Workspace 101: Director Paul Feig Shows Us His Impeccable LA Office
"I keep all my booze out in the open. I don’t need to hide it yet."
This Is Workspace 101, a series in which InsideHook goes into the studios, offices, garages and laboratories of the most creative people we know to understand just how much the space in which they work impacts the work itself.
For this installment, InsideHook speaks to film director and international dandy of great renown Paul Feig about just one of his places of work: his personal office at the headquarters of his production company FeigCo in Los Angeles. With Paul’s new rom-com Last Christmas, which stars Emilia Clark and Henry Golding, just out in theaters, we stopped by to talk about movie-star meetings, motivational desk totems and why he doesn’t mind working in a fishbowl.
You have a few different offices and places where you do your work. What’s the LA office for?
My office in Burbank which is where my company is based, so I do work there, writing at the desk, lots of meetings, meetings with writers I have projects with and new people and actors who I want to meet. And then we have conferences in my conference room and all the rest of my staff have got offices in there. I like it because we got to design it when we moved in seven years ago. I did it all glass walled and everybody said “you don’t want to work in a fish bowl, do you?” and I was like, “No, I do want to work in a fishbowl because if I’m in a closed room I could easily fall asleep if I wanted to.” I like having all that transparency all seeing each other and knowing what’s going on. Not a police state, just…
What do you do if you need privacy?
I usually go to New York and hole up there when I have to actually finish or write a whole script. The last two and a half weeks I was in there all day every day writing and at the end of the night I treat myself to dinner and go out and hear music or whatever. It’s harder to get concentrated writing done in my office because there’s constant stuff going on and meetings and people coming in and phone calls coming and all that so I really need that kind of escape.
Most of the decor in the office is modern but your chair looks like an antique.
Not antique but that’s an old chair from Wicks Furniture, the old furniture store. It’s one of those old lawyer’s chairs. I like that style of the tufted burgundy leather and the dark wood. And I find it really comfortable. And I like being surrounded by modern stuff but letting my cockpit be more traditional. It’s the same kind of bars that I enjoy: I like red leather and dark wood kind of places like the Smokehouse. It reminds me of a time when we weren’t so casual and things were a little more dressy and formal and classy for lack of a better term.
Who do you have photographs of on your desk?
I’ve got pictures of my wife and I, I’ve got a picture of one of my old dogs, Linus, who’s no longer with us, and then weirdly I have a picture of myself and Rebel Wilson on my desk. Years ago we used to go to Soho House all the time and they have a photo booth and we took a picture and the picture’s just always been on my desk. Not even in a frame. So not a ton of pictures on my desk but meaningful ones. The ones of my wife and I are at least 15 years old, so we look wonderful.
What are some knick-knacks that you keep on your desk?
Lots of stuff. I’ve got a Buddha and a Ganesh. I’m not religious at all, but I like the iconography. There’s something very calming about it to me. I also have a candle because I like to have a candle burning when I can to make the room smell nice. I have things that people have given me, like my old producing partner Jesse Henderson gave me this sign that says Chief Executive Gentleman. I’ve got a couple of awards that are really special to me: one is the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award that we won for Ghostbusters as best film of the year. I’d taken so much shit for two years over that movie from all the middle-aged guys who were pissed that I did it saying “thanks for ruining my childhood.” So to have this symbol of “well, maybe a ruined your childhood but apparently I helped out some other kids’ childhoods by giving them a movie that they liked,” I’m very proud of that. And then there’s one award that I just got recently from the National Alliance of Theater Owners — the other NATO — the Spirit of the Industry Award. It’s from all the exhibitors who own all the movie theaters because of all the work I do trying to get people into movie theaters. And it’s a beautiful looking trophy. Also a jar of almonds because I always need to have protein. My protein crash is not good for anybody.
Then I have a bust of Shakespeare on my desk. In my office I always have two things: a bust of Shakespeare and a model of the Titanic. The model of the Titanic is to remind myself and everybody I work with that no matter how good everything seems it can all go down in one second so we’ve got to be vigilant. And then Shakespeare is to remind myself and all the writers I work with when we get inflexible about our writing that none of us is Shakespeare so we can all make whatever we’ve written better.
And I’ve also got this little faux scrimshaw paperweight. I was really struggling when I was back in my 20’s. I was an actor and I felt like I wasn’t getting the opportunities or the breaks that I wanted and I was waiting for things to happen. Then I was at this old store on Ventura Boulevard called Portrait of a Bookstore. They had all these kind of Old English knick knacks and they had this fake scrimshaw thing of a ship and then the words on it said “Don’t wait for your ship to come in; swim out to it.” And for some reason that just hit me in the exact right time in my life and I thought “That’s it, I have to be more active I have to create opportunities, I have to do it for myself.” So I bought that and I’ve always had that with me. And as trite as that sounds I think that I owe more of the good things that have happened in my life to that little weird phrase that hit me at the right time of my life.
Is there anything hidden inside your standing globe?
No! It definitely is a bar cart, but I keep all my booze out in the open. I don’t need to hide it yet. But I love that thing. I found it at a Discovery Shop, which is a second-hand store where they raise money for cancer research. It was right when we had taken over the offices and I was thinking “Oh my god, I’ve got to have something so old school like that in this modern office.” It’s all a nod to that old gentleman’s thing of having a Scotch at work, and the three martini lunch. I love all that because for me that’s when things were a little more classy and a little less casual and pared down as they are now.
It’s funny that so many men were upset with you for wounding their traditional masculinity when you’re personally quite old school in your tastes.
Yeah, I’m the most feminized old-school gentleman. I don’t like what those old days stood for as far as the treatment of women and all that, but I like all the trappings of it and the look of it. There’s nothing I love more than seeing pictures of a cocktail party in somebody’s small apartment in New York where everyone’s jammed on a couch wearing tuxedos and formalwear having drinks. There was a protocol and a code of “This is how you entertain when you’re an adult.” And that’s been my obsession since I was a kid. I never liked being a kid, I sort of suffered through it, because I couldn’t wait to be an adult. Everything I liked and watched and saw was about adults having fun times and having drinks and doing all this cool stuff in cool nightclubs. And as a kid you were never allowed to have any of that so I remember thinking when I finally get to be that age I’m going to do all that stuff that I’ve watched in movies and tv for so long, including dressing up and going to nice places and having cool stuff around with a nice aesthetic, not just having crap around that’s functional but it doesn’t look good.
What do you serve your guests from your office bar and what’s your preferred work drink?
I serve my guests whatever they want. I don’t do a lot of mixology there because I’m not really set up for it. We have a kitchen but there’s something not glamorous about disappearing into the kitchen to mix a drink and then coming back. So that’s why my bar is covered mostly with Scotch. We have fixings for martinis and everything in the kitchen but again, it doesn’t happen a lot. I do the Duke’s martini where you freeze everything so technically if we bring the bottles into the office I can mix drinks in there. We’ve done that with the staff. Just to keep it civilized.
What is the giant 20-Pound note crumpled up behind your desk?
That’s an artist named Paul Russo. We’ve actually got a couple of things of his. In our lobby we’ve got an old Wonder Woman comic book cover that’s crinkled up. He specializes in common objects that he sculpts big and then finds a way to bend them and crush them. The 20 pound note spoke to me. I’m a big anglophile and I do a lot of work in London and my mother’s side of the family is British and I’m a big fan of the Royal Family so I liked the idea of having a 20 Pound note and the Queen and I also liked the color scheme — there’s a lot of purple, which is my favorite color. So it just seemed like the perfect piece for that wall when I found it.
What about the rest of the artwork on your walls?
All those paintings on the opposite wall are by Danny Galiote – I’m a big collector of Danny’s paintings. I own about eight of them. He’s a local Burbank artist but he’s very well respected in the art community. Two of those paintings of people listening to each other through the walls I had in my old New York apartment but we bought a new apartment that didn’t have a lot of wall space so I put them up in my office. And then the one in the middle which Danny also painted is the first painting of his I ever bought and when we were trying to figure out what the logo for the company was going to be I remember looking at that and thinking “that should be our logo.” So I got in touch with Danny and said “Can I use this as the logo for the company?” And he was really excited about it and now we’ve animated it for the beginning of my movies and the clippers stab and the leaf falls down.
What’s the saddest thing that ever happened in that office?
The saddest thing that ever happened in my office was that I’d wanted to meet James Gandolfini from The Sopranos forever. And I finally got this general meeting with him and he came in and he was so lovely and we’ve got those modern chairs around that glass table in my office and he was sitting in this weird modern chair kind of hunched in there because he was a big guy. We just had such a lovely hour of talking about comedy and art and acting and all that and ended it with “Oh my god we’ve got to do something together.” And I think it was less than a week later he died. And I remember that thing of “somebody was just sitting here, and we had such a nice time and they were physically in this room and now they’re gone.” And I’ve never quite gotten over that shock.
And the most fun thing?
When I met Jason Statham for the first time. A nice thing about the job that I’m in and the level that I’m at is that if I want to meet somebody that I admire to see if there’s something we can do together I can. I’ve been a Jason Statham fan forever. My wife and I have just been obsessed with him. And I’d said I’d like to meet Jason and someone told me “He’s in town, he can come to your office.” I was terrified because I only know him from his movies so I thought he might be really scary and tough and anything I say he might think I’m an idiot. He might punch me! He’s Jason Statham. I was very nervously waiting for him to show up and my assistant came in and said “Jason’s in the lobby.” So I thought “Play it cool, be ready for anything.” So I walk out and he’s reading a magazine looking Statham-y, all tough and everything. And I say “Jason, I’m Paul,” and his face turns into this big smile and he’s like “Hey, Paul! It’s so nice to meet you!” And it turns out he’s the nicest guy and he came into my office and we had a meeting in those same chairs and out of that came the movie Spy. Because I was like “I want to put you in something.” So I wrote the part for him and sent it to him.
What do you like most about your office?
I’m very hung up on light and windows and views and open spaces. Even when I’m editing movies we have to find an edit bay that has a window because I just can’t sit in a windowless room. I’m not even claustrophobic, I just get depressed. I need a lot of light and brightness. So my office, one side of it is all windows overlooking the valley. It’s a big, nice view. And on the other side I’ve got this window that looks out on our company and the conference room. That’s the only time it’s kind of weird; you can’t really hide in your office if they’re having a meeting because everyone sees you at your desk in the conference room.
Do you keep any clothes in your office? Folded shirts in the drawers, lint brushes?
I’ve got grooming things in the drawer, lint brushes, and that kind of thing. But I don’t keep any clothes there because the downside of the glass thing is that I can’t change in my office. A couple of times I’ve had some bespoke fittings there and it’s very weird, because everybody’s just walking past you watching me get fitted for a suit.
They probably think that’s a power move.
Yes, exactly. Luckily I don’t have to drop trou.
Related: Author and Critic Daniel Mendelsohn on the Art of a Clean Office
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