Interview with In Good Company’s writer, director and co-producer, Paul Weitz, conducted on January 12, 2005, by Greg Shull, editor of Preview.
Greg: You played a part in writing, directing and producing In Good Company, correct?
Paul: Yeah, I wrote and directed it, and my brother and I produced it.
Greg: How did you and your brother, Chris, start doing film projects together?
Paul: We sort of did it as a joke. I was going to be a playwright in New York, and Chris was going to be in the state department as a diplomat. That summer, just for fun, we wrote a script and ended up getting a job from that script.
Greg: Do you enjoy working alongside your brother? Do you get in fights as siblings?
Paul: We do get in fights, but we’re pretty quick to apologize afterwards. But it’s really fun. It’s nice having someone there on your side.
Greg: Is he older?
Paul: He’s younger. I’m four years older.
Greg: Did personal experiences with the harsh realities of the business world shape your writing of this story?
Paul: I’ve certainly seen it around me. I feel like there’s a lot of people going through the same things because the economy’s changing and companies are getting bigger and bigger. I know people’s parents who’s businesses got downsized, and it’s nerve-racking when you have responsibilities like Dennis Quaid has in the movie. So I know a little about that and the 26-year-old’s perspective too, showing up on my first set as a director when I was 32 and Chris being in his 20s.
Greg: This is quite a contrast from the American Pie films that you directed and produced, isn’t it?
Paul: Yeah (laughter), we directed the first American Pie. There’s definitely a big spread between the two, but it’s still fun to sit in the theater and hear people laugh. This is certainly a more mature film. If they share anything, both films talk about when you become a man, are you also going to become a good human being? Topher Grace’s character, the younger guy in the movie, becomes humanized by Dennis Quaid’s character.
Greg: Our reviewer felt that “in good company” referred to Topher’s character feeling appreciative of being in the company of Quaid’s character.
Paul: It’s interesting. People take it both ways. I thought younger viewers would take Topher’s perspective and the 50-something crowd would take Quaid’s perspective, but I see taking it either way with age apparently not the deciding factor.
Greg: When writing screenplays, where do you derive your inspiration and ideas?
Paul: Basically through a particular relationship or situation. This time, it was a 50-year-old and a 25-year-old guy. And then I thought, “What if the younger falls in love with the daughter of the older?”, and then it went from there. I get lots of ideas, but many of them fall flat. Most ideas sound great when you’re falling asleep at night, but the next morning you see them differently.
Greg: Preview addresses not only the plot and acting of a movie but also the morality and the message. What role do you think these elements should play in film?
Paul: The kind of film that I try to make is a comedy based in reality. It needs to do two things. You need to feel that the people are real, that it’s not fake. And I‘m not interested in a film that doesn’t eventually redeem its characters. It should be optimistic. The theme in this one is that you can’t control lots of things — that you’re aging, that your company is sold to new owners, that your wife is suddenly pregnant — but the thing that you can control is whether you retain your dignity in the way that you react to these things. Quaid puts his family first, which is helpful to Topher Grace’s character. The young man finds a surrogate father in his employee.
Greg: Our reviewer liked the fact that the characters honestly deal with their mistakes and problems and felt that in the end they send some good messages to viewers. Were you intentional about sending some messages in this film?
Paul: Yeah, but to deliver them to myself more than anything. The funny thing is that when I was writing this script, that Dennis Quaid is in shock about his wife getting pregnant, I didn’t know that my wife would get pregnant and that I would have my first baby one month before we started shooting. In a normal Hollywood plot, the Dennis Quaid character would try to sabotage the younger character. I thought about doing that but decided the more real approach would be for him to swallow it and be a good dad and take care of his family. Both were good messages to send to myself. The thing about Hollywood is that although we don’t put out that many good films, people here are workaholics, and it’s easy not to keep our priorities straight.
Greg: What should a film accomplish to be a success in your mind?
Paul: I’m making films that I hope people will enjoy and take something away from. Hollywood doesn’t make too many of this kind of film. If you leave the film and are feeling glad to be alive, that would be the ideal. For my part, I’m trying to learn something while I’m making the film. While it’s important that people be entertained, I find it presumptuous to say that others could learn something from my film, but I know that I can learn something. And I feel really good about the messages in this film. I feel they’re not cheaply earned.
Greg: What do you mean?
Paul: It’s easy to do a film with cardboard characters and at the end of the day, everybody’s happy. It’s easy to operate in clichés and leave it at that. But at its best, film can be real and really entertaining.
Greg: What are some films that are favorites of yours because they have accomplished that?
Paul: Kramer vs. Kramer. I love the journey that Dustin Hoffman’s character goes through in that movie. It was dealing with a serious subject — the prevalence of divorce in American society — but at same time, it was about a father who learns to love his son and not be as work obsessed. I liked Jerry Maguire. It was a very human film. And I liked The Apartment a lot, the Billy Wilder film.
Greg: Good stuff. Thank you.
Paul: Thank you.