Most of the interviews that we conduct on our site (from either Thomas Leupp in L.A. or Mike Sampson in N.Y.) take place during a film's domestic junket, in a roundtable format in which several outlets pepper stars with questions galore. But every now and again, we'll get some direct contact with the players (in this case, a bud of the site (thanks Danny!) was friends with one of the screenwriters of this film) and take part in one-on-one interviews, which are always much funner (Note how many times I respond to them with either a "wow" or "nice". What a journalist!)
In this case, I called THE GIRL NEXT DOOR's two screenwriters up (co-credited with Stuart Blumberg) and talked shop. The screenwriting duo have become a pretty hot commodity around Hollywood over the past couple of years, penning VAN WILDER, MY BABY'S DADDY and the upcoming THE UNDERCLASSMAN starring Nick Cannon, with several other high-profile projects in the works. I also took this opportunity to ask aspiring screenwriters from our SCREENWRITING FORUM to post questions for the guys, a couple of which I tossed into the mix as well. Sounding very relaxed and not giving into my question about Elisha Cuthbert's phone number (damn you!), here's what went down between screenwriters David Wagner, Brent Goldberg and myself...
DAVID WAGNER / BRENT GOLDBERG
JoBlo: Hey David, this is JoBlo from JoBlo.com.
David: Hey man, how are you doing? How are things over in Montreal?
J: Good, good. Its a little cold, its a little
J: Thats right, thats right. A little French
D: Yeah, with some nice strip clubs.
J: Yeah, that too I mean, Ive heard about those I dont actually partake
D: I dont know, I dont go to those places either
J: Okay, lets get Brent [Goldberg- screenwriting partner] on the line here.
Brent: Whats happening, man?
J: Hey Brent, hows it going?
B: Im on your website as we speak.
D: So whats with the 7 popcorns out of 10? We couldnt pull an 8 or 9?
J: (laughs) Its the anticipation level on the movie, and its pretty high, pretty high. Seven on ten
B: Yeah, Ive actually seen some 2, 3s and 4s on there, so
J: Thats right. Actually, the films been getting some pretty great reviews so far, so congratulations to the both of you for that
B/D (together): Thanks, man.
J: You guys must be pretty happy
D: Were anxious.
B: The first step is always the reviews, and its always nice when theyre positive. To know that you didnt make a bomb. And then hopefully have that positive wave carry over into the box-office.
J: So how did you guys get this gig? Were you asked to write it or did you have to pitch it to someone?
D: It was a pitch. We had to pitch it and we pitched it all over town. Chuck Gordon and Marc Sternberg and Harry Gittes were the three producers we pitched it to, and they took us all around town and we pitched it to every studio and ever studio passed.
B: When David and I originally generated the idea, nobody really knew who we were. We had just done National Lampoons VAN WILDER, and a short film called SAVING RYANS PRIVATES and we had this idea, told our agent, who got us this meeting with Marc Sternberg. We pitched it to him and he really liked it. After that, we pitched it to Chuck Gordon, and he really liked it. And then, we pitched it to Harry Gittes, who also really liked it. So we first had to go through those three steps in order to get the opportunity to pitch it to every studio in town and then have them pass.
D: So we liked the project so much that we agreed to write in on spec [writing a screenplay without getting paid for it] So on good faith and without any money, thats what Brent and I did, we wrote the script and what happened was that FOX 2000 ended up optioning it. And then it moved from FOX 2000 to FOX NEW REGENCY and thats where it ultimately got made.
B: It was basically an overnight success that took 3 years.
J: (laughs) Just like most stories. So what movies influenced you guys in writing this screenplay? I got this massive flashback to John Hughes movies when I watched it.
B: Hes one of our mentors. We dont know him, but we obviously grew up with WEIRD SCIENCE, SIXTEEN CANDLES, BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLERS DAY OFF and RISKY BUSINESS, obviously. Paul Brickman. They were movies that sort of left that indelible impression when you watched them, like you kind of wanted to be in them. They were characters that were doing things that I wanted to do.
D: Were big into wish fulfillment and this movie has a big wish fulfillment aspect in it and John Hughes movies had those same ingredients.
B: And thats definitely a very nice compliment that youve paid us, in that it makes people hark back to these classics, John Hughes movies and things like RISKY BUSINESS . I think thats the best compliment. It would be nice if more movies were like that.
J: Yeah and its a good deviation in whats been happening in the teen genre over the past few years, and so were hopefully moving away from that whole gross-out thing. You actually feel that in this movie there was a sweetness to it too.
D: Hopefully, as the genre evolves, so will the teen comedy audience. And we hope that this sort of catches a wave of teens and young adults who want to see something fresh and new in that genre.
J: I mentioned earlier how the film has been receiving some good early reviews do you guys actually surf the Net and read stuff like that, and if you do, do you take it personally, do you bitch about it?
D: The people on the Internet are brutal!
B: We never take the negative ones personally, and then the positives ones, were like Yeah, they really have their finger on the pulse
J: (laughs) Right those people got the movie
B: Its interesting because, like David said, theyre brutal and theyre mean, but theyre the audience and thats their prerogative, you know? Theyre gonna pay their money or not. We want to make commercially successful films. We want to make movies that we want to go see, that we had fun seeing when we started watching movies back in the 80s. Its tough though when they start insulting my mother
J: (laughs) Thats the line right there
D: Sorry about that, Brent that was me
J: I guess Ill have to change a few words in my review, huh?
J: Just kidding.
B: Yeah, its not the
film as much as its the fact that someone actually gave birth to these
J: (laughs) Thats funny. You guys have written about 6 screenplays together so far (including the upcoming THE UNDERCLASSMAN), so whats your writing process? We have a screenwriting forum on our site, on which many rookie screenwriters were interested to hear about your writing process as a team? Do you guys write back and forth, sit together in a room
B: The process really is, find a Coffee Bean or Starbucks in your area and then meet there.
B: David and I actually live very close together. We live in the San Fernando Valley, about 20 minutes away and we come up with ideas and hash them out at either my house or his house, or a restaurant or a Coffee Bean and we really just come up with the nucleus and maybe even a treatment and then we go our separate ways and hell either write a first act, or Ill write the mid-point or the second act, or well each take characters and flush those out. And email has really helped us out a lot. For THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, before we even showed a draft to any producers or directors, David and I had rewritten each other at least 10-20 times. Still keeping the same vision.
D: Exactly. Its an interesting process, but its definitely a lot of time together in the beginning and then a lot of time apart during the actual sitting down in front of the computer and writing dialogue part of it.
J: So you guys dont actually sit in the same room and one guy will recite, while the other guy types ?
B: We did until the hospital bills started to add up, due to the fighting
J: (laughs) And the drinking got out of hand
B: We wrote VAN WILDER that
way because I literally did not have a computer at the time and we usually do
re-writes together. Once we turn in our drafts and get our first note sets
from the producers and the studio, then well into the war room and hash
things out together. Especially if were fortunate enough and the movies
greenlit, and the director and producers are waiting on draft. Sometimes
thats the best way to go
just to hammer it out together and make sure that
were on the same page.
J: Do you guys get invited to the sets of your screenplays? Like in the case of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, did you work closely with the director or did they just buy the script and then move on with their team?
D: On most of our movies, like VAN WILDER, we were there every day loitering on the set
B: They didnt really invite us
J: (laughs) You guys were just hanging around in the background
D: Andrew Panay, who produced both VAN WILDER and THE UNDERCLASSMAN were very close with him invited us on the set and it was a real collaborative effort between us and Ryan Reynolds and Walt Becker, the director. Nick Cannon was also awesome on THE UNDERCLASSMAN.
B: On both those movies,
David and I, were the only writers on
which is a rarity. Its a wonderful
thing, but rare. Both of those projects started from our pitch, our drafts and
we stayed on the whole time. For THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, there were three different
studios and then eventually FOX NEW REGENCY got it and the director [Luke
Greenfield] had his writing partner who also worked on the script, and then
Stuart Blumberg, with whom we share credit on this movie, did work on it. So
David and I visited the set a few times and the main time that we went was
it was happenstance, we had no idea that they were going to be re-creating the
porn convention in Vegas on the set in L.A
J: (laughs) Oooooh
B: I swear we had no idea
J: You just happened to be there, eh?
B: Just happened to be hanging around
J: I guess the question Im leading to is: you cant get me Elisha Cuthberts phone number, right?
D: (laughs) Sorry.
J: Ah well, a man has to try. Speaking of ad-libbing, how much of it do you think happens off your scripts?
D: It happens. I think they stuck to the script in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. VAN WILDER too, but the director always gives the actors a little freedom to create and find your character and Ryan Reynolds came up with some really funny ad-libs, Nick Cannon as well. But the director usually likes the actor to have at least one in the can, thats from the script.
B: Also, like in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, if the actor stays close to the character from the script, from that you will get some ad-libbed lines that werent in the script, but that came from the character because they stayed close to it. Some of those get the biggest laughs and its all good in a collaboration its great.
J: From Ronaldinho in our screenwriting forum, how did you break into the business? I know that SAVING RYANS PRIVATES was your big break, but how did you make that transition from a short film to writing big Hollywood movies?
D: SAVING RYANS PRIVATES was our first foray into getting something produced. We took our own money, we produced it, we starred in it, we wrote it and it got us an agent and a lawyer. It was basically our calling card at that time.
B: What happened was, we had written a few scripts prior to SAVING RYANS PRIVATES and it was tough to get anyone to even read them. We did the whole query letters to agents thing, meeting people here and there, while everyone was looking that same way to break in. So we thought that we had to do something in order to get noticed, so in addition to SAVING RYANS PRIVATES, we had screenplays and ideas, so once that film got out there and people had heard of us, at that point it was like Do you have a script that we might want to produce? or in our case, we got an agent from it, he sent us on a bunch of meetings and one of the first meetings, and one of the most prolific meetings was with Tapestry and Andrew Panay and he pitched a one-liner, which later turned out to be, VAN WILDER.
B: He was like, Do you guys have any interest in movies like ANIMAL HOUSE? and we were like Of course and he was like Can you guys come up with a concept for a movie about a guy who doesnt want to graduate college? We said, Absolutely, we can do that., they paid us a very small amount, but we had passion and wanted to write a really great movie and three years later it ended up being turned into a movie. It was basically taking an opportunitythe door was open a little bitand then kicking it open with an idea.
D: And then you basically just have to keep delivering. We wrote VAN WILDER and people around town read it, liked it and from there you get more meetings, more opportunities and its all about keep doing good work, keep delivering, thats how you book jobs, thats how you get work, thats how you get movies made.
J: Very good. Of course, they have to be successful too, and you guys have been going pretty good so far. Another question from our screenwriting forum, this time from Maestro, would you happen to have any tips from up-and-coming screenwriters or screenwriting teams? Things to avoid, perhaps?
B: The important thing for teams is to share the same vision. I mean, whether you work separately or together, ultimately you dont want to confuse the reader. You dont want to have a different perspective or a different point of view because they dont care if 10 people wrote it or 1 person wrote it, they just want to understand the movie. For David and I, we went to film school with a lot of people and weve definitely been fortunate, in that weve met the right people and capitalized on our opportunities, but we also really pride ourselves on listening to notes. Taking good notes and then executing them well.
You get a lot of notes from producers, your agents or friends, and you cant be in your ivory tower and be like You dont know what youre talking about, youre not a writer People have great thoughts and great ideas and great notes and if you can take them and execute them and sort of weave them into your script, its just going to make it better. And thats ultimately what you want as the end result. For David and I, thats why weve been fortunate enough to have several movies made now and thats because were getting known as the writers that deliver, take notes and make it better.
J: Okay, thanks for that. I guess the only question left is about your future projects. I guess THE UNDERCLASSMAN is next on the list? Has it been shot now?
D: Yeah, it should probably come out by the end of this year.
J: And do you have other screenplays written, are you writing something right now ?
D: Yeah, we wrote a romantic comedy for Disney that we just turned in. And Adam Shankman, who directed BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, is attached to direct. Were writing a Dreamworks animation movie called JIVE TURKEYS. And we are doing an Adam Sandler/Happy Madison/Out of the Blue at Columbia, its a basketball college movie.
B: When VAN WILDER came out and especially when it started doing really well on DVD, we were getting a lot of offers to do gross out movies. But we definitely wanted to tell a story of a character, and if it happened to be grounded and involve gross out comedy, thats great, but we didnt want to be pigeonholed into that genre. So were doing that animated project at Dreamworks with the same team as SHREK, which is one of our favorite movies, and we definitely love Adam Sandler and doing something for Disney. So were trying to elevate and work with these amazing people whose movies weve been watching for years and seeing their success and trying to be a part of that.
J: Very cool, man. Sounds like everything is going great. You guys are the hot duo
D: Thanks, were trying. And how long ago did you start JoBlo.com?
J: The beginning of 1998. We just celebrated our 6-year anniversary the other day. So yeah, if youve got any screenplay ideas featuring a webmaster who comes to Hollywood and falls in love
D: (laughs) Do you guys actually come out here?
J: Yup, the Arrow and I come out for a few weeks every summer, for the San Diego Comic Con, and to meet folks in L.A .
B: Sounds good. We love the website. Its cool. It feels like its a website for the people, it doesnt feel like a critics website.
D: Theres a local radio
guy out here who weve befriended, who is also very passionate about movies,
and we just love people like that, who just love the movies. And the movies that
we love too.
J: Yeah, thats basically the idea with the website, actually. Im glad you said what you did because thats exactly what weve tried to do here. Were just big movie fans who run a website that just happens to have gotten very popular, but the idea is that we love movies. At the end of the day, I dont get off on bashing them, I just want to see good ones and support them. Like THE GIRL NEXT DOOR which I really enjoyed.
D: Awesome well, tell a friend! (laughs)
J: (laughs) I will, I will.
Actually, one last question. What are you guys going to be doing next Friday
night? (when the film opens) Do you guys actually go out to a theater or
D: Were actually gonna have a little dinner party over at Universal City. Were gonna get our families together and friends, have a nice little dinner and then were all going to go see the movie together.
B: And then get really, really ripped!
J: (laughs) Nice! And then by Friday night at midnight you guys will know how much the film will be grossing for the next month or so
B: Its crazy, it just happens to fast. Theres actually a phone number now that you can call on Saturday morning at 9 in the morning, so every time one of our movies is coming out, I will wake up and watch the clock, like in RISKY BUSINESS, where he was waiting, like a game show Cmon, cmon !
J: (laughs) Like the Lotto
B: Its crazy because all the work that youve done for 2-3 years comes down to one night.
J: Well, I suspect the film will do quite well. Good luck with that.
B: Thank you and thanks for the compliments about the film.
D: Yeah, thanks and congratulations on your website.
J: Thanks, guys. I wish you all the best!
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