Peyton Reed is the director behind Bring It On, The Break-Up, and the Ant-Man franchise. Read about the making of Bring It On, his debut feature, here.
From a young age, I would go to the movies a lot with my dad. There was a program in North Carolina called Month of Sundays at the museum, where they would show old silent movies. He ended up getting me a used Bell & Howell super-eight camera for Christmas when I was 12 or 13. At the time, they were expensive. It was not a toy. You really had to take care of it and learn how to work it and everything.
I did a lot of stop-motion animation and would make comedy films with my friends. A lot of them were direct parodies or homages to movies or TV shows that I liked. When I was a kid, The Six Million Dollar Man was on, so I made a movie called The 10 Million Dollar Boy. As I got into college, we started doing a combination of more comedic things and then some more serious-minded short films. But comedy was always the thing that I really gravitated to.
The movie that really got me thinking about how movies were made was the original Planet of the Apes from 1968. As a kid, you’re drawn in by the incredible makeup and this big science-fiction concept of crash landing on a planet that’s ruled by apes. I loved the idea of how specific the world creation in that movie was. It really just drew me and had me thinking about the people who made that movie and how they did it. I started reading books and magazine articles about it and really tried to do some of those things on my own.
Planet of the Apes aside, these are some of my favorite movies about making movies.
Day for Night
I binged on Truffaut when I was in college, and 400 Blows was one of my favorite movies of all time. In Day for Night, Truffaut plays the director. It’s about filmmaking and it was the first experience I’d had as an audience member, seeing, “Oh, this is some of the stuff that could potentially go wrong or, these are the actual nuts-and-bolts issues that a film director might have to deal with.” Obviously, it’s somewhat heightened, but I have a very fond place in my heart for that movie.
Hearts of Darkness
It’s the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. The company that I worked for, Eon Productions, was making that movie when I was there, so I was around during the evolution of that documentary. It was co-directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, and they took all of that footage that Eleanor Coppola had shot and peeled back the layers, trying to create this drama that in some ways for me equals the movie Apocalypse Now itself.
It’s something I’ve watched off and on over the years, and I like it because it’s equal parts actual documentary—like, “Oh, my God, this is what they went through when they were making the movie”—but it’s also about mythologizing Coppola in a way. It’s very interesting, now that I’ve been making movies, how I experience that movie now. What struck me as fact earlier on, now strikes me as mythologizing, as fiction. But I love that movie.
It’s my favorite Tim Burton movie. I love everything about it: the performances, the look, and the fact that Scott [Alexander] and Larry [Karaszewski], who wrote it, decided to focus on Ed Wood, considered the worst filmmaker of all time. It conveys his passion and also, as heightened as those situations are, just the complete lunacy that people have to go through to make a movie. They just nailed it.
I was working in an office building at the time, writing a screenplay, and Scott and Larry had an office down the hall from me. They were writing That Darn Cat for Disney at the time, but they had this pet project, Ed Wood, and everybody was like, “That’s never going to get made.” They just heard from Tim Burton that they were going to make the movie, and Johnny Depp had signed on. Not only did they get their passion project off the ground, but they did it in such grand fashion.
Frank Oz directing and Steve Martin writing. Eddie Murphy’s performance in that movie. Again, it’s a fringe filmmaker, fictional in this case, trying to get a movie off. I love the lunacy in that movie, and it really checks all the boxes in terms of the potential pitfalls of making a film.
It was the first movie Buster Keaton made for MGM and his last really great movie. He’s a new cameraman and he’s running around, feeling the pressure to try and impress everybody. All the visual gags that movie allowed … I love that movie.
I’ve got to put Sullivan’s Travels on there, as cliché as that is for a lot of reasons. Particularly as someone who has done primarily comedies, the whole central premise of that movie is, “I want to do a serious movie,” and then realizing what effects comedies have on us. As potentially maudlin as that is, I think that movie is incredible, and I love Preston Sturges.