"Annie," played by Kristen Wiig (left,) is freaked out by a nervous… (Suzanne Hanover / Universal…)
When Kristen Wiig says that she and her writing partner, Annie Mumolo, knew next to nothing about what they were doing when they tackled the Oscar-nominated script for "Bridesmaids," it's tempting to chalk the outcome up to beginner's luck.
As Wiig tells it, it all began when producer Judd Apatow asked whether she had any movie ideas of her own after she'd appeared in his hit comedy "Knocked Up." Says Wiig: "We knocked out a first draft in six days and handed it to him, and we were like, 'We're done! Is it good? Is it long enough? Is it too long?'"
But the real story is what happened after that — a remarkable saga of collaborative spirit and a never-say-die work ethic that resulted in one of the most successful comedy projects of the year, grossing more than $300 million worldwide since its release in May. Last month, the fairy tale outcome continued when the first-time scribes landed both an Oscar nomination and a Writers Guild Award nomination. There's got to be more behind that than just luck.
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Mumolo and Wiig had originally hit it off in the Groundlings comedy troupe, where both were writer-performers. That shared training ground informed everything that happened next.
When they started, said Mumolo, "Our only experience had been writing sketches, and sketches at the Groundlings are about six pages long. So in the very first draft, Kristen said, 'OK, let's think of it as 20 sketches, so we don't get overwhelmed.' That's how we started, but then we took that draft and devoured it and kept really working on it for the next few years to make the turns stronger and the story funnier."
A focus on character-based comedy became the key. "We wanted the characters to drive the story, rather than the premise," says Mumolo. "The whole goal at the Groundlings is to come from a real place within a character and let that drive the themes and stories, rather than just going for the joke." Being performers, they also acted it out as they went along. "That was the most fun for me," says Mumolo. "We'd get inside these characters' heads and do their voices, and go to town writing what they'd be like in this situation and that situation."
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The story centers on Annie (played by Wiig), a single gal in her 30s whose close relationship with her newly engaged best friend (Maya Rudolph) is severely tested when she attempts to act as her maid of honor, with disastrous results. For the writing team, a driving force was their desire to create a movie comedy that reflected their own outlooks and experiences. "We wanted to show women being funny in a way we know them to be, to capture their behaviors, both the good and the bad," says Mumolo. "We also wanted it to resonate emotionally, 'cause that's where it came from for us — the way it feels when it seems like everyone else's life is going along swimmingly and your own is just snowballing from bad to worse."
Far from being over when principal photography commenced, the writing process merely kicked into a higher gear, as a spirit of improv and collaboration prevailed among the entire troupe, nearly all of whom were Groundlings alumni. "It was very intense," says Mumolo, who appears in the movie as the nervous passenger seated beside Wiig in the airplane scene. "We had our shooting script, and then we also had pages and pages of new jokes that we'd written during prep. And as the movie is up on its feet, shooting, we're sitting there listening to every word and thinking, 'Maybe she could say this instead,' and then writing those changes very quickly. The director [Paul Feig] would call them out to the actors, and they would say those lines. You had to make sure to keep the story on track, but it was also a very fluid, creative process."
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Says Feig: "The worst thing you can do in comedy is just shoot the script, 'cause then you're not in the moment, taking advantage of what's happening on the set. I'm having ideas all the time, the actors are having ideas all the time, and it's constantly in motion."
Adds Melissa McCarthy, who contributed some key laugh lines in the role of Megan and who is also Oscar-nominated for her performance, "Everybody's goal was just, 'If it's funny now, how can we make it really, really funny?'"
"It was so crazy and nonstop," says Mumolo, who neglects to mention that she was very pregnant through the entire shoot. "At times, we were just face-first on the floor in our trailers."