Q & A With Screenwriter Andrew Dodge
"'You're such a weirdo':" Q&A with screenwriter Andrew Dodge
Q: What was your personal inspiration for Bad Words - perhaps spelling bees,
or maybe a flashpoint at age 40?
Andrew Dodge: Well, when I was in high school I was part of the National
Forensic League - which is, simply, debate. The world of high school debating is
very close to - it has the same DNA as - the world of spelling bees: it's very
insular, the kids are at a high competitive level, there's multi-million-dollar
programs, there's high-maintenance parents and stressed-out coaches. I always
found it fascinating - there are many events and a vast tapestry.
But I never knew exactly how to present that in a story, until I just
happened to be watching the [spelling bee-themed] documentary Spellbound. That
world is focused a lot more narrowly than debate, but it has the same flavor. At
the same time, as I was watching the movie I was thinking to myself, "These kids
are a bunch of weirdos." Then I thought, "It would be great if there was a
person that told one of these kids, 'You're such a weirdo.'"
From that moment on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: put an adult in the
world of a kids' spelling bee. People tune in to watch spelling bees, and even
though a lot of them won't admit it, they're there to watch the weird kids. So I
thought we could do this humorously; I didn't want to make fun of the kids, but
I wanted to point out that this is its own quirky world with its own quirky
Q: Who were your creative inspirations when writing Bad Words?
AD: You may be a little surprised - John Hughes. On the surface, Bad Words
seems critical, seems a little abrasive. But, subversively, it's very tender
with a lot of heart; I've always appreciated that about John Hughes' films. I
miss his touch in filmmaking today, because he was unique.
Q: Did you write Bad Words while still at a day job?
AD: Yeah - on my vacation time. I was at Columbia Pictures; I had been there
for about 15 years, starting off as an intern. I was always in the story
department, and by the time I left I was a story editor there. The story
department was a fantastic place to learn about what works and, most
importantly, what doesn't work. It was really an education, and I got a sense of
what I liked in stories and what I was longing for in a movie.
At first, I didn't know what to do with my script. My manager started showing
it around and ultimately it got to Jason Bateman.
Q: In writing the furious invective that is spewed, did you feel that would
be a lure and attract actors who liked a challenge?
AD: When I wrote it, I wasn't even thinking about that. It was just, "This is
what I would want to see, this is what I want characters to talk like." When it
was time to start looking for participants in the project, I was delighted that
people were gravitating to it; I would be told, "This is what everybody wishes
they could say!" I was pleased that I wasn't the only one interested in having
that type of thing on the screen.
Q: Even so, were there any scenes or dialogue where you felt, "I've gone a
little too far?"
AD: Would it surprise you if I said no? [Laughs] Somebody read the script and
said to me, "You're an extreme personality." I thought, "Really?" This is what
interests me, and I didn't think I was dancing up to the line at all.
Q: Without giving away the turns in the screenplay, can you address the
thematic element of father figures?
AD: One of the ideas that I always wanted in the script is a person starting
off without anybody or anything, just isolated. Now, whether or not that's an
isolation which he has created on his own, or is because of some other reason,
can be factored in. By the end of this story, he ends up with a family that may
or may not be his own - but he does end up with people in his life. To me,
that's what it's all about, almost like A Christmas Carol: Scrooge has pushed
everybody away at the start of the story, but at the end he is surrounded by
The idea of a person wrestling with, and searching for, his own identity and
what that means has always been something I've been attracted to as well. I
think every man goes through that; it's a rite of passage. When in that man's
life it happens is a very individualized experience. I really relate to that,
and I thought that a lot of people would as well.
Q: Did you refine the script further, revising for Jason as director and
AD: Well, when I first met Jason it was also the first time I was meeting
producer Mason Novick, whose attitude was, "This is great. Let's do this."
Originally, the script was set in Washington, D.C., and Jason wanted to set it
in Los Angeles. In changing the setting, we needed to change the mythology of
the Spelling Bee a bit and change some of the locale sequences to be
L.A.-friendly. Jason and I then spent about a week together in his office, going
through the script and making sure that everything felt genuine to his voice.
So, there wasn't really any major overhauling. But I have to say, working
with Jason was such a learning experience. Up until that point, working at a
studio, I saw scripts as whole pieces, not as things that were about to be
shaped for production. I learned so much from him, looking at the script from
his point of view, scene by scene.
Q: In terms of Jason as actor, what makes him the ideal Guy (Trilby, that
AD: My version of Guy, if you don't put a face to him, could come off as a
little bit cold and maybe too hard-edged for a general audience. But when you
put Jason's face onto Guy's personality, there's a humanity that's brought in;
you look at Jason, and you like him. He can get away with pretty dastardly
things and the audience will know that it's okay to laugh. Having Jason in the
part aids the overall story and brings something to it that the mere words on
the page couldn't.
Q: There can be a plaintive quality to him, certainly in the scenes with
Rohan Chand as Chaitanya.
AD: Yeah, but overall he didn't try to amp up anything; the more reserved his
character is, the better everybody else could work off of him. Something that I
hadn't considered, until the first day that Rohan was on-set, is that Jason has
been in the business for so long - working as a child actor - and he knows
exactly what everybody is experiencing every step of the way, including the
kids. To see him working with Rohan and making Rohan comfortable, talking Rohan
through the scenes...his approach was so perfect. He communicated in a way that
Rohan was able to understand immediately.
Q: Were you on the set consistently?
AD: I was; I begged my way on-set, and I was there almost every day. I
expected to be in "Video [Monitor] Village," a fly on the wall; I'd never seen
my work filmed before, so I was determined to be a part of it. Jason was really
inclusive: he would come over to me and explain, "So what we're trying to do
here is..." and I would be, "You realize you don't have to get my approval,
right? I'm here for the ride." "Well, you should know [what's happening]."
I was part of the family immediately on-set, and it was absolutely fantastic
- so much fun, such a great set. When we wrapped, I slipped into what I'm pretty
sure was a quantifiable depression for a couple of weeks.
Q: But there was more to come - post-production, going to the Toronto
International Film Festival for the World Premiere...
AD: Jason brought me in during editing; we changed and shaped the voiceover
material to what we wanted - like, having Guy say something in a more economical
way. He'd ask me, "What do you think Guy should say?" and we'd bounce things
Toronto - well, I can't imagine a high that would be better than the feeling
of being in that theater and listening to people laugh. I had been to a test
screening of the movie before that and kind of knew what to expect, but hearing
everybody react in that big Toronto theater was wonderful; almost as special as
the laughs were those moments when the audience would let out a big collective
groan, catching onto something about to happen - "Ooooohhh." I loved it!
Q: So, what are your favorite "Bad Words?"
AD: There's so many. I think the one that feels the best to say is probably
"horses-t." "That's just a bunch of horses-t." I love that so much. And, who
doesn't say "f-k," but that one is abused a lot. I have this rule, the Golden
F-k Rule: the less you use "f-k," the more powerful it becomes in terms of
expressiveness. So I try not to say it after every other word, and to say it
only maybe once a day.
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