Shotgun Wedding Director Jason Moore On Ziplines, Jennifer Coolidge, And More [Exclusive Interview]
  • Jan. 17, 2023 4:00 pm EST

Looking for a romantic comedy with pirates, grenades, and pineapple-themed centerpieces? If so, then "Shotgun Wedding," starring Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel, will be right up your alley. The film starts with a destination wedding in the Philippines full of the usual pre-martial shenanigans (including an ex-boyfriend, played by Lenny Kravitz no less, showing up unexpectedly), but takes a turn when pirates show up looking to hold people for ransom.

The film is clearly a mashup, something that attracted director Jason Moore ("Pitch Perfect") to the project. "Finding that balance and finding that tone felt like a fun challenge," he told me in an interview leading up to the movie's premiere on Prime Video.

Moore's fun challenge had him strapped into zipline towers and figuring out elaborate action sequences, two things you don't typically find in rom-com fare. I talked with him about those challenges, working with actors like Jennifer Coolidge and Cheech Marin, and how his Broadway experience prepared him for making this movie.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'If they're not hanging right on it, they look crazy'

I know the film was pitched as "Die Hard" at a destination wedding, which I think is apt. When you were approached for this project, which part intrigued you more? The "Die Hard" aspect of it, or the destination wedding aspect of it?

I think the "Die Hard" reference is — what was great about "Die Hard" is that it was action-y, but it was also funny. Bruce Willis was funny in that movie, and there was a bit of a romance in it. So I think people bring up that movie because I think there have only been a few movies that really fuse all those things together.

Even on the page in the original draft of "Shotgun Wedding," there was great action and there was great comedy, and there was romance. Finding that balance and finding that tone felt like a fun challenge, but if we can get all of those things right, it will feel kind of different. It's not really just a rom-com nor is it just an action movie. I think it has both. So the answer to your question really is kind of both. All those elements really made me intrigued and think it would be a fun challenge.

I believe this was your first time doing action sequences. Are there any parallels or things you took from doing the music montages in "Pitch Perfect" for those big action stunts?

Yeah, that was kind of my way in. I come from Broadway musicals and in "Pitch Perfect," you can see that choreography is a lot like action. It has to be rehearsed, it has to be carefully planned so no one bumps into each other. It has to build, it has to have rhythm, and good choreography has story in it, and so does action. So when I would get nervous thinking about, "What do I do about some of the action in "Shotgun Wedding," I started thinking about what would be funny next, or what would be a funny complication, or how do we take this up a notch, how do we make it louder? And that is more thinking like a musical.

When I would just think about that, I could sketch out ideas about how things could move. Then I had the ultimate stunt coordinator, a guy called Lee Morrison who does all the "James Bond" movies. So he knew how to translate those ideas and make them better, and also then do it safely.

That's really interesting how the complexities of choreographing carries over.

Choreography, like action, has to be exactly the same every time. Every moment is planned. And that's not true about acting, it's not even true about singing, but for choreography and for action, it is. Because obviously action is very dangerous. And you want to get it physically in the right place, so you really have to rehearse and make sure it's going to happen the way you want it.

I imagine one way it is different, though, is that you as a director behind the camera are probably in different environments or situations. What was that like for you to filming positions that might have been different than what you've done before?

I had a blast, and I love being in those unusual locations because you're still trying to get the character and the comedy, and you can use those locations to do it. The people in the pool move differently in a pool. And with the zipline, if they're not hanging right on it, they look crazy. So I had a blast. The only thing I was unhappy about is I never got to go on the zipline.

Oh, no! Well, you just have to go back.

Yeah, I couldn't go there because the insurance for the movie wouldn't let me.

Oh yeah, I can see that.

But I'm determined to go back to the Dominican Republic and get on one.

'I think that's where the audience understands, 'Oh, I see how this tone starts to work together.''

When you did the zipline scene, where were you shooting? Were you on the ground for the most part?

No, we found a zipline in the Dominican Republic that had nine stations and they stayed up on the mountain, which meant that there was a platform, they would zoom to another platform. So often, we'd be on the lower platform, but the ground would be much lower than we were. So we were often safety tied in. There were a couple things that we cheated where we got on the ground so that the actors could look like they were high up, but it wasn't dangerous for them. So we were all over the place. And then sometimes there were drones — of course I wasn't in the drone, but sometimes the drones also got the shot. But we were in hiking boots on the side of a mountain, chained in. It was only scary the first time. Once I got used to it I was like, "Oh, this is fun."

Nice. That's a little different from your average rom-com for sure. In that vein, the movie is a mashup, but there is a point — without getting into spoilers — where the film transitions seamlessly from pure rom-com into something else. How did you approach that transition?

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do that. We knew that we would probably get people all on board at that moment or lose a lot of people. And what's fun about this movie is that they go through all these big action things, but they're not CIA agents or superheroes. They're ordinary people. So we really just asked, "What would an ordinary person do in this extraordinary circumstance?"

And quite a bit of that scene actually was improv between [Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Lopez]. In that particular scene, it's just the two of them and there's cameras rolling and it never cuts, so I also think it feels like it's a real-time processing of what's just happened, because we knew that we had to acknowledge it.

But I think we acknowledged it in a funny way. And I also think that at that moment you're calling it a transition because it is. I think that's where the audience understands, "Oh, I see how this tone starts to work together." And then it plays out a lot more of that kind of tone in the rest of the movie.

'I adore him, and it also felt like a little bit of a surprise for the audience'

The supporting cast is also great. And there are some interesting faces. I didn't look at the casting sheet before I watched it and I was like, "Is that Cheech?" And obviously Lenny Kravitz and Jennifer Coolidge, etc. I'd love to hear how did you get Cheech Marin involved in a movie like this? Because it's sort of outside of his usual work, let's say.

We were casting Jennifer's parents and we wanted it to be a Latin family. And so we were looking at comedians that fit that role. And then I went back and watched a TV series Cheech did, and he did small guest star arcs on some dramas where the acting is really fine and has nothing to do with comedy at all. And then I watched a lot of interviews — he opened this gigantic Chicano art collection that's now in a museum in Los Angeles. And I watched him do the interviews for that. And I just was like, "This guy is certainly known for comedy, but he's a good, fun, joyful man."

We were also worried in Covid like, "Are people going to want to fly down here, people of a certain age, and be on set? Doesn't everyone kind of want to stay home right now?" And when I talked to him, he was like, "Get me out of the house. I want to go have some fun." And he did, and he was a fun ringleader. I adore him, and it also felt like a little bit of a surprise for the audience. Like, "Oh wow, I haven't seen him for a minute." But everyone knows who he is.

And then Jennifer Coolidge, of course, who's a comedy legend. And she embodies her character in a way no one else could. Did that role change once you cast her, just given unique approach to things?

I think she would say this herself: She has a kind of comedic rhythm that's a little off-balance, and she's doing that on purpose. She knows how to keep things off-balance, because comedy is about surprise. So she knows how to surprise people and she sets them up to be surprised.

But we did talk about it. I was like, "This particular character you're playing probably talks faster than any of the characters I've ever seen you play before, because she's the mother-in-law. She likes to be the center of attention. She likes to make toasts, host events. She's a good speaker, she's a realtor, so she knows how to sell things." And she really took that to heart and we didn't really rewrite the script much for her. That character stayed the same. Then what she brought to it is that in certain moments, she would throw her zingers in and work her magic of keeping people off guard. So it was a very focused, intentional performance to capture the things that we love about her. But I think it feels different than some of her other performances.

'I burst out laughing and we had to remove the sound'

I know you mentioned earlier that there was some ad-libbing involved with that transition scene. How much ad-libbing took place, especially with Josh and Jennifer, and is there any particular ad-lib that sticks out for you as being particularly funny, whether or not it made it into the final cut?

That transition scene was one of the big ones that Jennifer and Josh did, and we let it run for a long time. So I think he says, "It feels like I need to take a s***," or something. I think I burst out laughing and we had to remove the sound, so that was fun to watch them figure things out. Most of their stuff in the movie is pretty scripted, because they're usually trying to solve something or they're in an urgent situation. So they did improv some, but that's the scene I really think a lot about. 

And then Jennifer Coolidge, I would say not all of her lines are improv, but because she would do it scripted, but then she always came up with something better. I think one of my favorite things is when the pirates are roll calling the group and they're trying to hide and Jennifer's dad is trying not to be located, and she's like, "Hey Robert, they're calling you."

Again, we had a lot of moments where I had to really say, "You guys, you cannot laugh. Everybody is in this shot. You're super close together — you can't smile at Jennifer Coolidge." Which was a hard thing to ask.

That's hard. Yeah. I don't think I could do it.

And then I think Jennifer decided, "I'm going to try and make all these people laugh." And she did.

"Shotgun Wedding" premieres on Prime Video on January 27, 2023.