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BLOCKERS

About The Production
Get the Party Started: Production Begins

As an Emmy Award-nominated writer and producer on NBC's beloved series 30 Rock, Cannon has long held a reputation in Hollywood for masterfully crafting female characters in stories that are equal parts comedy and pathos. The architect of the groundbreaking Pitch Perfect series has proved that comedies about strong, dynamic women could pull huge audiences of female fans at the box office.

When looking to add more dimension to the female characters and storyline in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, longtime production partners Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver immediately turned to Cannon.

"We're a bunch of guys and the movie was about a sorority, so we knew we needed female input," explains Goldberg. "We had a roundtable read with several women in the industry, and Kay's ideas absolutely blew our minds."

When developing Blockers, the team of producers felt it was paramount to again seek a female perspective. Goldberg shares: "The original version of this script was about three dads, and one of the biggest changes we made was to create a female character-so it was a mother and two fathers-and we were convinced that should be at the film's core. That change also made us realize that instead of someone like us, we needed a strong, female director like Kay Cannon to execute this project."

Weaver agreed that Cannon's specific voice and strong leadership would make her the perfect fit. "As a first-time director, there are a lot of eyes on you," he says. "Kay has this incredible amount of grit. She's absolutely relentless in her work and keeps going in the face of any challenge in front of her."

Cannon is not only the first woman to helm a movie at Point Grey Pictures-the production owned by Rogen, Goldberg and Weaver-she's the sixth woman in the history of film to direct a big R-rated studio comedy.

"I had been itching to direct for a long time," she confesses. "Women don't get an opportunity like this often and I was excited for the chance."

When making her directorial debut, it was also important to choose a film that would one day resonate with her daughter. "Even though my daughter's still young, I wanted to direct a film that she could eventually see herself in," Cannon says. "I was waiting for a story that shows young women in a way that hasn't been seen before."

While on her first vacation in six years, Cannon received the script for Blockers and couldn't put it down. "I promised my husband I wasn't going to work," she admits. "I was up until two in the morning reading this script on my phone and laughing. It was really, really funny."

The story also appealed to Cannon because it wasn't a typical 'high-school sex movie.' "It shows young women taking control of their own sexuality, and confronts the sexual double standard," she shares. "Right away, I wanted to do this."

For far too long, films have been made about young men's firsts. With Blockers, young women finally have a rollicking film about their own sexual experience that's equally relatable. The scene where the young women make the sex pact is a favorite for Cannon because it sounds like a conversation that could be overheard in any high school cafeteria. "They're silly; they're crass; they curse," she offers. "They talk about sex in ways that we haven't seen young women talk about it, at least not in high school."

Rogen is a master at capturing these ubiquitous high school moments in a relatable and funny way-he and Goldberg wrote the hit comedy Superbad based on their own experiences. "Blockers also delivers big, giant comedy pieces that leave you in hysterics," he says.

Every teenager knows what it's like to make a big decision, and Blockers shows how parents go through it twice: once for themselves and again through their children.

For Rogen the pact serves as the catalyst for this larger story. "All of the parents have an emotional problem they are working out through their kids. It's not about these young women having sex; it's about parents losing control," he explains. "Their daughters are leaving for college, and it manifests in these parents trying to stop them from growing up."

In a world in which the pressures to say goodbye to your youth are an omnipresent element, the film acknowledges how terrifying it can be for parents to watch their kids grow up. "You see the young women's perspective and also their parents, and how different generations view sexuality," says Goldberg. "It's both sides of the coin."

Known for balancing raunchiness with relatability, Rogen's films have characters who genuinely care about one another-and Blockers is no exception. "These parents are crazy, but they truly love their daughters and want to protect them," he says. "That unconditional love is the emotional core of this movie."

One character Cannon took particular care of was Sam, who joins the pact in part because it's what her friends are doing and she wants to share in the night. "When I was growing up, I didn't have examples of mainstream, studio movies showing girls in a real, interesting relationship," she says. "For the young women and girls who see this movie, it was important to show that it's normal to feel confused and that there can be a struggle."

Cannon hopes that this story that explores sexuality from several angles will prompt audiences of all ages to start a long-overdue conversation about sex, responsibility and respecting the choices of young women. She offers, "I didn't talk about sex growing up at all. It was abstinence and that's it. Maybe you wouldn't want to see this movie sitting next to your parents because there are a lot of dirty jokes, but my dream for this film is to get people laughing and then talking. I would love that."

Meet the Parents: Casting the Comedy

When casting the three parents in Blockers, Cannon and her producers sought actors who not only had the comedic chops to improv, but could add depth to the film through their performances. First, filmmakers turned to Leslie Mann to play Lisa, the emotional core of the film and friend group...and a mom who is trying to be cool while still parental. "Leslie has built an incredible body of supporting work over the 20 years, and this was the perfect vehicle to let her shine," says Weaver.

In a case of life imitating art, Mann was offered the role of the soon-to-be empty nester at the same time her own child was headed off to college. "I actually got the call to do the movie while I was dropping my eldest daughter off at school, so it was something that I felt really connected to," recalls Mann.

For Cannon, the timing could not have been more ideal. "Lisa and her relationship with Julie are the heart and soul of film," she explains. "Leslie had just lived through saying goodbye to daughter; it was very fresh and real for her."

The scenes with Kathryn Newton, her on-screen daughter, eased the real-life separation for Mann. "Thank God for Kathryn during that time," she relays. "She's the exact same age as my daughter, so being around her made it a little easier because she's so sweet and I got to hug her."

Although Lisa and Julie have a strong mother-daughter relationship, Lisa struggles with the idea of letting go. Her desire to keep things status quo goes to extremes when she thinks her daughter might get hurt.

The actress was thrilled to work alongside Cannon, who kept the set light and loose to inspire the actors to go off script. "Kay comes from improv, so she'd throw out ideas or change up the lines," Mann recalls. "It was a really fun experience."

For Cannon, the admiration was mutual. "Leslie is such a comedic talent," she says. "You can give her a B or B+ joke, and she easily turns it into an A with her natural delivery."

Working alongside co-stars Barinholtz and Cena made for more laughs on and off camera. "It was nonstop fun with both of them," Mann says. She dryly adds: "Plus, John gave me some pointers on how to do deadlifts."

To play divorced dad Hunter, producers tapped veteran comedic actor and screenwriter Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Sisters), who'd been eyeing the script for some time. "The story felt cool, relatable and incredibly funny, but it's also about something," he says. "I thought it was such a smart idea to make the lead a woman, and once I heard Kay was directing, I couldn't wait to get on board."

Cannon felt the role was tailor-made for Barinholtz. "Hunter is this hilarious character, but there's also this deeper emotional element to him," she reflects. "The role fit Ike like a glove."

Both veterans of the comedy circuit, Barinholtz and Cannon have been friends for decades. "Bill Clinton was president when I met her," Barinholtz laughs. "We've performed together in multiple countries. I completely trust Kay, and I appreciate that she has the faith to let me run wild."

As for his character, Barinholtz sees Hunter as lonely man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. "He's made a lot of mistakes and he's trying to right the ship, especially with his daughter, Sam," he explains. "He got scared after his divorce, and when he saw this great stepdad come into the picture, Hunter withdrew even more. Suddenly, he found himself totally boxed out of his daughter's life."

Hunter believes by giving Sam this amazing prom night, complete with a booze-loaded limo, he can start to repair the fractured relationship. "That's why he initially tries to stop Lisa and Mitchell from ruining their prom plans," he explains. "At first, he's the voice of reason, but a very stupid voice of reason. After he thinks Sam joined the pact because of peer pressure, he goes all in."

When it came time to cast straight-laced, overprotective Mitchell, the team sought out WWE entertainer John Cena, who demonstrated his scene-stealing comic chops in Trainwreck and Sisters, alongside Barinholtz.

"I was watching the ESPYS and John was hosting," recalls Cannon. "He has this natural comedic persona, and I knew he should be Mitchell."

Cena was eager to take on a larger comedic role. "I'm still new to all this, so I have tremendous faith in Kay and the cast," the actor says. "Leslie's ability to be vulnerable and stir up so much emotion is incredible, and Ike is a non-stop joke machine."

Though not a parent himself, Cena had no problem delving into dad mode. He shares: "I was drawn to this character because I see Mitchell as more of a coach, and I've had so many amazing coaches in my life. I feel like Mitchell has a playbook on dad-isms, 'This is when I give my daughter the pep talk, then...touchdown!'"

Cannon appreciated that Cena was game for anything. "He'd call me Coach on set. Anything I asked him to do, he would say, 'You got it, Coach,'" she says.

In addition to the movie's many funny moments, Cena appreciated the comedy's emotional pull. "All the gags and the physical humor are tied to pivotal moments in the story and move the characters forward," he explains. "The kids go on a journey, and so do the adults. My character needs to go on this hilarious ride as testament to his commitment to his daughter and so he can learn to be a better father."

The stunts were also fun for Cena to shoot. While on a mad dash for his daughter, some of the teens charge him in the hotel. "I literally Hulk out on all these guys, and they go flying. Throwing human bodies around is a specialty of mine," he says with a smile.

Another favorite was the car chase scene when Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter try a Fast and the Furious maneuverer to catch their daughters' limo. For Cena, filming the sequence was a particularly memorable time. "Mitchell's in the backseat, and Lisa spins the car so fast it lands on its front end," he explains. "To shoot it, Leslie, Ike and I were on this thing the stunt team calls a 'rotisserie.' They had us hang upside down and spun us around several times. It was awesome."

Leaders of The Pact: Casting the Young Women

To complement the seasoned comedic actors, filmmakers were looking for fresh voices and a natural chemistry when casting the three young women. "It needed to seem as if they'd known each other most of their lives," explains Cannon. "Fortunately, when the three actresses got together in that week of rehearsals, it felt like they'd been best friends forever."

"The young cast was awesome," Goldberg raves. "It was fun for Seth and me to watch because they were filled with this energy and excitement. It felt like being back on the set of Superbad, where you have all these young actors about the same age experiencing a big break."

When casting Lisa's sweet, strong daughter Julie, filmmakers immediately turned to Kathryn Newton, whose star is rapidly on the rise following her standout performances in Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. "She has this picture-perfect life and she's planned this perfect prom," says Newton of her character. "With her, it's Snapchat, Snapchat, selfie, selfie because she wants to make memories and capture the moment; she's very sentimental."

Newton was immediately drawn to the script because Julie is always in the driver's seat with her boyfriend Austin (GRAHAM PHILLIPS of television's The Good Wife), especially when it comes to decisions about sex. "She feels comfortable in her relationship and confident about taking this next step," the performer explains. "This young couple has an honest relationship with clear communication. It's all Julie's idea: She tells Austin she's ready, and he says he feels ready, too. It's funny because Austin is the perfect boyfriend, but Lisa just can't see that."

The actress also understood why Julie's friends would want in on the pact. "These three have done everything together, and they want this to be another shared experience and amazing story," explains Newton. "It's their last hurrah of high school, so why not go out with a bang?"

Producers felt newcomer Gideon Adlon, whose credits include television's When We Rise and American Crime, was the perfect fit to play Hunter's daughter, Sam, a cool-nerd coming to terms with her sexuality.

Ecstatic, yet nervous, to take on her first film role and comedic part, the actress leaned on Barinholtz, her on-screen dad, to help guide her performance. "Ike was very supportive of me," she says. "Between takes he'd give me feedback or encouragement. This is my first movie, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I wish I had more time with him."

Sam's deeper storyline also appealed to Adlon's more dramatic background of work, as well as her real-life experiences. "Sam has to deal with her absentee father just showing up on this important night," explains the actress. "It's funny, but she's also really hurt by it. She wants her dad back in her life, and I can relate to those complications."

On top of the complex relationship with her father, Sam is keeping her struggles with sexuality a secret. "It's causing a distance between Sam and her best friends. All three are very close, but she sees that Julie and Kayla sometimes have a tighter bond," says Adlon. "That's one of the reasons she joins the pact-so they can have this shared experience."

Even though she has her eye on someone else, Sam chooses her dorky, yet enduring friend Chad (JIMMY BELLINGER of television's The Middle) as her prom date. "I think Chad's a little in love with Sam, which makes him sweet," Adlon says. "He's also her beard. Sam can't truly be herself until she's able to tell her friends who she is."

To play Kayla-Mitchell's athletic, tomboy daughter-producers looked no further than Australian actress Geraldine Viswanathan, who jumped at the chance to work with Cannon. "I'm obsessed with Pitch Perfect, New Girl and 30 Rock," she says of Cannon's comedic portfolio. "I remember being on the plane thinking that I'm going to meet Kay Cannon-one of my idols. This is my first American role; I was pinching myself."

As a stand-up and member of Sydney sketch comedy group "Freudian Nip," Viswanathan was excited to see the seasoned actors improv on set. "I took in as much as I could, and I learned so much by watching their energy," she says.

Viswanathan also identified with Kayla's desire to finally cut loose on prom night. "She's led this very disciplined, scheduled life, and now that high school is ending, she's ready to close that chapter," the performer says. "For Kayla to lose her virginity is another way to break past these expectations and feel free."

Viswanathan sees Conner (MILES ROBBINS of television's Mozart in the Jungle), a kind-hearted stoner, as the perfect prom date for Kayla. "He has all the connections to facilitate a good time for her," she notes. "I also think they genuinely like each other, and it becomes more than just like wanting to have a crazy night."

Prom Planning Committee: Design and Costumes

Blockers was filmed during the spring of 2017 in and around Atlanta, Georgia. As the movie centers on prom night, a majority of the schedule included all-nighters on location, often in cold and rainy conditions. That didn't stop all involved from buckling down and weathering the storm together.

"Our multi-generational ensemble cast was a joy to work with every single day," lauds director of photography Russ Alsobrook. "Our brilliant director, Kay, brought inspiration, unbridled enthusiasm and extraordinary esprit d'corps to the production. She totally empowered the cast and crew to do their very best work during those long rainy nights in Georgia."

Production Design

Production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly was elated at the opportunity to join Cannon's team. "Kay is very open to collaborating and hearing different points of view, especially when it comes the feel of the film," says Tonner-Connolly. "I found her strong leadership and ability to continually come up with ideas inspiring."

Since Blockers is set in suburban Illinois, John Hughes' territory, Tonner-Connolly took a page from the famed filmmaker when creating the design. "I've always wanted to do a John Hughes movie, so I tried to push things in that direction, along the lines of Ferris Bueller's Day Off," he explains.

Tonner-Connolly and his team wanted the distinct aspects of the design to feel grounded in suburbia. He says: "We have three different households, and we wanted each one to feel unique and reflect the characters' personalities. At the same time, everything needed to feel cohesive-like they were pieces that fit into the same world."

Designing the layered looks of the young women's bedrooms was a highlight for Tonner-Connolly. "You truly get to know the characters by being able to see inside their spaces," he says. "We wanted their bedrooms to be an accumulation of the pieces they've kept over the past 17 or 18 years-to have keepsakes from their childhoods alongside what's important to them now as young adults."

The production designer paid special attention when staging Sam's room as an eclectic blend of interests. "We had all these elements from different phases we imagined this character going through-a gamer, a rocker, a fantasy fan," he says. "It's like she brought all these pieces into one space trying to figure out where she fits and what her identity is."

Tonner-Connolly applied the same grounded aesthetic when setting the grander scenes. "I wanted the prom to feel very realistic but with a slightly heightened sense of style," he says.

To achieve that authentic feel, he scoured recent prom photos from the Midwest suburbs. "We stayed within the color scheme of the high school so it would feel realistic, but added some bright and energetic elements," he says.

As the evening escalates, so do the sets, eventually culminating at the massive hotel after-party designed to feel like a dozen proms at once. The set pieces growing increasingly larger is a nod to the young women gaining more independence as the night goes on, while their parents have less and less control. Tonner-Connolly explains: "As the parents go from the prom to the lake house to the hotel, they're moving further away from their comfort zones, while the sets feel more grown up to the young women."

"We wanted prom to be the catalyst of these young women stepping into adulthood and that to be reflected in the design," says Cannon. "It also needed to be a special and beautiful night that the characters would feel nostalgic about in the future."

Costumes

When approaching the film's fashion, seasoned costume designer Sarah Mae Burton looked to the characters' interests to craft distinctive styles that still felt entirely relatable.

"It was important to Kay and me that when dressing these young women, particularly for prom, teenagers who watch this movie would want to wear these dresses-they weren't unapproachable or too high-fashion," says Burton.

For Julie, the unabashed romantic of the group, Burton was inspired by John Hughes' classic Pretty in Pink. "I thought Julie would like the style of that movie, so I choose a timeless dress with a vintage vibe," the designer says. "The cut is more modest, but the red has a little edge."

To symbolize Kayla's transition from athlete to adult, her prom look accentuated her sporty side, while still being a bit sexy. "The top is more revealing but still has a similar silhouette to a sports bra," explains Burton.

Sam was the most difficult to dress. At first, Burton tried matronly velvet dresses, outfits with a Renaissance flair, as well as plain prom dresses before choosing a dark outfit cut to the knee. "It's a look that blends in because Sam doesn't want to stand out," shares Burton. "She's not quite sure of who she is and how she wants to present herself to the world at this point."

Another challenge for Burton was dressing hundreds of actors in formal and casual wear for the prom and party scenes. "We did a lot of research on what's popular with teens today, and it seems the '90s are back in full force," she says.

One of the looks Burton loved most was the cape worn by Angelica (RAMONA YOUNG of television's Santa Clarita Diet), Sam's secret crush. "After trying more theatrical looks, we decided a feminine prom dress with a simple cape said a lot without being too much," she explains. "Many times, young female characters who are gay wear something that feels very masculine or dark. Angelica is a young woman in a beautiful pink prom dress who knows who she is, and I think that's really cool."

Production wrapped, Cannon reflects on how the young women-and their parents-grow up during this wild night. "The pact might not have been something the teens completely thought through, but by the end of the night, each young woman is able to make her own rational decision in a very adult way-and that's good parenting."

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