Part I – The Writing Process
Part II – Getting an Agent and Selling the Script
Part III – Notes, Rewriting, Casting and SUPERBAD
Part IV – More Rewrites
Bitter Script Reader: Were you seeing dailies as they came in?
Dan Callahan: Well… Writers generally are not brought to set. The original director of College did like to have writers on set and we probably would have been on set the whole time. A lot of directors probably don’t like to have writers on because they feel like someone’s looking over their shoulder. So I understand. We went down for a couple days… and we had a good time in New Orleans… and that was the first time we got to see some dailies. And it’s hard to tell if it’s working or not… Dailies are so rough. It’s really hard to tell what you have, especially comedy because it’s so much about how it’s edited together, the pacing, the timing. And when you watch dailies there’s none of that there, so it’s really hard to get a feeling. So that’s all we saw, what we knew. Occasionally we’d get updates from the producers, but [after that] we didn’t see anything until we saw a cut of the movie. And the cut we saw was pretty far along so any issues we had wouldn’t have mattered. Not that they’d listen, but if we came in with a bunch of notes, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Once the project is sold and you’re done with the rewrites and it starts shooting, you’re done. It’s their movie now, which is tough.
BSR: Is there a part of you that was thinking, “Maybe they know what they’re doing? Maybe this will work?”
DC: With Deb [Hagan] as a director, [this was her first feature, so] we hadn’t seen any of her stuff. We had no idea how it was gonna look, how it was gonna be directed. [As far as the producers,] I liked [their earlier movie] Waiting… So you’re just hoping they can make something really good, really funny. At the end of the day you hope that the producers and directors know more about the actual making of the film than you do. It’s a collaborative process and you have to live with it, you have to deal with it. There’s things that they’re gonna do that you’re gonna like; there’s things that you’re probably not gonna like. It’s never gonna be your vision. So you just gotta live with it. That’s the way it is.
BSR: Did you end up seeing it in a theatre with an audience?
DC: We got them to show us a cut [ahead of time], so we kinda knew already what was coming out. We were told it was pretty far along. It’s hard because you’re so close to it, you could be overreacting to some stuff. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think it is. Maybe you’re just sick of it… and so it’s hard. You feel like “Maybe I’m not laughing because I know what’s coming. I know every joke.” So you chalk a lot of it up to that. That might not end up being the case in the end, but you end up trying to find a reason why you’re feeling the way you are.
BSR: When it came out, were you obsessively tracking the box office and the reviews?
DC: No, I didn’t look at the box office. Adam did. We both were in Chicago that weekend visiting family. A news channel wanted to do a story on us because we were local guys, and we flew home to do that. I did go see the movie with my parents sitting behind me, which… if you’ve seen the movie…
BSR: Yeah… I wouldn’t want to be in that position.
DC: It was my parents and two of their friends came also and I had already told them I didn’t want them to see the movie because it was obviously inappropriate for them. But they insisted on coming and it was… it was tough. It was tough literally having your mom behind you with some of the stuff going on.
BSR: I can imagine.
DC: Sweating bullets, you know? But I think we had an idea of what it was gonna do. We knew it wasn’t Superbad.
BSR: In that sense was it a relief that a few weeks before it came out, you sold Demoted?
DC: Yeah, Demoted was done quite a while before College so, yeah, it is nice to have something else.
BSR: You had the next one in the hopper before any reaction to College.
DC: The other thing is, at the end of the day for a writer, if people are gonna look at you for jobs, they’re gonna read your script. They’re not gonna watch the movie because it’s less about the writer when it comes to seeing what’s on the screen. So we felt confident that with the writing and the scripts and the drafts that they could get a good idea of what we wanted to do. So it doesn’t matter how College turned out for us. People are gonna try to blame you but people who work in the business are not gonna blame the writer.
If somebody’s looking to hire me for a job or wants to read my material, that’s what they’re looking at. They’re not going to go watch College – they’re going to physically get the script and read it. And they’re either gonna like it or they won’t. Writers, when it’s a bad movie, they get away with it. As long as it’s a good script. Now if it’s as bad as the film turned out to be, then you’ve got a problem. But we never felt that way. We always felt that College was a strong script and that people who read it would like it whether they’d like the movie or not.
So that’s a situation where you just try to write the best material possible. To laugh out loud reading a comedy is a hard thing to do. If you can get people to physically laugh out loud, that’s a sign you’re on the right track. I think College has some of those moments. Demoted definitely has those moments. That’s what gets people excited about something. So after College, you’re like “Can I do this again?” And it’s nerve-wracking because you’re not sure you can do it again. Was it a fluke? A one time thing? And after everyone of them it becomes that.
BSR: Are you happy with the process on Demoted?
DC: Yeah, strangely enough the shooting draft came very full circle to the original. We changed a lot, but at the end of the day, I was asked to put back a lot [of the original stuff.] Which was good, and it’s rare when you come back and the director says, “Put that back in.” It’s much closer to the first draft than College. It’s still different. There are still things that I have issues with, but it’s much closer to the original than College was.
But that’s also a case where there’s gonna be far more adlibbing because of your cast. You’ve got a guy like David Cross who’s… a thousand times funnier than me, he’s gonna come up with better shit than I came up with. So... you’re cool with that.
I had a much better relationship with the director on Demoted. Pretty good relationship with producers on Demoted. When I fought for notes, as long as I had a reasonable reason and came up with an intelligent rebuttal to a note, they’d generally say, “Okay, you’re right.” So there’s less of those holes where things were pulled out. I spent a lot more time on set in that movie, so I was definitely more involved.
But still, at the end of the day, they go off and they make their movie and it’s not about you any more.
If you're curious about Demoted, check out the trailer from Cannes in this the article at Collider. Demoted stars Michael Vartan (“Alias”), David Cross (“Arrested Development”), Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Sara Foster (“90210”), and Constance Zimmer (“Entourage”).
The synopsis provided to Empire Online reads:
Mike (Sean Astin) and Rodney (Michael Vartan) are mid-level employees with a fondness for playing pranks on office jerk Ken Castro (David Cross). But when their kindly boss dies, Castro is promoted to his place and Mike and Rodney are demoted to the secretarial pool. Where, unsurprisingly, they don't cope too well.
Thanks again to Dan Callahan for all his time and insight.