Peter Billingsley was on the other side of the world at Bora Bora's St. Regis Resort describing his working conditions for making the new comedy "Couples Retreat."
The phrase "working conditions" may not be entirely appropriate.
"To my left is this beautiful beach," he said by phone. "I'm in a house built on stilts over the water where we shot several scenes. On the deck there's a hot tub ... you can jump from the hot tub into the sea. In the floor is this big glass pane, and I can see fish swimming under my feet."
If the name Peter Billingsley rings a bell, it's because when he was only 11 he starred in one of the most beloved movies of all time —"A Christmas Story." He played Ralphie, the kid desperate to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun.
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Now Billingsley, 38, makes his directing debut with "Couples Retreat," opening Friday. It's about Midwesterners who get a great rate on a tropical vacation, then find that as part of the deal they all have to undergo marriage counseling.
Among the players are Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman and Kali Hawk.
"You could say that the water here is a cast member, too," Billingsley said. "I mean, it's really that blue color you see in the movie. Remember Bomb Pops when you were a kid? That blue band on the bottom? That's exactly the color of the water here. I've never seen anything like that in the Bahamas or Hawaii. All you have to do is turn on the camera, and the ocean makes you look like a visual genius.
"People in Hollywood would say, 'Oh boy, you shot in Bora Bora? That's so far away. It must have been hard,' " Billingsley said. "Well, cry me a river. What it was, was heaven on Earth. Whatever logistical problems we encountered — because we were filming in a place where they don't usually make movies — we dealt with gratefully."
Billingsley acted for years before and after 1983's "Christmas Story." But for the last decade he has worked mostly as a producer of movies ("Iron Man," "Zathura") and TV shows ("Dinner for Five").
He said he was fortunate that for his directing debut he was working with friends. Vaughn has been his best bud since they met two decades ago at an audition. And Billingsley spent several years with Favreau on "Dinner for Five." In "Couples Retreat," he was working from a screenplay by Vaughn and Favreau.
Even when he was on the set of "A Christmas Story" he was fascinated by the mechanics of moviemaking, Billingsley said.
"Even after that film I'd seek out advice and guidance from Bob Clark" — the writer/director of "A Christmas Story." "When I told him I wanted to be behind the camera, he said, 'Go spend time in the editing room. That's where you'll learn the most important lessons about directing.' "
Almost 30 years later, do fans still recognize him?
"Yeah. Usually around Christmastime. Right after it's played for 24 hours straight on cable. But I don't mind being remembered for 'A Christmas Story.' I'm certainly proud of that movie. And it's nice to be associated with a project that has given so many people so much joy."