'Pitch Perfect 3' in theaters Dec. 22
Interview by Joshua Maloni
"Pitch Perfect," in many ways, lived up to its title. Led by aca-ceptional performances by Anna Kendrick (Beca), Skyler Astin (Jesse) and Rebel Wilson (Amy), the movie was funny, touching and outright entertaining.
Thanks to a strong fanbase and an unexpected box office haul, "Pitch Perfect 2" was fast-tracked. Though it didn't quite muster the same applause level, the film aca-nilihated Oscar-nominee "Mad Max Fury Road" when the two opened in May 2015. The second coming of the Barden Bellas belted out an impressive $184 million in domestic ticket sales.
A third chapter seemed likely - though faced some inherent challenges.
In particular, how many times have filmgoers felt disappointed with a franchise's third chapter? Think: "The Godfather, Part III," "Batman Forever," "The Matrix Revolutions," "Home Alone 3," "X-Men: The Final Stand," "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
You get the point.
Moreover, the "Pitch Perfect" plotline is, by choice - if not necessity - similar across each installment.
Ironically, there is a scene in a "Pitch Perfect 3" commercial wherein a cappella commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) suggest the Bellas move on and get a real job. It's presumably a "wink, wink" inside joke, given audiences have seen the girl group overcome obstacles and soar to vocal stardom in two previous films. The thought behind the statement is "Haven't we seen this already?"
It's a fair point.
And, knowing such a notion could be forefront in the minds of potential filmgoers, Universal Pictures brass opted to go in a different direction for the third and final "Pitch Perfect." Producers tasked video vanguard Trish Sie with bringing new creativity to the world of competitive a cappella.
Though not yet a household name, Sie's resume has two notable items that made her the right choice to spearhead the third "Pitch Perfect" film.
Anna Kendrick, center, as Beca, leads the Bellas for their last call in "Pitch Perfect 3," the next chapter in the beloved series that has taken in more than $400 million at the global box office. (Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert)
First, she created and directed one of the most iconic music videos of all time: "Here It Goes Again" by OK Go. She rehearsed the band's four members for 10 days inside her Orlando dance studio, carefully choreographing each dance move ... on treadmills. Then, using a friend's camera, Sie, somehow, shot the video in a single uncut take.
She took home a Grammy Award for Best Short-Form Music Video, while the treadmill song has been viewed almost 40 million times.
Also of note, Sie directed "Step Up All In," which also was a sequel to a surprisingly popular and enduring movie franchise. That picture was filmed in 3-D and grossed more than $90 million worldwide.
Beyond that, Sie is a fan of the first two "Pitch Perfect" films, and had a clear direction for part three.
"I think I want to satisfy the fans of this franchise, most of all," she said. "I don't know what critics will say. I hope they like it. I certainly hope it makes lots of money - of course that's always nice. But the most important thing, I think, is for the fans to say, 'Yes; thank you. You delivered a film that felt good to us. We know these characters. You presented them in a way that we believe is true. You ended it in a way that we feel good about. You honored what we like about these movies, and why we come to these movies. You did us proud, Trish. You get it.'
"The fact is, I'm coming into this - although I was a fan of the movies before I directed this one - as a director, I'm coming in late, in a way, to the franchise. ... I don't want people to think, 'Oh, newcomer director just kind of, like, takes off and does her own thing.' I want them to feel like this was all in service to the people who love this movie and love these characters, and launched this huge thing into orbit."
Sitting in a swanky hotel suite in between junket appearances, Sie spoke with NFP about the Barden Bellas, managing expectations and trying to top her more than OK entry into directing.
An edited Q&A follows.
Trish Sie working on the set of "Pitch Perfect 3." (Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert)
Q: What brought you to this franchise?
Trish Sie: I love it. ... I saw the first movie - actually, I was choreographing a small film called "Cavemen." And the actor who plays Jesse, Skylar Astin, was in the movie. And they needed like a ballroom dance scene choreographed - kind of a swing dance. So, I was in there choreographing, and I think "Pitch Perfect" was about to come out. And he just kept talking about this movie, and I hadn't heard of it yet, and I didn't know what he was talking about. And he was like, "You need to see this movie. This is the best movie I've ever done. I'm so proud of this movie. You've got to go see this movie."
And I was like, "This guy needs to shut up! OK, whatever, we're working on this ballroom dance scene." By the way, he was lovely and he's a really good swing-dancer, it turns out. But anyway, when it came out, I kind of was really curious, because this guy had really been singing its praises. He was like, "Just watch. This is going to be the sleeper hit of all time." ...
I was just really jealous. I was really jealous that that wasn't my movie, because I thought it was really funny; it kind of had this dark edge to it, but it had a really sweet message. And I went to a school where a cappella was really big, and I kind of understood the sort of dorky guilty pleasure of idolizing a cappella singers. And it just all kind of rang true for me, and I thought the performances were great, and it just had a heart that I loved. So, I was kind of in, hook, line and sinker, from there on.
Q: It's interesting because, in the history of cinema, there have been some good third chapters to movie franchises ("Star Wars: Return of the Jedi," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"), but, more often than not, there have been some historically bad chapters.
I was wondering if you would have any sort of trepidation taking on the third chapter here, but it sounds like you had inspiration instead.
Trish Sie: Well, it was a combination. I was pretty terrified. ... It's scary. I don't know how people will like it. I think it worked well.
I was definitely inspired by the other movies. And it was definitely inspiring to work with people who so understand the world that the movie is. These actors know what they're doing; they know their characters. A lot of the crew were returning. ... And it was very helpful to have people who are just so fully, instantly aware of what "Pitch Perfect" means.
And it's also great to have that momentum of an existing franchise, where, you know, you have a built-in fanbase. You have a built-in sort of excitement about the film.
But that also makes it - you know, the stakes are high and the shoes to fill are big. And it's pretty scary. And people get sequel fatigue. And, you know, sometimes, nothing can live up to the movies before it.
It was a combination of thrilling and inspirational and, like, deeply, deeply scary.
Director Trish Sie (Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert)
Q: In the press release, it states you came on and you quickly built relationships with the actors, and you pushed them to bring new life to the characters while staying true to the characteristics that made people fall in love with them in the first place.
This is a movie franchise where there have been two successful, popular films. There's not a lot where you can say, "This is wrong; that is wrong." At the same time, your resume - you're known for being extremely creative and thinking outside the box. So, how do you get those two things to mesh? Having this existing formula and your own creativity, how do those things come together?
Trish Sie: It's tough, because you don't want to be too formulaic. I mean, it's like a pop song where everybody knows where the chord changes are coming; everybody knows where the bridge happens; everybody knows where the chorus comes back in. And if those things don't happen when you expect them, you hate it. It feels wrong. So you have to deliver on those things.
At the same time, if it's a song you've heard too many times, you hate it, too. So, you have to look at it as, like, take all of your creativity, take all of your ideas - take all of your instincts - and apply them towards making the most excellent version of the formula you can imagine. Because that formula, when done right, is so satisfying.
And so, give people the beats and the hits that they want, when they want them; deliver an ending that feels satisfactory - and maybe you saw it coming from a mile away; I don't know. But if it's done right, it'll feel good. Just like when the chorus comes in. You knew it was coming, but that's part of why it felt so good.
And, for me, it was like, you know, I really wanted the chance with this movie to flex my muscles in the storytelling and character departments. So much of what I've done has been dance and music and shapes and gimmicks. And I love all of that. And I was happy to bring that to this movie, but I really wanted to focus on these characters and what makes them tick - and why they like each other, and why we like them.
The Barden Bellas in "Pitch Perfect 3." From left: Flo (Chrissie Fit), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) in "Pitch Perfect 3," the next chapter in the beloved series that has taken in more than $400 million at the global box office. (Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert)
Q: What is the challenge in working with such a large cast?
Trish Sie: These women all like each other and know each other. That helps, because they really do see themselves as an ensemble together. The Bellas themselves are kind of no problem, because all of them, whether it's been in the scripts or in the movies or not, have created a backstory. They understand their characters, and they are so instantly ready to kind of click into that position that you just have to collaborate with them and listen to them and talk to them and it's all there.
As far as the new cast members, Guy Burnet, the guy that plays Theo, actually rewrote several scenes and sent them to me, that he was in, to sort of say, "How about this? How about that? What about this? What about that?" He really ... thought through what someone in his position, if he were Theo, would be doing.
And Ruby Rose was fantastic at figuring out where she was coming from. They just all did the work. And all I really had to do was kind of encourage them, and sit with them, and listen to them, and talk through possibilities, and then make them feel safe to try stuff and think about stuff. ...
We need time to do this, because nothing can feel like a throwaway. We did; we just made time to do it. And sometimes on the morning of a scene, if there was a particular scene that sort of felt underwritten or under-rehearsed, sometimes we had to put off shooting for an hour and just sit in the trailer and sort of rewrite scenes of dialogue and block it differently and figure it out, so that everybody felt like no scene was just this kind of "Jump in there and make it work, somehow. It doesn't really make sense; well, whatever."
We didn't do that. We were really good about taking the time to figure them out.
Q: I expect that you will be a popular, successful, in-demand director for many years to come. I'm wondering, though, no matter what you do in the future, will anything top nailing four dudes on treadmills in one take?
Trish Sie: (Laughs) I mean, I've got to say, when I shot that video, I didn't have any aspirations to be a director. I was a choreographer. I had a musical science show for preschool kids. I wore a green lab coat and sang with a guitar, and did like test-tube experiments to music. That was what I was doing with my life at that time.
So, as wonderful as that was, that felt like ... this anomaly, you know what I mean? It did not feel like a directing experience. Although, now I look back on it and realize, "Well, yeah, of course it is." That's what directing is. You just have a crazy idea and somehow make it happen.
I don't know if anything will top that, because there were no expectations. You know, it was just like, "Well, yeah, this is what you do when you have an idea. You just kind of do it." And nobody was watching. (Laughs) And nobody was judging. And it was just kind of for the pure love of doing it.
"Pitch Perfect 3" hits theaters this Friday, Dec. 22.
"Pitch Perfect 3" (Universal Studios photo)