That movie your friends are going to quote for the next year? It's called "Pitch Perfect," a brand new comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson that does for the a cappella world what "Bring It On" did for cheerleading.
Filled with hysterical one-liners about everything from Sisqo to Rick Dees to "Star Wars," the tone of "Pitch Perfect" recalls not just that 2000 teen comedy, but "Mean Girls." That might not be a complete accident: Kay Cannon, the film's screenwriter, is a Second City-trained improv comic and Upright Citizens Brigade veteran who also worked as a producer and writer on "30 Rock" alongside Tina Fey. Cannon, who currently writes for "New Girl" and recently sold a pitch to Fox that's described as "'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' set in the offices of an 'NFL Sunday'-type show," spoke with HuffPost Entertainment about what "Pitch Perfect" owes to "A League of Their Own," why being funny trumped gender politics and which song she considers her very own "diddle jam."
"Pitch Perfect" is actually based on Mickey Rapkin's non-fiction book of the same name. How did you go about using that source for your script?
I didn't know anything about the a cappella world. I didn't even know it existed until my first year at "30 Rock." There was a joke about the character Toofer being part of an a cappella group in Harvard. I thought that was such a funny joke. I'm from Chicago, and it's not really popular there. Or at least back in my day it wasn't super popular; I think it might be more now. When I heard that world existed for real, I actually said in the writers' room, "Someone needs to write a movie about that." So, I didn't know anything about the world and didn't have time to research it. When I found out the book was coming out -- and that Mickey Rapkin had followed three groups around for a year and wrote about their experiences -- I felt like that was the research I needed to understand the world.
I also made an assumption: I'm an improviser, and the improv world is a very specific world as well. I felt that a cappella was the improv world with music. Where it's very serious and there are groups and competition and some people become famous and there's a language we speak from one improviser to another. When I read Mickey's book, those suspicions were confirmed. What I found from the book was that the females were the underdogs. Because it's a non-fiction book, there's no narrative, so I just made these characters who I thought would be funny and be liked. The idea that it would be a sort of "Bring It On," but girls versus guys. That came from reading the book and realizing the all-female groups don't do well.
Most of the audience for this film has memorized "Bring It On" and "Mean Girls." Was it hard to write something in that vein without falling back on jokes those films had already done?
When I started writing, I was like "This is 'Bring It On' in the a cappella world." But I didn't necessarily pull from things I already knew. I tried to really think about my friends, and which female friends of mine were really funny. What kind of characters they were and the quirks they had. I've been on several improv teams in my life and there's always different characters that you're meeting whenever you're with a group of people who are competing or doing something they are very passionate about. I'm also the sixth of seven children, so I have sisters -- and that's just a bunch of life experiences I was pulling from. I didn't really think of the comedy part of "Bring It On" or other movies that we're being compared to. But I love those movies. I've seen "Bring It On," like, a thousand times. Another movie I was really inspired by was "A League Of Their Own."
Someone on Twitter actually compared the training montage in "Pitch Perfect" to "A League of Their Own."
That's really great. I watched a lot of "A League of Their Own." You know how Esther Dean -- who was nominated for a Grammy for writing Katy Perry's "Firework" -- plays Cynthia Rose in the movie? She was this musical person and she came in and auditioned and I was so happy that she was part of the ensemble because it reminded me of the way Madonna was in "A League of Their Own." It's a bunch of very different people from all walks of life coming together. So seeing Esther Dean with Alexis Knapp, who plays Stacie, and seeing how different they are -- that was super cool for me. I liked it a lot.
The casting in this film is perfect, especially Rebel's "Fat Amy." Did you tailor the characters for the actors following the casting process?
The casting was pretty fantastic. I thought there were a lot of roles that were difficult to cast and they did such a great job. Like you, I think everyone in the movie is really good. I think there's all these outside characters that had really small parts who are really good too. Like, Bologna Barb and Justin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse's sidekick [played by Jacob Wysocki]. They're so funny and so good. Very early on, I actually had Anna Kendrick in mind for Beca. Then I kind of let it go. I wrote the first draft about four years ago, so things change. I was thinking of Michael Cera for the role of Jesse when I first started writing. Then, as the years go by, people change and get older and move onto other things. So, she was someone I had in mind.
But Rebel Wilson ... Fat Amy already existed as a character, but it's a real delicate thing to ask actresses to audition for that part. But Rebel and I had been Facebook friends before we ever met. She was a fan of "30 Rock" and she sent me a friend request, and I was like, "Aww, that's really interesting." Then I'm watching "Bridesmaids" in the theater and I'm like, "Wait a second, I'm Facebook friends with that real funny lady up there." So I sent Rebel a message saying, "There's this movie I wrote and there's a part in here." Again, being very delicate. Because Fat Amy has to be super confident, glamorous, comfortable in her skin, all the amazing things that make up that character, and also be super funny. So I sent Rebel a message, like, "Read the script and tell me if it speaks to you or whatever." And luckily she had already received it from her manager. She got back to me and was like, "I think I would be smashing as Fat Amy."
The film does a great job of switching up some gender roles: Stacie calls her vagina a man, Beca doesn't act like a traditional female lead in a romantic comedy. Was blurring that line a top priority for you as a writer?
It was. The story is not a new story, right? It can be compared to a lot of other movies in terms of structure. There's a predictability to it. So, knowing that going in -- and not caring about that necessarily -- I wanted the script to be super funny with characters who you loved and wanted to watch for long periods of time. So it was a top priority to make it funny and not worry about female and male. Even though the story is girl versus boy, and the ladies are the underdog.
Knowing that young women are going to be drawn to this film, did you feel a responsibility to portray the characters as real human beings, with strengths and flaws?
I don't know if I've ever thought of it as a responsibility. I just really thought it was a good story. I'm a pretty competitive person and I was super excited to write a movie where it was a group of ladies doing and feeling what I felt growing up. But I don't know if I felt a responsibility. Maybe I should feel a responsibility? I guess in my head, I never thought of this -- which, this is bad on me and why I'm not in marketing -- but I never thought until now, with the movie coming out, that it was for young ladies. I actually didn't think that. I was just trying to write a really funny movie that a bunch of people of both genders and all ages would like. Does it resonate with younger crowds and females? Absolutely. But what I'm hoping is that people who aren't a part of that demographic are going to the movie and it exceeds their expectations. Or it's a lot funnier than they thought and that they like it. I think there's something there for everyone.
"Pitch Perfect" really pushes the envelope for a PG-13 film. Were you ever told to pull things back?
It's funny you say that because we actually toned a lot down. It was far dirtier. It got an R-rating. I had to change like eight or nine jokes that kind of all came from the first act. I think I was really trying to be edgier for the reasons that we're talking about: I wanted it to be for a lot of different groups. I think when you go to these test screenings and there are jokes that might be a little bit risque in terms of PG-13, but if the audience laughs, it's hard for the studio to take that out. The response has been pretty great. I think when the audiences fill out those questionnaires, there haven't been any mothers who have complained about it being too dirty for their kids. The studio really listens and pays attention to that. If there are little things in there that are more risque, the laughs won. But just so you know, it was far dirtier.
What was something that you had to cut out?
This is gonna sound really weird, but in the shower scene, where Beca asks Chloe if she knows David Guetta, and she's like, "Yeah, have I been under a rock? That's my lady jam." What used to be there is, "That's my diddle jam." The reason they didn't want "diddle" is because they didn't want a young girl to ask her mother what that meant. In my opinion, Chloe is with a guy in the bathroom and that's far worse than saying diddle! I think mothers should be having masturbation conversations with their daughters at a young age.
That scene features "Titanium," which is now a huge Top-40 hit. Was that song always there?
Actually, I put in a placeholder there. There were three different songs, but it was the music people who perfectly timed that out. They loved that song and knew when it was coming out. So they chose "Titanium" knowing the movie would come out around the same time. I think that's worked out perfect. It's a moment in the movie where I tear up. It sounds so pretty and that song is really great.
It is. Do you like Top-40 normally?
I love all kinds of music, so I'm onboard for all that. Also, I'm a huge fan of Ace of Base. "The Sign"? I love that song. That is my diddle jam.