“Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen.”
Screenwriter Greg DePaul
Even if you don’t care for romantic comedies, who doesn’t like screenplay origin stories? Part 2 of my interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul (and author of Bring the Funny) covers how came up with the original idea for Bride Wars, how he pitched and sold the idea, and how he thought the project was dead in the water after the studio developing the movie died.
Throughout this part of the interview Greg also reveals the business aspects (and frustrations) involved in working in Hollywood. And he tells what he did after botching a pitch in front of Kate Hudson.
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Scott W. Smith: Bride Wars has a universal concept and a title that has built-in conflict where you can see the poster in your head even if you haven’t read the script. It’s primal. The original script you wrote attracted Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. It made over $100 million. The concept looks so easy, but I’m guessing the journey from idea to released movie in theaters was a difficult one.
Greg DePaul: Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen. Bride Wars was based on a real thing that happened. About 12 years ago I was working on my own in Santa Monica and my wife and I got engaged. And I’d pitched lots of things. I’ve sold or co-sold eight or nine feature film scripts based on pitches. However that’s 1% of all the things I’ve ever pitched. You have to pitch like a machine gun. And you have to pitch over and over again. And you have to write really well before you get noticed and before anyone will listen to your pitch.
People think, incorrectly, that you can go someplace and pitch an idea and they’ll pay you to write the script. That simply does not happen. It’s almost impossible. It’s like a supernova occurring on the same day as you’re holding the ace of spades—and a royal flush. Basically the way it works in Hollywood—actually, it’s harder to do now than when I did it then. They’re buying less and less pitches like Bride Wars. And Bride Wars itself was an anomaly.
The way it works is you write a spec that gets you noticed. People say, “I think Scott’s a great writer, I love his spec. It made me laugh or was really great.” And they don’t buy it because that may not be what they need at that moment to buy. But they remember you because you wrote something that made them laugh. And they say, “Scott, my door is now open.” And that’s when you start coming in every couple of months with new pitches. And I did that for years in Hollywood. In fact, my old partner, Hank Nelken and I would say “We’re the sandwich guys.” Remember in offices 10-20 years ago they’d have these guys walking around with a cooler? They had pre-made sandwiches for offices that didn’t have a cafeteria and they’d go door to door, knock on some lawyer’s door and say Hey you want ham and cheese? Great, five bucks. We’d say we were the sandwich guys.
Once you develop fans, a lot of people in town who like your scripts and think you’re good, the door can be left open for years. You’re on the list of funny or talented people. You can’t waste the opportunity. You can’t call them every week. You might go every two or three months. If you have an agent or manager, they’re the ones that schedule that. If you have 20, 30, or 40 fans. You’re going to their offices 2,3,4 times a week to various people and you’re just pitching everything you’re churning out when you’re home writing 10 hours a day coming up with stuff.
So that’s where I was when I pitched Bride Wars. I’d broken up with my writing partner and I’d gotten engaged to my wife. I was at a point where I had a heist comedy script out there called Fur Crazy. People liked it, but nobody bought it. And so people thought I was funny on my own. I had distinguished myself from my partner in that way. And now the time had come where I was asked to do myself what my partner and I had done when we sold Saving Silverman and other movies.
It is by the way, much harder to pitch by yourself. Especially with comedy. Because I didn’t have him there to work with me. And so I was going into a room everyday at ten with a pot of coffee and a computer screen and a note pad and just trying to come up with one-liner ideas. And every couple of weeks I come up with them and review them with my manager, and he’d say “That sucks,” “That doesn’t suck,” and maybe he’d say those three or four are good. He’d set up meeting and I’d go pitch them.
And a lot of times what happens is you pitch them and they’d say, “That sounds pretty good Greg, why don’t you come back in two weeks with more on it?” So you have pitches you’re working on, pitches that are original, pitches that are getting stale, and it’s like your working at a diner flipping lots of burgers trying to find one that’s hot, or just tasty for someone to buy. They’re only going to buy a perfect burger. So you make a lot of burgers before they buy the one that is perfect.
So at some point Dvora [a credited writer on Married with Children] and I were getting engaged. Her sister had gotten engaged first. And they had been setting up plans to get married. My in-laws had laid out money for what was going to be a wedding in 9 months or a year. And Dvora and myself got engaged, so suddenly my in-laws were facing the prospects of two weddings within six months that they’d have to pay for and deal with and it seemed like an act of cruelty. So my wife said, “We’ll make it a double wedding.” So then you had two sisters trying to plan a wedding. My wife and her sister have very different tastes and they may not have argued that much, but they argued a little over the style and the band, and the food, and the this and the that, and who to invite, and that’s when I got the idea of two women fighting over weddings in some manor.
And then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be easier if it was two friends and not sisters and they had mistakenly planned it for the same day?” So I changed the set-up to get the same second act tension that the real life wedding was actually causing.
So ironically as I worked on my pitch, my sister in-law broke up with her boyfriend and my wife and I sort of had their wedding. It was funny. So it was the band we had not picked, the shrimp we had not ordered, etc. But the long and short of it was the idea came through my wife and her sister.
And the first thing I did was try and work on it as a one-liner. I think I called a writer friend of my named Elizabeth Rogers and her friend Julie Forman because they were both woman and both screenwriters, and comedy writers. And I thought they’ll tell me if it’s good. And they said,”That sounds funny, we can relate to that.” And so I embarked upon an idea that I normally would never write because it’s an idea for a young woman and teenage girls. But it was the money that kept me going.
So I worked on it for months. I ran it by my manager and he liked it. And eventually I took it to different producer. I think I took it to Mark Gordon, and various people. A lot of people passed. I took it to Bob Simonds who does a lot of Adam Sandler movies, and he was attached for a while. But he wanted them to be socialites from Houston, because he was from Houston. So I was working on it with him on one hand. In the meantime I was working on a whole ‘nother version with Alan Riche who was a producer who did Starsky and Hutch and Mousehunt, who’s now doing Tarzan that’s coming out. I’d sit down with Alan, I’d give him my ideas and he’d give me notes and I’d keep working on it. And eventually Alan and my manager Matt Luber took it to some studios and the studios passed. I think maybe they passed because I’m a guy. They were like, “Can this guy write this?” Because they only knew me from Saving Silverman and other things.
Scott: When you took it to the studios what form was it in?
Greg: Once you start pitching it, it grows. And you grow it with the producer it grows. My pitches are very simple. I write things down. I come with a clipboard . I have maybe a page or two of what you call a beat sheet and I’ve basically memorized it, but truly memorizing your pitch is the dumbest thing you can do. And the reason you don’t memorize it is people will keep changing it. Are you going to keep changing what you memorize? Every time you pitch they’ll say, great, how about this, how about that? “Can you make him from Sumatra? Come back next month with that version.”
So you’ll have different version for different producers and different studios. Because you want to tweak it to serve their needs. If you try to memorize all those things you’re going to drive yourself crazy. And in fact, you’re not auditioning for the job of an actor, you’re auditioning for the job of writer. You don’t need to memorize anything. So I write stuff down, I have a pad, I have a clipboard that I refer to. By the time I pitch it I know it off the top of my head. But you’re not there to show you can memorize.
And so eventually, after many studios had passed, Alex or Matt said, “Let’s pitch it to Kate Hudson’s manager Jay Cohen.” We sat down with Jay and I pitched it and he liked it. And then he called back in a week and had notes and I had to make changes. And he said, “Why don’t you come pitch it to Kate Hudson?” So at that point my manager, another producer who’d gotten involved, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, and Jay Cohen, all these middle age men showed up in a room and waited for Kate. And she showed up and sat down. And we sat in a big circle around her and pulled up my chair and pitched it.
And the first time I pitched it to Kate Hudson, I stumbled. And that almost never happened because I’m very good at pitching. But I was a little nervous because I was with a star. And I got a third of the way through and I said, “Wait I made a mistake.” And Kate said, “Well, why don’t you just start over.” And I started back from the beginning. And she was very nice. She laughed at curtain places and she thought certain places were funny and say, “I like this” and “I like that.” And when we were done she said, “I like this, I can see it as a movie. It would be me and another woman,” which at that point was undetermined.
And she gave me some notes, and I left the room knowing she really liked it. And I verbally got back with her or one of her people on the phone and they said, “Okay, we’re going to run with this.” And they got on the phone with Miramax and they re-considered because she was attached and they said, “Let’s make a deal.” My manager negotiated and we made a money deal for two drafts and probably some rewrites as I recall.
From that point it took a couple of years to write because I did one draft and there was a lot of waiting, and then I did another draft, and there were some producer polishes, and there’s always sits and stalls when that happens. And then when I finished my duties writing Miramax died as a studio. So it was sitting on their shelf and they owned it, but they weren’t going to make it.
Come back tomorrow and learn how the project got resurrected and eventually produced. You can find Greg on Twitter and more info on him at the Bring the Funny website. He also teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School.
Scott W. Smith
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