“Great Comedy Concepts Are Not That Funny!”

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Scott Moore and Jon Lucas on appropriate subjects for humor, The Hangover, and their latest film Bad Moms.

[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Creative Screenwriting. An abridged version is reprinted here in collaboration with that site.]

Since wrapping the series Mixology, Scott Moore and Jon Lucas have been bouncing film ideas off one another, twenty per day, every day. During their brainstorming sessions they discovered Bad Moms, a heartfelt comedy, as if Hangover was injected with estrogen.

Three overworked moms, played by Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell, decide they have had enough of their motherly duties and ditch their social norms to live a life of self-indulgence, through fast cars, Jell-O shots, and cheap wine celebrations.

Creative Screenwriting spoke with Scott Moore and Jon Lucas about Bad Moms, The Hangover, and appropriate subjects for humor.

Can you talk a little bit more about your actual logistics of the partnership? For example, when do you write and do you write in the same room?

Scott: From Day 1, maybe because we were poor, and like pretty sure that we weren’t going to have careers in writing that worked, we have always treated it like a job. We start at 9 am and finish at 6 or 7 pm. I think in the early days we may have worked a little longer, but we definitely treated it like a job.

In the early days, we would actually get together and go over to each other’s houses at 9 am and work together to create the story. But then when we’re writing, we would be separate. Jon would be at his computer writing and I would be at mine.

Since we’ve been doing this for like 16…17 years now, it’s pretty second-nature and we don’t really need to be in the same room. So Jon has a home office and I have a home office and we are on the phone most of the day talking to each other—talking through the story, breaking stories, talking about ideas, talking about scenes—but with the actual writing, we’ll each be on our own computers.

In general, we’ll break a scene or break a movie and Jon will take the first task, because, like I said, Jon likes writing. Then, he’ll do a whole pass. Our preferred way of writing a movie is that he’ll do a whole pass on the script, and then e-mail it to me, and then I’ll do a whole pass on the script, and e-mail it back to him.

If we have a time crunch we’ll break it up by scene where one guy will work on one scene and one guy will work on another and we’ll kind of leapfrog, but we are sort of never working on a scene together. We find that’s a kind of torture, to be looking over somebody’s shoulder and then critique a line.

Jon: There are teams that do that, and that’s remarkable to me, that you could sit side by side and just sort of be like, “Okay, put a comma there.” We would have killed each other years ago if we tried to do that. I think it is amusing that most of the partners and writing teams we know do it differently.

There’s clearly no correct way and it’s kind of like a marriage. You just figure out what works for you.

Mila Kunis as Amy in Bad Moms. Photo by Curtesy of STX Productions, LLC/Curtesy of STX Productions, LLC – © 2016 STX Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

So, you guys were single in your 20s writing The Hangover films. Did you partner with your wives on this new film to get some extra insight for Bad Moms?

Scott: Yes, 100 percent. When we first came up with the idea, we were sitting at home racking our brains trying to come up with something to write about—both Jon and I are married, we both have two kids—and we’re just watching our wives run around in this like stressed out, incredible pressure, trying to live up to being the “perfect mom” and that world’s a pretty intense world, so it just seemed right for a comedy.

We started writing about our wives and pitching jokes to them, and we had them read early drafts, where they would say, “Okay, this is definitely not something a woman would say” or “This is not something a mom would do.” Then, even during like the outlining process, we would have a bunch of their friends over and open some bottles of red wine and talk to them about being a mom.

Then, we brought on a female producer, Suzanne Todd (Austin Powers, Memento), who was amazing. She’s a mom and then all six women were moms, so we were constantly pulling from them and saying, “Hey, does this work?” or “Does this not work?” If one of the actresses would come in on the day and say, “Oh my God, you would never believe what my kid did this morning…” We would put that in the movie.

Some of the best scenes were pitched from these women. We were like, “What do moms talk about?” The hoodie scene was actually pitched by Suzanne Todd. The entire movie was research, and in some ways we were more like documentary filmmakers where we were just pulling the experiences from the moms around us.

Jon: It’s really a testament to how patient our wives are with us. I remember telling my wife that I was doing a movie about moms. She was so lovely and so supportive, but I know in her head she was just like, “Oh my God. Please don’t, just don’t screw this up.” I think the best review we got so far is that I think my wife really likes the movie.

We were very conscious that we were guys writing a movie that was about women. There were so many ways in which we were very sensitive and very concerned that we were going to blow it, but I think that made it more exciting to us as well. We have written so many guy movies that it was sort of exciting to leave that world, and the movie is obviously is still an R-Rated movie.

It’s still kind of loosely in the world of what we do. It’s not a total departure. Yes, I’m just very grateful that my wife let me write the movie.

Jon Lucas, Suzanne Todd and Scott Moore at the Los Angeles Premiere of Bad Moms. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for STX Entertainment/AP Images)

When you started, the concept was somewhat based on your own families and lives. After some of the actresses became attached, did you re-shape some of the roles or start writing more specifically for certain characters?

Jon: That’s a really good question. We’ve always found that you can try to wedge an actor into something, but truthfully, once they come in, you’d be foolish if you have someone as talented as Mila Kunis, or Kristen Bell, or Kathryn Hahn—or any of our actresses—you’d be crazy not to try to capture their voice and then put their stuff in.

One of my favorite jokes in the movie is that joke about that TV Show, Castle. You can probably imagine, that Scott and I have seen this movie about a trillion times by now. We’ve seen it so many times between screenings and edits and that joke still makes me laugh. I think part of the reason it makes me laugh is because I didn’t write it.

Christina Applegate just came in that day and said, “My DVR erased Castle.” She was so upset, she was like “Why does it do that?” So I said, “I’m going to put that in,” and I thought it was kind of funny on the day, but I’m still laughing just thinking about it. So it’s not so much that we rewrite stuff for them, but it’s more like casting really funny people and then just stealing their great stuff and taking full credit for it.

People are going to think I wrote that line, and with the exception of this interview, I will never admit that I didn’t. It’s great when you hire really funny people. You don’t have to work so hard as a writer and they just bring great material.

Nathan Fillion as Castle and Stana Katic as Beckett in Castle

How did that supermarket montage come about? Was it written pretty much as-is?

Scott: To come up with some of those montages it has to be pretty scripted—at least to the extent that you know what your little vignettes are going to be. Then, we take the actresses explain what we’re going to do, loosely, and then just cut them loose.

Jon: But to your question, though, I think things like montages—things that require a lot of production—such as shooting at a supermarket, which we thought would be incredibly easy, turned out to be one of the hardest parts of our production. Mainly, supermarkets A) don’t like to close, and B) they don’t’ want you destroying their store…shockingly.

Luckily, we found one that was pretty cool with us, but we usually had to shoot at night, and we only had one day. So that’s a pretty big montage to shoot in a 12-hour day, because we had a lot of slo-mo stuff, lighting work, stunts, and so on.

There are days where you walk in and everything’s a free-for-all and the actresses can have a lot more fun, and then there’s other days where we’re going to be pretty on-book because we just have to make our day-to-day.

Like Scott said, within what we were doing they could still do their own thing . We didn’t write Kathryn Hahn as hitting quite so many people, but it made us laugh!

Mila Kunis as Amy , Kirsten Bell as Kiki and Kathryn Hahn as Carla in Bad Moms. Photo by Curtesy of STX Productions, LLC/Curtesy of STX Productions, LLC – © 2016 STX Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

What’s something you wish you had known back 2008 before The Hangover came out? Perhaps something you’ve learned in writing that you would like to pass on to those who wish to be screenwriters?

Jon: Oh my God, there’s so much stuff I wish I’d known.

Scott: Jon touched on it about concepts. I think we’ve been pretty diligent about really putting our ideas through the crucible, or really hammering them and poking at them from every side and trying to find out if it’s a good idea or not.

Even as diligent as we are, I think that first step, before you sit down and spend six months or a year on a script, make sure it’s a good idea. That’s the step that I think a lot of new writers will just jump in right away. Jon and I, right now, don’t have anything we’re working on.

We’re constantly pitching each other movie ideas, and I’d say every day we pitch like probably 5 to 10 movie ideas each, so we’re coming up with 10 to 20 movie ideas a day and almost all of them—I’d say 99.9% of them are terrible—but we’ll talk about it and then we’ll say it’s not a movie, or it’s not going to work, and here’s why…

Or that’s a great movie, but only five people will watch it. Nobody else in the world is going to care about it and we just keep doing that until we just hit one where we’re like, “Wow, this is undeniably a great, entertaining, fun movie that both of us would be happy to spend a year of our lives on,” and then we’ll write that.

Even at that level, there’s a good chance it turns out to be bad. I think really spending the time to make sure it’s a good idea before you write it is something that new writers should be doing.

Ed Helms as Stu in The Hangover © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent.

Jon: I totally agree. I think that you see a lot of scripts out there from young writers that are like, “Here’s me and my friends and we were in a cabin and this is us talking about our lives and stuff.” And you’re thinking, “That’s going to be a super cool movie for you and your friends, but movies are expensive to make and no one is going to make your movie if you aren’t going to recoup at least what they paid for it.” That’s not even a business thing, that’s just a fair request of a studio.

Scott: Even if it’s a small indie movie, like straight to iTunes for a million dollars…a million dollars is a lot of money to ask somebody to put up. They’re going to want to know that they’re going to get that million dollars back.

Jon: I also think it’s important to know who your audience is. Is there an audience for the movie you’re making? It doesn’t have to be every single moviegoer in the world, though certain movies do hit that.

Scott: If you do find that idea, write that.

Jon: Some of the stuff of ours that’s been the most successful, has come from when we firmly know who our audience is, and then frankly, if you do a good job at that, other audiences will find your movie.

Scott and I often laugh, thinking that every guy I know has seen every good Rom Com, even though that movie was probably made predominantly for a female audience. But then men will come to it because they heard it was good or they’ll be with their girlfriend.

Similarly with The Hangover, it’s a movie that’s very clearly made for young men. But I know so many women—old women, young women—who have seen it and enjoyed it because it’s like they knew who their audience was and they made it for them.

“Who are you really making it for?” I think, is a great question that I don’t think we ask, or certainly I didn’t ask enough when I started writing.

Zach Galifianakis as Alan, Bradley Cooper as Phil and Ed Helms as Stu in The Hangover © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent.
Zach Galifianakis as Alan, Bradley Cooper as Phil and Ed Helms as Stu in The Hangover © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent.

Is there one piece of advice you’d give particularly to comedy writers?

Scott: I feel like all my thoughts are cliché, but I think to comedy writers, or to any writers, the trick is to just keep writing. It is a muscle, or a skill, or a craft that you get better at the more you do. So if you want to be a writer, keep writing. If that seems like torture to you, then maybe you shouldn’t be a writer.

Jon: I’d say for comedies in particular, though, it took me a while to learn this, and I think working with Scott has really helped me, but a lot of great comedy concepts for movies are not that funny. If your idea for a movie is really really funny, you may be down the wrong track—you may be writing a sketch.

Sketches are funny, and I won’t name any in particular, but I think we all know of or can think of a movie where you’re like, “Oh, that’s a really funny idea for a movie,” then 30 minutes into the movie, and you’re thinking, “Oh my God—is the whole movie going to be about this?” You can actually look at a lot of good comedies and if you pitched them as a drama, they still kind of work, or even as a thriller.

You can actually argue The Hangover is a thriller. It’s basically Taken. It might not be very good as a thriller, but at the core of that movie, there are stakes and there’s a dramatic story line underneath that carries the movie through for an hour and a half.

It can’t just be a sketch. When I was starting out, a lot of my ideas were sketches that I was stretching into an hour and a half. Then, by the end of that hour and a half, it’s pretty tedious. It’s exhausting, because there’s no meal there. I don’t know how useful that advice is, but I certainly could’ve used it when I was starting out.

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Check out more great interviews with top screenwriters at Creative Screenwriting.

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