In this week’s episode of The Boxoffice Podcast, co-hosts Russ Fischer, Daniel Loria, Rebecca Pahle, and Shawn Robbins discuss the record-setting opening weekend of Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and its implications for the studio’s release strategy in the coming months. The team discusses the latest round of release date changes and an early outlook for Q4 box office.
In the feature segment, Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, the writer-director duo behind the upcoming R-rated comedy Queenpins, join the show. Queenpins tells the story of a $40 million coupon scam born out of the suburbs, and the two women that engineered the entire plan from its inception. The ensemble comedy stars Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Vince Vaughn, and Paul Walter Hauser.
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Excerpts from our interview with Queenpins filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly
GITA PULLAPILLY: This movie is inspired by a true story of these two women in Phoenix, Arizona who end up counterfeiting coupons that make up a $40 million coupon scam. In Hollywood, as you know, things get optioned very quickly. Aron and I, with our journalism and documentary background, are always taking a deep-dive on the internet trying to find stories that haven’t been told yet and need to be told or should be told. I somehow found myself on a coupon blog and landed on these three sentences that talked about a $40 million coupon scam. It had the name of a detective in Phoenix, Arizona that had investigated it. We called him up briefly, just to see if this was for real. After we talked to him, we got in our car and drove to Phoenix because we wanted to know more about this story and what happened.
ARON GAUDET: At first, we were supposed to open production offices on March 16 of 2020. Our financing fell apart because there were going to be millions of dollars in COVID costs that we didn’t have in our budget. Then it really became about getting our movie back off the ground and getting financing again, figuring out how to pay all of those COVID costs. We ended up actually starting production in October of 2020. We shot this in Los Angeles during the height of the pandemic here, basically October, November and wrapped in early December of 2020.
GITA PULLAPILLY: It was really hard to shoot anywhere you wanted to in Los Angeles in the height of the pandemic. At the time, we were shooting, in October through December, we had the election, it was around Thanksgiving, there were still protests happening in Los Angeles. We needed to make sure our cast and crew were safe; it meant we couldn’t travel to a lot of places. 22 out of our 30 days were shot in Pomona on a mental health facility campus—
ARON GAUDET:—that had been shut down. That was our bubbled set. It was challenging. There were concessions to figure out we could make all of these locations work on this one facility. In a positive way, we we stepped back and realized that there aren’t a lot of comedies coming out. People are living in some really dark times, and we said this to our entire casting crew, that if we can pull this off, give people a reason to laugh and bring some joy in their lives, it made it feel even more important to tell a story that had some humor in it. Because at that time there was not a lot of humor in everyday life.
GITA PULLAPILLY: Once you set that goal of enjoying the journeY, not putting the added pressures of anything else that we need to do except enjoying the ride and let people experience the laughter that comes from our characters in the situations they’re in. Just tell a good story. We knew what our goal was to accomplish and felt like every day we could set out to accomplish that.
ARON GAUDET: We certainly had to make concessions on how much we could open that world up because there wasn’t a world to open it up to. Certain things that we would have done if there were no pandemic, we couldn’t do and had to rethink them. We still felt like we could make a movie that didn’t feel like it was made during the pandemic, but there were definitely concessions we had to make. I think everybody was so thankful to be on a set where we were all working and there was reason to laugh a little.
GITA PULLAPILLY: When you bring such great, talented comedy people to a set, you find a way to immediately have joy. They’re always looking for interesting ways to take dialogue that you’ve written and make it something special. It was a way to enjoy a difficult time period in life and come together as a family to create something that brought a little joy to our casting crew, but also, hopefully to audiences all around the world.
ARON GAUDET: Those six or seven months from when the pandemic began to when we were in production, it felt like everybody was coming to set having gone through some dark things, being so excited to just laugh a little and work on something that didn’t feel too heavy.
GITA PULLAPILLY: We plan on going opening weekend and watching it with audiences. Even when we were testing the comedy, we could only do one test screening and we have to watch it over Zoom.
They were in Kansas, we were in Los Angeles on Zoom. Whenever anything gets really loud on Zoom, the audio just cuts out. So whenever the movie would get loud, we actually couldn’t hear if they were laughing, and they had their masks on, so it wasn’t that helpful. We’ve yet to see it with an audience, and with comedies that’s so important in post-production to be able to test it. We’re excited ourselves to see it with an audience.
ARON GAUDET: That community feeling where we’re coming together and you’re laughing and going on a ride together, it’s infectious to feel that laughter all around in a room. It makes you appreciate and want to go back into a movie theater. We’re so excited to watch audiences watch this movie. We’re going to be popping into movie theaters wherever we can so we can see audiences watch the film. We know there are some great moments in the film where it gets huge laughs, and we want to be a part of that.
As the theatrical landscape changes, we would always get told that big tentpole movies have a spot in the theater, along with horror movies, animated children’s movies, and comedies, because people like to laugh together. And it feels as though comedies are starting to slip out of that group. We really don’t want them to because there’s nothing better than being in a theater full of people when something’s really funny, and it’s infectious and everybody’s laughing together. For us, it’s important to at least have that option for people to go see it in theaters.