Pitch Perfect has become a cultural phenomenon. It has been three years since the surprise hit took the world by storm, with fans singing Cups and adding the “aca” prefix to almost every word imaginable. Now we have a sequel. Making her directorial debut is Elizabeth Banks, who was a producer and champion of the first film. In Pitch Perfect 2, the Barden Bellas have to perform against the world’s number one a cappella group, Das Sound Machine, at the World Championships in Copenhagen.
Banks, along with producers Max Handelman and Paul Brooks, talked about the sequel, selecting the right songs to fit in with the themes and narrative – secret songs that will only appear on the DVD, the awesome fans, and much more.
Geeks of Doom: How did you guys get all of the celebrity cameos?
Elizabeth Banks: It helps to have a beloved first film. It also really helps to have a child who really likes the film, and they want to impress their kid. None of us are cool to our own children.
Geeks of Doom: What did you learn about Elizabeth Banks?
Paul Brooks: What I did learn is Liz has this thing, and this thing means, she can do everything she does. It’s as simple as that. I had offered her many films years ago. I’m terrified of her, but I’m a huge supporter. She truthfully did what I thought she would do, which was make a great film.
Geeks of Doom: Did you think you were a good boss while on set?
Elizabeth Banks: I went on set with a true attitude of gratitude. I really was grateful for the work of the crew and the cast, making the vision I have for the movie come true. I fought with [Paul] Brooks, and Max Handelman fought me on certain things like, “I don’t know about an outdoor music festival, it’s probably going to rain everyday,” and I was like, “I think it’s really going to look cool.” But lead by example, I tried to be serious about the work, but also leave a lot of room for play. We are pretending for a living, it should have a sense of playfullness about it.
Paul Brooks: But what I should say, when we committed, we committed big time. Doubled the amount of extras. Tripled the amount of extras. Just to make a point, she is pretty rare in a sense that she is pretty incredibly f***ing opinionated, but the great thing is that she does actually want a hint in the creative process, at the end of the day, it’s all about what’s good for the movie.
Elizabeth Banks: It’s very valid. It was hurricane season. We did pray everyday that it wasn’t going to rain at the outdoor music festival. But at the end, I just have this optimism, because it has to work out. Because we have only 44 days to make the movie.
Max Handelman: One of the main things Elizabeth has as a director is she’s a phenomenal natural leader, and that’s one of the main things you want in a director, a singular vision. She was walking our crew through each scene, and explaining to them “what’s happening here,” and I just remember vividly this image of this small blonde-haired young woman leading a crew of 98% men, many of whom have grizzled beards, who were rapt with attention listening to every word she said. There was no question of anything. She was the boss.
Geeks of Doom: There is a lot of musical numbers, what was the process of obtaining the musical rights?
Paul Brooks: It was kind of the same process as last time actually.
Max Handelman: I would say it was a little easier because of the visibility and prominence of the film. The music industry as we constantly marvel at, is an incredibly arcane, complicated, and often times makes no sense, and we are like “we want your songs, and we are willing to pay for it,” and they are like “yeah, there is this guy in Estonia, and he’s not going to sign off because he has the rights.” But on the whole we ended up getting songs we wanted in the end.
Geeks of Doom: Can you talk about mixing up some of the generations and the genres of music?
Elizabeth Banks: It’s all very deliberate. Music is sort of a universal language, and not everyone knows Miley Cyrus, so we really wanted to feature as many genres and fun songs, classics, sing-a-long type songs that we can have in the movie. I think frankly, one of the themes of the film is legacy, the girls are joining a long legacy of singing. So thematically, it makes sense to put in the classics, and also just speak to the future of original songs.
Geeks of Doom: How many musical numbers didn’t make it into the film?
Elizabeth Banks: If we shot a musical number, it’s in the movie. Because those were the big days. In fact, we added a musical number, in the tent scene. That was an improv by Brittany Snow, that song. We just loved it so much, we had to buy it. We had to pay for that moment. There is an extra song on the DVD that we are not revealing.
Geeks of Doom: Could you talk about what it was like to add Hailee Steinfeld to the franchise?
Elizabeth Banks: She is a great singer. She’s a fantastic singer. She was 17-years-old when she joined the cast, and we were looking for the perfect little sister, and her journey as an actress matched her journey as a person, she came into a situation where the relationships were established, and the group had these amazing bonds of making the first film, and she was the new girl, so I kept telling her to lean into that. The group loved her, I don’t think you can find a person in the movie who doesn’t adore Hailee Steinfeld. She brought the perfect amount of charm and energy to the group, and really served that little sister role perfectly. I’m sure the girls took her out on adventures that her mother would not approve of.
Geeks of Doom: Would you be interested in directing spinoffs or sequels?
Elizabeth Banks: We don’t know what the future holds. We are just focused on putting out Pitch Perfect 2. I think what we found for this film that it was really important to all of us that we find a story that felt very organic and authentic to this group of women, and to the world we created in the first film, that we build on the relationships we established in that movie. We want to put this movie out, and let the fans embrace it, and we’ll see what the future holds. Our goal is we will have those organic and authentic intentions in mind.
Geeks of Doom: As prepared as you were, what were some of the surprises both on a challenging level and a joyous level?
Max Handelman: It’s a little easier to look at Pitch Perfect 2, now having seen the movie, seeing the final product. While we were shooting the film, we knew that there was a lot of love and support for the brand and the film, but when we were shooting the finale outdoors in a field, in Baton Rouge, at night, in the dead of summer when it was 90 degrees. On the nights we had 3,500 extras for free to see the Barden Bellas perform, it was a like a rock concert. Everyone had chills, and there was – no exaggeration – came as far away as England, flew across the country, took buses, to come and be an extra at the outdoor finale of the Bellas. That was a genuine surprise, we thought we were only going to have 150 people there.
Elizabeth Banks: We were willing to pay for a few people. We were surprised that people stayed all night until five-o-clock in the morning. Their energy sustained the girls, the performers. This was the fifth night, they have been doing it non-stop. They were sweaty, they were tired, and they got out there in front of 3,000 people and felt the love, and they really brought their all.
Max Handelman: The other joy I had was when the Green Bay Packers showed up the evening before the riff off started. Having never met them face-to-face, they are professional football players who just came from their off-season training camp, and we were confident they were taking it seriously, and they wanted to really do it, but we had no idea that they were going to be that good – none. It’s kind of like they are going to be in the movie, so let’s see how this goes, and it turns out that was really them, we aren’t faking that. That was incredible. Personally for me.
Pitch Perfect 2 opens in theaters on May 15, 2015.