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.
What led you into screenwriting?
Scott Moore: I kind of fell into it. Ever since high school I made like little student films. I wanted to make movies. And my first crack was when I came out after college I tried to be an independent producer, and I did actually get off the ground a couple of micro-budget films, but they were torture and didn’t make any money.
So, I basically failed as a producer, which is how I got into screenwriting. My strategy was writing scripts on the side, and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to write a script and it’s going to suck because I’m not a very good writer, and then I’m going to hire somebody to rewrite it, and I’m going to produce that movie.”
That was my strategy, and then one of my scripts got optioned for just a couple grand, but it was just enough to quit and try the writing thing. I was like, “Holy shit I’m making more money writing than I am producing.” With producing, I was just spending money. I was just putting everything on a credit card, and so I started following the writing career, and I was kind of failing at that, too.
I mean, making a little bit of money, but not any success that I could live off of, and then I bumped into this guy, Jon Lucas.
We were both working for the same guy, Daniel Petrie Jr. (Beverly Hills Cop, Turner & Hooch). We wrote a couple scripts together, and that’s when I was actually able to make a career out of it because we actually sold that for real money. Basically, a failed producer but I somehow managed to make a living with a partner as a writer, and so I pursued that.
Jon Lucas: The important detail that Scott left out is that his first film he made as a kid was called “Salty Buddies” and please make sure that that title is in the article.
Scott: That’s amazing.
Jon: He is a good sport. He dug that short up and showed it to our editorial staff. We had a little film festival of everyone’s short films in the editing bay probably like half way through post-production and he dusted it off and showed everybody. It’s actually a pretty good little movie.
Scott: It’s about two kids who get ship-wrecked. It’s ridiculous.
Jon: There’s special effects. There’s Legos. There’s a lot of mixed media. My story is not as… I don’t know. I don’t have a good story, I’ve always sort of liked writing in some way. I didn’t really know how, and I don’t think I ever really had the temperament.
I always felt like the guys who wrote short stories, or poetry, or who aspire to write novels were all just like either smarter or certainly more erudite than me and my interests were always more pop-culture or stuff that’s funny. Those other kinds of writing always felt a little stodgier to me.
I met this girl—who is now my wife—who lived in Los Angeles, and I had never been to California before, so I came out here and it just seemed like the combination of loving movies and loving writing. I think a genuine thirst when you’re 21 is to just do something fun and exciting as opposed to getting a regular job.
When I was in my early 20s, it felt like a good time to take a risk and try something big, because I could always fall back and get another job. I had the arrogance to assume that I could always get a normal healthy job if writing didn’t work out. I wrote a lot of stuff on my own, and, similar to Scott, didn’t have any success with it.
I think that’s because—and I will say to Scott’s credit—he wasn’t failing so badly. I think what Scott brings to it is that he has really good ideas, and he is really disciplined in terms of story and in terms of structure. I was the opposite. I would just come up with an idea and start writing a movie, which was a terrible way to write.
I wouldn’t spend that much time thinking, “Oh, is this a good idea?” “Is this an idea I can sustain for three acts?” “Is this something that anyone would ever want to watch?”
I was just eager to write characters and jokes, whereas Scott really likes crafting a story and coming up with a really interesting idea. So he compliments my weaknesses and I enjoy doing some of the things that Scott doesn’t always.
Scott: If there’s any lesson from my story it’s that, if you’re not a very good writer, find somebody who loves writing and is a great writer and team up with them, because that’s what I feel like I did, and he’s not wrong. I do feel like I’m more into concept and structure.
The actual writing process is kind torture for me and I’m not very good at it, but luckily Jon loves it and he’s great at it and his jokes are amazing. So that team is really what makes it work. Teaming up with a great writer is the headline.
Jon: Structure and ideas are like 90 percent of screenwriting. So many movies suffer because they’re not well structured, or the story isn’t well put together, or the concept is just kind of blah.
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.
It seems like a lot of the comedy writers do write together and are in the room together. Do you ever find yourself fighting for a joke or do you often agree on most things that make it into the script?
Scott: No we don’t always agree. There’s lots of disagreement in our world, but jokes are tricky. I think for me, it’s whoever is more passionate about it wins. At the end of the day it’s actually easy. I mean, we sort of transition in direction, too, but it’s like we often just shoot it both ways.
Try a different joke, and then when you put it up in front of an audience, if it gets the laugh it wins, if it doesn’t get a laugh, you cut it out of the movie.
Jon: The first round of focus group meetings is with each other, so if there’s a joke that makes both of us laugh, that’s probably a decent one. Whereas, if it just makes me laugh and Scott’s like, “Oh, this is too far over the line,” begrudgingly, I will often accept that and try to come up with something that’s a little better.
The truth is, when I get past my ego on that stuff, I think, “Oh, it’s great.” Usually there’s a better joke on the other side of that. Not always, but often there’s something once I get past my grumbling and how no one understands that I’m a genius…
That process is always very humbling.
You guys have gone pretty far with some of the jokes. What allows an absurd joke into the movie despite its believability?
Jon: There’s certain things with Scott that I don’t really joke about any more. I think having kids, with me anyway, made me a little more… what would be a good word…? Like a little bit more of a human-being and a little more sensitive to the world.
When you’re a 20-something guy, there’s a recklessness that you have and it’s easier. Whereas you get older you’re just like, “Oh that’s not funny, that’s just hurtful.” I think those are the things we try to stay away from, in terms of like jokes that go too far. Also, before, we were writers in the service of another director.
We were often writing something to please a studio or to please a director, but now we’re basically writing with the intention of directing so there’s a lot of arguing, but we’ll shoot it three different ways, and we usually have an alt script going.
If it’s a joke we’re not sure about, I’ll just throw that into the alt script which we’ll try on the day. Actors love, frankly, having an alt because they get bored a lot. So, having lots of ways of reading a scene, so you can be like, “Here, try it with this joke.”
It’s almost like the more jokes the merrier at a certain point. When you’re writing a script for a studio, you can’t just leave five jokes on a script or it’ll look very strange. There’s more fighting when you’re writing for someone else than when you’re writing for yourself.
Scott: At the end of the day, you just listen to your gut. In Bad Moms, we have an Osama Bin Laden joke, and we think that’s funny, but we also had a joke about the Twin Towers coming down, and when we thought about it, we were like, that’s not funny.
It’s almost like we crossed the line or the joke is at the expense of the wrong people or it just doesn’t make you laugh or it makes some people laugh but turns the rest of the audience off. I think you just follow your gut.
Jon: It’s a little frustrating, but being shocking on the page or writing something that’s really explosive on the page, everything in real life is ten times harsher.
If you say something a little mean on the page, once you see someone actually say that thing, it gets way meaner. So, now that we’re directing—learning to modulate how harsh things can be—we’ve really learned the hard way on certain jokes. Like, “Oh that killed it on the page, it felt really funny,” but then when someone actually says that, it seems way too mean and way too harsh and that’s a lesson we’ve learned by repeatedly screwing up.
Scott: Our goal, now, is not to be shocking. We don’t need to draw attention to the writing and be like, ”Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that.” The goal is really to be funny and make people laugh and have an entertaining movie.
As a viewer, there’s definitely a difference. We accepted that they’re picking on Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, but in Bad Moms there’s this emotional core that’s there as families are involved. What is it like writing with that extra emotional factor throughout the movie? Specifically, leading up to the after credits scene with the actresses?
Jon: I think it felt like a movie about a bachelorette party gone wrong. That’s the kind of movie that can be written with a certain kind of glibness and fun because that’s all people really wanted from that movie. Making a really emotional bachelor party movie I think would be a giant mistake.
Conversely, writing a movie about moms that’s really glib and has no emotional core would have been a letdown, not just for our audience, but it’s about something that’s really important. I feel like people want a full meal when they go to a movie about moms, whereas a bachelor party movie, you kind of want to go to just have a party. So, I think that the topic of the movie dictated how much emotionality the movie needed.
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.
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.
Earlier, you mentioned your interest in pop-culture. Is there a certain allowance of pop-culture jokes that can fit into your films or do you try to write jokes that are everlasting?
Jon: We try not to do too much pop-culture stuff just because of the reason you mentioned. That said, I used to think we didn’t have a lot of pop-culture references, but looking at our movie, we reference Blue Bloods which is not a show a lot of people talk about.
Scott: Game of Thrones jokes.
Jon: So, we try not to, but it’s so hard now. I feel like everyone in pop-culture has such a shared language that everyone uses, but I wish we would use it less. It’s like a crutch you can use a little bit, but it’s like cursing. A great curse word is just the best thing for a scene, but if you’re just cursing all over a scene, it gets exhausting. It loses its impact.
Scott: I actually don’t mind. One of the things I like about the movie is its place in time. It may be dated in 20 years, but it’ll at least showcase what 2016 was like. I like that we have some pop-culture references about things that are going on right now. I like that the studio gave us some money for music and that some of the songs are in the top 10 right now. That’s the sound of 2016. I like that.
Jon: That’s true, and to Scott’s point, comedies don’t survive particularly well. There are some that do, like Animal House. I don’t even remember what year that was, but that’s a movie that’s survived almost 30 or 40 years. That’s like a true classic.
A lot of like pretty good comedies just fall off as time goes on and in some ways trying to make a movie that’s going to last 50 years as a comedy is maybe a fool’s errand anyway.
Speaking of the songs you guys featured—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!
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.
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.
What do you find to be the most difficult step in the writing process?
Jon: Coming up with ideas that are horrible is actually okay, because it’s really obvious when they’re a bad idea. The hardest part is we come up with a lot of ideas that are like, “Eh, that’s probably a movie. I could imagine that’s a movie,” and that difference between something that you could really make and that’s something fun and different and just a movie that’s sort of a piece of commerce or that feels like it’s programming.
That for me, personally, is really hard because you’ll come up with an idea and I’ll say, “I can’t wait to pitch Scott this movie, I know it’s a movie,” but then it’s just a little not different enough or it’s a little too different and no one’s really going to see it, and it’s sort of too esoteric. So for me, coming up with a good idea—that’s the hottest commodity.
If we had had someone in my basement that just came out and gave me ideas that would be truly the greatest gift. The actual act of writing, once you have a great idea, makes it a lot easier to write. If you don’t have a good idea, it kind of fights you the whole way, especially around page 70 where you’d normally push through. There’s a certain page in every script where if it’s not a good idea, it reveals itself. It’s a horrible feeling.
Scott: Coming up with ideas is the hardest part. Because there’s no craft to it, there’s no science to it. It’s hard to improve how you’re doing it. You just need to keep trying to think of stuff, whereas the writing process, if you write a scene that’s bad you can just re-write it.
You try different things. You try a different line of dialogue. “Let’s make it shorter, let’s make it longer, let’s throw in a character;” there’s all sorts of tricks and tools and ways to work on the writing, but I don’t know how you go on coming up with better ideas.
Jon: If you know the answer, let us know.
Scott: We would like to hear it. That’s the hard part. When you come up with an idea it’s so, kind of, magical. You’re walking down the street, or you’re in your car, or somebody says something at dinner and you’re like, that’s an idea. It’s almost an accident, and I don’t know how you make accidents happen.
Jon: You can’t replicate it. It isn’t like, “Oh this is how I got the last idea so it’ll happen again for this one.”
Scott: I’m going to get the band together and we’re going to have the same dinner every night, and you guys say the same thing and we’ll come up with a bunch of ideas. It doesn’t work that.
Jon: It’s like when you meet a producer or a writer or anyone who is like, “I’ve got tons of good ideas for movies.” It’s like, “Oh boy. No, you don’t.”
What are some of your cinematic influences, or what kinds of films do you guys watch over and over again?
Scott: My answer’s pretty boring. I grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and that’s what was really exciting—going to a movie and just being really entertained and engaged and excited.
I still really love Groundhog Day. That movie is a whole meal. It has great characters, it’s funny, it has an interesting structure, and it kind of makes you think about life a little bit differently. I think it’s just fantastic, and that’s a comedy that to me really holds up. I’d love to do something like that someday.
Jon: I always love comedies from a community aspect. I recall whole friendships in high school based around Spinal Tap. Quoting the movie over and over to the point where we must have been so annoying to everyone, but those comedies felt like a real source of community with people.
It’s kind of the same as how music was when you were a teenager—music was so important. If someone who liked the same band you liked had 99 qualities that were terrible, but they liked the same band, it’s like, “Oh we’re bros. We are like literally the same.” Movies were kind of the same way. They were this language you had, and the grown-ups didn’t quite get it.
It was like your little way of communicating with each other, but all the great comedies whether Spinal Tap—or Caddyshack—we just couldn’t stop quoting Caddyshack the whole summer.
I’m not sure those were cult movies, but it felt like every kid I knew growing up was watching those same movies: the Harold Ramis comedies. As I got older, the Cameron Crowe movies that felt so worn in— like a good pair of jeans. You just put them on and it was like there’s nothing bumpy about this movie, it’s just perfect. I hope and aspire to make something like that someday.
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.
Is there anything else you guys want to share about the film or any upcoming projects you guys would like to talk about?
Jon: No, we actually appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. A lot of these interviews are about what we think about mom-hood, which we don’t know very much about, so it’s actually really fun to talk about writing.
Featured Image: Kirsten Bell as Kiki, Mila Kunis as Amy 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.