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The husband-and-wife filmmaking team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly have written and directed dramas and documentaries, but their latest project is a big departure – a scripted comedy about coupon fraud. Inspired by the true story of three Phoenix women who perpetrated a $40 million counterfeit coupon scheme, Queenpins stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as housewives-turned-coupon counterfeiters, and Vince Vaughn and Paul Walter Hauser as the investigators trying to stop them (watch the trailer here).

Ahead of Queenpins’ September 10th premiere in theaters nationwide, the filmmakers spoke with Coupons in the News about their work:

CITN: So how do filmmakers who are known for their documentaries and serious emotional works decide that their next project is going to be a comedy about coupons?

GITA: Well, I think the truth of the matter is when we were trying to figure out what our next story was going to be, Aron’s mother passed away a few years before and then my father had just passed away. And when we research a project, we can spend a year and a half, two years, just really doing the research of it. It’s very grueling and grinding work if it’s a serious dramatic project. And we didn’t know if that was an undertaking we could emotionally take, and we wanted to find something that we would get joy from writing.

ARON: And it always starts with a true story. So we’re always searching for any true story that piques our interest.

GITA: So I was searching on the dark hole of random searches, and I don’t even remember how I ended up on it – I ended up getting onto a coupon blog somewhere, and it had like two or three lines about a story about this $40 million counterfeit coupon scam. And all it had was the name of the detective in Arizona that was attached to the story. At first I thought it was a joke, and then I looked and I was like, no, this is a real coupon scam that happened. And so we immediately reached out to the detective in Arizona and he confirmed that this was a real story, and explained all the details to us. And not very long after we got in our car from L.A. and took a road trip to Arizona to meet with the detective and understand more about the story.

CITN: What was it about the story – at what point in the process did you start thinking that there was something here, that you could do something with this?

ARON: I think part of it, like Gita was saying, we had written some scripts that were much more dramatic and heavier subject matters. And the moment we heard about this, it was just like, coupons, and postal inspectors, SWAT teams, and we didn’t even really know that there were postal inspectors in that way. And it all sounded absurd enough that we were like, oh, this should be a comedy. So already it just sort of had our interest, because this seemed lighter than a lot of the true stories we were tackling. And I think that was really appealing to us, like this could be something lighter. And I think we were just like, oh, can we do some sort of Robin Hood-type story, where you’re rooting for these people? And you know, it’s fun and it’s not too heavy.

GITA: And when we were writing the script, all four of our main characters in this movie, Connie, JoJo, Simon Kilmurry and Ken Miller, all of them feel undervalued in their own way and they have to find ways to break out of that.

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ARON: Right, like even Ken Miller is sort of this struggling loss prevention officer at this grocery store who feels undervalued in the world. And then even within the world of law enforcement, Simon, who’s this postal inspector and very good at his job, postal inspectors are still undervalued in the world of law enforcement, compared to the FBI or CIA. So to us, we were creating these four characters that all felt undervalued in their lives in some way or another. So how can we build the story around that theme of feeling undervalued and finding a way around that?

CITN: You have a very colorful cast of characters – the Olympic racewalker-turned-couponer, the coupon vlogger, the investigators, the computer hacker, probably many more that we haven’t even seen yet who aren’t in the trailer. How much of this was based on your imaginations, and how much was based on any real-life individuals involved?

ARON: You know, some movies are “based on” true stories, some movies are “inspired by” true stories. This is much more “inspired” than truly “based” on that true story. We took the bones of the scam, but then we just completely created our own characters within it. So we don’t really know anything about the real players, and we kind of didn’t want to. We just wanted to create our own characters within this idea of this giant coupon scam and how they pulled it off.

GITA: And we realized we wanted the framework of what the actual investigation was, but we really knew the characters we wanted to create were going to have to be so special and unique to the world we wanted to create. So we didn’t want to reach out to anybody.

CITN: What kind of reaction did you get when you told people what you were working on, when you were trying to sell the idea, when you were trying to cast the movie – did people say, “Oh, a movie about coupons? Good luck with that!” Or did they see it the way you were seeing it?

ARON: I think on the surface, when we would pitch it, they would kind of laugh at the coupon part. But when we explained that it’s a $40 million coupon caper, and that these women bought sports cars and guns and all of these things with money they made off counterfeit coupons, then they were hooked. Because it was sort of like, how did they do that?

GITA: And we should just say, this is a story about coupons and the scam and this investigation. But below it, it’s really about finding your worth in life and finding your path to happiness and joy. And this film came together as Aron and I were trying to figure out how to find joy and happiness after healing from grief. But also, when we started filming this movie, it was the middle of the pandemic. And everybody’s world has turned upside down. They were trying to find their foundation, what really brings them joy, what really brings them happiness. And we thought this film was more relevant than ever, based off of trying to make this film in the pandemic.

CITN: Based on what we’ve seen in the trailer at least, it seems there was an incredible attention to detail and authenticity, from the design of the coupons, the use of real brand names, right down to the design of the counterfeit coupon warning notices that are distributed by the industry. Given your backgrounds in nonfiction storytelling, do you think you approached this differently than others might have? What kind of research did you do to get all of these details right?

ARON: A big part of it was, yeah, we have to be able to use all the real products. And that was something that is a lot of work to get all the clearances and permissions. But everything had to be legit and we don’t have any fake products in the movie. We were able to secure permission to use so many real products. And we wanted their rooms, their stockpiles to look legit, and the coupons to look legit, and that was something we definitely worked a long time on.

GITA: And even just like, how people gather their coupons, file their coupons, organize their coupons and their binders and in their filing folders. All of that was really important to us. So we talked to a lot of people who did coupons.

ARON: Kristen and Kirby really jumped in too. Kristen, her grandmother had been a huge coupon user. And then I know Kirby did a lot of research and was starting, every week, she would clip all of her coupons out of the paper, and she would start going to the store and using large amounts of coupons. They were definitely trying to understand that world in that light.

GITA: We do feel like, considering we are not die-hard couponers, but we love a good deal, and we love a good discount, we feel like the research that we put towards getting those details right, we’re really proud of.

CITN: A lot of people involved in the coupon industry were initially wary of the idea of a comedy about coupon fraud. They would argue that it’s no laughing matter, there are dangers in presenting it as a comedy to a public that doesn’t always take coupon fraud seriously. Was that a concern you heard, or tried to address, or one that you think is warranted in any way?

ARON: I think the character played by Paul, Ken Miller, and then the postal inspector, they’re very serious about what’s happening. They’re never joking like, “oh, these women with coupons.” Part of Vince’s character is he so much represents justice and takes the law very seriously. And Ken, Paul’s character, is very much about the rules while the two women are bending the rules to try to find a loophole. He’s sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum and is very much about the rules, not letting people get away with any sort of counterfeit coupon business, even in the store. His introduction, he’s in a store cracking down on somebody attempting to use a coupon that they don’t realize is fake. But he quickly deduces that it’s fake, and the idea of “well, can you just make an exception?” – he shuts it down very quickly.

GITA: I think hopefully they will appreciate that we show both sides of the story. The people who are taking advantage of coupons and also people who take coupons very seriously and want these people who are taking advantage of coupons prosecuted to the extent of the law. I think, hopefully, they’ll appreciate that there are people out there hopefully similar to them that are taking this very seriously.

ARON: And also the idea that in the real story, the true story, I would say probably the biggest victims were these corporations who lost money from these counterfeit coupons. The fact that those corporations, so many of them worked with us on the movie, and now when they’ve seen the scenes they’re in, or the trailer, they’re thrilled and so excited by it, I think also speaks to the corporations’ comfort level of us telling the story and not feeling like we’re mocking it or making it more likely that other people are going to do it.

CITN: What do you hope audiences take away from this? Is there a lesson to be learned from the movie in the end, or is it all in good fun? Are you trying to say something with this or do you just hope to give people a good time?

ARON: I don’t think we’re trying to say anything necessarily about coupons. But we, very early on when we started into production, we knew it was during the pandemic and we had seen just some really dark times through the pandemic. We definitely leaned in and we’re just like, this could be a movie that just gives people a reason to laugh, to smile. We really hope people watch the movie and walk away with the feeling of joy, because that’s something that I think is lacking right now in the country for a lot of people. People were struggling, and if we can give them a reason to laugh together and walk away feeling joy, that would be such a win.

GITA: We hope that people who watch the movie watch with their friends and family, and it’s a great couples movie. And we feel like if they can find time to just enjoy each other’s company and watch a movie that’s filled with some laughs and love as well – this movie was made with love and the people in this film have love for each other. I feel like hopefully that comes across on the screen and makes people feel good at the end of the day.

CITN: Well, thank you so much. It’s great to hear about all of this, and all that went into it, and look forward to seeing it.

ARON: And also thank you for your website. I mean, I know once we kind of got into it, we would read stuff on your website as well. And that was a resource for us, as far as the world of coupons. We had our go-to places when we wanted to just research coupons, and that was definitely one of them.

Queenpins opens in theaters on September 10, and streams on Paramount+ later this year.

Photo courtesy of Shane Leonard

2 Comments

  1. Just what we need. More people worried about coupon cheating so legit coupon users can be harassed harder in stores. Now every cashier will think they are going to rack the next case 🙄🙄

  2. Honest Couponer says:

    Excellent interview! Really looking forward to seeing the movie!

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