EXCLUSIVE: Jason Moore, the Pitch Perfect helmer whose Universal comedy Sisters with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opens December 18, has just closed a deal for what he hopes will be his next film. Moore and Sisters producer John Lyons sold an untitled pitch to Elizabeth Gabler at Fox 2000. They will move quickly to set a screenwriter who’ll work as Moore prepares to direct Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson in a Broadway run of Fully Committed in April. Moore began directing films after his Tony-winning helming turn on Avenue Q, and he went back to the stage to helm Shrek The Musical and was exec producer on Pitch Perfect 2, which Elizabeth Banks helmed.
The untitled comedy involves an ordinary woman who, after performing a heroic act that makes her world famous, sells her life rights to the world’s biggest movie star, who tags along to prepare to play her. Moore said the idea started with Sisters producer Lyons. The producer had the idea, and he and Moore kicked it around while making the film.
“This 40ish woman has been doing philanthropic work for years, but kind of toiling and unable to raise enough money, until she does something really dramatic, literally dragging 80 refugee children to safety across the border,” he said. “The heightened stakes of fame on a national stage play out, and this actress in her 20s who had been trapped in a YA franchise and wants a real part becomes obsessed with playing her.” Moore said there is an All About Eve element to it as the aid worker’s life is played out by the glamorous young actress, but the subject also has to reconcile the flaws in her own life, like leaving her own children to save the other kids. “This younger woman becomes the more interesting person this other woman wishes she was, and this becomes about her learning from her mistakes and reclaiming her own life. There are strong roles for two actresses going head to head in a comedy we hope will have a bit of The Devil Wears Prada and Postcards From Edge to it.”
Moore hopes to achieve the chemical mix he feels he got with Fey and Poehler in Sisters, the comedy that opens December 18, directly against Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He said the actresses developed such a shorthand—they co-anchored SNL’s Weekend Update and cohosted The Golden Globes together—that much of the best comic moments between them originated in the moment. That was helped in that the script was written by Paula Pell, who also came from Saturday Night Live. Moore, was trained in the theater to be flexible. Their collective willingness to be changeable elevated the comedy, he said.
“The movie is loosely based on Paula’s own family and her relationship with her sister and it was her voice that made me perk up to begin with,” Moore said. “Tina and Amy have this 20 year relationship where they are generous toward each other and finish each other’s sentences. Paula was by my side and we worked similar to 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, where Paula sat by the monitor and she’d write jokes on post-it notes and I would cherry pick the best ones and rush them out to Tina and Amy. Only they knew the new lines and they would run with them and we’d do four or five takes where they would improve and volley things back and forth. It evolved into something really special.”
Moore and his Sisters stars fully realize that no matter how well the comedy does, their total will be what comes after the first and maybe second comma in the Star Wars gross tally. They are taking it in good spirit—even filming a Star Wars spoof as part of the promotion campaign—and they realize that brisk holiday box office and being the counter programming alternative should help the film no matter how well the space revival does.
“It will break all the records and go down in cinema history, and we’ll go down as the little movie that went against it,” Moore said. “It’s something we came to terms with and expecting to compete against that is almost silly. Ours is the movie that takes place on Planet Earth, and the one without a giant whale. Truthfully, people are excited to go to the movies during the holidays and I always see four or five things. That’s what we are counting on and the spoof was our acknowledgment that we know this is happening and sure it’s crazy, but we’re honored to be part of the conversation.”
Moore is repped by WME and LBI Entertainment. Here is their Star Wars spoof, called Sisters–The Farce Awakens: