Q & A with Writer-Director Michael Patrick King

Writer-Director Michael Patrick King

Writer-Director Michael Patrick King

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with leading filmmakers Martin Grove talks to writer-director Michael Patrick King about “Sex and the City 2,” opening May 27, a New Line Cinema presentation in association with Home Box Office and Village Roadshow Pictures, released by Warner Bros.

Written and directed by Michael Patrick King,“Sex and the City 2,” stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, with John Corbett and Chris Noth and with David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Willie Garson and Mario Cantone. King also produced the film with Sarah Jessica Parker, Darren Star and John Melfi. It was executive produced by Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener and Marcus Viscidi and is based on the TV series created by Darren Star, based on characters from the book by Candace Bushnell.

The Story (official version - no spoilers): The fun, the friendship, the fashion — “Sex and the City 2” brings it all back and more as Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) take another bite out of The Big Apple and beyond, carrying on with their busy lives and loves in a sequel that truly sparkles.

What happens after you say “I do?” Life is everything the ladies ever wished it to be, but it wouldn’t be “Sex and the City” if life didn’t hold a few more surprises — this time in the form of a glamorous, sun-drenched adventure that whisks the women away from New York to one of the most luxurious, exotic and vivid places on earth, where there’s something mysterious around every corner. It’s an escape that comes exactly at the right moment for the four friends, who are finding themselves in — and fighting against — the traditional roles of marriage, motherhood and more.

Michael Patrick King has received accolades for his work as a writer, director and executive producer. For the hit HBO series “Sex and the City,” King was honored by the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and received three Golden Globe awards for Best Comedy Series and two Emmy Awards, including Best Comedy Series and Best Director.

King wrote, produced and directed the hit feature adaptation of “Sex and the City,” which grossed over $415 million worldwide after opening in May 2008. He began his television career in network TV as a writer and producer on “Will & Grace” and on “Murphy Brown,” which brought him his first Emmy nomination.

In 2005 King created “The Comeback” with Lisa Kudrow, who also starred in the HBO series. He served as executive producer, writer and director and received an Emmy nomination for directing.

Before arriving in Hollywood, King spent many years in New York City, developing his skills in the theater as a playwright and in comedy clubs as a standup comedian.

Q: I can’t believe it’s two years since we spoke about your having just made the first “Sex and the City” movie, which was your first feature as a director. Now you have a $400 million-plus grossing film behind you ($152.6 million domestically and $262.6 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $415.3 million). Was it different making your second film?
A: It was completely different in that it was designed to be different. I only have one rule having written “Sex and the City” for lo these many years and that is — “Never repeat.” So I wanted the movie to be different. The movie was completely different in that it became a gigantic different type of movie to make. The first movie was set in New York and it was kind of an emotional landscape for Carrie Bradshaw. The ups and the downs were all in her storyline, in her emotions with getting jilted at the altar.

This movie is up and down and all around the world. I knew that it was an economic downturn when I sat down to write the script. So I thought, “I’m not a banker. I can’t balance your books or fix Wall Street. But what did moviemakers do in the other Big Depression?” They made big movies and escapist comedies. And I thought, “Maybe that’s the way to go.”

So I had this homage to the movies of the ’30s and in the whole beginning of the movie (Stanford and Anthony’s wildly elaborate wedding reception) just from a technical point I got to direct a movie that felt like an MGM musical with big glittery sets indoors and musical numbers with Liza Minnelli. And in the second half of the movie I learned a whole different other type of filmmaking, which is more the road picture or the epic sort of David Lean feel. So for me, it was a gigantically different movie.

And the fact that it was the sequel to a blockbuster opened the door for it to be bigger. I was able to do everything that I wrote, which is a rare gift for a writer — to imagine something and then actually be allowed to do it as big as you imagined it.
Q: When you were writing, were you thinking, “I’m going to write this scene I’ve always wanted to do — to go to the Moroccan desert?”
A: When I sat down to write it, I just wanted it to be a continuation of the party I saw in the audiences when I would see people seeing the first movie. I saw women were dressing up, having cocktails before and after and taking pictures of themselves. It felt like this big party and I thought, “I want the vibe of this movie to be fun and a party.”

And then I started to think about a road picture because I went around the world with the first movie. We opened in London and in Berlin and we were in Paris and Tokyo. And all of a sudden, I started seeing that in every city I went to these four characters — Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte — had girlfriends waiting for them and that it was actually bigger than just one city. They were coming to see their girlfriends. I think that put the word global in my head. And then I started thinking, “Where is the cutting edge travel destination?” At that time, everybody was buzzing about Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I settled on Abu Dhabi because it was more exotic and more unknown and, also, there (was) no financial trouble there that we’re seeing in other places. So then I started thinking, “Oh, wow, how exotic and far away.”

Once you open the door to that sort of crazy thought process of modern city but with all those ancient ideas like flowing veils and sand and camels, it just seemed funny to me to put Samantha in the Middle East. It seemed kind of Bob Hope & Bing Crosby to put them all on camels. Hopefully, it’s a big old fashioned Hollywood movie, but with a contemporary edge.
Michael Patrick King with “Sex and the City 2” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis (Left to Right)

Michael Patrick King with “Sex and the City 2” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis (Left to Right)

Q: You have a wonderful scene where Charlotte is on a camel and suddenly discovers that her cell phone is working in the middle of the desert.
A: That’s just joke writing because up until that moment she can’t get it to work. And then they’re in the middle of nowhere and her cell phone works. And Carrie says, “Who’s your long distance provider?“ You know, it’s just constantly trying to bring ancient times and modern times together and really the theme of the entire movie for me is tradition and how even today these modern women characters are struggling with traditional labels like “wife” or “mother” and the struggles that even today people all around the world have with those titles.
Q: Now you actually shot in Morocco.
A: We were in Morocco for eight amazing weeks. It was thrilling. I kind of fell in love with those particular dunes. Those are the dunes where they actually filmed “Lawrence of Arabia.” They’re spectacular. We benefited greatly from the history of filmmaking in Morocco. We had a lot of movie to film. Half of the movie takes place outside of New York on location. Half.

So we needed when we landed to be ready to go. Four female characters. Four storylines. That’s a lot of pages, a lot of dialogue. Morocco was ready to go. They were amazing. We had a Moroccan crew and we had South African grips and we had British set dressers and we had French hair people. We had a great time and we really benefited from the fact that they know how to make movies.
Q: Was that the reason for filming in Morocco vs. shooting in Abu Dhabi, itself?
A: It’s a lot of location stuff and a lot of, “What’s going to be the easiest and the less pull against getting your movie done location-wise?” We could find everything we needed in Morocco plus it’s a film place and they understand creativity. It just seemed to be easier. Warner Bros. likes the idea of Morocco, so there we went. And I got everything I needed over there, too, which was great. We even re-dressed Morocco to look more Middle Eastern. But it really was gorgeous. I had the spectacular vistas I needed. We were able to spend eight weeks together working hard but getting this kind of spectacular effort on film.
Q: How was it working with the same core group after all the years on the TV show and then on the first movie? There much be a huge comfort level.
A: It’s a huge calming and grounding thing to be working with John Melfi, the producer, again; Patricia Field, the costume designer; the production designer, Jeremy Conway; and my DP John Thomas. Not to mention Sarah Jessica as a producer and as an actress and all the other actors. There’s such a level of what we’ve already done that we have to keep pushing ourselves to go further. Everyone’s very skilled. It’s all very impractical. Everybody that works on the movie is in a good way the best at how they do “Sex and the City.”

And then on top of all those regulars, I always like to keep an influx of fresh talent. Like I had new cameramen. I had a new property master. Because there’s creativity that comes into this that’s in addition to ours so it never gets stagnant. There’s always a new idea from somebody new. So as much as we have amazing comfort and dependability of knowing you’re working with people that will do a good job, it’s also exciting and important to have new artists come in because it keeps it all moving forward rather than being frozen in time. It’s always evolving.
Q: Do you rehearse with your actors?
A: Actually, no. Somebody said to me, “How long did it take you to rehearse a scene?” and I said, “Twelve years.” I hear the table read. If it works, I let it alone. And if it doesn’t work, I figure it’s me. I figure it’s the writing if it doesn’t work because they do everything full out and they know their characters. So I usually change what I feel doesn’t quite work. Or if I add something after the table, that’s for the story. But when we actually get on the set I listen to it. It’s always kind of right for them and they’re always surprising me with what they’re doing, but it’s exactly what I in my abstract head imagine. I’m not one of those writers who mouths lines or hears things in a literal sense as much as a figurative sense. So they’re always amazing me.

And there’s blocking, of course. You have to block. You have four ladies in one scene. There’s only so much daylight and camera angles that you can do. So it’s mostly blocking and I watch and see if it’s working. And when I need to give a note, I give a note and it’s exciting or they’ll ask me a question, but it’s really not ever about telling the girls their motivation or telling them they’re not doing a line right ever. It’s like, “Hey, will you try it this way or stress this idea — not even this word.“ But it’s a real treat because we respect each other. When I hand them the script, they respect that I sort of did the best I could and I know they’re going to do the best they can.
Q: Do you shoot a lot of takes?
A: We actually don’t shoot a lot of takes, but it’s a lot of coverage. This movie has a lot of film shots because not only are they sitting around a table talking in some scenes, they’re also riding camels across the desert. They’re also arriving in four white Maybachs. There’s a lot of big, big, big filmmaking. And then when you do those dialogue scenes it’s not ever about shooting a lot of takes because of performance as much as it is coverage. You want to have the options when you get in the editing room. And my editor, Michael Berenbaum, said, “This is a lot of film, but we’re using it all.” That’s what I feel happy about — everything we used is pretty much on the screen. I think that’s kind of a testament to everybody’s work. It’s not just this waste of film. It’s being used.
Q: As you look back at production, what were some of your biggest challenges?
A: We were in Africa for eight weeks and I did what I call my writing scout to Abu Dhabi for the details. Everything that happens specifically from the writing point of view is things I experienced there, the customs I learned, the smells, the colors, the opulence I saw. But everything in that part of the world like the souq — the marketplace — and the dunes are 45 minutes away from each other.

When we got to Morocco, we needed a beach scene and sent John Melfi and my DP and art director in one of those six seater jets like “Indiana Jones” jets from World War II looking for locations. I thought, “Wow, I guess I’m now a moviemaker. We’re flying to find the right beach. We’re flying to find the right dune.”

I mean, we all got on a plane and flew from Marrakech because of those dunes. Every morning in the dark we would get up and drive across the desert — there weren’t even any roads — as the sun was coming up to start our day. So it had this great adventure quality to it. I guess production was difficult, but wow it certainly paid off! All the big machinery aspect of it was new to me and a little bit daunting — the airplanes, the trucks, the jeeps to get to the actual moment.
Q: How about the camels? Were they easy to work with?
A: The camels were the only divas on this movie. And it bit me in the ass literally because I said, “I don’t want no shaggy, mangy camels. I need show camels.” So we imported four blonde camels from Egypt. And let me tell you, they had an attitude — like “it’s about us right now.” Sarah Jessica and Kim were on the same camel and their camel had this incredibly bizarre behavior where it would just suddenly sit down. You know, when a camel sits down it goes knee first — and they would scream! The funny thing is, the camel never sat down when we were rolling. So it was really just an attitude.
Michael Patrick King with “Sex and the City 2” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis(Left to Right)

“Sex and the City 2” stars Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, and Kristin Davis (Left to Right)

Q: How soon after the first film came out did you know you were going to make this sequel?
A: I remember there really weren’t any tricks up my sleeve. We weren’t holding any cards. When we went to the theaters with that first movie there was nothing on deck in terms of the idea of doing a sequel. We were just hoping everybody would see we were able to turn the television series into a movie. And then when the women’s support became boxoffice and the boxoffice became a big surprise and a big deal, people started talking about, “You’ve got to do it again because that’s what Hollywood does.” After that I was just waiting to see if I could come up with another story that would be different enough and exciting enough to justify trying to step out again into the summer movie arena.

I would say months, certainly not weeks, (went by before the idea for the sequel came to mind). An idea dawns on you and then how fast you get it done is (something that remains to be seen). It wasn’t fast enough that we were out the next summer. And I’m glad we weren’t because I think it’s really nice (for the audience) to have missed them for a summer so when you get to see them again there’s more curiosity involved.
Q: How do you feel about doing a third one?
A: All I can say is, through the press junket it seems to be the thing that everybody’s asking. So it’s really nice that people are saying either, “You have to do another one” or, “Of course, you’ll do another one.” But, of course, “Sex and the City” is really kind of a bizarre franchise in that we do it all without any thought of what’s coming next. We never thought we’d be a movie and then we never thought we’d be a sequel. I know there’s nothing in the works. It’s once again, “Hope you like it because this is all we have right now.”

To read my Grove’s Goldmine column with Michael Patrick King from May 2008 when the first “Sex and the City” feature opened click on this link: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3ied2fbcd4ab52837321f549908bcd271f?src=achallenge