Bringing Pitch Perfect to Life
Producing partners and husband-and-wife team Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman
were given Mickey Rapkin's book "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A
Cappella Glory" by a friend who thought the story would be perfect for a movie
adaptation. Banks and Handelman grew excited at the idea of bringing Rapkin's
story about the funny, eccentric and popular world of college a cappella to the
Explains Banks: "The book reminded us of our favorite films like Superbad, Mean
Girls and Bring It On, which always include quirky people in a subset of a
larger social system. We thought it would be fun to explore people who get
really obsessed about something and translate that into a very broad comedy that
plays to a wide audience."
"It's rare that we've been able to work on something together," adds Handelman.
"Pitch Perfect is a project we've been working on for three years and is the
second film our company produced after Disney's Surrogates. Elizabeth and I are
a good team, and we complement each other. She has a tremendous amount of
experience with different directors and actors and is a true asset to the film."
The book follows a season of college music competition and focuses on three
groups, including a new all-female group trying to overcome a loss at the
previous ICCAs. "It's the story of these girls' march to the finals," explains
Handelman, "and our story starts with our girl group, The Bellas, who meets with
an untimely disaster during the ICCAs. The film starts the following year with
them needing to recruit a new batch of girls. Their group has been decimated.
They've all either graduated or left because they were so embarrassed, and they
have to rebuild a new group, which includes this Bad News Bears collection of
girls. Once they form The Bellas, they have to compete with the popular guys'
group, The Treblemakers, who won the championship the previous year. The focus
is The Bellas' pursuit for the chance to get back in the finals and their
rivalry with the guys."
Banks and Handelman commissioned writer Kay Cannon, an Emmy-nominated writer and
producer on NBC's award-winning show 30 Rock and co-executive producer and
writer on FOX's New Girl, to pen the treatment and pitched the story to studios.
After Universal Pictures acquired Cannon's script, it was sent to producer Paul
Brooks, head of Gold Circle Films, who further developed and prepared it for the
start of principal photography.
Brooks, who has worked with Universal on films including the cult classic
Slither, the comedies Because I Said So and The Wedding Date and the thriller
White Noise, was excited to develop another project with the studio. "I thought
the script was a fantastic piece of material," says Brooks. "It had that rare
combination of great heart and great humor. It was funny, and I thought the
landscape was original and felt incredibly accessible and relatable. The film is
about relationships, kids starting the next big step in their lives at college, and it's got great
songs in it. I'd known Elizabeth as an actress because I'd produced Slither.
She's got great instincts, as does Max."
While searching for a director for their comedy, Banks and Handelman looked for
a filmmaker who could tackle the many elements that the script demanded,
including the quirky comedic tone, musical numbers and choreography. They sat
down with Jason Moore, whose work on the hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical
Avenue Q exemplified what they wanted for Pitch Perfect.
"When Max and I first started looking for a director for this film, we knew we
had a very tricky situation on our hands because there's a lot of music elements
here," says Banks. "It's a very theatrical picture. It's also a very funny
movie, and we wanted to make sure that we sold the comedy first. The writing has
a specific tone that we were trying to achieve, and the right person to tackle
it was Jason."
"This had to be a film that didn't explicitly make fun of a cappella but also
didn't take it too seriously," adds Handelman. "If you've seen Avenue Q, you
understand that tone that Jason gets so perfectly, and then you layer on top of
that his expertise within musical arrangement, choreography and putting together
a massive musical endeavor. If we'd had almost anyone else other than Jason, we
would never have gotten the music and the comedy right."
In 2003, the coming-of-age parable Avenue Q opened on Broadway and went on to
win three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The comedy musical, created by
Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx-who also wrote the music and lyrics-was written by
Jeff Whitty and directed by Moore. Seamlessly weaving together performers,
puppets, live stage action, singing and animation, Moore helped launch Avenue Q
into one the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Since its debut, the
critically acclaimed show has been produced in Las Vegas and on the West End,
has had two national tours and has been produced internationally.
Brooks and Moore discussed the director's passion for the comedy and his ability
to mix genres. "I knew of Jason's Broadway work," says the producer. "I thought
he had a complete take on the script, and he clearly knows the world of musical
theater. I was confident that he knew exactly what to do from a pure performance
perspective, and he understands the architecture of the musical world in a very
Moore was a fan of Kay Cannon's from her work on 30 Rock, and he was drawn to
the script right away. He reflects: "Kay has such a specific voice, and she has
a great way with wit and language and creating characters. I had never
experienced this part of the music world before, and it's a huge underground
world of people who love music and getting on stage and having a good time. She
captured this world in such a special and funny way that it caught my attention
With a script and director in place, the filmmakers looked to cast the perfect
band of misfits to sing, dance and perform in the oddly fascinating world of
competitive college music competitions.
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