Is It A Good Idea To Write A Screenplay For Fun? by Todd Berger
Film Courage: Let’s suppose you finish…you have this thing where you want to always finish something [a screenplay]…but let’s suppose you finish it and then you go back to it and you’re like I’m not really that into it. Do you just leave it alone? But the fact that you finished it was mainly what was important to you?
Todd Berger, author/co-writer of The Happytime Murders: I’ll always want to get it to a point where I can show it to other people. I’ve never done a first draft of anything like “Meh? I’m glad I wrote this but I’m never going to show it to anyone.” Because I feel you never know when you’re going to meet a person who wants to do the exact thing you had written five years ago? So I always want to get a script to the place where I would feel comfortable showing it to someone else if it ever came up. If don’t show it to people, I would read it, I would be happy with it, I would show it to my wife just to make sure it makes sense and probably look for typos. And then I’m happy to put it on a shelf and never show it to anybody.
Unless one day I’m in a meeting, one day I’m at a barbecue and someone’s like “Yeah, I’m a producer. My brother owns a furniture store in Arizona and I’d love…I can get you a free location and I have half a million dollars and if I can find a movie set in a furniture store if I can shoot there.” And that’s when I’m able to say…”Funny? I have a thriller that I wrote set in a furniture store five years ago. No one has ever seen it. No one has ever read. I just wrote it because I wanted to write it, it was a story I wanted to tell.” But I was very aware that there was no market for a half million dollars furniture story movies but then who knows?
The Happytime Murders, D. Robertson and I came up with these characters, came up with the story, I wrote the script. We tried to get it made for fun, we just wanted to do it for fun and it didn’t happen. Put it on the shelf, years later (we weren’t doing anything with it), it was sitting on a shelf (the virtual shelf of my computer). My agent calls me, he says “Hey, the Jim Henson company called me because they are starting a new division called Henson Alternative and they are looking to do an adult-oriented puppet stuff and they called and they’re like We want to develop an R-rated puppet movie, do you have any writers who you think would be a good fit to do that?”
And my agent said “Well, actually I have a client who already wrote an R-rated puppet movie, it’s called The Happytime Murders, he wrote it like five years ago. And they were like “What?” So he sent it over and they read it and they were like “Oh, yeah great, let’s do this. That’s exactly what we wanted.” But we had already done it just for fun. So that’s always been my method. It’s just I write stuff for fun that I like and then I put it on the shelf and maybe one day it will come up in conversation and someone will want to make it. Who knows?
Film Courage: What makes it an R-rating? What are these puppets doing that’s so adult-oriented?
Todd: It’s sex, drugs, violence, rock n’ roll. The puppets are doing everything that people do in their everyday life but we’re finally seeing what the puppets do behind closed doors. What the puppets do on the streets. How the puppets actually talk to each other.
I’ve written a bunch of family stuff, I’ve written a bunch of PG-movies. But the movies I’ve directed have always been R and they’re always filled with cursing and adult themes and people have asked me “Why do you have these characters cursing all the time?” And I’m like “That’s how people talk.” My friends (when we’re hanging out), that’s how we talk. And when you want to make a movie about a certain kind of person, they curse a lot. They drop f-bombs or this is how they talk to each other and when we set out to make a movie about the actual…what if there was an actual world where puppets and humans coexisted with each other and the puppets were like this underclass of society that were like these sugar addicts, living on the streets and were this underclass, it would be pretty rough and they would talk to each other in pretty rough ways. It would be a really interesting world to explore and the funny thing about R-rated comedies is that a lot of movies you see there is this very fine line between PG-13 and R, right?…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).