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. It’s a
little cold, it’s a little…
J: That’s right,
that’s right. A little French…
D: Yeah, with some nice
J: Yeah, that too…I
mean, I’ve heard about those…I don’t actually partake…
D: I don’t know, I
don’t go to those places either…
J: Okay, let’s get
Brent [Goldberg- screenwriting partner] on the line here.
Brent: What’s happening,
J: Hey Brent, how’s it
B: I’m on your website as we speak.
D: So what’s with the 7 popcorns out of 10? We couldn’t pull an 8 or 9?
J: (laughs) It’s the
anticipation level on the movie, and it’s pretty high, pretty high. Seven on
B: Yeah, I’ve actually seen some 2, 3s and 4s on there, so…
J: That’s right. Actually, the film’s been getting some pretty great reviews so far, so congratulations to the both of you for that…
B/D (together): Thanks,
J: You guys must be
D: We’re anxious.
B: The first step is always the reviews, and it’s always nice when they’re positive. To know that you didn’t 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 Lampoon’s VAN WILDER, and a short film called SAVING RYAN’S 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, that’s 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 that’s 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: He’s one of our mentors. We don’t know him, but we obviously grew up with WEIRD SCIENCE, SIXTEEN CANDLES, BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLER’S 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: We’re 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 that’s definitely
a very nice compliment that you’ve paid us, in that it makes people hark back
to these “classics”, John Hughes movies and things like RISKY BUSINESS…. I
think that’s the best compliment. It would be nice if more movies were like
J: Yeah and it’s a good deviation in what’s been happening in the “teen genre” over the past few years, and so we’re 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, we’re like “Yeah, they really have their finger on the pulse…”
Right…those people “got” the movie…
B: It’s interesting because, like David said, they’re brutal and they’re mean, but they’re the audience and that’s their prerogative, you know? They’re 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. It’s tough though…when they start insulting my mother…
J: (laughs) That’s the
line right there…
D: Sorry about that,
Brent…that was me…
J: I guess I’ll have
to change a few words in my review, huh?
J: Just kidding.
B: Yeah, it’s not the
film as much as it’s the fact that someone actually gave birth to these
J: (laughs) That’s funny.
You guys have written about 6 screenplays together so far (including the
upcoming THE UNDERCLASSMAN), so what’s 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 he’ll either write a first act, or I’ll write the mid-point or the second act, or we’ll 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. It’s an interesting process, but it’s 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 don’t
actually sit in the same room and one guy will recite, while the other guy
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 we’ll into the war room and hash
things out together. Especially if we’re fortunate enough and the movie’s
greenlit, and the director and producers are waiting on draft. Sometimes
that’s the best way to go…just to hammer it out together and make sure that
we’re 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 didn’t really
J: (laughs) You guys were
just hanging around in the background…
D: Andrew Panay, who produced both VAN WILDER and THE UNDERCLASSMAN – we’re 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. It’s 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
J: I guess the question
I’m leading to is: you can’t get me Elisha Cuthbert’s 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”,
that’s 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 weren’t in the script, but that came from the character because they stayed close to it. Some of those get the biggest laughs and it’s all good in a collaboration…it’s great.
J: From ‘Ronaldinho’
in our screenwriting forum, how did you break into the business? I know that SAVING RYAN’S
PRIVATES was your “big break”, but how did you make that transition from a
short film to writing “big Hollywood movies”?
D: SAVING RYAN’S 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 RYAN’S 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 RYAN’S 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 doesn’t 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 opportunity—the door was open a little bit—and 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 it’s
all about “keep doing good work”, keep delivering, that’s how you book
jobs, that’s how you get work, that’s 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,
B: The important thing for teams is to share the same vision. I mean, whether you work separately or together, ultimately you don’t want to confuse the reader. You don’t want to have a different perspective or a different point of view because they don’t 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 we’ve definitely been fortunate, in that we’ve 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 can’t be in your ivory tower and be like “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re 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, it’s just going to make it better. And that’s ultimately what you want as the end result. For David and I, that’s why we’ve been fortunate enough to have several movies made now and that’s because we’re 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. We’re writing a Dreamworks animation movie called JIVE TURKEYS. And we are doing an Adam Sandler/Happy Madison/Out of the Blue at Columbia, it’s 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, that’s great, but we didn’t want to be pigeonholed into that genre. So we’re 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 we’re trying to elevate and work with these amazing people whose movies we’ve 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, we’re 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 you’ve 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. It’s cool. It feels like it’s a website for the people, it
doesn’t feel like a “critic’s website”.
D: There’s a local radio
guy out here who we’ve 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, that’s basically
the idea with the website, actually. I’m glad you said what you did because
that’s exactly what we’ve tried to do here. We’re 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 don’t “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
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: We’re actually gonna
have a little dinner party over at Universal City. We’re gonna get our
families together and friends, have a nice little dinner and then we’re all
going to go see the movie together.
B: And then get really,
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: It’s crazy, it just
happens to fast. There’s 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…”C’mon, c’mon…!”
J: (laughs) Like the
B: It’s crazy because all the work that you’ve 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!