Director's Chair: Garry Marshall -  <i>Mother's Day</i>
Issue: May 1, 2016

Director's Chair: Garry Marshall - Mother's Day

Forget the Energizer bunny — it’s Garry Marshall, the legendary producer, director, actor and writer of film, television and theatre, who keeps going and going. Now in his 80s, the man who created, wrote and produced some of television’s most beloved sitcoms, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and The Odd Couple, also helped define the modern romantic comedy with such hit movies as Pretty Woman (which made Julia Roberts a superstar), Beaches, Overboard, The Princess Diaries 1 and 2, Runaway Bride, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

His latest film, Mother’s Day, stars Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts and a large ensemble, supporting cast in a series of interwoven stories about a group of women with one important thing in common — motherhood. Expectant moms, single moms, stepmoms, gay moms, estranged moms, long-lost moms and mothers of all kinds get their due in an emotional tribute to the tie that can’t be broken. 

The production also features a stellar below-the-line team that includes Marshall’s frequent collaborators: director of photography Charles Minsky (Pretty Woman, New Year’s Eve) and editors Bruce Green ( The Princess Diaries, Freaky Friday) and Robert Malina ( The Avengers, The Bourne Ultimatum). Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Marshall talks about making the film, his love of post and why he has no plans to retire.

Once again, you’ve assembled an all-star cast, and this is your fourth film with Julia Roberts. Do you have to deal with her people, or do you just call her up and offer her the role?

“I just call her. Sometimes you bump into people at a party or event. Her kids play Little League with my grandson, so we just talked about it socially first. I’ve known her so long, since Pretty Woman, that it’s very easy that way.”

This is the third film in your ‘holiday’ trilogy. What made you choose this story? 

“I happen to be a big fan of mothers. My mother was very influential on me, and I did one about fathers — Nothing in Common — and I wanted to do one about mothers and about a holiday, and I do comedies and rom-coms so this was perfect for me.”

Why did you shoot in Atlanta?

“It’s a great city, with great locations and crews and sound stages and restaurants, so it has a lot to offer. But the main reason was dinero — money! That’s why we shot there. They offer great tax breaks, and I really don’t like cold weather — when we shot New Year’s Eve in New York, it was the dead of winter at 4 a.m. and I was freezing to death. Not fun! So Atlanta was a great choice for us, and the reality with filmmaking is you’re always looking for that tax break — but it keeps changing.”

This is your seventh film with DP Charles Minsky, who also shot Pretty Woman and New Year’s Eve for you. What did he bring to it?

“Chuck gave it a great cinematic look and helped open up the script, but the big thing is that when you do women’s pictures like me, and you have Julia, Kate, Jennifer and so on, it’s all about making them look really great, and he did. I thought Jennifer Aniston looked absolutely gorgeous, but she’d just been on her honeymoon in Tahiti or someplace and she had this great tan and she was so funny and charming, and Chuck captured all of that, with all the actresses.”

Did you shoot on film or digitally?

"It was all digital. Here’s a little secret: I’m afraid of heights — and so is Richard Gere. So I won’t go up on a crane, so I don’t shoot any second unit, and it’s a big part of my filmmaking process. So my son shoots all the second-unit stuff, and for the first time ever we used a drone for some of the coverage, and he has the patience I don’t have to get all the second-unit stuff done. For instance, there’s a crucial shot in the soccer game section where the ball lands on the goal line, and you don’t know if it’s a goal or not. It took my son 47 takes to get that shot just right, but he got it in the end, and that’s why I rely on him for second unit.”

Where did you do the post? 

“I learned a very long time ago that Steven Spielberg was absolutely right about post when he decided to do as much as possible at his house. So I did all the post in my office at home in LA. That way, I could just walk upstairs and work on the edit, and then walk back down and take a nap. We brought all the Avids and machines over, and it was a great way to work on the edit. I also believe in test screenings, so we did some of that as we went. I love editing. When I was in the Korean War, I worked at a radio station and I did a lot of editing and learned a lot about it, which really helped me so much later in movies. Some things in movies just don’t work and people live with them, but I never do. So I’ll always fix them in post with sound or whatever, and I always take a lot of time working on all the sound — ADR, wild lines and so on because you can fix anything that isn’t quite working that way. In this film, there’s a character who has abandonment issues, but the audience just didn’t get it. Finally, a month after we’d finished the film, I got the actress back to just say the line ‘I have abandonment issues’ and suddenly the scene worked and the audience got it. I do a lot of that, and sometimes you make a better joke with wild lines. They used to call me 'Willy Wild Line' — that was my nickname.”

Do you like the post process?
“I like post the best, by far. Pre-production is a million details and stressful, and then the shoot is nothing but ‘Hurry up! The light’s failing! It’s gonna rain!’ It’s just crazy. But post is so relaxed and pleasant by comparison. You sit there with the editor and you finally have time to look at the material objectively and then make the movie. And there are so many ways you can go. This film was actually the best post I ever had, partly because this kid, Rob Malina, who started with me as an intern, became a full editor for the first time on this picture, after being a back-up editor on so many of my other films. He’s so fast, and by the time I’d finished shooting, he already had his first assembly. I love all the intricacies of post, and it’s amazing how much you can fix in post. I’m a big believer in — and most proud of — all my inserts, which many directors are not. That’s because my inserts make the editing much better, the timing is better, and then there’s all the second-unit stuff.” 

You also worked with your long-time editor Bruce Green, who cut The Princess Diaries. How did that relationship work?

“He was working on another movie when we started, so he joined us after he’d cut that, and then they worked together and traded off scenes.”

How important are sound and music to you?

“They’ve always been a huge part of all my films, and I used to do most of my mixes at Disney, but this time we did it on the lot at Warner's, where I did my last two pictures. I had a great team, including supervising sound editor Terry Rodman and re-recording mixer Chris Aud. And it’s interesting that with Julia, we didn’t have to do one ADR line. Nothing at all! We joke around a lot on set. I’ll tell her, ‘You paused so long there I was able to write a TV pilot.’ If she swallows a line or fluffs one, she’ll say ‘I can do it better’ and we’ll just re-do it right there. There was just one mistake in the sound – we missed a door slam for the fridge in one scene, and I didn’t notice till it was too late. So I owe the audience a door slam.”

How’s post changed since you began back in the ‘60s?

“So much it’s barely recognizable. I used to cut on Moviolas and you’d spend hours digging in the film clip bins to find that one shot or frame of film, and now with the Avid you just push a button, and you have it. Same with all the digital sound mixing today. It’s all so fast now, which I think is a huge improvement. I embrace all the new toys and technology, although you’d think I’d be one of those old directors who still insists on shooting film, because they always say women look better on film than on digital. But digital has come a long way, and it’s going to keep getting better. And I’m not one of those film purists, and I wasn’t walking around at four years old with a camera trying to make a movie. I was playing with a basketball and my mother was yelling at me, and my boyhood dream was to play for the Yankees. I had no dreams about making movies. But then I got into it, and found I loved it — and especially post and the way you can fix so much and manipulate your material in post.”

What’s next?

“I’ve been very busy, doing some acting on the new CBS reboot of The Odd Couple, playing Oscar’s father. And I have plans to make a softball movie, and there are a couple of love stories I’m working on.”

Do you ever think of retiring?

“No, never. I’m not slowing down yet. It’s too much fun, plus I get to work with beautiful women all the time.”