The Treat: Director Paul Feig on how a paperweight changed his life

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“If I had to pick the one thing that sort of changed my life the most, it was a paperweight,” says Paul Feig. Photo credit: Frank Micelotta

Writer and director Paul Feig is known for creating smash comedies, including “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” and “The Heat.” More recently, he co-wrote and directed Netflix's teen-fantasy film “The School of Good and Evil,” and authored the book “Cocktail Time!: The Ultimate Guide for Grown-Up Fun.” 

Listen more: Director Paul Feig on how a film set should be like a cocktail party

But Feig wasn’t always this successful. After finishing film school in the ‘80’s, he was a struggling actor, taking occasional standup gigs while waiting for an opportunity to come his way. 

One day, while strolling along Ventura Boulevard, Feig walked into The Portrait of a Bookstore, a long shuttered shop that sold trinkets along with bestsellers and children’s books. Feig bought a fake scrimshaw paperweight with an engraved message that inspired him to change his life and actively pursue acting, writing, and directing. 

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

What has inspired me in my life? There's so many things that inspire me as a filmmaker. There's so many movies that really changed my life and all that, but if I had to pick the one thing that sort of changed my life the most, it was a paperweight. 

I was a struggling actor. I had been a stand up comedian, had gone to film school, but as an actor I would just [sit] around waiting for the phone to ring because you would have auditions, occasionally. Your agent would call and send you out on an audition. But it was a lot of, “Oh, I can't wait for the job to come. Is this going to work?” 

It was very frustrating, and I sat around a lot. And I was in a store one day and there was a paperweight, this kind of fake scrimshaw paperweight sitting there in this little gift place. And it had a picture of a boat, and it said, “Don't wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.” 

A Baekgaard paperweight with a “Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come in, Swim Out To It!” message engraved. Courtesy of magswa75/Ebay

It sounds really dumb and really trite, and it’s just a goofy little curio tchotchke, but I suddenly went, “That's right! It's right. I've been sitting around waiting for people to call, waiting for the job to come in, and I should be writing. I should be out doing stand up comedy. I should be actively promoting myself.” And that was the thing that made me go, “You know what? I gotta change my life!” 

I'd always been kind of noodling with scripts that really made me go, “I gotta write feature scripts,” and sat down and wrote a bunch. Everybody's got the drawer full of unproduced scripts, and I've got that, too. None that I would go back to, but they helped get me to where I am.

I still have that paperweight. It sits right on my desk at my office, and I'm constantly trying to swim out to my ship. So don't wait for your ship to come in. Swim out to it, my friends, with a paperweight. 



Rebecca Mooney