New “Dads” Documentary Full of Famous Comedians and Real Life Fathers
Making her feature directorial debut, Bryce Dallas Howard bring her heartfelt and humorous documentary “Dads” to Apple+. Featuring funny and thoughtful testimonials from celebrities coupled with following six extraordinary fathers from across the globe, the film gives a firsthand glimpse into the joys and challenges of parenting in today’s world. We talked with Howard about how this project came about and recruiting the comedians to share their personal father stories.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: How did the idea for this documentary come about?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Unilever [the consumer goods company], they own Dove and Dove Men+Care, for example, they wanted to do a documentary about fatherhood and they reached out to Imagine Entertainment [founded by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer] which had just started two new divisions, a branding department and a documentary department. Unilever said, “It’s not branded content. We want to straight up finance a documentary about fatherhood.” They were working with an organization called the Promundo Institute in Brazil who were really on the forefront of breakthroughs in terms of de-stigmatizing fathering, toxic masculinity, and supporting men today.
So, I went into the meeting basically to just hear what they were interested in doing, and in the room they were like, it’s a documentary about modern fathering that specifically highlights the value of paternity leave because so many men are discouraged from taking their paid paternity leave. And that’s just an example of larger systemic issues that really have a seismic impact on our entire species from how men are perceived, to what is expected of men, what’s not expected of men, the ways in which we undermine our fathers, et cetera. So, in that room, I was like, “Yeah, this is awesome. I think it’s a comedy. And I would love to interview stand-up comedians. I would love to dive into the daddy blogger culture because that’s new and I know nothing about it. I’m fascinated.”
They wanted the film to happen and they wanted us to finish it within a year. Normally for documentaries, you’re kind of sitting perched on the side of a tundra somewhere and just waiting for something to happen. In the observation of fathers in their natural habitat, we really needed to work with fathers who had footage themselves, that we could cut into our movie. That was sort of the genesis of it. I mentioned [in the initial meeting] I had footage of my grandfather that I had shot several years prior as he had passed the year we started, or the previous year, but in the room, my dad was like, “No, no, no, no, no, absolutely not. You’re not putting our family… on camera.”
I agreed. And then while we were shooting it, I kept saying, we need to find an expecting father. Then during filming, my brother and sister-in-law got pregnant and I was like, “Oh my gosh, of course. They should be in the movie; to get to see my brother become a dad.” So, it seems a lot of things fell into place that I never could have planned for, or even hoped for, so I felt really grateful for all of that.
RM: I love that all the pieces fell perfectly into place. You assembled quite a great group of celebrity fathers, like Will Smith and Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and more. So, how did you approach them about being involved? And did you already have aspects of their parenting that you wanted to pull out from them? Or was it a lot more organic than that?
BDH: Definitely organic. A lot of the comedians said, “People don’t ask us about this.” One father was like, “I have literally never talked that long, or had a conversation for that length of time, just about my children.” I was just struck by that because I was like, “Wow! That’s such a huge part of my life, talking about my family, talking about my children, and people asking me personal stuff.” Very respectfully, but like, “What does it take for you to balance and navigate being a mother and also being someone working in the entertainment industry?” And that’s not a question that’s asked of a lot of these guys and they’re navigating it just as much as I am, so that was really surprising to me. I learned a lot about parenting and what it takes to be a father and all of that.
I’m answering your question backwards, with these comedians, I had done a short series of little short documentary films over the years that Justin Wilkes, who’s the producer on this [Dads] and is president of Imagine Documentaries. Before, he worked at a company called Radical Media and I was hired by them several times to shoot these little documentaries about various subjects. I loved the Errol Morris style format of getting to have the subject look into the camera, directly into the lens ,when they’re talking. You use a contraption that Errol Morris really kind of was one of the inventors of, called the Interrotron, that allows you to interview people in a way that is particularly natural for everyone.
I had done a lot of documentaries using this interview style and kind of gathering a cast of characters, to – real people to talk about a similar subject. I did that for the 1960s and gathered all of these different individuals who were impacted and influential in the sixties. And I’ve done other things that way which is why I actually had my grandfather’s footage. In my mind, I was like, I would love to start with the comedians who I have met and been interviewed by over the years, you know? And that would probably be the easiest ask because they’ve invited me on their show and now I’m saying, “Hey, would you be a guest on my show?”
Conan was the first ask, and then Kimmel and Fallon… Will Smith in my mind was the extreme reach, like let’s just shoot for the moon. I asked him kind of more on the latter side, once there was a group of folks assembled, but he actually got back to us the fastest. He was really incredibly supportive and so generous. But all the guys got back to us very quickly and it was indicative of what I was saying. I think they were eager to share about something that was such a massive part of their lives, because kids are ad yet it hasn’t been acknowledged in the same way that oftentimes, not to make this a gender thing, but the mom.
Dads premieres on Apple+ Friday, June 19