Less than a month after Dan Fogelman sent Crazy, Stupid, Love to his agent, his spec was in production with an A-list cast. It sounds crazy, but don’t hate him because he’s lucky.
Written by Denis Faye
We’ve all heard of Development Hell – that hideous no man’s land where perfectly good scripts go to die when the elements of a project just can’t seem to line up. But have you heard of Development Heaven? Dan Fogelman has. In fact, he’s lived it.
The veteran writer, whose work includes Cars, Fred Clause, and Tangled, holed himself up in a cabin a couple years back with the intent of writing not another children’s movie, but an adult, ensemble comedy spec about the pursuit of the “L” word. He emerged with Crazy, Stupid, Love.
“I sent it to my agent and my manager,” explains Fogelman, “with a note saying, ‘Hey, here’s a script I wrote. Tell me what you think. If it helps at all, picture Steve Carrell in the lead, as unrealistic as that might seem.’”
Apparently, it wasn’t that unrealistic. Within a week, Carrell was on board. Then Warner Bros. shelled out $2.5 million for the script. Then a crazy, stupidly talented cast including Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone signed on. Then, within a month of going out, Crazy, Stupid, Love was in production.
Let me repeat that so you can really take it in. Within a month of going out, Crazy, Stupid, Love was in production.
Odds are that if you’re a screenwriter, you kind of hate Dan Fogelman right now. You shouldn’t. He’s actually a really nice guy. So nice, in fact, that he just laughed it off when the journalist talking to him from the Writers Guild of America, West Web site (that would be me) referred to him as a “bastard” when reacting to his good fortune. Happily, the rest of the interview was a bit more pleasant. Enjoy.
Why did you decide to make this shift from animated kids’ movies to this?
Photo: © 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures
Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
It wasn’t really a giant shift of me. I’ve been working on live-action stuff. Some of these movies that are going to be coming up subsequently to Crazy, Stupid, Love are actually scripts I’d written before. It just takes a while to get them made. The animation thing is just something that I fell into – and I love it – but I’ve been writing live action movies all along. This just happened to be the second one to ever get made, and it happened very, very quickly, which screwed up the timeline of when things were being written and being released.
From the completion of the last page to being greenlit, it was a couple of weeks. It was a bizarre process. It never happens that way.
You are one lucky bastard.
I was very lucky! I was blessed. I still can’t believe it happened.
When you make an ensemble piece like this, how do you make sure everyone’s getting their screen time and the stories don’t get lost?
First of all, the directors [Glenn Ficarra & John Requa] are incredible. When you get to do this with real-deal directors, it just gives you so much belief that the movie’s actually going to work the right way because it’s such a complicated tone to cover all the stories and the tone shifts.
It was a process. We got into production fairly quickly, and one by one this incredible cast was coming on. I couldn’t believe what was happening. So you spend a little time with each of them and try to make sure everybody had a little bit and had their moments and had their time and no one was away from the screen for too long. It was a process, a balancing act.
So was there a lot of rewriting as you talked to the actors and decided what they needed for that character?
Not too much, but a little. There was stuff that came up and stuff that evolved. Some of it was literally on the set, as I was on set every day. It would be a matter of talking about it with the actors and allowing them to execute it without turning over a new page, but just shifting a line to make it more comfortable.
And then some actors, like Ryan, just like to really dig into the script. It was this really cool process of just sitting with Ryan and John and Glenn a bunch of times and taking what was already working and expanding it or fixing it or adding a little bit more for him. Sometimes, the changes and improvisation can be terrible for a writer, but this was like an unbelievable experience. Every time it happened, it made the movie better. Now, if the movie lands, people will quote lines at me, as the writer, and I won’t have written them, and I’ll just take credit for them.
Like the Photoshop line?
No, I wrote that.
When you were weaving all these stories together, before anyone read it, were you finding that a B story should be a C story and a C story should be an A story…
It evolved. I didn’t go in with too much of a plan, and it helped. Originally, one of the only things I had in my mind was that the moment that becomes the climax of the film was originally something I was thinking of as the end of act one. And then as I was writing, I was like, “There’s no way!” And it became the deeper moment at the climax, at the end of act two. So that was a structural change that I hadn’t planned on.
Part of my thing is that I just write stream of consciousness and fix stuff afterwards, I don’t really analyze or outline too much.
All your movies? No outlines?
Often, I outline a little bit when I get stuck. I’ll be on page 45, and I won’t know what to do, and it’s too daunting to keep writing, so I’ll pull up a Microsoft Word document and write out the next five beats, and it gets me up and going again. But I tend to kind of vomit it out and spend a lot of time refining.
I guess that would be a different process from, say, writing Cars because that had a pretty classic structure.
Yeah. All the animated ones need a bit more structure. And you’re really working with a group of people from the start. Writing is never as solitary in animation as it can be in live action. You’re constantly in a room with storyboard artists and producers and directors, figuring it out as you go.
When you’re writing kids' stuff as opposed to adult stuff, do you shift your gears a lot in terms of your creative process?
I don’t. If you can figure out some of the stuff in a kid’s movie that’s sophisticated, I think that plays as long as it not too heady. Same with live-action. If you can find the stuff that’s sweet and heartfelt and human in live action and push stuff that way.
I don’t think about it too much. I’ve literally, on occasion, on a first pass through an animated script, had stuff that’s borderline R-rated, and then I have to go back and figure out the other way to say it. But I try not to hem myself in.
I’ve read that you’re a little concerned that once you get too successful, it’ll ruin your ability to write to the common man.
I was kind of kidding. My life is completely normal and not very fancy. My group on the weekend is the same group I went to college and high school and camp with. I have a girlfriend, and we do all the normal things – all the ups and downs of a relationship – the good, the bad, and the ugly. As long as you can keep tapping into that stuff, you can write this genre of movies.
Do your friends stick you with the bar bill more now though?
No, they’re good.