Now available on DVD, How to Beat a Bully is a riotous family comedy in the vein of Home Alone and Big Fat Liar. The writers are a couple of pros, Marilyn Anderson and Richard Rossner. We rushed at the chance to speak to a couple of seasoned screenwriters about the biz, as well as their terrific new family flick!
Do you remember who came up with the idea for the film? Who gets the credit there?
RICHARD: When we sat down to write this screenplay, we tossed around ideas. We looked at what was happening and what kinds of films people were interested in. Home Alone was the big picture at the time, so we knew the “family market” was a good one. At that point, we just started talking about issues we both encountered while growing up. As it turned out, we both had incidents of bullying, so it seemed like a natural. I guess what I’m saying is that it wasn’t one or the other of us who came up with the idea. It really was a conversation that developed the idea. So, we really both get the credit for the idea!
MARILYN: I come up with all of our ideas. Oh, wait a minute, that sentence needs a rewrite! LOL. As Richard indicated, we both came up with it and get credit for it together. As a writing team, we always brainstorm and pitch a bunch of ideas and thoughts, and then work them and rework them until we’re both satisfied that we’ve mined all the possibilities. That goes for the initial idea and story as well as the individual scenes, characters, dialog, and jokes. We’ll each use our own imaginations and creativity, then run everything by each other and merge the best – until we find comedy gold. For this story, we started with the idea of the kid who moves to a new town and gets bullied – and from there, we wanted to give it a comedy twist, yet still embrace family values along with the humor and anti-bullying theme. When you’re a writing team, you have to give up the idea of “This is mine” or “I did this.” It’s a joint effort that you create together, and take credit for together. And you can celebrate it together by going out for a drink – that’s much more fun than doing it alone.
And how long did it take you both to pen it?
RICHARD: The original screenplay took us about two months to write. We’ve had several options over the years, and each time a new producer became involved, there were new notes and ideas to be incorporated. Since we started this project in 1990, I suppose you could say 20 years! But truthfully, it initially took a couple of months, and then I guess you could tack on a couple of weeks each time we had a rewrite.
MARILYN: It’s true that it often takes less time to write a project than it does to get it out to the world! And in that process, any producers who get involved want to put their own stamp on it and ask for rewrites. Over the years, we’ve done many rewrites and the script has evolved. In the course of that time, it won two big screenwriting contests, and was optioned eight times by eight different Hollywood producers. Finally, I said, “No more options.” So I went out and raised the money and teamed up with Dream Factory Entertainment and within six months we were cast and in production. Our last rewrites were for budgetary considerations since it was no longer a multi-million-dollar studio film. But we were able to retain the fun story and great characters even as an Independent film, and we’re all quite proud of how it came out. So how long it took to actually write it was just an itty bitty part of the process!
Is it rewarding to see it now coming out – and with such great reviews?
RICHARD: It’s an unbelievable feeling to see a project we have worked on for so long become a completed film. Originally, I thought that was the end game. As it turns out, that was just the beginning. Getting the film out to audiences is the real game. We were happy to land a distribution deal with Indie Rights. They set us up for VOD with Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes…and now we have our DVDs at Walmart! That’s an amazing feat for an independent movie. And when we get great reviews, it is so incredibly gratifying! A writer writes to communicate ideas. Comedy writers write to communicate ideas through humor and to get laughs. When a reviewer “gets” the humor and what we’re trying to do with this film to communicate about the issue of bullying, well…there’s no better feeling in the world!
MARILYN: It’s wonderful to finally see the results of your hard work, and to get positive feedback from people who love it. We’ve done a few screenings and it was terrific to be in the audience and hear the laughs. That’s especially rewarding. We had a screening for Veterans and their families and did a Q & A afterwards where people made amazing comments and told us they appreciated the fact we used humor to spread the word to stop bullying. We didn’t realize that military families often have issues with being bullied as they move from place to place. Of course, we also love to see great reviews online, both from magazine reviewers and the regular audience of kids and parents. It makes us feel good if we have succeeded in bringing some smiles and laughs into their day with our film.
Can you talk a little about writing a comedy that tackles a fairly serious subject (if even handled lightly)?
RICHARD: Comedy is a perspective. A comedy writer looks at life through a “funny” lens. Humor is a coping skill. It helps us deal with challenges and tragedy. And interestingly, the lightness of humor can help people see and understand a serious subject in new ways. Humor can “de-fang” those subjects, and empower people to deal with them. There are many stand-up comedians who developed their life’s work because they used humor to defuse tough situations growing up. That’s the power of comedy!
MARILYN: Richard and I have both written for TV comedy series so we’re used to writing “funny.” Richard wrote for “Full House” and “She’s the Sheriff.” I wrote for “Murphy Brown,” “FAME” “Facts of Life” and “Carol & Company” starring Carol Burnett, Richard Kind and Jeremy Piven. Those shows sometimes mixed serious issues along with the comedy, too. With regard to bullying, we knew there were already many films out there that tackled it dramatically so it was important for us to do it with comedy. Plus, each of us had been bullied in school. By writing the film, it was a chance to get revenge on our childhood bullies by including those experiences, and we sort of got the last laugh on them! Plus, the film delves into other issues that families may face, like the father losing his job and moving to a new town, the mom having to set up a new house and take care of her family, and the young son having to go to a new school, make new friends and face bullies. We feel it reflects lots of positive family values, but does it in a fun and funny way.
How did you go working with the director? Were you all on the same page as far as the tone of the movie?
RICHARD: Douglas Bilitch was the director, and he clearly understood what we were trying to do and how to do it. I laugh every time I see the scene where Joe, the father, is talking to exterminators about getting rid of a bug problem in his new house. Doug set the scene up to look exactly like the scene in The Godfather, and it works beautifully!
MARILYN: Fortunately, we all seemed to be in sync on the tone of the film. Another scene we think he brought to life really well, was the one where the nosey neighbor, Riley, hears screams and looks across the way to see what’s happening. Doug created shadows on the outside of the window like in a Hitchcock thriller, and as Riley misinterprets what’s going on, it’s hilarious. In addition, Doug insisted that Richard and I both play small parts in the movie, so we thought he was quite smart to do that, too!
What’s the message within the movie, if someone was to ask?
RICHARD: It’s better to be friends than bullies. Also, words can do as much damage as fists, so find creative ways to deal with a bullying situation.
MARILYN: The movie is definitely an entertainment, first and foremost. That was our main goal, to create a fun film. However, there are a number of what we call “learning lines” in it that promote caring and loving themes. These include:
“It’s more fun being friends than bullies.”
“Words can be just as dangerous as fists, if you don’t use them right.”
“Home is more than a place. It’s wherever the people you love are.”
“We all have to look at the bright side.”
“A kind word is the best medicine.”
“Fighting doesn’t get you anywhere.”
“It’s a good thing to help people.”
Overall, we hope we’re helping people by giving them enjoyment and sharing an important theme to stop bullying at the same time.
Will we see you two teaming on anything else?
RICHARD: Yes. In fact, we just finished writing a romantic comedy that will be filming later this year. We also have a couple of other family movies ready for a willing producer – and other projects in the hopper. We’re also preparing a book version of “How to Beat a Bully “which we hope to publish later this year.
MARILYN: The romantic comedy is titled, “Cold Feet – A Wedding Tale,” so it will be great to have a couple of movies out that are in different genres. We each have separate projects, too, but it’s always more fun to work together, so if anyone out there needs a great writing team… we’re available!
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