By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
No matter how many hit films he produces, Peter Billingsley will always be remembered as Ralphie from A Christmas Story. “You’ll shoot your eye out” still echoes in our minds today. Now add directing to his credits, as he makes his debut with Couples Retreat.
Billingsley Directs Couples Retreat
“The transition for me was a lot easier than I think maybe for most making that leap because I was never the guy that did five movies a year,” Billingsley said. “As a producer, I would really work for a long time on each film. So I was very fortunate as a first timer to really inherit that type of a partnership. There’s really no one smarter and funnier that I’ve ever met than Vince. I’ve really been fortunate to have collaborated with Vince for a long time and with John as well. I’ve known Vince as a friend for about 20 years. We met as actors on an After School special when he was first starting and I was sort of finishing up my acting career. Then, the first thing we did together was a movie called Made, which was Jon Favreau’s first directing and we’ve done a lot of movies since and have had a nice partnership and have had a great collaboration creatively and have worked really on all the pictures we’ve done together from script through post.”
Couples Retreat shows four married couples working out their marriages in Bora Bora. It’s both a comedy about relationships, and a sincere exploration of what can go wrong and how to fix them.
“The film is an original concept and idea of Vince’s and you start with that concept. It started with that notion of a wish fulfillment journey for couples and he really mapped it out in his mind very quickly. He’s always been very gifted with story. Break-Up was his original concept as well and even back when I knew him and he was 19 or 20, he had tons of ideas for stories and still does and for films and sort of mapped out that concept. Then, for us, it’s always story though. Somebody might work with set pieces. You get seven set pieces and string story. We’re the opposite. You have a story and then you think what’s the funniest way of expressing that. So he had really the archetypical couples in his mind and really the casting of the guys who we’ve all been friends with and known for a long time. So it’s really written for the four boys.”
The couples themselves would rather relax in Bora Bora than go to therapy. For Billingsley, there was never any temptation to sacrifice that extra take to get some more personal beach time.
“I’d love to take a swim and a snorkel. No, we’re a pretty intense group. We leave nothing on the table. Generally, our days in Bora Bora were dictated by the setting sun. There’s a huge mountain there and once that sun goes behind, it’s kind of a wrap. We did a little stuff. Maybe you could light a little bit but once that daylight’s down… So everyone had to be pretty prepared. That was the one thing I didn’t realize going in. All the movies I’ve worked on there’s sort of a protagonist and antagonist and some supporting players, but there’s like four protagonists in this movie times two. So you have eight people and just from a logistical standpoint to cover in a scene, just to get coverage of and limited daylight and then you add Jean Reno and Peter Serafinowicz and these other people in. So anyone needs a close-ups and you need some masters and mediums, so we would move at a clip and move quickly. And, the actors really needed to know their stuff and did.”
The film also has a Guitar Hero set piece. The popular game has become a gimmick in many movies, but these filmmakers actually knew what they were shooting.
"We’re all big fans of Guitar Hero and we play and we’ve created bands and a rock band. We’ve role played and played out of our minds when we’re on the road and we got the jet, so there’s an appreciation for the game, I think, and it was fun. There is a scene in the movie where we play it and they play it in a pretty big format in the movie and so we made sure that they actually had playback and were literally playing to that song. We gave it to the actors and let them rehearse. Vince is a big fan of it. He’s actually a pretty good guitar player. I’m more of a bassist myself.”