21 AND OVER
About the Production
On the heels of a resounding success in The Fighter, producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman were presented an exciting opportunity; not only would they reteam with the studio that helped earn them Academy Award nominations, but they would be collaborating with writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, whose work they long admired. "[Relativity] had this script that they wanted to make with Lucas and Moore and wanted to find producers for them," said Hoberman. "We had tried to be in business with Lucas and Moore as writers many times... and really loved the guys and their voice and their sense of humor... And we loved the script and loved them. It was kind of a no-brainer for us."
Added Lieberman, "Producing an R-rated comedy isn't something that I'd ever done before and really wanted to. And so it felt like the opportunity to work with two guys who I really respected and wanted to work with... it seemed like kind of like the perfect situation."
The screenplay that garnered much adulation from its producers may have a simple premise at its core, but don't think it doesn't dig a little deeper. "The basic premise is really three friends who get together to celebrate one of their twenty-first birthday and the whole night goes off the rails," said Moore. "[The question we explore is] are most friendships based on proximity?" This theme permeates the story; its relevance resoundingly clear when characters' friendships are tried by fire. "You make all these great friendships, but is it because you're actually meeting people and having a deep connection, or is it just that you live down the hall from this guy and it's easy to hang out with him and go out and party?" said Moore.
While outrageous scenes are the norm in this genre of comedy, 21 and Over surprises, balancing zany set-pieces with down-to-earth, relatable situations. "Really broad comedy without the grounding isn't something that I'm necessarily interested in," said Lieberman. "And what this script offered was both."
After writing the monumentally successful comedy The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore penned 21 and Over as a spec script not based on their own experiences, but about the outrageous things they had longed to do. "Mostly Scott and I write from wish fulfillment. I don't think my 21st birthday was as crazy as I'd like to remember. I definitely made mistakes on my 21st birthday, but no where near what our heroes experience," shared Lucas.
"We were really excited about the idea of doing a plot-driven comedy," added Lucas. "A lot of people loved The Hangover, and we're grateful for all of them, but I don't think people loved it for the same reasons we loved it as writers. We loved it because it was a real; it was a comedy that was driven by story, as opposed to a comedy driven by an idea. The idea of writing mystery-comedy is exciting to us."
"The Hangover was really director Todd Phillips' movie and he did a great job. I'm proud to have my name on it, but this is more an expression of who we are. Our comedy comes from a slightly different place. We go for a slightly more emotional level. I saw that on the day we shot the the vomiting in the bar scene," laughed Lucas. "But it is heartfelt."
"We also like a thriller structure in a comedy, so you're not just relying on jokes, because jokes are hard," Lucas pointed out. "Successful comedies have more than just laughs, they get you engaged and caring about the characters as you're laughing."
"Also, Jon and I like to write movies about universal experiences," contributed Moore. "As writers, we try to make more out of everything. We had a checklist of a couple of things that we feel pretty much everybody has gone through. Almost everyone has had a hangover, and at some point in life you will turn 21. It is this little rite of passage. So we had this notion floating around and it married really well with this experience that Jon had at a musical festival and it all came together as this movie."
"I was in the desert at Coachella, so it's really hot and a friend's girlfriend's sister got messed up beyond belief. The tickets were really expensive, it was a big trip, and then he spent the whole time carrying this poor girl," laughed Lucas. "I'm 35 now and as a movie writer, you're basically pulling from everything that has ever happened to you. That feeling of carrying your buddy home, you probably did it once a semester in college, like that Vietnam pose of you getting your buddy home... I was starting to fire some axons in the brain and think maybe there's an idea there."
"21 is a birthday you really celebrate," added Lucas. "You're so psyched. Turning 16 or 17 is a huge one because you can finally drive, and then turning 21 is really exciting. After that, I'm not saying it's all downhill, but you really don't celebrate 22. You kind of celebrate 30, but not really, and turning 40 definitely isn't awesome." Moore added, "Then you stop celebrating. Done."
"But 21 is where you go out with all your friends. We call it the American Bar Mitzvah in the movie, because it is oddly this day when America recognizes you as a grownup," explained Lucas. "You can now do everything you haven't been able to do. That moment when you first walk into your first bar and you finally don't feel like you have to lie to someone to get in, you don't have to be a fraud, you can be welcomed in... it felt like fodder."
"College is a seminal moment in all our lives because there's that moment of freedom experienced for the first time," said Hoberman. "Adults look back fondly on discovering what college life was really like and those who are going through it can also relate. These are three guys that haven't seen each other in a while and have to get to know each other again. In the intervening years, they've changed. Each one goes through an arc: Miller has got to accept responsibility; Skylar needs to loosen up from his fast track to get into the financial world; and Jeff Chang, who is really the primary story, has gotten himself in trouble as a result of traveling in his father's footsteps. Each of them go through a journey, but they do end up reigniting that friendship they had years ago."
"It's actually a really clean idea - two great friends go visit their other third friend at college on his 21st birthday, get him so wasted that they can't find where he lives, and spend the entire night trying to find his home," added Lieberman. "This happens and this happens and this happens, but all the obstacles are in the service of a larger goal... get that guy home because his dad's going to kill him if he doesn't make that medical school interview. Along the way, they encounter an unbelievable amount of crazy set pieces, but the general construct of the movie is a very simple A to B, almost a road trip paradigm, but on one college campus."
"What's great about Jeff Chang is he is the core of the movie, but he is definitely passed out through a lot of it, and you have to learn about him through the guys uncovering information and clues from different individuals they meet along the way as to what's going on with him," revealed Moore. "Who is our friend? What happened to him? Where did this guy go wrong?" asked Hoberman. "You're peeling away an onion the whole time. It's an interesting way of telling a character's story... discovering things through people who are outside the circle, other than from the character himself."
"Part of the reason for that is the guy thing of being horrible at communication," Lucas explained. "The mystery's as much about getting Jeff Chang home as it is learning about what's happened to Jeff Chang since the guys have been living away from each other. Part of the inspiration for the movie character-wise, was this idea that dudes have great friends that they only talk to maybe once a year. Scott and I are both married and our wives are way better at keeping in touch with people. Women regularly communicate with their friends. Men think it's okay that it's been five years since talking to their best buddy. That's not super-healthy. Typically, these guys have gone off to college, which is the first time for a lot of people when they have to work to keep up with their first set of friends. You're with your old friends all the way through high school and then you separate and it's this question of are we going to keep it all together, or are we just some great time that happened for 18 years?"
"I have four friends that I've known since elementary school and kindergarten," shared Moore. In our group of friends, we have a Miller. We have one guy who fights to keep us all together. We have a good time when we get together and we love each other as friends do, but it's really this one guy who's constantly calling everybody to schedule stuff, who keeps us close."
"Miller's totally crazy, but his best quality is he puts his friendship first, and these friendships really matters to him," commented Lucas.
Although Lucas and Moore are hardly newcomers to the world of big feature comedies, 21 and Over marks their directorial debut. "First-time directors? You wouldn't know," said star Miles Teller. The virgin helmers were able to draw upon their years of experience on set as writers, but also were sure to thoroughly prepare for their new role. "They did a ton of research and a ton of prep work," said Lieberman. "So these guys were ready to shoot the movie... They did an enormous amount of prep." What kind of prep work? Detailed shot-lists and storyboards were a start, but they also sought the advice of their experienced colleagues. "They had talked to every director, producer, contact that they had," said Lieberman.
Scott Moore and Jon Lucas' already familiar working dynamic as writing partners translated seamlessly into their roles as co-directors. "Scott has kind of the reality meter and the nuts and bolts analytical mind, the story structure, and Jon has a lot of the flair and the comedy," said Lieberman. "They share a lot of the same attributes, but they work well together because they play off each other in that way. So it's kind of like, I guess, the equivalent of a wonderful marriage where equal partnerships offer different things." The pair even managed to avoid one pratfall that usually hinders first-time writer-directors: they didn't become married to their words. Said Hoberman, "You always hope that they have an ability to give you more than that's on the page. There are a lot of writers who turn directors, who pretty much give you exactly what's on the page. These guys, from the get-go, knew that comedy needed some improv too." So did the duo learn anything from their first directing experience? "They always ask... 'Is this how you envisioned it?' And it's always, no." said Lucas.
"Jon's the funny guy, I'm the straight guy," offered Moore. "I mostly hang out at craft service and make the snacks while Scott does all the hard work," Lucas clarified. "It's indicative of how we write as well... Scott does all the hard work. Dealing with the shots... there's so much math involved, which side of the line? To me, movies are jokes and characters and story and trying to track all that, so I'm really lucky that he's willing to shoulder all of what I consider the hard part of directing, because working with actors is a joy. It's easy. It's fun. Especially our cast, it's like a party every day, so I'm grateful."
"Working with Jon is like hanging out with my best friend," added Moore. "Other directing teams have told us to divide it up so one guy talks to wardrobe, one guy talks camera, locations, makeup and so on. We have divided it up a little bit, but I've been surprised at how free form we are... we've been tag teaming a lot, whoever's feeling it. Sometimes I say 'Anybody comes up, Jon, you got to field the questions.'"
"I think it's a two-man job," Lucas commented. "I'm a good half director, but I'm not sure I'm even close to a good full director. Keeping track of performance and jokes and throwing alternatives lines to the actors is fun. Scott's keeping track of all the technical things, things I'm not very good at like shot lists. This is either going to bring us together or destroy our writing partnership. I think you have to have division of labor, and we write the same way. There are certain things we are each better at writing, and you learn to play to your strengths."
Lucas added, "It was never really our intention to come out and be directors. I was just psyched that someone might buy our script. We didn't write it to direct. We love writing and we've spent time with some really great directors and saw how grueling it was, but it also started to feel less mythically hard. When you sit with directors for long periods of time, the job starts to feel doable. We were totally wrong, by the way. We were idiots. It's been trial by fire. It's been a crazy education. Everyone turns to you... but this is your job now and you have to figure it out."
Despite the challenges, the duo enjoyed their directorial debut. "Being writers, we spend most of our time saying yes to people. You're always negotiating for your jokes. It's exhausting," admitted Lucas. "As a director, you get to tell people what to do and we found we like telling people what to do. It's nice having the authority to not have to negotiate everything. Plus, if our other movies were terrible, it was the director's fault. With this, you are more responsible, but you get more autonomy. Directing is definitely more tiring; the lifestyle of a writer is way easier. Directors deal with long hours plus the wear and tear of being away from family, but the creative freedom can't be beat."
"Todd and I have worked with a couple of writers-become-directors and you always hope that they have an ability to give you more than what's on the page. From the get-go, the guys knew that comedy needs some improv, so they were wide open to ideas and choices from the actors," revealed Hoberman. "They also listened to the 1st A.D. and the cinematographer. They listened to any of us that had ideas. It's up to everybody around them to tell them what they don't know and they've got to be open to using it in their arsenal, because they're going to get the credit for everything anyway and they were smart enough to know that."
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