Longtime writing duo Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn (Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, The Vow, and How to Be Single) make their feature-film directing debut with Amy Schumer-starring I Feel Pretty.
They met while earning their MFAs in Film Production at the University of Southern California, where they wrote and directed the notable short “Short Fandango.” A few months out of school they sold the comedy pitch Never Been Kissed eventually starring Drew Barrymore.
Meanwhile they were romantically involved, dating seven years before an engagement that broke off in the early 2000s. While most people avoid their exes, these two kept co-writing screenplays.
“It is unique,” Kohn said of their personal and professional relationship. “For our respective spouses at first it was slightly weird.”
But now, “not at all,” said Silverstein. They both have daughters who are friends and their families are close.
The writing partners have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences, which they did routinely last weekend when they discussed their new film, their first meeting with Amy Schumer on Google HangOuts and why it took 20 years for them to direct their first feature.
MovieMaker Magazine: Why did it take so long for you direct a feature? And did you write this script specifically for you two to direct?
Abby Kohn (AK): We took a few months off of our writing gigs and said that we’re going to write this and attach ourselves as directors. We aren’t going to sell this if we don’t come with the package. If we didn’t sell it, we didn’t sell it, but we were confident that if this one got made, we were going to be doing it.
Marc Silverstein (MS): But in terms of how long it took, I mean we made that short in ’97 and then we sold the pitch for Never Been Kissed three months later as writers and literally worked as writers forever.
AK: I mean we were so excited to be working as writers. The idea of moving on to directing…
MS: Fact is: writing is something you can do. You’re in control of it. You can always do it. You can sit home and write a script or come up with an idea and pitch it. But directing, you’re not doing it unless you’re actually making a movie. It always felt like as our career kept going and we kept getting jobs, it just felt like well now we have to stop working to sort of do something and take the time away from our career that’s going this way to do it and then time just gets away from you.
MM: What inspired the story idea for I Feel Pretty?
AK: It was an idea I had that I pitched to Marc about a woman who believes her world has changed. She’s turned into the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen, but nothing has changed at all. When I pitched it to Marc, he’s like, “But what does she see?” I told him, “No, she sees nothing. It’s nothing. She’s never changed.” Once I think Marc got the idea of what I was talking about–that we never really see anything but her and she’s always her–I think it started to strike a chord on how we could kind of play with the tropes of those movies.
MM: What is your co-writing process?
AK: Outlining is the easiest part to do together. Deciding what the nuts and bolts of the story are going to be, and what are those big moments. The structure. That’s actually easier to do with someone than by yourself. I think Marc often has a really good sense of structure and pushes. He’d say, “I don’t think this is enough. I think we need one more moment here and this one isn’t big enough and we need to build to that,” so I actually appreciate that back and forth to push me a little bit more. The actual sitting down and writing…
MS: We don’t really do together.
AK: I probably do a little bit more of the scene by scene. But we send scenes back and forth. Then we keep revising. Maybe I’ll send Marc a scene and want to hear what he thinks about it and maybe he’ll add a scene and send it back to me. I’ll rewrite and try to mesh them all together and, so, it’s like a volley back and forth for a long time.
MM: I read somewhere you prefer to call your movies “character comedies” rather than “romantic comedies.” Do you think that genre is denigrated because they tend to be female-centric?
MS: I feel like they call comedies with women at the lead “romantic comedies”. If I Feel Pretty was a man at the lead of this movie it wouldn’t be called a romantic comedy. It would just be a comedy.
AK: I think he’s right.
MS: Because the story arc is about her and her life and the romantic story is the B story. It’s not the actual a story line. A romantic comedy truthfully is about two people getting together.
AK: They’ve got to get back together and that is the arch. The romance is the arch on which everything else is hung. So I think movies, like Never Been Kissed [and Feel Pretty] are movies with a big concept that have romance in them, but the romance isn’t the “thing”. Marc has said this too, some people consider romantic comedy a genre but not their “A” genre. They will do a movie and then move into a different one. This is our “A” genre. Comedies, character comedies, romantic comedies, is where we want to live.
MM: What was your first conversation with Amy Schumer like?
AK: She read the script and by the time we got to Google Hangout with her she’d already decided this was going to be her next project. We had a conversation about how these issues about body image and confidence are something that she has talked about personally, that she’s tried to put in her work. She was working on a movie where all of these issues were coming to bear. That movie, Barbie, fell apart and she read this and she was like, “Oh my God! These are all the things I wanted to talk about and you guys put it in exactly how I would have done it had I finished that one.”
MM: How much improvisation did she do?
MS: There was some in the movie. I think there’s less than you would think. But we also went through the script with her before we shot. She’s a stand up and likes to write jokes, so she likes to perform things that are written.
AK: We spent full days just going through the script page by page and she would give us joke ideas. It was great because we had enough time beforehand to incorporate them into the script, so we all could come to the set on the day having all that stuff in and knowing if we just shoot what’s on the page here it’s going to be right.
MM: You got your leading lady in April of last year and you began shooting in July, which is amazingly fast. How long was your shoot?
MS and AK: It was a 34-day-shoot.
MM: Are you looking forward to directing another movie soon?
MS: For sure. Although I don’t think it’s going to take another 20 years, I think we’re going to be as specific about the next thing as we were about this thing. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of emotional energy to put into something, but also it’s just so much easier to do when it’s yours. When you know it and you have that initial connection to the idea from the outset, I feel like then the rest of it is just execution. MM
I Feel Pretty opened in theaters April 20, 2018. All images courtesy of STX Entertainment.