Later this year the world will be treated to the hotly anticipated Pitch Perfect 3, which I’m pretty sure is going to be aca-amazing and what a great opportunity we had to speak with the incredibly talented director of the new film, Trish Sie. This will be her second feature film, following her directorial debut of Step Up All In (2014).
Sie comes with a host of experience, starting out as a choreographer she helped direct hit videos for OK Go, including most recently the world’s first zero gravity music video "Upside Down & Inside Out". Sie also directed the band's breakout video, "Here it Goes Again” winning her a Grammy Award for Best Music Video. Not only has Sie directed, she’s also produced and written short films. With all this experience, it is easy to see why she is the perfect choice to direct the latest Pitch Perfect film.
So, firstly a huge thanks Trish for taking the time to talk with the NFF. Our first question...
NFF: You have had the opportunity to direct one of the most anticipated films of the year - Pitch Perfect 3. At this stage what can you tell our readers about the film?
TS: The Bellas are back! Out of college and out in the real world, they get together for one more adventure by taking off on an international USO tour. Lots of great music, absurd moments, quirky characters, and some unexpected twists and turns. It's a bigger, weirder, more exciting Pitch Perfect world then we've seen yet.
NFF: The Pitch Perfect cast is an incredible bunch of ladies – what was it like to direct them? And what was your main objectives when working with these actresses?
TS: They're incredible-- so devoted to this franchise and their characters... true professionals and artists. They work really hard at the singing and dancing, of course. But they also work really hard at developing their story arcs, navigating the nuances of their performances. They think through every line and each scene; they help each other imagine the possibilities; they offer each other ideas and inspiration. It was really collaborative and exciting. At this point, the actors are so close as friends and they've been through so much together, it really feels like family. My main objective was to foster an environment where they feel safe to try things and make suggestions, to minimize stress and drama so that everyone can enjoy the process and let their natural joy and creative energy drive the movie. Pitch Perfect 3 is an exuberant buddy movie about friendship and supporting one another, so those themes had to be present in our every-day process in order to saturate the film in an authentic way. So mostly, I felt like I was the "protector," creating a bubble where we could play and be totally honest.
TS: I had big shoes to fill, of course. On the one hand, it's nice to walk into a project that has so much momentum and character baked into it already. It's also a little daunting, obviously. It was important to shepherd the world of Pitch Perfect to a new place-- to let it grow and mature-- but also to honour and respect the existing framework and characters. I want to meet the expectations of fans, but part of that means giving audiences the right number of surprises and left turns so they can be pleasantly challenged. Ultimately, this was about taking Pitch Perfect to the next level, but in a way that feels satisfying to all the people who adore these characters and their stories.
NFF: The Pitch Perfect series has an amazing back catalogue of songs already, how did you go about choosing tracks for the new film? We're you tempted to get your brother involved the music?
TS: Picking music for this movie was one of the most delicious challenges of all. There are so many excellent songs in the world. New songs, old songs, every genre and tone. It was important to us to give our ears variety-- pick songs from as many different categories as possible. And sometimes, reinvent the songs so they sound different from the original, while other times try to play it straight. We wanted a lot of songs our young audience will recognize and sing along to, but also a few vintage throwback tracks that their parents (or even grandparents) will dig. The music team was fantastic at digging deep to find songs and then arrange them for whatever scenario we needed.
NFF: You won a Grammy for the brilliant music video “Here we go again” for the band OK Go. How did winning this award help with your career? Do you feel this helped to provide a stepping stone to other opportunities?
TS: For sure! I would never be here, doing this, without that video. I never fancied myself a director or aspired to make movies. I just liked creating things and capturing interesting moments or events on film or video, for posterity. It never occurred to me that this impulse is the basis for all filmmaking.
NFF: I wanted to ask you about another incredible music video with OK Go called “Upside Down & Inside Out”. This is the world’s first Zero Gravity music video, tell me how it all came together. I’m intrigued about the logistics of this and who was responsible for the idea?
TS: My brother, Damian, and I had been imagining a music video in weightlessness ever since we got the opportunity to fly in the US plane that simulates zero-g down in Florida. It seemed like it would never be feasible to actually accomplish our dreams because it would require so much time in an airplane, flying the special manoeuvres and creating a space where we could experiment adequately to make something truly new and different, something that didn't feel random but could be rehearsed and replicated, over and over. It wasn't until S7 (the Russian airline) came to OK Go asking for pitches that we realized maybe it could become a reality after all. And sure enough, S7 was willing to take the leap of faith and make this crazy thing that no one could exactly picture until we were practically finished.
NFF: Dance is clearly an important part of your life; and films such as Step Up All In showcased incredible dance routines and I was wondering what are the biggest challenges when filming large choreographed song and dance numbers?
TS: Filming dance is so much fun. I'd say the biggest challenge is simply creating material that works on camera-- most moves tend to looks smaller, slower, easier, and way less dramatic on camera than they do in real life. It's depressing! As a dancer or a choreographer (or even someone watching a rehearsal in a room), you know the movement is spectacular and magical. Then you watch it on a screen and it falls flat. Or just looks..... MEH. So again, you have to leave time to play. To experiment. To let the camera tell you what it likes to see. And then you have to find the angles the maximize the impact you want to achieve-- low to the ground? High overhead? Seeing details or taking in the big picture? And of course, does the camera get involved in the choreography, moving and changing, or is it more of a fly on the wall? It's all a series of decisions and choices. I find it's just important to keep a very open mind and not assume I know the answer until I see it through a lens.
Above: Step Up All In. Image source: IMDB
NFF: Here at the Norwich Film Festival we are proud of our increasing submissions from female filmmakers but there's still a long way to go- any advice for women starting out in the industry?
TS: Keep making stuff. Don't look for perfection, look for opportunities. Stay calm, stay focused, but stay passionate. Don't let people tell you that you can't do something. But also, try not to get mad. There are so many reasons to be angry-- and sometimes, those reasons are EXCELLENT-- but anger is rarely a good place for your energy. Move away from it and make something instead. Be a badass, but not necessarily the same way you see dudes be badasses. Be a female badass- let that mean whatever you want, just know it doesn't mean you have to be "one of the guys" to get it done like a boss.
NFF: At what point in your life did you start thinking about becoming a filmmaker? And what films inspired you growing up?
TS: As a kid (AND NOW!) I always loved dance movies and dark comedies and James Bond movies. And sci-fi! I've always loved sci-fi. It wasn't until I started being noticed for shooting dance that it occurred to me I could make a living behind a camera. A camera was always a tool for recording information for my own future reference, rarely as a method of communicating ideas or stories to OTHERS. So, when the OK Go videos started taking off, I realized I liked putting things on film for people to see.
NFF: How did you get your big break into the industry? Looking back what had been your biggest opportunities and challenges?
TS: My biggest break was probably landing my agents-- both commercial and theatrical. They brought me chances to try new things, meet inspiring or influential people, grow as a director, make money... from commercials to experimental art projects to short films to branded content to movies.
NFF: And finally, what is next for you?
TS: I don't know yet! Been pretty deep in Pitch Perfect as we polish up the edit. Then onto something new! I'm just starting to read scripts again and imagine where I want to go. I'm really only now pulling my head out of my Pitch Perfect butt... I'm like a hibernating animal, waking up again and blinking in the sun.
Interview by Craig Higgins, Kellen Playford & Matt Ecclestone