Everyone warned Elizabeth Banks against filming the outdoor concert finale for “Pitch Perfect 2.” It was June in Baton Rouge, La. It was scorching hot, it was hurricane season, and they would have to build a full, functioning stage and recruit a small town of extras to make it believable.
But Banks knew what she wanted.
“I kept saying, ‘I don’t care, it’s going to look cool, we’ve got to do it.’” said the actress, producer, and now, feature director.
It took nearly a month to build the Glastonbury Festival-inspired stage. As for the extras, the production sent out an open invitation casting call to fans of “Pitch Perfect.”
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More than 3,000 people showed up.
The massive undertaking required four all-night shoots, multiple cameras, elaborate performances and a tolerance for mysterious bug bites. Banks even took responsibility for the crowd’s waning energy.
“At one point, she went out on stage and started whipping them into a frenzy,” said Banks’ husband and producing partner, Max Handelman. But the crowd really lost it when she brought a few Bellas out, too.
“It was her connecting the fans with the girls and letting everyone know that this was a big deal,” said Handelman.
Universal Pictures’ modest 2012 comedy about a college a capella group (the Bellas) racked up $113 million worldwide.
As plans for a sequel started to take shape, though, the first film’s director, Jason Moore, signed on to the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters.”
Banks, known for roles in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The Hunger Games,” had been thinking about directing for some time. She directed plays at the University of Pennsylvania, and had been taking on small projects over the past few years to learn as much as she could.
“Right as I was raising my hand to do it, the studio said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’” she said.
The Bellas, this time, are trying to claw their way back to the top after a high-profile embarrassment.
“I certainly did not plan for my feature directorial debut to be a giant musical,” she laughed. But she dove in and endeavored to make everything – costumes, performances and stakes – bigger.
“I feel that I have more to offer this business and that I was being underused,” Banks said of directing and producing. “I knew it would probably change my life. I also knew that I had to say yes. Women just don’t get offered these opportunities.”
For the over four-month shoot, Banks relocated to Baton Rouge with her husband and two sons and “lived like a monk.” She put in her 12-hours on set, spent as much time with her children as possible, and slept.
“I’m a wonderful multitasker … as are most moms that I know. That helps,” she said.