Your new movie How
to Beat a Bully - in a few words, what is it about?
to Beat a Bully is
a family comedy about a 12-year-old boy who moves to a new town and gets
picked on by bullies. To protect himself, he fibs that his dad is a hit
man for the mob! When the rumor spreads to real mobsters, they capture the
dad. The kid and his new BFFs save the day and his dad!
did the project fall together in the first place?
Marilyn and I wrote the script after seeing Home Alone in 1990.
We thought there was a need and opportunity for more family films.
Right away, we got a lot of interest in the script and had tons of
meetings. But then a few family films came out that were flops, and the
studios didn’t want to do them anymore. Over the years we optioned
it several times, but getting all of the right elements to fall together
in the right way got us close, but not greenlit. Finally, Marilyn
said it was time to stop optioning the screenplay. If someone wanted
it, they would have to buy it.
We actually optioned the script 8 times to 8 different Hollywood
producers, each saying they would get the film produced.
Finally, I said “no more options.”
As soon as I decided that, everything started to happen.
I found an investor who loved the project.
Then I teamed up with Dream Factory Entertainment and they brought
in another investor. Within 6
months, the film was cast and in production.
So sometimes, you just have to “stop waiting for Hollywood” –
and go do it yourself!
were your sources of inspiration when writing How
to Beat a Bully - and does either of you have any first-hand
experience with bullying, actually?
Marilyn and I each had personal stories of being bullied, which we
included in the movie. But the source of inspiration was looking for
a common, universal story that everyone could relate to. Bullying
certainly met that qualification. We tossed around various story
ideas, and the problem of being the new kid in town was one of those
elements. The idea of using one’s wits to outsmart bullies was
very appealing… and once we hit on the idea of our hero spreading a rumor
about his father, it was great fun to see how that rumor could race out of
control! So our story explores family relationships, schoolmates and
bullying, the strength of friendships, the small town rumor mill… we
really cover a number of universal stories.
I was bullied in high school by the “tough girls”.
One girl used to hit me every time she passed me in the hall.
I gave that story to the mom in How
to Beat a Bully.
I added a beat about how we got to be friends again, except that
didn’t happen in real life. Another
time a girl punched me in the face at a hamburger drive-thru.
I didn’t put that in the film – but the weird thing is, this
girl recently tried to become my friend on Facebook!
I’m guessing she doesn’t remember that she punched me, but I
do. Richard told me he was
bullied in school and the kids called him “melonhead”.
So we put that in the script, too. Of
course, our other inspirations were lots of comedy movies and our love of
humor in general. Being comedy writers, we wanted to make a fun and
entertaining film, yet still have it be meaningful in some ways.
What can you tell us
about the writing process, how did you collaborate? And how have you two
first met, even?
I don’t know how other teams write, but I have a feeling our way of
working is unique. We sit down and spend endless hours
procrastinating. Oh, wait, that’s what everybody does. The
unique part is that we work out the whole story, then we begin the
specifics by going through each scene and working out it out in detail.
Then, we will each take a pass at the scene. We then each read our
version and smoosh the best of each into one complete scene. I’m
always amazed at how well this process seems to work. I have some
strengths in my writing, and Marilyn has other strengths. Somehow,
our two styles seem to enjoy the smooshing process.
Yeah, I really love smooshing, but Richard has a wife. He calls me
his other wife. The two of us really enjoy working together. Years
ago, we would always get together in the same room to write. But
now, since we don’t live close by, we do it on the phone or via email.
To write a script, first we break the story together: We discuss the
characters, who they are, what they want, what makes them tick, and then
we put them in situations with lots of obstacles to overcome. We block out
the story, create the scenes and smoosh a lot. Actually, it makes the
first draft seem more like a 3rd draft, because we’ve each
written the scenes once ourselves, and then we’ve reworked them
together. After we have a complete draft, we go over it again and again
and make fixes. We also read
it aloud so we know how all the characters sound and if the dialog feels
right. So by the time we’re
ready to send it out, it’s probably a 5th or 6th
As far as how we met, we may have different recollections of it. My
recollection was that I had been working with a partner, and a number of
things happened where I didn’t get on a sitcom staff, and a special we
were developing for ABC fell through. We decided to keep our
friendship healthy by splitting up as a team. I wrote some spec
scripts, but I really prefer working as a team. Writing can be a
lonely business, and it’s more fun to work with someone. I asked a
mutual friend if he knew any writers looking to team up. He gave me
a list of a few people, and I met with them. The one who seemed to
be closest to my sense of humor and style was Marilyn. We decided to
give it a try, and here we are, 26 years later!
A mutual writer friend recommended that we meet since we were both moving
on from working with other partners – and we were each looking to team
up with someone new. I
remembered seeing Richard and his wife sitting behind me at the Writers
Guild Theatre where they had screenings of films.
So he was familiar to me, even though we didn’t know each other.
After we met, we read each other’s work and talked about writing.
Since we seemed to have similar sensibilities and goals, we decided to
work together. It was a match!
A few words about How
to Beat a Bully's very own brand of comedy?
to Beat a Bully is a family comedy of errors. It’s about
mistaken identity, small town fear and gossip, and big time fun.
It’s a broad comedy and a type of farce, yet it still has likable
characters who exhibit genuine feelings and a family that seems relatable
How to Beat a Bully
being family entertainment, is that a genre you feel at home at?
Oh, yes! We’ve actually written three family entertainment
screenplays, so we are very comfortable writing about families and the
different dynamics. I had a lot of practice writing about families,
because I was a story editor on the TV show Full House.
I’ve been writing comedy a long time, and love working in that
genre. It’s fun to write a
family comedy since you get to explore the “voice” and life
experiences of people of all ages. The
film has characters in it from 8 – 80 years old.
I also like writing romantic comedies, and even wrote a book about
relationships that’s published in ten countries: Never Kiss a Frog: A
Girl’s Guide to Creatures from the Dating Swamp.
I’ve written for a number of TV shows including Murphy Brown,
FAME, and Sherman Oaks, and I was on the writing
staff for Carol & Company that starred Carol Burnett, Richard
Kind and Jeremy Piven. I’ve
also written multiple episodes of Friday the 13th – The
Series. Some writers work in only one genre, but both Richard and I
have worked in several different genres, although I think comedy is the
most fun for us both.
talk about How to Beat
a Bully's director Doug Bilitch, and what was your collaboration
with him like?
Once the director gets the script, it’s his show. But he was
always open to hearing our thoughts and suggestions. So it was a
good working relationship.
We were fortunate that Doug shared our vision and we like what he brought
to the film. Because we
originally wrote it as a high budget movie for the studios, we had to make
some changes due to budgetary considerations.
We had to streamline the script a bit, taking out some characters
and some scenes that were too physically and financially demanding for a
lower budget film. But Doug
was able to keep the story and tone of the film and we think he did a
great job. Of course, there
are a few places where Richard and I wish we could have kept in more
jokes, but overall, we were both quite pleased.
To what extent were you involved in the
actual making of the movie, and if at all, what can you tell us about the
shoot as such?
The lines of communication were very open. Marilyn was one of the
executive producers, so she had a lot more input at all levels. But
I was able to bring a song my son wrote for the film to the attention of
the producers. Fortunately, they liked the song, so it’s in the
end credits. I was thrilled to be able to open that door for my son
who had just graduated college as a music major. That probably
would not happen in a studio film.
I was very involved in all aspects of it, and included Richard in
everything since he’s my writing partner.
We were both at all the casting sessions and had lots of input.
The whole casting process was quite collaborative.
We had so many people behind the desk when actors auditioned, you
would have thought it was for a multi-million-dollar movie!
But the fact is, we pretty much all agreed on who we liked best for
each part. I suggested a
composer for the musical score – Emmy Award-winning Misha Segal.
He met with the director and was hired.
I also brought in Reverse Order, the band that contributed 3
songs to the film. The group
was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent and they loved that
the film had an anti-bullying theme since they do a national tour of 250
schools with an anti-bullying concert.
In addition, I secured several of the locations, and raised the
majority of the funding, so I really earned my executive producer credit.
Once the filming starts, it’s really hard to have a lot of input, since
it was a tight shooting schedule and with kids in the film, there are time
rules to which you must adhere. However,
one day on location at the stables in the climactic scene, I saw a couple
of horses doing something really funny, so I insisted they film the horses
and put them in the film! Now
I can say I got them into show biz!
Any future projects you'd like to share?
Marilyn and I are working on a young adult novel of How
to Beat a Bully, and we just completed a romantic comedy that is slated for
production later this year.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
The romantic comedy is Cold Feet – A Wedding Tale and it will be
directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. I
also have two other features in the works, one a buddy comedy and one a
thriller. In addition, I
created a webseries to be launched soon, along with a book of the same
title: How to Live Like a MILLIONAIRE… When You’re a MILLION
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Yes, if anyone wants to hire us to write a new film, we’re
Yeah, what she just said!
for the interview!