It’s not everyday that Amy Schumer offers you a job by sliding into your DMs. Yet that’s exactly how Alexander Hammer found himself directing Expecting Amy, the three-part docu series about the comedian that premieres on HBOMax July 9. Schumer had seen Hammer’s work as an editor on Beyoncé’s 2018 Netflix film, Homecoming, and asked if he’d be free to look at some footage she’d shot leading up to her own special for the streamer, and documenting her difficult pregnancy with husband Chris Fischer.
Hundreds of hours of film later, what started as a consulting gig became a year-long project for Hammer, who worked closely with Schumer and Fischer to craft an intimate narrative tracking her struggle with hyperemesis gravidarum, as well as their relationship as they navigate Fischer’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, all while juggling a full tour schedule, and planning and filming her comedy special, Growing.
“It was a bit of an untraditional beginning,” Hammer told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of the docu series' premiere. “[Amy’s] initial idea was to document the development of a special. And then of course, she found out she was pregnant while she was on tour, and then she got very sick, and they discovered her husband had autism spectrum disorder. So, all these things kind of arose that weren’t originally part of it.”
Expecting Amy begins with a self-filmed shot of Schumer at the zoo, days after finding out she’s pregnant. From there, the series jumps forwards and backwards in time using home footage from Fischer and Schumer’s childhoods, their wedding video, self-filmed candid late-night confessions, and interviews with family and friends to flesh out the story.
It’s all extraordinarily candid, even for a performer known for putting herself out there. We see Schumer with her head down the toilet on multiple occasions, as she throws up multiple times a day over her full nine months of pregnancy, to the point where her capillaries burst; we see her in the hospital hooked up to IV fluids after a particularly rough day (Schumer is conscious of her privilege in seeking that level of care, and discusses it throughout); we’re flies on the wall during arguments with Fischer, and also when they eventually make up. We hear about their hopes and their fears, and get to know them far beyond the thin veneer of celebrity.
Hammer says that transparency is down to Schumer and Fischer, who were willing to be unflinchingly honest, but also to longtime Schumer collaborator Marcus Russell Price, who captured a lot of the most poignant moments without them feeling staged.
“The sound may not be so perfect, the lighting is not perfect, because that's not what it's about,” he said. “The magic of the whole thing is that it feels very personal because it's not put on, it’s not over-produced.”
So, how does one earn that level of trust?
“The first part is understanding the work,” Hammer said. “I'm stepping into these different worlds, and I need to understand what they’re saying and their story, who they are, and being able to apply that [on film]. I was careful to show [what] was necessary versus gratuitous, And once you get the trust, [the important thing is] that you don't lose it. That's something I've been very fortunate to kind of get with certain artists and directors, things like that trust.”
He first learned those lessons nearly a decade ago during his very first meeting with Beyoncé, now his most frequent collaborator. Hammer received a call from an acquaintance who needed help on a project. That same week, he found himself in an office, only to have Beyoncé herself walk in. Hammer was floored.
“I thought I was doing this project for another company that was doing something with her,” he said. “I didn't know I was doing it for her. I had just been handed the drive for one of her music videos, and she just walked in with: What do you got for me? As if I had been working on it for weeks! I had to bullshit my way through it. That was the only time I'd ever bullshit her."
“I look back at my track record, I tend to work with a lot of really strong, independent women,” he joked.
As a man helming a film that largely focuses on a scary and painful pregnancy, Hammer said he felt a responsibility to educate and inform himself, so that he could properly handle the material. “I had no idea what hyperemesis was,” he said. “I had no idea the intense issues that come with just pregnancy in general. But I want to know. I want to learn, and if I'm learning, how can I translate that so other people can learn as well?”
In one of the most memorable scenes in Expecting Amy, a hospitalised Schumer is asked if she resents being pregnant. “I don’t resent being pregnant,” she replies. “I resent everyone who hasn’t been honest. I resent the culture and how much women have to suck it the fuck up and act like everything’s fine. I really resent that.”
With this docu series, Hammer hopes to open the door to change. “I really hope that the people that need to see it, see it,” he said. “People should know.”