wanted to do a comedy in a sci-fi setting that could be used with the weird turns and twists that you’d get from more heady type of sci-fi and play with that.

Dust

It also feels like a workplace comedy (which makes sense for you) about space, but it’s much wittier than the recent Space Force.

Yeah, because I spent years on The Office and was influenced by that docustyle. I wanted to have that style on this show but wanted to justify it, so that’s why you learn as the show goes on that they are actually on a reality show, they just don’t know it — with electron cameras, so that could be a reason for why the show existed, but the cast and the writing were just so funny. Many of them have gone onto bigger things. So, it’s really that feeling of knowing that you’re sitting on something really good. It’s one thing if you have a show that doesn’t do well because critics hate it. We’ve all experienced that, but when it’s something that a small audience gets pretty rabid about but nobody else sees it, so it dies in an embryonic stage, and it just didn’t feel fair with all the hard work that so many people went into it.

In the thick of 2020, this might be a more optimal time than expected (with fresh content slowing down) for the show to land again.

I love that you found the right words, but I’m fortunate that during this terrible time when everybody’s stuck inside, that we’ve got two series that we just finished, Love Life and Other Space. We can help people fill time during quarantine, and it looks like we are going back into lockdown, and I’ll reserve my thoughts on that, but if we can provide one more bit of entertainment for people to help them get through this terrible time, that’s always a plus.

To switch to a little more lighthearted subject, you obviously wrote the Karen character (and named her Karen) long ago. Right now, Karen is a name that’s a little bit loaded.

That makes me laugh, actually. Oh, I’m very up-to-date on the Karens.

Do you think people will read into that name at all?

If they do, they’re gonna have to look at me as if I’m some oracle. The funny thing is that I had a series of kid books, well, it was supposed to be a series, but we only did two, Ignatius MacFarland, which was a sci-fi comedy also, and the lead girl in that book is also Karen. For some reason, the name Karen has always intrigued me, I don’t know why. But I’ve called more characters Karen in the things that I’ve written, and it’s not like it’s a bad thing, but my Karens tend to be slightly headstrong. Maybe a bit.

People might play with it. At least the Karen in Other Space isn’t throwing tantrums about masks.

But whatever gets people talking about it!

There will be jokes. Speaking of which, you once said that you never heard a test audience laugh as loud as during *that* Bridesmaids scene when Maya Rudolph sank down in the street. Has there ever been a funnier moment for you on set when a cast just couldn’t hold it together?

Oh, it happens all the time. Some people are more prone to breaking than others. Rose Byrne is a notorious breaker, she will just start laughing because she’s hilarious, and she works with the funniest people in the world. When we were doing Spy, shooting the scene when they’re in the restaurant-casino, and Melissa [McCarthy] is trying to order the wine from that enormous list, she was trying to sound like she knew something about wine. And I have so much footage of Rose Byrne not being able to keep a straight face during that. But it happens a lot because everyone I work with is so funny, and they’re all team players.

There are some sets where directors or crew or whatever will get very upset if actors get on a laughing jag. I am so happy when it happens. I don’t even care if I’m behind schedule. I’ve driven it home to the crew to never turn the camera away. I’ve used instances where people break when I could get a good laugh or a real moment out of them. But I also find it really funny, and knowing that we have all these DVD extras we can use that we can put bloopers on. There’s nothing that I like more than footage of my favorite actors flubbing their lines and making each other laugh. I look forward to it, but honestly, I’m worse about ruining more takes than most of my actors. I’m very famous about just bursting out laughing behind the camera.

Let’s talk about Love Life, which was a hit for HBO Max. When you got involved, did you know it would be the flagship show?

No, no. We had Anna Kendrick, and that was a big deal, Anna in her first TV series, so we hoped we would be one of their flagship shows, but we didn’t realize that we would be the one flagship show, head of the pack. That’s always nervewracking like, you know, the Yahoo Screen, to be the first volley of the new platform. That’s terrifying because if, for whatever reason, the platform doesn’t work, then you get blamed for being a part of that… so when it started shaking out because of production and the way that everything was going earlier this year, when I started to see what was going on, I was like, “Oh boy,” but we all believed in the show so much. And HBO Max was such a great partner, and we really made sure that it was gonna hold up to the scrutiny that it was going to be subjected to. I’ve always fine with taking the chance of being the canary in the coal mine. You hope the canary comes out the other side and is really strong and popular, but fortunately, we made it through the coal mine.

A few years ago, romantic comedies started disappearing from the box-office. There are a lot of factors there, like budget, but do you have any hunches of why they’re so popular on streaming?

Well, it’s a couple of things. When a genre goes away for a while, it always comes back. It usually goes away because there’s an overload of product in that genre, and sadly, a lot of time the quality drops, so I think romantic comedies have gone away too long, and people miss them. The other side of it is that going to the movies is a very expensive prospect, and the bigger tentpole movies are what really tend to pull in big audiences. And if a romantic comedy is on at the theater, we think, you know, we have to pay a lot of money to go do that, babysitters for the kids, and parking and food and all that. It may make people not want to take a chance on a smaller film versus a giant tentpole that gets a lot of press, and they know more, and it’s not an original thing, and most romantic comedies are an original thing that hope they’re good, but you don’t know. When it’s on streaming, the only effort is in pressing a button to activate the file and have the thing come up. And you get to have the same experience and relive your love of these movies. I am a major supporter of the movie theaters, and it’s on hold right now, but my dream and my wish is that when it’s safe to go back to theaters, everyone will go back.

Do you think that cable and non-cable networks are also willing to be a little more experimental? Love Life is an anthology series, and another one of your producing projects, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, really plays with format as well.

It’s definitely that, but also, again, back to the idea that you don’t have to lure people out of their houses, into their cars, and shelling out money. I think Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a very undeniable idea, that if marketed correctly, could draw an audience into a theater. That said, you don’t have to pack the same heavy-duty litmus test as, whether it’s a superhero movie or more out there, and undeniable, like you move heaven and earth to go see that and put money down. Even though you want it to be undeniable on TV, the litmus test is more like, “Oh, let me turn that on.” So, it allows you to be more experimental, like what is a heavily-commercial idea, versus something that looks like fun that they want to watch.

With Love Life, are you working on Season 2 anytime soon?

HBO has given us the greenlight on it. We’re just in the process of figuring out casting right now. The whole season is very plotted out. Sam Boyd and Bridget Bedard, who wrote the show, pitched it out to HBO Max, and it was fantastic and one of the reasons we got the pickup, so we’re very excited about it. A lot of work to do and a lot to figure out, regarding how to get something made during this strange time.

‘Other Space’ streams exclusively on Dust beginning August 1.

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