Filmmaker Judd Apatow contends that his new film “The Bubble” is not based on the challenging production of “Jurassic World: Dominion” – even though his movie is about a group of actors coming together to make a sequel to a blockbuster franchise about dinosaur-like beasts in London. “It really isn’t based on it at all, other than it seemed fun to do comedic dinosaurs,” Apatow told in a recent interview.
And yet, when he showed “Jurassic World: Dominion” star Laura Dern his comedy he was relieved that she found it funny. “That was very important to me that everybody got a kick out of it, because it really is an exaggeration of how bad could this get? Luckily this didn’t actually happen like this to anybody.”
Indeed, while “The Bubble” starts out with an air of familiarity – not just with “Jurassic World” and Keegan Michael-Key playing the committed hero lead (aka Chris Pratt) and David Duchovny playing the charming franchise veteran (aka Jeff Goldblum), but also to what everyone was going through in the early days of the pandemic – Apatow eventually pushes the premise to hilarious and absurdist extremes.
When the “Trainwreck” filmmaker was conceiving of “The Bubble,” he found that scenarios he was dreaming up for comedic effect were actually happening on productions trying to make it safely through the COVID-19 outbreak. “I would think of something like somebody tries to escape. And then I would call a friend and go, ‘What’s happening here?’ And they would say, ‘Someone escaped!’”
While the COVID-19 protocols presented in the film may trigger some PTSD from viewers, Apatow and co-writer Pam Brady took great care to ensure the comedy didn’t dwell on the traumatic experience but still tackled the effect that extended isolation had on so many individuals. “We didn’t want it to be about the disease, we wanted it to be about how we’re dealing with the adjustments that we have to make to get through this,” Apatow said when discussing the film’s themes of isolation. “It seemed like a ridiculous situation — entitled actors in a fancy hotel trying to shoot a dinosaur action movie — felt like a fun way to talk about what everyone is actually dealing with in a much more serious way.”
To play those entitled actors, Apatow took his usual track of filling the cast with extremely funny people. But with “The Bubble,” he had the opportunity to work with actors he hadn’t worked with before, and was excited about the prospect of finding fresh international comedic talent. In fact, Harry Trevaldwyn had only risen to prominence thanks to his Instagram account before being cast — and he nearly steals the entire movie as a COVID-19 safety supervisor. “I didn’t even have a part for him,” Apatow confessed. “I just said, ‘You can be the COVID health supervisor and I’ll just have you around every day. And we’ll just throw you into scenes. It’s really only a couple of lines in the whole movie.’ And he just kept scoring and we were astonished at how funny he was with basically zero experience.”
Read on below for our full conversation with Apatow, which also touched on his experience directing a movie for a streaming service, working with extensive visual effects, and what’s next.
The film makes a deliberate choice not to run away from the potential inspirations from another major blockbuster and its difficult production. So I was curious, how significantly is this based on the production of ‘Jurassic World Dominion?’
Judd Apatow: It really isn’t based on it at all, other than it seemed fun to do comedic dinosaurs. I mean, I was certainly aware that there were a lot of productions having bumpy rides when people started trying to shoot again. Mission: Impossible, James Bond, Batman, everybody was going through a similar experience. And I was calling friends who were working on all sorts of different production asking them how things were going. And the funny thing that happened was all these things that I imagined would happen actually were happening. So I would think of something like somebody tries to escape. And then I would call a friend and go, “What’s happening here?” And they would say, “Someone escaped!” But Colin Trevorrow is a friend. And I went and visited him when he was scoring ‘Dominion’ in London and he happened to live near where we were shooting. So we were in constant communication.
I’m sure the people on that production are bracing to watch this movie and see how familiar it is.
I showed it to Laura Dern the other day and she was really laughing. That was very important to me that everybody got a kick out of it. Because it really is an exaggeration of how bad could this get? Luckily this didn’t actually happen like this to anybody.
This came together, at least from my perspective, fairly quickly. I was wondering if you could talk about working with Pam Brady on the screenplay and where the desire to make a “pandemic movie” came from, which I’m sure is flirting with disaster a little bit.
I mean, at times like this as a writer you think can I talk about this or should I just write a movie that takes place in the 1950s for a while? And as a writing exercise, I started outlining this. I didn’t think I would actually do it. Every day I was taking long walks on the beach, usually with my friend Brent Forrester who’s an amazing writer from “The Simpsons” and “The Office.” And one day I said, “Maybe we should just outline stories just for fun with no intention of making them.” And I was reading about the NBA bubble and it occurred to me that might be a funny play. What if we did a play where the entire cast is seven feet tall and they’re stressed out in a hotel. And then slowly it evolved into a group of actors trying to complete an action film while in a pandemic bubble. I thought a lot about Christopher Guest movies because I was trying to figure out how you can make a movie safely at this time. And it seemed a small cast and two locations was a way to contain it. And then slowly it evolved and got larger and larger. And then it started feeling a little more in scope like movies I love such as “Tropic Thunder” and Mel Brooks movies.
You’ve been working for a while as a director, but you do essentially make your own blockbuster with this film. There are quite a few of those big visual effects sequences. Are you ready to direct a Marvel movie now?
(Laughs) I had never worked with major special effects before. When I started writing and I thought maybe the joke would be that whenever you saw them working in the movie, you would only see the motion capture actors or maybe really terrible pencil sketches would appear around them. And then I thought, what if it looked exactly like one of those movies and then I had to try to figure out how people do that. I hired Roger Guyett who worked on a lot of JJ Abrams movies and Star Wars films. And he was the one who I worked with and wrote these sequences with Pam.
He was invaluable in explaining it to me, and he actually came up with some of the best jokes in the movie. So, that was really fun and we worked with Industrial Light & Magic and it got to be hilarious. Because I felt all of the artists over there working on this got such a kick out of doing the funny version of what they usually do very seriously. So they all started pitching jokes and things that the dinosaurs could do and their ideas were fantastic.
The casting of Fred Armisen as the director is inspired. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about casting this and putting this ensemble together. Because it’s really a terrific blend of actors we’ve known before but then people like Harry Trevaldwyn, who floored me.
The exciting part for me is getting to make a movie that has a lot of casting opportunities. So I was able to hire people that I’ve wanted to work with for a while, like David Duchovny and Fred Armisen who I’ve loved forever, he played Tino the jazz club owner in “Anchorman.”
Oh, I remember.
I’m a giant fan of Pedro Pascal’s work, especially on “Narcos.” I was looking at a lot of early cuts of the “Borat” movie and was well aware of how amazing Maria Bakalova is. And Jake Kasdan has talked me for years about how much he loves working with Karen Gillan on the “Jumanji” films. And then there was this other opportunity, which was to discover people in England. And to try to make a comedy with an international comedy cast but you don’t see that often.
And that was new for me to try to feather in British humor and humor from Vir Das who’s from India and Maria’s sense of humor. So the fact that it works so well is the thing I’m most proud of because there are so many brilliant people over there, like Harry Trevaldwyn who had only really done an Instagram feed before this film and he steals the movie.
He’s going to be huge after this.
Yeah, he already got cast on the British version of “Call My Agent” so he’s well on his way. I didn’t even have a part for him. I just said, “You can be the COVID health supervisor and I’ll just have you around every day. And we’ll just throw you into scenes. It’s really only a couple of lines in the whole movie.” And he just kept scoring and we were astonished at how funny he was with basically zero experience.
We all went through the pandemic but we don’t necessarily want to relive it, so I think the film is really smart in that it kind of leans into the whole making of aspect and the Hollywood aspect, which makes the more depressingly relatable aspects go down smoother. How did you find that balance of making a comedy that’s funny but isn’t traumatic for people to go back and remember how miserable they were.
Yeah. The most important piece was getting Pam Brady to write it with me. Because she’s so hilarious and has such amazingly positive energy. All of the writing sessions with her were really enjoyable. We talked a lot about the fact that the movie would be about isolation and what it does to people. We were all in this moment where we were in a sort of purgatory. Which forced us to think about our lives and our choices and our relationships and our jobs.
And it drove some of us a little mad. That’s why we have the great resignation because a lot of people considered whether or not they liked their path. And we didn’t want it to be about the disease, we wanted it to be about how we’re dealing with the adjustments that we have to make to get through this. It seemed like a ridiculous situation — entitled actors in a fancy hotel trying to shoot a dinosaur action movie — felt like a fun way to talk about what everyone is actually dealing with in a much more serious way.
Before this, you exclusively worked with Universal as a director, and I know it was just announced you signed a deal with them to make more films and television. But what was the experience like of not only working with a different studio, but with Netflix?
I made one other film with them which was “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.” And that was actually the first movie greenlit by Netflix. At the time, they didn’t even have a production department. When we needed money they said to us, “How do we give it to you?” It was all brand new at that moment, and it was a very positive experience. We were really proud of the movie and they were very supportive.
For this film, I thought I wanted to make what I wished there was more of on streaming services. There aren’t a lot of comedies being made and I think we all have those nights where we’re searching for something. So my approach was, what do I wish was there? I know how “Schitt’s Creek” got me through some rough moments during the pandemic and I wanted to create something like that. So we produced it almost like it was a two-hour “Simpsons” episode. It didn’t go through the normal process of grinding it to play to a theater crowd. We showed it to friends and we did a preview but we really edited it assuming people might pause it and watch dinner and then finish later (laughs). And that was fun and sometimes you keep in the jokes that maybe wouldn’t get a laugh in a theater but might be someone’s favorite joke because it’s so weird.
And because so many people re-watch things on Netflix that feels like an opportunity to layer more in.
And Netflix was incredibly supportive of all of that. And they did something which was a real risk, which is they greenlit the movie based on an idea and trusted that I would give them something they would be proud to put on there. It was all done very seat-of-the-pants and it was a fantastic experience. We didn’t have any COVID cases the entire time, their protocols were very strict and they worked. Our main COVID consultant on the movie who was working with Netflix at the time was Vivek Murthy who’s now the surgeon general of the United States. So we had amazing guidance from them about how to produce this safely.
The franchise nature of this film got me thinking about your filmography and the films you’ve directed and produced. I know you’ve made a few sequels and I know there’s been talk of a number of other sequels. I was just curious for you, is there a sequel that got away or an idea that you guys had that you wish had happened or could still happen?
Well, I’ve always wanted to make “This Is 50.” And it is time so. I couldn’t have done it five years ago and I can’t do it five years from now. So I’ve been outlining that and hope it’s something that we get to do. I feel that movie has really aged well and it always feels like everyone watches it when they turn 40 and then say, “Oh, I understand it all now.” So I’m enthusiastic about putting that together. I always wanted to do sequels to everything because I like television. Sometimes people will say, “I don’t want to make a sequel because what if it doesn’t live up to the first one?” And my response is always, “Well, then they shouldn’t have made a second episode of The Sopranos.” Why do you think if we tried again it would be that? We have just as good a shot as the first one to do something that we like. So for me all of them got away, I guess, should be my answer.
So you hope “This Is 50” is next?
One of the next two I’m hoping that comes together. I have an idea that I really like for it.
“The Bubble” is now streaming on Netflix.