Part I – The Writing Process
Part II – Getting an Agent and Selling the Script
Bitter Script Reader: What kind of notes did you get? Was it stuff you generally agreed with, or was it stuff you didn’t? You said you ran through a ton of options before [in the writing process.] Did you find yourself having to do some of those?
Dan Callahan: I think in general we probably didn’t agree with most of the notes. We’d never been through the process of getting notes from producers and because it’s your work, you think you know better. You think you know the material better, and at the end of the day, you DO know the material better… as the writer. You know the characters better, the story better. Anything they suggest you’re generally going to have an answer for right on the spot.
So a lot of the notes we had issues with. But what do you do? There are certain notes that we fought against, but if there were notes that made sense to us – we might not like them, but they made sense….
BSR: You pick your battles.
DC: Yeah, [if] they could potentially make the script better, we’re more than willing to try them. Also, you’re getting paid for these. Again, every step is a motivation, so you’re gonna do the work. You’re getting paid for it, so you have to do the work.
BSR: And it’s your first script so I imagine the incentive is there even more.
DC: The ultimate goal is getting the script done. I think on College we negotiated at least two rewrites so they had to give us two shots at getting the script right. I think we did more than that… I can’t remember exactly. Occasionally you end up doing free work in there. It’s hard to get those notes, hard to have those discussions, hard to hear those notes…
BSR: Was there a point where they gave you notes and were like, “Do they even get what we’re going for with this?”
DC: Oh yeah! Believe me... they’d email the notes and I’d call Adam like, “Did you see this note?” You’re just sitting there going through each one getting pissed trying to figure out how you’re gonna do this stuff. There were some big notes that were big changes we had issues with.
BSR: I noticed in reading the script that there were at least two, maybe two and a half, subplots that seemed completely pruned out. In the original script the set up is that they’re going to see his sister on campus at the sorority house and she sends them over to the frat house.
DC: Yeah, that’s a BIG change! Right.
BSR: You take the sister completely out and it leaves a huge gap in the second act.
DC: That was a note we were not happy about, but for whatever reason they wanted the sister out. We had a problem with it because it was the motivation. It gave the opportunity to go to that specific school. The original plot of College was very similar to Forgetting Sarah Marshall in that it was about a kid who gets dumped and needs to get away for a weekend to get over this break up.
BSR: And I liked the way you set that up in the original draft better too. In the first script, right on page one, he gets this self-possessed break-up letter from the girlfriend but in the movie she comes and essentially breaks up with him for being boring.
DC: Yeah and that was one of the first things I wrote too. Sort of a funny note…
BSR: I laughed out loud at it because it was such a strong voice for that character.
DC: [In the script,] as you’re hearing the note, he’s watching her blow some other guy in a car. In the first two pages, this guy is at his lowest point – where everything he thought is flipped on its head and not only that, this girl’s left him for a college guy, which is setting up something we pay off later and it was that sense that “Okay, I just went through the worst week of my life…” They hear the speech about the great weekend at college, and the kid’s like, “That’s what I need. I need a vacation. Because everywhere I go, I’m gonna run into her… And even better, I’ve got a sister already at college so that gives me a place to go, a place to stay and an excuse to tell my parents why I’m going up there.”
And the minute you take the sister out, it becomes “Why are they going to this school? Where are they staying? Why are they staying there?” With the sister in there, they assume they’re staying at the sorority house, which is like heaven to them. They get there, the sister’s like “You can’t stay here. We have these charter rules. Guys are not allowed to stay in the house. But I’ve set up with our brother fraternity house a place for you to stay.” And that gets them into the fraternity. It’s a logical reason.
BSR: Whereas in the film, he goes up for Morris’s (Kevin Covais) college visitation – which is also in the first version. I’ll admit I thought it was a little strange there were multiple motivations for the guys to go up.
DC: We wanted to give each guy something going in. In the original draft, it was: Main guy crushed over girlfriend. Totally about getting over her, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall – and this was WAY before Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That’s his reason. For Morris, it’s he’s got an academic reason. And the Carter character (Andrew Caldwell), who’s different in the script than he is in the movie…
BSR: Yeah, I was going to get to that one too…
DC: He’s purely going to get laid. He wants to fuck a college chick. So they each had their thing. The sister helped get them in the fraternity house in a logical way – because they can’t stay with the sister. The minute you pull the sister out…. That’s a big battle we had. How do we sell it [to the audience?] In the movie, they’re set up in the dorms…
BSR: Which is a logical enough reason.
DC: That’s logical enough, but then… [they leave because] the dorm sucks, and the vague notion that one of the guys has a cousin who used to be in that fraternity. So now you’re coming up with very loose reasons and logic for them to stay in this fraternity and it’s tough because we had a rock solid reason for them to be there.
BSR: And then the frat house is a much larger part of the movie than in the script. In the movie there’s this runner about how they don’t have any pledges to beat up on, so that’s why they’re so eager to take the guys in…
DC: And in the original draft it’s just a place to stay. These guys don’t love the fact that the high school kids are staying there, but because it’s their sister sorority, and they’re friends with the girls and they hook up with the girls and don’t want to piss them off, they’re willing to let them crash there. They still put them in the basement and they still sort of shit on them because they’re high school kids and they don’t really want them there, but they’ve sort of been pushed onto them. But it’s more than some other reason.
BSR: Like “we want to torture someone.”
DC: So what happens is when you start taking a piece out - by taking that sister piece out - you just named five problems that we had to answer. And we answered them, but none of them felt as strong as what we originally had.
BSR: And I think the other change that affected the script pretty drastically… I read a lot of the reviews and most of them go “Superbad ripoff.” But the original script doesn’t read like that at all because Carter is not a poor man’s Jonah Hill in the script.
DC: He’s the Stifler [from American Pie] of the group.
BSR: He’s the guy who thinks he’s a lady killer. He’s probably been laid a couple of times because he’s described as handsome and cocky. And a lot of the dialogue is the same, but the attitude behind it…
DC: It’s completely different and that was… we never wrote a fat kid in the movie.
The fat kid character was supposed to be Stifler. Supposed to be good looking. He’s a lady killer in high school. And the original draft is that when he goes to college, he’s not a lady killer there and he’s frustrated because he’s so used to getting girls, now he’s out of his league and he can’t get the girl.
BSR: Now he’s a small fish in a big pond.
DC: Exactly. Sort of the crossover from high school to college. Their lives in high school are one way and their lives in college are different. And the original draft had more of their lives in high school, setting up the things… like there’s a high school party that gets busted and they run away. In the movie, the high school party got taken out, but they kept the college version so when they get busted there [it’s a punchline without the set-up]. This is what happens when you take things out. Domino effect kills you.
Carter was one of those things in casting - we don’t even know - we just get one day “Here’s who’s playing Carter” and we look him up and go, “It’s a fat kid. This makes no sense.” The other problem is that once they cast the fat kid, they never came back and said, now that they cast a fat kid, we should probably go back and rewrite the character. So now you have a fat kid who ends up hooking up with the hottest girl in the group and it makes no sense! Having your character suddenly be a fat kid and not rewriting [for] that is a major issue. A major problem. Then you should cast the girl opposite him to be a fat girl… Or just throw in a line of dialogue that says she’s a chubby chaser. It’s funny. Make a joke out of it.
BSR: Once you make him a fat kid, it plays like Superbad. Especially with the new introduction to the group. In the movie, the first scene where Carter shows up he comes in, scarfs down food and makes some crack about Of Mice and Men being gay…
DC: And that was stuff the director put in that we didn’t even do.
BSR: You didn’t even write those scenes?
DC: I do not remember those lines. We had a new opening where he comes in, with the mom getting the kids ready. There was nothing about Of Mice and Men [in any of our scripts.]
BSR: I had the feeling watching it that it might have been an improv. I got the sense that there was a lot of letting that guy run loose.
DC: Our movie and Superbad shot really close together. Almost at the same time, I think maybe we were a month behind. When Superbad came out – a lot sooner because College switched from Lions Gate to MGM – it delayed the release again because why release on top of Superbad. But when I saw Superbad, I was like “the characters are identical” and it sucks because I knew that people were gonna think that we ripped off Superbad. I never read Superbad [before writing College.] I loved Superbad. I think it’s fucking hilarious. But it was definitely gonna play like we ripped off Superbad.
BSR: Especially with the first scene of the three of them together in the movie, with Carter ripping on Morris and complaining to Kevin (Drake Bell) about “Why do we have to hang out with this guy?”
DC: It’s a similar set of characters, but it was never meant to be that way. That was just something where the kid who played Carter came in, they liked him, and decided that he was just the funniest guy instead of going with it as written. It really was an issue when I saw the movie from a writer’s perspective, because I knew that there were certain situations that he was in in the movie that don’t make sense now because of who they cast. It would have been so easy to fix it. It just never got fixed. We were never asked to make changes.
BSR: It’s like they were unaware it was a problem.
DC: I just can’t understand watching it being filmed and not realizing you have to answer “Oh, this is a different kind of guy.” I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t get fixed. Change one little thing and [see] what a domino effect it has on him and the script.
Tomorrow: More about rewriting.
Part IV – More Rewrites
Part V – Release and Reaction