Writer, producer, and actor Kay Cannon has built a career off making modern women laugh. What began as being a writer and producer alongside longtime friend Tina Fey on “30 Rock” led to writing and producing for “New Girl,” penning the “Pitch Perfect” franchise, and showrunning Netflix’s shortly lived “Girlboss.” Now with the laugh-a-minute sex comedy “Blockers” (out April 6), Cannon adds “director” to her growing list of hyphenates. The film follows three high school seniors—Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon)—as they all aim to lose their virginity on prom night; meanwhile, their parents—Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena), and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz)—do everything they can to thwart their daughters’ plan. In preparation for her directorial debut, the funny lady stopped by Backstage HQ to talk with us about lessons learned as a first-time director and the advice she has to other filmmakers about how to connect with their actors on set.
‘Blockers’ isn’t your average sex comedy.
“It’s about these young women having agency over their bodies and making decisions for their own reasons on why they want to lost their virginity on this night. I really wanted to tell this story because I think it’s really an underserved story. So although the idea of the movie may feel antiquated, I feel like it’s a modern take on what young women are really going through right now.”
Perspective changes everything.
“[In] a movie like ‘American Pie,’ from a male perspective made by a male filmmaker, the girls become objects of desire because it’s from the male perspective. As a female filmmaker, it feels so different because it’s not girls as the object of desire; it’s them making decisions. And their dates feel different, because the guys aren’t objects of desire for them either. I thought that was a really cool difference.”
Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert
In the audition room, cut yourself some slack.
“If you mess up, acknowledge you’ve messed up. I think the person that comes in and thinks they have to be perfect [feels] very coached. [They’re] not present and in the moment. When I was casting Sophia for [‘Girlboss’], Britt Robertson came in, and part of the audition sides was eating a sandwich. So she brought in a granola bar, and she was eating it and granola was everywhere. She used it and she was acknowledging it [as the character]. Don’t worry about rights and wrongs. Come in and feel it.”
Writing your own material can be intimidating, but Cannon has a tip.
“I was told early on [that] it’s just ideas on paper. If you think of it in those terms, it becomes a little less hard. I think these days, because there’s so much content, it’s all about finding your own voice. Even if you don’t use writing to help further along your career, writing might help you find out who you are, what your voice is, and what roles you should be auditioning for rather than the ones you are auditioning for.”
You never know where a friend’s writing edits may lead.
“I started writing because I wanted to write for myself and I wanted to show what I could do as a performer. I happen to be friends with Tina Fey, and I’d given stuff I’d been writing to her as a friend. She said, ‘I’ve got this show “30 Rock.” Do you have any other writing samples that you can submit?’ And then I just sort of rode the horse in the direction it was going.”
Directors should check in with their actors.
“I know as a director you’re very busy and you’ve got a lot on your mind, but [on ‘Blockers’] I would shoot often with the parents all day and then the kids would come in, and they would have been sitting in their trailer all day. So I tried to make sure that when [the kids] came on set they felt welcomed and loved and happy. I think having lots of conversations and communicating a lot outside of, “Action, do this,” is going to help you better understand the person and what works for them.”
And yes, she used Backstage when getting her start in the industry.
“I did that thing where I circled [casting notices, and] I think I went to a workshop where casting directors come, and I got that from Backstage. I remember going to this workshop instead of doing something with Tina, and I remember Tina being like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ And I was like, ‘Because I’m trying to get a job!’ ”
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!