The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is a special episode of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. It’s special because we have two guests in our room to talk about their experiences, Abby Kohn…
Abby Kohn: Hi.
John: …and Marc Silverstein…
March Silverstein: Hello.
John: …who are screenwriters and TV writers as well, mostly known for Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You. Guys, welcome.
Marc: Thanks for having us.
John: Tell us about yourselves. You are a writing team. Have you always been a writing team? Give us some back story here.
Abby: Yes. We’ve always been a writing team.
Marc: We met at grad school at USC, mid-90s. Early to mid-90s. We had to partner, like second semester they force you to partner with somebody to make a short, and we did that.
Abby: Well, you can do, you can each make a five minute short you can direct and the other person can shoot it, and then you switch. Or — nobody else did this but us — you can combine your five minutes and five minutes and make one ten minute film that you co-direct. And nobody took them up on that option, but Marc and I did.
John: Oh, very nice. This was the graduate screenwriting program?
Marc: No. Production.
John: So, what worked in that partnership and why you two together versus other people in the same class?
Marc: I mean, I think initially in that scenario you couldn’t shoot something.
Abby: Oh, yeah. I don’t think Marc was confident with me being his DP, so therefore…
Marc: Right, I was way more technically savvy and she was much more of a writer really at that point.
Marc: And so we had sort of complementary skill sets.
Craig: Did you know that when you looked across the room, I like constructing these romantic things…
Abby: Well, you know, we were a couple for [crosstalk].
Marc: We started dating, too.
Craig: Whoa, hold on, did you date prior to that moment, or did that moment…?
Abby: We met literally our first day of the graduate program, the first like get-to-know-you, or not even, it was just like an orientation. And we sat next to each other in that moment and I made some crack about the squeaking of the chair. Literally, that was the moment we met. And we were the only two, I think, in the program who had come straight from college, so we were the youngest in the program, and we kind of bonded in that way.
Craig: Gravitated towards each other?
Marc: And we were dating within a month or so of that.
Craig: And did you sleep with each other after the dating or did that happen during the dating?
Marc: Oh, that all happened at the same time.
Abby: During, yeah.
Craig: And, now, just because I’m fascinated by this and I know John won’t ask these questions…
Abby: Okay, no, you bring it.
Craig: This is already the best podcast. You’re not together now?
Abby: We are not.
Marc: We are separately married.
Craig: Okay. I’m just going to jump to the fun stuff, and we’ll get back to craft.
Abby: We were engaged and we lived together and we worked together for seven years.
Marc: Seven years.
Craig: Wow. And then you decided, “Okay, that’s not for us.”
Craig: But, this survived.
John: The professional part of it survived.
Abby: It did.
Craig: Which is spectacular to me. So, obviously I’m just going to keep asking, because he really doesn’t care and he won’t ask these questions and I do care.
John: The thing is I do care, I just wouldn’t ask.
Craig: I’m that guy?
Marc: Yeah. That’s why you’re a good team for a podcast.
Craig: I disagree, but, what were the challenges of something like that because I’ve talked to, I have a lot of friends who are in partnerships where they are married and they write together, and they’re married and that’s that. But, for you guys, when the romantic aspect of it ended, was there a moment where you thought, “We’re just going to break up?”
Marc: I mean, we didn’t have much choice initially because we under an overall deal and we were about to start a pilot, or shooting a pilot.
Abby: I think we were in pre-production on a pilot at the time.
Marc: And we lied. Our agent told us to lie for… — We lied to the people we were working for for about six months, because we had a wedding date…
Abby: The pilot was about a young married couple and I think he thought it would be a bummer if like we were engaged and broke up during this making of this thing about young love. So, we, I guess lied about it for a couple of months.
Marc: They kept saying, because we had a date — a wedding date — and they’re like, “So, how is that going?” And we’re like, “Uh, we’re too busy. We’re just going to push it.”
Craig: Yeah, just pushing it a little bit.
Craig: But, then through that process actually start to realize, maybe did it get better as friends?
Abby: Through that process I think because we were sort of forced to continue working, by the end of the making of that pilot we were like, “Oh, we can do this, this is fine.” Had our feet not been held to the fire in that way I don’t know what would have happened…
Abby: …but by the end of that, by the end of that it was fine.
Marc: It was. And I think the thing was it went on for seven years relationship wise because we were working together. I think if we were just dating it would have ended sooner.
Marc: But we didn’t know if we could choose. I don’t think we knew how to get out of one or the other or what was not working.
Abby: We were very enmeshed and we were living together and working…
Marc: And you just work all the time. You’re never not working. So, I don’t think we knew if we could do one without the other and then we were just forced to. And they were like, “Oh, okay, good.”
Marc: And now it’s great because we’ve been through literally everything.
Craig: Well, thank you, that satisfies all of my really creepy curiosity.
Abby: If anything else comes up you just ask.
Craig: It will.
John: Now, in working together, what is the relationship? Who does what parts of it? Are you in the room together to write everything, or do you write separately? What’s your process?
Abby: We have an office that we have together and we both come in pretty much every day. And our process changes depending on the thing that we’re working on. You know, we have worked on several things that are these multiple story arc movies, and so that was the first… — When we started working on some of those that was the first time ever we wrote simultaneously because things were, stories could be broken out. And other than knowing the intersecting times, and knowing we’d need to check in and make sure things were hitting at the same time, a lot of the stories could be written, they could be plunked out, and written, and plunked back in.
So, we wrote simultaneously during probably all of those kinds of…
Marc: But our normal process for like a linear screenplay is just to loosely outline together, kind of hash out the broad strokes together, but then one person will start, write five, ten pages, send it to the other person, I mean, send it across the room to each other, or email it to each other. Go back, rewrite, go a little further, back and forth, back and forth.
Craig: And just revising?
Marc: Yeah. Because we’re not really, the way we work, it’s not, like we can’t be like, “You take that scene four from now,” because we don’t even know what that is really.
Craig: Yeah, I get that.
Abby: And for comedy, too, I think having things that are called back and that seem funny because they really come out of character, it seems really hard to decide what those things are before you actually write that scene.
Marc: Well, and also, and even starting a scene. I don’t even know where to start the next scene if I don’t know where the other one ended.
Marc: Like so much of the rhythm…
Abby: I think that’s, too, the rhythm of comedy, it’s very hard…
Craig: I’ve never met any comedy team that did it differently, honestly. I write on my own usually, but when I’m writing with Todd Phillips that’s exactly what we do. We do, you take the first, you know, we outline — you take the first six, I’ll take the second six, then we swap back and forth.
Abby: And our outline is really barebones. Like we have…
Marc: It’s gotten less and less.
Abby: It’s less than two pages.
Craig: Oh really?
Abby: I literally just tape it to my desk because among the other shit, and like there are chicken scratches all over it, but it’s usually two pages because we’re there. We’re in the office together. So, we go to the thing and then we talk about it as we go, even though we know what the major points are.
Marc: But we used to be way more detailed.
Abby: Sort of.
Marc: I feel like we were at least four or five pages in terms of knowing stuff, but now we kind of have just a looser roadmap.
John: Now, can each of you write individually when you need to write individually? Like, if something goes into production or one of you gets hit by a bus, do you feel like you can do that?
Marc: Yes. We’ve done it.
Abby: Yes. I mean, unless there’s like a scene about baseball, then I feel like no. But, yes, as long as there are things that I know, yes.
Marc: Yeah. We’ve had to do that. When you got married, I had to finish that one pilot.
Craig: How was that? Tell us about that? When she got married?
Marc: We went to the wedding…
Marc: But she was gone for a week.
Abby: It was during the honeymoon.
Craig: It’s so fascinating. Normally when you’re with somebody for seven years, and then you split up, and then they get married, and you’re like, “Oh, a little bittersweet. I will go to the wedding, it’s a little weird.” You’re just more like, “Ugh, I’m stuck doing…”
Marc: “I’m stuck doing work.” Yeah, I’m annoyed about a bunch of other things.
Abby: I think people have a hard time, like we are best friends. We spend all our time together. And we spend time on weekends together. And our families, we vacation together. We spend our time… — So, it’s like I think sometimes people, when you know our history, it’s hard to understand what that relationship is later. But his wife and my husband are good friends. Our daughters are like sisters. They see each other multiple times a week. It’s very close, so it’s not like now it is this professional thing where it used to be a personal thing. It’s still a personal and professional thing, just not a romantic thing, if that makes sense.
Craig: It does actually. I mean, it’s obvious how comfortable you guys are with each other. I mean, it’s very cool. It’s obviously a unique circumstance.
Craig: I’m sure you get asked about it a lot. But it is… — I can only imagine that it makes the creative partnership that much stronger.
Marc: It does. I mean, there’s nothing we can — we don’t hold anything back. We’re not scared of saying anything to each other which is good.
John: So, let’s go back to USC. You guys are partnered up to make this little short film together. Did it turn out well, did it turn out poorly?
Abby: It was a learning experience.
Marc: That one was okay. But that was like non-sync 16mm, like brutal.
John: Yeah, I remember that at USC. A lot of hand-wringing, long looks, some twitches.
Marc: Are any of those good? I don’t know if…
John: No, not really. None of them were good.
John: Zemeckis made a good one.
Marc: Yeah, he did.
John: Way back in the day he made a really good…
Marc: The Lift? Was that that one?
John: The Lift, yeah. If you go to USC you get to see The Lift.
Marc: That’s when they show it to you, yes. And then you’re like, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
John: So when did you guys start writing together. Was that shortly after?
Abby: Well, that first project that we did was like in our first year of film school. And we were in the MFA program, which is three years. And in our third year we made another film together which we…
Marc: Which was a thesis.
Abby: Which was like our thesis. And we shot it on 35mm, and it was like 25 minutes long. And it was much more in our, in the tone that we wanted to write, and it was a romantic comedy.
John: It was building your wheel house.
Abby: Yes. It was called Fairfax Fandango, about a hip girl who lives in the Fairfax neighborhood who gets obsessed with her next door neighbor guy who happens to be an Orthodox Jew. So, it was like a little love story. And that really was the first thing we worked on together that is sort of more like what we do.
John: Was that short film helpful at all?
John: So, that got attention?
Marc: It got everything.
Abby: It did. It did.
Marc: It was, I mean, pre-internet.
John: So, it was First Look Festival.
Marc: First Look.
Abby: Yeah, it was back in the day when that thing at the DGA was packed, you know, with assistants, and we were both working as assistants at the time, by the time it showed. We were trying to like make back all the money we spent.
John: So, some context for listeners who aren’t USC Film School graduates. At USC when you make a certain level of student film, once or twice a year they show all the student films to people in the industry, so agents, and producers, and managers, and everyone comes to see it. And it’s a big deal. And it was a much bigger deal before…
Abby: It was. It’s a beautiful, giant theater, the Directors Guild, like really nice theater, nice sound, nice everything. And it was like standing room only in those days.
And like I said, we were both working as assistants and we had the kind of machine where you had to call into your machine at home. And we were living together at the time, and at our assistant jobs…
Marc: The day after.
Abby: …the day after it, and Marc called me from his assistant job to my assistant job. And he’s like, this is probably ten in the morning, and he’s like, “There are 25 messages.”
John: Holy cow.
Marc: He’s like, “I have to erase, it’s full!” And so he deleted them. And then he called back at lunch and he’s like, “There are 25 messages on the machine.” Like it just kept — It was, I guess, a different era where we just like…
Marc: Yes. Pre-email, where I think in the program that they gave at the First Look Festival they had a contact number, which was our apartment, and that was it. So, we found our manager — who we’re still with — in that that time, right after we, yeah.
John: So, moving from there to writing, being paid to write, what was the next step for you guys?
Marc: Again, sort of a weird step. We didn’t know what we were going to do; and we had an idea for a movie that we just kind of told our manager, like, “Let’s go pitch it.”
Abby: Like we thought we were pitching it him, like we’re going to write this movie now after our show.
Marc: We had no writing sample. We had a short and an idea. And he’s like, “No, the short has got enough,” so we did a first round of meetings, like generals, for like a month, with just all of those calls. And then we picked a handful of those people and pitched them the idea and we ended up selling it.
Abby: So, that was Never Been Kissed. That was our first thing that we did. And we sold that.
John: And you sold that to Flower, Drew Barrymore’s company?
Abby: We sold it to another producer who had a deal at Fox at the time. And then they come on once Drew wanted to do it, and it was Flower’s first film.
Marc: They had just formed basically after we sold it and when we were writing it. It was a quick process. That was crazy. We like — we sold it, and it was in production a year later.
Abby: And we had to write it.
Craig: Those are the best stories, the ones where… — You know, I have my theory that there are movies that will not ever be made and movies that you can’t stop from making.
Craig: So, it’s good to get one of those, “You just can’t stop this train.”
Marc: Yeah, but we were, you know, it was a very — it was not an accurate representation of what is going to happen to you. After that first one we’re like, “All right, here we go.”
Craig: What’s the next one?
Abby: Right. Next year we’re going to have another one.
Marc: And we didn’t get a job for a year after that. Like it was assignments and all that like placing stuff and…
Abby: Oh, pitching to get those assignments.
Craig: The worst, right? The worst.
Craig: Well, here’s a question for you guys, because I’m always interested in how people fall into the kinds of comedy that they fall into. You started with romantic comedies.
Craig: And the first thing that you did after the independent work for the studio was a romantic comedy.
Craig: Did you think, “Okay, well, this is just, we sort of like romantic comedy, but we like this, this, and this, but now we’re stuck in romantic comedy.” Or were you always just sort of “that’s our thing.”
Abby: I feel like it’s not cool to say but that’s always been my thing.
Craig: It’s totally cool.
Abby: And people feel like they’re slumming it in romantic comedy and I can’t understand why.
Craig: You love it.
Abby: Because I love it.
Marc: But we love it when it’s good.
Abby: Well, of course. You know, the Jim Brooks movies that I saw, and the Woody Allen movies that I saw, those are the movies that I — to me — were the pinnacle. I mean, and being in film school at USC, I was definitely in the minority. That wasn’t, you know, those weren’t the filmmakers that were revered. But that was always what I loved, so, why wouldn’t I like aspire to do that thing, you know?
Marc: Well, and we also had, like in the Venn Diagram of our tastes, those movies were there. I’m a little more left of center and she’s a lot more commercial than I am, and we kind of meet somewhere in the middle. But we also weirdly shared when we got to film school in like ’93, like indie movies at that time were not dark. They were romantic comedies. They were like early Noah Baumbach movies.
John: Party Girl, yeah.
Marc: Yeah, Party Girl, Kicking and Screaming, Sleep with Me, Mr. Jealousy. Like, those are the movies we loved.
Abby: Like those are what we would go see on weekends and we both really, really liked them.
Marc: So, we wanted to write movies about people, and it just ended up being like for studios that’s romantic comedies. And indies got dark, so there was nowhere else to go.
Craig: But you guys, I assume, get sent a ton of romantic comedies that you read that are atrocious.
Craig: And does it ever get you down on the genre? Do you ever think the genre is lost? Is it still savable?
Abby: It doesn’t get me down on it, but I guess it bothers me that people don’t seem to make a delineation between the smart good movies, these are just — I mean, you can call it a romantic comedy, but it’s really a comedy about characters that are good, with a great story, and something that makes you laugh out of the characters.
I don’t feel like people often make a distinction between that and the formula, by-the-numbers rom-com that they know they can put out and get a certain amount of money with a certain amount of casting. And I feel like am I the only one who notices that there is a real divide, you know? So, that does bother me because I feel like a lot of stuff just gets lumped in together.
John: It ends up being we combine the “she’s pretty when she takes her glasses off” kind of movie and the Jim Brooks movies that you’re talking about.
John: And it’s like that’s a very wide range of things.
Abby: Absolutely. And so I feel like there should be another genre set aside for the…
Craig: Good romantic.
Abby: Right, you could call it that.
John: Or a comedy that has a strong aspect of romance to it.
Abby: Right. I like to call it a character comedy, and there is romance to it as there are with a lot of the stuff that I like, but…
Marc: But it’s also hard to, just even from the stage where you start to where the movie ends up, it goes a long distance from where you wanted it to be.
Marc: And sometimes, especially in the studio system, movies just become what they are going to be, like what that marketing is going to be. It just becomes a rom-com because that’s what…
Craig: And then casting is huge.
Marc: Casting is the whole thing. And so no matter why, you know, we decided to… — I was reticent to do He’s Just Not Into You when we started. And then we talked about it and I was like, “Oh, this is cool. It could be like this is an anti-romantic comedy.” And that title is not romantic at all. But you write it, and it gets cast, and it gets made, and then it’s just a romantic comedy. That’s what it is.
Craig: [laughs] You can’t avoid it.
Marc: You can’t avoid it.
Craig: You can’t avoid your fate.
Abby: Yeah, I do feel like as we have written romantic comedies and they go out to directors, I do feel like there is a little bit of a “in the beginning of my career I’ll do those, but hope to elevate to something else.” And I truly do not feel that. I truly feel like this is my…
Craig: That’s what you do.
Abby: …this my passion. This is my movie passion.
Craig: I love that. I love that.
John: Let’s talk about romantic comedies, and the engines of romantic comedies, because tomorrow we’re sitting down with Aline Brosh McKenna. And I was looking at her movies and I would describe them as like “want-coms,” where you have a character who comes in and they want a certain kind of life for themselves and everything keeps pushing them away from that life and they’re steering towards that.
Romantic comedies tend to be two-handers. You guys are two people , so you can sort of [crosstalk].
Marc: And we both have two hands also.
John: So you can represent those two voices in the room.
Craig: Great point.
John: Yeah, exactly. One-handed people cannot write romantic comedies. Or, people who have no hands at all.
Marc: A no-hander.
John: It just won’t work for them.
Well, what is the engine of a good romantic comedy, like of a movie that you like in the genre? What are the conventions you expect and what are the conventions you push against?
Marc: I mean, for us I can tell you the conventions that we get pushed against all the time, which is tough.
Abby: We also want to start them off more losery.
Marc: Yeah. Desperation. It’s such a double standard and we fight against it all the time. Guys, the lead males in movies, can be the most desperate people in the world and it’s funny. Like Steve Carell, and Jason Segel have built careers on being sad sacks, and that’s hysterical and great.
But we want, we’ve always tried — pushed — for female characters in that vein in the first acts, and also “stalkery” comes up. All those words where people really feel like it makes them uncomfortable when you try and portray women… — I mean, that was the problem with He’s Just Not That Into You, it’s like, people were uncomfortable but we just kept saying, like, that’s how it is. You know what I mean?
And the truth is if we could push it to where we wanted to you’d be way more uncomfortable.
Abby: And we’d be excited about.
Marc: Have you been in a hair salon? Have you listened to women talk? There’s that person in everyone’s office where you’ve heard that same story about that same guy 15 times in different scenarios. Like, it’s a real thing in the real world, but it makes people uncomfortable. So, that’s definitely something we’re always trying to explore is just the reality of that, sort of the opposite side of romance, the sort of desperate side of it. The need.
Craig: What is that? Because I always feel like, and I get this a lot, too, because I love characters that are wrecks, and I’ve been writing more movies lately with either female protagonists or two-handers, not necessarily romantic comedies, but even in the non-romantic comedy genre there is this weird thing where the studios are concerned about female characters being pathetic.
Marc: That’s it. Pathetic.
Craig: And, I mean, I have a theory, and I want to run it by you guys because you’re the experts on it. And my theory is that traditionally studio films hold women up as a moral ideal for men. So, the idea is men are broken, women are fixed. So, even if you have a female protagonist the problem is not her, the problem is the men around her.
Craig: And so you can’t have a broken woman.
Marc: You can’t blame the woman.
Craig: But that’s not good drama.
Craig: The whole point of drama is that you are broken.
Craig: So, my theory is right?
Abby: I think so.
Craig: That’s the greatest compliment. You never tell me 100%.
John: No, no. Most he can get is 95%.
Abby: And also I think a little bit of it, a little bit of this thing that somehow we’re doing a poor social service by reflecting what we see and what’s funny. Somehow that’s bad for women, which I really don’t believe.
It’s not a guide book. This isn’t the lesson for how to be a woman. I’m simply seeing the things around me that I think people can relate to and are funny and reflecting them back, in I hope, a funny and relatable way.
John: Well, you look at Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids, that’s a prime example…
Marc: But that’s super frustrating to us, because unless you’re Judd Apatow you can’t get that done.
Craig: But I think it’s great that she did that to sort of say, look…
Craig: …it’s super helpful for us, because, you know, for those of you listening who aren’t screenwriters yet, there is this game that goes on where you present your material to the studio and they give you criticism. And you say, “Well, but, here’s a movie that was a hit that contradicts your point.” And then they’ll say, “Well, that’s different.”
Craig: But it’s not different. It’s actually really the same. But it was great that that happened because you could sort of say, “Look, the whole point is I don’t care about the win, you know, I don’t care about the victory at the end.”
You know, I liked While You We’re Sleeping. I liked it. It was a good movie. But by the same token she was just this improbably beautiful woman…
Marc: Who works in a toll booth.
Craig: …who works in a tool booth. And the movie just said she’s alone.
Marc: Yes, for no reason. She has no problem.
Craig: You can’t walk down the street, I don’t care what you’re made up like, what you’re wearing, that woman can’t walk down the street at 10pm on a Friday night and not get hit on.
Craig: So, it was like a fairy tale. You know, all of his things were very fairy tale like. And, so, I think it’s great that you guys, you should keep pushing that.
Marc: We’re pushing. And we are. And we like broken people. Like, that’s the fun, and the thing we’re writing now, or just finished, we have been pushing that character to be as broken as possible. And it has stayed for now.
Marc: We’ll see.
Marc: We’ll see.
Marc: And I think but the weird thing is I feel like to a certain extent studios only care about casting, really, and if they thought about it, that’s what actors want to play. They want to play things that are broken.
Marc: They want to play characters that have a full, you know…
Craig: Especially the women I’ve spoken to.
Marc: Yeah, 100%.
Craig: They really do. Because they see like, no one questions Billy Bob Thornton as Bad Santa.
Craig: You know, where he goes, “Ha, ha, that’s hysterical.”
Abby: Right, right.
Craig: But, God forbid a woman should be drunk and a mess and you know.
John: You look at Charlize Theron in Young Adult, and every actress would love to be able to play that character.
John: And it doesn’t have to be as dark a comedy as that was, but a character who comes from that place of her life, is messed up in a way that all men in comedies get to start at a very low place.
Marc: Yeah. And that’s what we see. And I feel like people get dark in relationships. And people get sad, and desperate, and things don’t work out. And it can be funny if it’s relatable.
Craig: Well, that leads me to a tone question, and that is do you find that comedy has gotten realer, because you guys have been doing it for awhile — has the tone changed?
Marc: I think it has. Yes, I think it’s gotten realer, in good ways and in bad ways. I feel like the overall tone is, “We want to approach real,” but I think there is a reticence to allow broad things into movies now that I think could still work and be funny if they were allowed to be in there. And I think people sort of recoil from things that might just be funny or might just be a little weird. And I think Bridesmaids succeeded in that way, too, which was super broad.
Craig: Apatow kind of famously put that one scene in there.
Marc: Well that, but even just like the airplane scene. I watched that scene and I was like, “If we wrote that for a studio they would be like, ‘Really, she’s drunk on the plane?’” It would read super broad but you let a really talented actress do it and it’s really funny.
John: Let’s talk television, because you guys have also written television.
Abby: We have.
John: And comedy, you’ve only done half hours? Or have you done hours also?
Abby: We’ve only shot three pilots, and all of those were hours. But that was also we were doing dramedy hours.
John: It was a slightly different era.
Abby: Slightly different era. There was maybe a little bit more opportunity for those then and now I feel like there’s even less. Even then there wasn’t a ton.
Craig: You mean like the Ally McBeal sort of thing?
Marc: Yes. But even less with that, because that still had an engine to it. That still had the law component.
John: Parenthood is probably a good example [crosstalk].
Marc: Which is a super throwback. They don’t really make those much anymore. But, yeah, so we did three…
Abby: Ours may be a little bit more comedy than Parenthood just on the tone meter. But, yeah, in that vein.
Marc: We did three in the early — so like right after Never Been Kissed, or right when that started shooting we thought it seemed like an opportunity to get in. We were working there, we just didn’t get a movie job for awhile.
And it was great, especially coming out of film school, it was as hands on as you want it to be. Whereas with Never Been Kissed we just wrote it and then they went off, we didn’t have anything to do with it.
Abby: Yeah, coming out of film school, when the biggest thing we had ever done was like my mom making frozen burritos for the crew and all of a sudden you get like here. I mean, literally, we pulled off the freeway, on our first day of shooting our first pilot — it was in Pasadena — we pulled off the freeway and I was like, “Oh my god, there’s something else shooting right here.”
And Marc was like, “That’s our thing.”
I was like, “Nooooo! That’s not true.” But it really was. Those were our fucking trailers — oops…
John: No, no, that’s fine.
Abby: I’m sorry. They’re our trailers. I mean, it was such… — Exactly, for kids who were a couple years out of film school to be involved in a production of this size was unbelievably great and fun and, you know.
John: I remember feeling really guilty eating craft service on the first set. It’s like, “Oh, but someone should — I shouldn’t eat all of this craft service.”
Marc: I remember off-handedly saying, I learned a lesson that first week, remember in the gym? And there was like a bunch of soda there. And I was like, “Oh, there’s no Coke.” And I just like walked away, because I don’t like Pepsi for some reason. And like literally half an hour later someone walked up with like a Coke. And he said, “Coke is over here now.” And I was like, okay…
Craig: It makes me so uncomfortable.
Marc: I know, I was like, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant like, “Oh, I don’t want…”
John: The worst is when you hear it being called on the Walkie. It’s like, “They really want some…” I’m like, oh, no.
Craig: I always say before I ask somebody for help I’m like, “Listen, if you have to go to the radio for this, don’t do it.” Because if you say, “Oh my god, have you seen so and so? My glasses are dirty. I have to get those wipes.”
“Uh, can we get eyes on wipes?”
“Oh, they’re driving up from,” you know, “with a box of wipes.”
Marc: But, so, yeah, we did three. The first one got on the air.
John: What was the show?
Marc: It was called Opposite Sex. It was the year of high school shows, Freaks and Geeks was that year, Popular was that year, our show was that year.
Abby: It was a show about an all-girls high school that goes coed and the first three boys that come into an all-girls high school.
Craig: That’s a great idea.
Abby: I went to an all-girls high school.
Marc: It was really fun…
Abby: It was really fun.
Marc: …but it was midseason and there was a president change at the network and it ended up getting burned off. But it was a great eight episodes to make.
Abby: It was a great experience. It was so fun. We shot at the Ranch at Warner Bros, which if people don’t know, it was like…
Marc: We built a campus.
Abby: Yeah. We built an outdoor campus and it was like being at summer camp. It was amazing. It was really, really fun.
Marc: And then we made two more, but by the end of the third, which was our best — we thought — and it didn’t get picked up, we were like… — I mean, they tell you, you know, a TV writer is king and you have a lot more power and all that stuff, which is true, but you get your heart broken. And you spend a year and a half on these things and then you just get killed.
And in some, our second one especially, by the end of it when we were shooting, like I don’t even know what this is anymore because the process is really brutal development-wise.
Abby: And the one that Marc is talking about, the last one we did, the third one was a pilot called Splitsville that we also did for Fox, which was about us and about our breakup. So, that one I think was really personal and…
Craig: And then they’re telling you things like, “We just don’t believe this. This couldn’t happen. We don’t like these people.”
Marc: “No, listen…”
Abby: We tested, as you do, you test shows. And so we had to test our show. Marc’s character tested amazing.
Abby: My character…
Marc: Oh no!
Abby: Reviled. And people were specific saying it’s not the actress it was actually the character.
Abby: Hate it.
Craig: A little part of you was like…
Marc: I was like, “I knew it!”
Craig: “Remember all those fights where I said, ‘No, I’m right.’”
Marc: “‘I’m right.’ I was.”
Craig: There are people with dials telling you that I’m right.
Marc: Their dots are dropping.
Craig; That’s right.
John: If in real life…
Marc: A fight dial. Can we test…
Abby: Right, when we’re pitching, we got our own dial and it was pitching better. So, after that experience it really was, I think for me especially, just a total heartbreaker. We had been told that the show was going to get on the air by people who clearly didn’t know, and we felt like it had so much opportunity, we were so happy with the tone of it, with sort of our comedy/drama, just heart of it. And so when that didn’t go I think it was time to take a little step back and focus more on doing movies.
I guess in movies I never really expect it to go. So, there’s not really that kind of pain. It’s a happy surprise when it does. And in TV, I guess, you’re just pushing towards the upfronts, and you’re pushing towards getting it made, and you’re pushing towards getting it on the air and it really does feel like a real blow, or at least it did for me. I called the actors to tell them it wasn’t going to air. I was crying and they were trying to tell me, “It’s going to be okay.”
Marc: “We’ve done this before.”
Craig: “Because you are awful. I tried everything I could to make you likable.”
John: But it strikes me now that in the half hour world the kinds of things you were doing are really popular now. You look at the New Girl, you look at The Mindy Project, those are the kinds of things you hope you could see in features but they’re happening on television.
Abby: That’s true.
Marc: Yes. Which is why we’re doing another pilot this year. [laughs]
Craig: And now they’re like, “Eh, they’re kind of copycats.”
Marc: It’s going to feel that way, yes, for sure. But, we got, well, we wanted to and a good situation came up where we’re going to try again, ten years later.
Craig: If somebody said to you, “Look, we can wave a magic wand and you have a choice. You are going to be successful either way,” I mean you already are, but like permanently successful. But, “either movies, or TV.” What do you pick?
Marc: God, that’s a hard choice.
Abby: I mean, if I can also define the experience of movies, then movies, because like the experience we had on He’s Just Not That Into You was amazing. The director we worked with was great.
Marc: The only writers, yeah.
Abby: Yeah, we were the only writers, which I think you don’t get the chance to do very much, and so we really felt ownership of that project. We were close with the producers, who we also loved, and we were able to be just involved. So, if we could write movies and have that level of involvement and really feel like part of a team, then for me that would be the answer.
Marc: Yes. I sort of agree. I mean, I feel like a great TV show, to be able to do that would be super fun. But the lifestyle seems pretty brutal.
John: The lifestyle of a television writer is brutal. I’m friends with Damon Lindelof and like I wouldn’t trade places with him for anything.
Marc: That’s what I fear. And I fear, I don’t know, especially with the internet now, the audience and shows that people love, it’s such a love/hate thing going on. And you’re constantly feeling like you’re writing to very specific people and in success I feel like it would wear on you. Whereas like project to project, it’s nice to just do something else.
John: My fantasy would be to write features on sort of a TV schedule.
Marc: “You’re making this.”
John: “You’re making this.” Or, if you’re not making it, it’s a clear decision that you’re not making it, it’s done. Because it’s the endless, you just don’t know. You can just go on forever.
Abby: But there’s also a positive to that that like they could call from that studio where you wrote that script nine years ago saying, “Weirdly, some guy was looking over it and now Charlize Theron wants to do it.” Like, you never know. There is always — I mean, I don’t spend days at home hoping that, but there is always that possibility. Where with TV there is not. Nobody is calling me about that pilot I wrote nine years ago.
Marc: Which is weird.
John: Actually, they have started going back though…
Abby: A little bit. A little bit.
Marc: But they should. I mean, the amount they buy and the amount that is there.
Craig: It’s kind of crazy.
Marc: You think they could take one year and not buy anything and be like, “Let’s just make stuff we didn’t make before.”
Abby: [laughs] Totally.
John: Have you guys reacquired anything you wrote for TV? Because your Splitsville thing, it feels like that could be a movie if you guys tried to…
Marc: We talked about it.
Abby: We talked about it. We wrote a TV pilot, a half hour about summer camp that was on the cusp of going and didn’t. But that’s something we talk about. That’s something we talk about seeing if we could get that back.
Marc: Yeah, but we haven’t looked into it.
John: Has having — you both have kids now, right?
Abby: We do.
John: Has that changed at all your perspective on the kind of comedy you’re writing?
Marc: [sighs] I mean, no. Yes and no. We did a rewrite over the summer that was more like parental/parentally…
Abby: But not for kids.
Marc: It wasn’t a kid’s movie, but it was involving, you would need to have had kids I think to really like it.
Abby: Like a comedy of…
Craig: You needed that perspective. Right.
Abby: A comedy of parenting kind of.
Marc: So, that was something we wouldn’t have had before. But I think our taste hasn’t really changed that much.
Marc: And I don’t really have much interest in family movies, or like I know a lot of people who have kids are like, “I want to write something I can see with my kids,” and I don’t have that.
Craig: It’s so funny. I’ve had the opposite. I started writing, my first movie is a Disney movie. And when I had kids I suddenly realized, now I just want to write movies for adults.
Marc: Well, I also feel like you see more movies now for kids and you’re like, “I don’t want to live in that world anymore, because I’m watching them.”
Craig: That is absolutely true. It’s constantly running. I’m trying to get away from it as much as possible.
Marc: Exactly. Yeah.
John: So, Never Been Kissed was your first movie. You did a pilot. Next movie you got going was which one?
Marc: Well, the next movie that got made was He’s Just Not That Into You.
John: Oh, years later.
Marc: So, that was, I mean, it was ten years it took for them on releases.
John: So, it’s not clear I think to people on the outside is that you’re working that whole time. You’re getting paid to do stuff.
Abby: Well, we were under two overall deals for television, so we were three years at Warner Bros and I think two years at Fox.
Marc: Right. But then we also wrote a bunch of movies in that time.
Abby: And we did. We rewrote some movies, and we wrote some movies during that time.
Marc: And we had a movie, the next thing we wrote that we worked on for literally seven years.
Abby: Yeah. We had this movie, Date School, that was always threatening to go but never did. It was just one of those…
Marc: I mean, honestly, did seven drafts for different actors, six drafts for different directors.
Abby: Four different directors I think. [Crosstalk].
Marc: So, it was at DreamWorks…
Craig: That’s one of those movies you can’t — that will not be made.
Marc: It will never be made.
Craig; And then there are the other ones you can’t stop.
Marc: Well, no, here’s the thing. We wrote a draft, a rewrite, and it was not long after, this is really basic — There’s Something About Mary had come out like a year or two before. They got Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz to be in it, and Greg Mottola was directing, and it didn’t go.
Marc: And once that happened, it was like…
Abby: It was never going to go.
Marc: …it was never going to go.
Abby: If it’s not going to go with that. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. If they can’t surmount the… — I mean, that’s pretty remarkable.
Marc: Right, so, and there were three or four other iterations of those, like of that, enough momentum.
Craig: What studio was that one?
Craig: DreamWorks, yeah.
Marc: And then now, and then Paramount. But then it became Paramount. Like we thought we could get it back and it was one of the weird ones that Paramount kept from DreamWorks, so, I mean, it’s never going anywhere.
Abby: So, yeah, I mean, yeah, we were working all during that time. Making the pilots. Writing other pilots. Writing movies. But…
Craig: Rewriting other movies.
Abby: Rewriting other movies.
Marc: Yeah, and we sort of felt like, well, we had one. Like, we don’t know how we’re going to replicate that again.
John: But when you were talking to your aunts and uncles over the holidays, it just doesn’t seem like it. “But you haven’t had another movie? Oh, I’m so sorry it’s not working out for you.”
Abby: Right, totally. Totally.
Craig: My parents do this thing to me where they’ll say, “So, what are you working on?”
I’ll say, “Um, this movie.”
“Oh, when’s that coming out?”
So, it’s not even out and we’re already doing “and then?!”
Marc: That’s what we were just saying…
Craig: It’s like they’re just sort of like if you’re a carpenter, “Well, what are you doing?” “I’m making a table.” “And then?” “A chair.” “And then?” “A bureau.”
John: And you’ll still need four chairs to go with the table.
Marc: But, yeah, we were just saying to someone today, we had a movie come out in February, we’re like, “We’ve got a couple years now.”
Abby: “We can ride that. “
Marc: Yeah. Exactly.
Abby: You just read it? Come one, two years.
Craig: Dine out for a long night out.
Marc: Nothing else.
John: Well, thank you guys so much for talking with us.
Marc: Sure. It was fun.
Abby: Yeah, it was fun.
John: This was neat. Our sort of sit down…
Craig: Well, not only is it our first interview, but this is the first podcast — we’ve done how many of these, 57 or so? This is the first time we’ve ever been in the same room together.
Marc: Oh wow.
Craig: I mean, doing the podcast. We’ve been in the same room together for other stuff, but never the podcast.
John: So, we’re always on Skype.
Abby: We’re part of history.
Craig: You’re part of history in so many ways.
Craig: In so many ways. The least likable character in testing history.
Craig: I’m really hoping people write in.
Abby: Yeah, it’s the god’s honest truth, you guys.
Craig: “We liked John, we liked Marc, we liked Craig.”
Abby: I mean, it is totally the truth. And I feel I’m a likable person.
Craig: That’s the best part.
Abby: But I actually think I am when I’m so clearly wrong.
Craig: You should go into the room while they’re turning down the dials. “No, look at me!”
Marc: Likeable people can do unlikable things. It happens.
John: So, if people want to see your work, what do you recommend most they look for? What’s the definitive Kohn/Silverstein…
Marc: I don’t know if that’s been out there….
Abby: I think we haven’t written it yet. Or, if we’ve written it, it hasn’t been produced as such. But, um…
John: Would you guys direct a movie together?
Marc: Yes, that’s the next plan. I think there were parts of He’s Just Not That Into You that are close.
Abby: Oh, He’s Just Not That Into You is definitely the closest. But if I was going to say, like, I feel like there is still something that we have yet to say that will really define our tone, but that’s for sure.
Marc: In moments.
Abby: That’s for sure as close to it as we have.
Marc: The scene with Jennifer Connelly and Luis Guzmán.
Abby: Oh yeah.
Marc: Just that one scene. That’s it. That’s all we got.
John: Cool. Thank you guys so much.