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About The Story
The family weekend. Few events in American life conjure up such a wild mix of situations and emotions, from angst to affection, from heartache to hilarity. With all the funny foibles and complications of relationships between grandparents, parents, children and in-laws, it's certainly no place for a vulnerable man to fall haplessly in love with an entirely off-limits woman. But that's exactly what happens to Dan Burns in DAN IN REAL LIFE, setting in motion a comical tale of a man whose carefully ordered world suddenly spirals out of control in front of his entire family.

The story of DAN IN REAL LIFE was, indeed, inspired by real life, emerging out of screenwriter Pierce Gardner's own personal experience with the often hilarious, sometimes surprise-filled phenomenon of big family get-togethers. "I've spent the last 18 years going to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with my wife, all four of her siblings, her parents and more— altogether between 23 and 27 people,” Gardner explains. "There is something fascinating about the dynamic of all these people together in one house, and I always wanted to write about that.”

To add a twist to the family tension, Gardner developed the idea of inserting a newcomer into the family—a bewitchingly beautiful woman who accidentally sparks a competition between the family's two brothers in a most unexpected way. Though she arrives at the family weekend as the new girlfriend of one brother she finds herself unavoidably and impossibly attracted to the other: Dan, the lonely widower who hasn't been ready to really restart his life…until this very moment.

As the characters came to life on the page, Gardner found himself increasingly compelled by Dan's completely accidental way of jumpstarting his life with the most complicated of dating games. "What makes Dan so interesting is that when he finally starts to feel something again, this person who supposedly has this strong moral compass and this serious sense of responsibility does everything wrong as quickly as possible,” Gardner laughs. "And that's simply because love humbles everybody. From the greatest men in the world to the butcher, the baker, even Britney Spears—nobody is spared when it comes to love.”

When producer Jon Shestack discovered Gardner's spec script, he was immediately seduced not only by the story's comic originality and sophisticated sense of fun but equally so by its deeply relatable themes about family and cutting through detours and mishaps to the truly meaningful stuff in life. "I found it to be the most life-affirming, charming, wonderful story, reflecting everything we think is important,” Shestack recalls. "The night I read it, I called Pierce's manager, Noah Rosen, and, soon after, submitted it to Touchstone.”

Producer Brad Epstein, who was an executive at Disney at the time, was equally impressed. "I fell in love with the characters and with how human, ironic, funny and yet moving it managed to be—and especially with the portrait of Dan raising these three daughters on his own. I have always wanted to make movies like this,” he says.

Epstein knew the material's tone—its fast-moving blend of quick wit and true emotion— would be tough to nail. But he had in mind a director he was convinced could carry off the challenging task: author, playwright, screenwriter and lauded film director Peter Hedges, whom he'd hired years before to adapt Nick Hornby's unconventional, serio-comic novel of love and family, "About a Boy,” for which Hedges won acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award®.

Hedges also garnered acclaim for adapting his own novel into the indie classic "What's Eating Gilbert Grape” and made an auspicious directorial debut with his script for "Pieces of April,” in which a wayward daughter invites her estranged family to her Lower East Side apart

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