It’s always neat to see big stars get a huge reaction from a crowd during the premiere of their new movie, but it’s exponentially more exciting to see new talent get a warm reception from a crowd. It’s no easy feat to steal thunder from the likes of Jason Bateman and Kathryn Hahn, but first-time screenwriter Andrew Dodge owned the Q&A following the screening of the movie. I was really excited to talk to him the following afternoon, and our interview did not leave me disappointed.
Daniel Tucker: So how awesome has this whole experience been for you?
Andrew Dodge: Oh, are you kidding? It’s been absolutely amazing! Less than a year ago I had an office job. I was working in an office at the story department at Columbia pictures. Now, not only have I seen something I’ve written on the page being acted out, I’ve seen it presented, I’ve seen audiences react to it … it’s a real dream come true.
Daniel Tucker: You mentioned it briefly in last night’s Q&A, but could you walk me through the journey from the inspiration to the script to the screen?
Andrew Dodge: I was in debate in high school, so I always wanted to hash things out in that arena. Another little element of inspiration was that I’m a big fan of John Hughes movies. There’s a movie he produced called Dutch, and I kind of used that as a model for this movie. Instead of pulling the kid out of his insular world, I took the adult and crammed him into the kids world and examine what kind of trouble he could get into. Writing the script was a very quick process; it only took a couple of months. I took maybe four passes at it, and then we started showing it around. My manager was showing it around to small circles of people. The first person involved with Bad Words to get it, as far as I know, was Mason Novick the producer. Virtually at the same time Jason got it from his agent, so they had a conversation. So I’m driving my kids to school, and I get a call from my manager. It wasn’t a “hey, good morning, this is what we got going on.” All he said was, “Jason Bateman wants to direct Bad Words.” And I was over the moon. After I finally got control of the car again, I get another call telling me they wanted to have lunch with me that day. So I meet with them at lunch. I order a salad that I don’t touch, and they both just start talking about how they envision this movie and who they think could be in it. At that time, Jason had no intention of starring. He told me, “I guess the worst-case scenario is that I could play the role.” I felt if that was our worst-case scenario then we were going to be alright.
Daniel Tucker: It’s interesting because watching the movie the script almost seems perfectly suited for him. But that was all you.
Andrew Dodge: He brought more spirit to it, if you will. If you read it on the page, it does read a bit more cynical. You don’t see the sparkle in the eyes, you don’t see the grin. When you’re writing economically you don’t really get into that kind of stuff. He just brought a real life to it that it needed if it was going to be turned into a film.
Daniel Tucker: When you sit down to write, do you ever imagine your characters being played by certain people?
Andrew Dodge: When I write my main characters I make it a habit not to imagine certain living, working actors. Who I imagine is Jack Lemmon in the age range of whatever my character is. To me, Jack Lemmon was that kind of guy. He could be nasty and yet charming. What was amazing was when I thought about it, Jason really is the modern day Jack Lemmon. It was such a fantastic fit. As we were having that lunch, he was telling me that he really got the humor and why he wanted to do it. So that was just awesome for me. I’ve had enough experience now to know how lucky that is. I had some general meetings with some producers. One producer told me, “we love this script, this script is camera ready, but maybe the third act should be Guy realizes that he’s being a jerk and he helps all the other kids spell better. That way it will have a School of Rock feel.” I told them that wasn’t the kind of big, Jack Black movie that I was going for. Now School of Rock is a great, brilliant film. But it’s a different beast than what this film is.
Daniel Tucker: Were you able to interact with any of the actors on set, or did you kind of just sit back in awe, or … ?
Andrew Dodge: Jason is so gracious. It was his first time directing, and he said he needed me to watch his back story-wise and continuity-wise because he was so many juggling so many different things. From my perspective, I was the one who was the most fortunate. Obviously, this is my first project. I’d never seen anything like this before. It was a real learning experience to see your story being told through this collection of takes. So while I was on set, there were a few things that we realized we needed for continuity reasons. We needed an actual spelling bee laid out with words, definitions, etc.
Daniel Tucker: So all the words came from creating an on-set spelling bee as opposed to the actual script?
Andrew Dodge: No, those were part of the script. We were shooting it as both a television broadcast and a film. Shooting that happened at the same time, though. We actually had a television control truck outside. They were actually doing cuts and everything as if it was a real broadcast. For continuity reasons, we needed a word just in case. That way we could do the montage of kids winning and losing. There were times when he would lean over and explain what he was trying to accomplish, and I would say, “yeah, I get it! This is great!”
Daniel Tucker: This movie premiered in September at Toronto. What’s been the journey for you from Toronto to here?
Andrew Dodge: Well, Toronto was just mind blowing. I was such a nervous wreck. Thankfully I had some vodka in me before the screening. We were a little bit late, so I didn’t even get to walk the carpet. We got whizzed in and sat down and then … BOOM! Everything just happened and played out. It was just a whirlwind at Toronto. After that was when Focus picked it up. To see the marketing start to roll out and how you drop the hook with the bait in front of potential audience members has been fascinating. The more Q&A’s I do, interacting with audience members who have seen it and hearing the questions they have has been eye-opening, to tell you the truth. You see things in a different way after you experience all that.
Daniel Tucker: I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had their movies premiere at festivals. They’re always crazy nervous and freaking out.
Andrew Dodge: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve definitely been able to relax a little bit more at this one. Plus, it’s here in Austin. It’s my first time here in Austin, and I feel like I fit in really well.
Daniel Tucker: I thought it was cool that the opening credits showed everyone’s names first as opposed to saving them to the end. What was it like to see your name in big block lettering?
Andrew Dodge: Really cool. Reallyyyyy cool, but it’s satisfying. I’ve been at this for fifteen years trying to get something going. It’s really satisfying to see that. It’s a reminder to see that because I didn’t quit it paid off.
Daniel Tucker: What advice do you have for people who are where you were fifteen years ago who want to be where you are now?
Andrew Dodge: Read a lot. Read as much as you can. Try to get a hold of whatever you can, not just the good stuff but the bad stuff too. And just don’t stop writing. Just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.