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Behind the Making of the Season’s Funniest Film

Jason Moore directs Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters

In the new comedy Sisters, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play siblings who’ve grown up to become very, very different people. Despite their differences, however, there’s one cause that reunites them: throwing one last bash at their childhood home before their parents sell it off. The party the pair pulls off (think Can’t Hardly Wait for 40-year olds) makes for one of the funniest films of the season. That’s thanks in no small part to Jason Moore, who’s previously directed Pitch Perfect as well as episodes of Trophy Wife and Brothers & Sisters

Here, Moore—who’ll next be helming Broadway’s anticipated Fully Committed—explains the intricacies of filming a rager, the difference between stage and screen and the upside of actors who make up their own lines.

You’ve made a movie about two grown women who decide to throw the greatest house party that Florida has ever seen. There’s something about the mixture of heart and hijinks that reminds me of a 1980s teen movie.   

I grew up on all those ‘80s movies—John Hughes movies and the like. This is certainly a party movie, and there are a lot of tropes about the characters’ young selves versus the 40-something versions of them. It’s hopefully observant about human behavior and therefore funny.

The last film you made was Pitch Perfect, which also had an appreciation for the madcap. How did you end up making this film?

After having done Pitch Perfect, I was looking for other comedy voices that were special and unique. I followed the writer Paula Pell on Twitter for a long time, but didn’t really quite know who she was—and then I found out that she’s the head writer on SNL and had been longtime friends with Tina and Amy. Then, I heard that she has a script, which I got my hands on and her comic voice was so funny and highbrow but also lowbrow and joyous. I just really took to it. Tina was producing it because she and Paula were old friends—it was loosely based on Paula’s experience with her sister growing up and some of their issues they used to have—and I just loved it, so I went in to meet with Tina and with Paula and I got the job.

What about the story spoke to you?

First and foremost, Paula’s writing made me literally laugh out loud, which is always rare. I read a lot of comedy scripts, and rarely do you actually laugh. And even though the movie was by many descriptions sill and raunchy, it was about something. It was about the way that you function in a certain way in your family and the way eventually that you have to break free of some of those patterns in order to become your own formed adult.

It’s also about an insane party, which must have been tricky to film. You guys really trashed a house.

For the party sequence, we always knew that we were going to destroy a house. We always knew that all the characters that were at the party the whole time needed to be at their key points. So, those two logistical positions made us realize that we had to build this house on a sound stage so we could have control over it. We had to shoot it in chronological order so we could destroy the house without having to worry about continuity.  And we had to cast actors who can be there for all four weeks of shooting. What ended up happening was that we were all these really funny people trapped in a small space trying to make each other laugh and it ended up being a pressure cooker in a good way. Because of that, I was rolling cameras as often as I could. So, sometimes things were planned and then sometimes things were just improved. If someone wanted to throw a bottle up against the wall and it broke, we could. And we would just leave it there. That was part of the play we wanted it to have and hopefully garnered some of the funny moments for us. 

Is there anything that stands out in your mind as being the best piece of improvisation?

We did a scene in a nail salon where Amy and Tina’s character were getting pedicures, and Amy Poehler is talking to Greta Lee, who is playing the woman giving the pedicure. There’s a joke about pronouncing—or really mispronouncing—her name. That wasn’t planned, it was something that evolved and the camera rolled for like 10 minutes on that take. It’s a really funny moment and it’s small; I think it’s somewhat surprising and was a good example of one thing that was successful but wasn’t planned.

Your next project is a Broadway show starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson, which will probably have a lot less improv. How is your job different from screen to stage?

I’ve done Pitch Perfect and I’ve done Pitch Perfect 2 and Sisters. I’ve been away from the theatre for a while, so I really miss it. My next project is Fully Committed starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and it’ll open in April. I’ve always been pursuing both sides of my career. I like changing it up, and I like the different forms of storytelling. Certainly doing this particular show, it’s a one-person show, so it’s the two of us in a room making each other laugh. He gets tired after about five hours, so we call it a day. It’s a lot less cumbersome than a musical or a big movie shoot, so it’s fun.

You’re doing movies, Broadway shows, TV. What’s left?

I love the musical Wicked and I hope one day that’s a movie. And I hope one day they would consider me to do that cause I love that show so much.