Skip to content

How Judd Apatow Mined Quarantine for Comedy to Make ‘The Bubble’

How Judd Apatow Mined Quarantine for Comedy to Make ‘The Bubble’

To pen the new Netflix film The Bubble, Judd Apatow and Pam Brady faced a unique challenge: they had to write two movies. In the words of Apatow, who also directed and produced the film, we “had to write a good movie, The Bubble, and a bad movie, Cliff Beasts.”

The comedy stars Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, and Leslie Mann as a group of actors and actresses stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a hotel attempting to complete a sequel to an action franchise film about flying dinosaurs (Cliff Beasts 6).

Ahead of The Bubble’s April 1 premiere, Apatow discusses how he came up with the idea, creating the movie-within-the-movie and the surprising message at the film’s core.

When did this idea first come to you?

I was promoting a movie and found myself on Zoom for a large part of the day. I started going stir crazy. I would take these two-hour walks every day with a friend to keep my sanity. One day I said, “Maybe I should think of an idea?” So just as an exercise, I started outlining different ideas for TV shows and movies with no thought that I would make any of them. I heard about the NBA bubble and I thought, well that’s kind of funny. Maybe there’s a play in that or a movie. I kept hearing about the bubble the Jurassic Park film had in England. I thought, “Well that’s funny, a bunch of actors stuck in a hotel having a nervous breakdown, trying to accomplish some sort of action movie during the worst of the pandemic.” I outlined it for a while, never thinking I would do it. One day, my wife, Leslie Mann told me that she had to go to England to shoot her TV series. And I thought, “I wonder if I can get this movie together so I could go with her and have something to do.” I was looking for a way to not be left alone by Leslie.

What was the writing process like?

It was a unique situation because I pitched the idea to Netflix and we didn’t have a script, but I pitched it a little bit like a Christopher Guest movie meets Tropic Thunder. But the idea was that we would write a script very fast and just improvise and punch up as we went along. We just did it really fast: 25 pages a week for four weeks and then we started prep. And that’s what we did. And then wrote all through prep and the movie and post. It’s the fastest of anything I’ve ever done. We made the movie in a year from first starting to write to handing it in. 

Were there any challenges casting a film during the pandemic?

The casting was fun. It’s definitely one of those situations where you’re like, “Oh you could put anyone in this because you’re creating the cast of a Cliff Beasts franchise. So who would be in that?” It was an opportunity to work with a lot of people that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time: Keegan-Michael Key, David Duchovny, Fred Armisen, Kate McKinnon. It was a comedy nerd’s dream to ask my favorite people to collaborate. But I had no sense of chemistry so we did a lot of auditioning on Zoom. 

I was really interested in the idea of people from all around the world doing comedy together. Because we have people from the Middle East, India, England, Bulgaria, and America. You don’t see that a lot and I wondered, “Does that work? Are people from different cultures funny together?” That’s one of the successes of the movie that I’m excited about. It seemed to work great.

How would you describe the film franchise within the movie?

Cliff Beasts is like a C-level Jurassic Park. You know how there was Jaws, but then there was Orca? It’s one of those. They’re chasing the original hit a little bit, but it is popular in its own right. I think we say it’s the 16th biggest action movie franchise. This is the sixth one. And that’s part of the joke, which is you don’t really need a sixth one. And it’s a group of people that don’t really even like each other that much. They’ve made all these movies together. They don’t really appreciate each other. This is basically a cash gig for most of them.

Was there any element or scene that was particularly challenging?

The most challenging thing about the movie was just making the movie. [Laughs] How do you arc out a nervous breakdown? How do you make isolation and loneliness and losing your mind funny and have it progress? It is meant to be bonkers. It’s not exactly the style of a Mel Brooks movie but in a way, we’re in that universe. We didn’t want it to be silly but we did want it to be really funny. But you still need emotion, you still need a story to propel you forward. And suddenly, we realized that it really is about people who don’t appreciate each other, realizing they have to help each other, we need to do the right thing for each other which is the truth for the whole world in these last two years. 

What do you hope people take away from the film?

I hope the movie makes people happy and makes them laugh and gives them a break. It really only exists to be a way for all of us to commiserate about how bizarre and troubling and hard it’s been. And if we can do that, with something that’s really funny, then we’ve succeeded. 

The Bubble premieres April 1 on Netflix.