Photo: Kevin Parry
Rob Reiner
“There are fewer and fewer places for films about people in real situations with real feelings than there ever have been before… The superhero, the otherworldly are kind of taking over. You see less and less films of what real people go through on earth.” - Rob Reiner
Feels Like the First Time
Written by Dylan Callaghan

Everybody knows Rob Reiner went from playing Meathead on All in the Family to becoming a hugely successful film writer-director. But not many fully appreciate that Archie’s perpetually disparaged son-in-law virtually invented a filmic genre (Okay, he didn’t exactly invent the mockumentary style used in 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, but he was arguably the first to make an entire feature film using it), and then summarily helmed an unbroken, expectation-staggering, genre-hurdling streak of movies that, in their eclecticism alone are unprecedented. A quick refresher:

The Sure Thing (1985, Written by Steven L. Bloom & Jonathan Roberts)
Stand By Me (1986, Screenplay by Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans)
The Princess Bride (1987, Screenplay by William Goldman)
When Harry Met Sally (1989, Written by Nora Ephron)
Misery (1990, Screenplay by William Goldman)
A Few Good Men (1992, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin)
 

The point isn’t just that Reiner rattled off a boffo string of hit movies at nearly a film-a-year clip, but also that he has a knack for making mainstream smashes that still feel like special, cult favorites.

He has brought that knack and his long-time writing partner Andrew Scheinman, who has worked with him on every film except Spinal Tap, to his latest film, Flipped. Based on the popular young adult book by Wendelin Van Draanen, it was adapted here by Reiner and Scheinman themselves. Though the pair always work with the screenwriters on Reiner’s films, this time it was all them. Flipped is a tale of first love between the tree-hugging, chicken-raising Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) and blue-eyed dreamboat, Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe).

The two spoke with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about how they see Flipped as a companion film to Stand By Me, and why, in nearly all of Reiner’s films, the girl is way smarter than the guy.

This film is drawing a lot of comparisons to Stand By Me, but doesn’t it also bear a surprising resemblance to When Harry Met Sally in the sense that, despite being 8th graders, they have a sophisticated, real relationship journey?

Rob Reiner: When I first read the book it felt like Stand By Me in the quality of the writing. Stand By Me was about those first very strong feelings of friendship and the bonds that happen between buddies. In the same way, this felt like a very insightful look at those first powerful, confusing feelings of falling in love.


Photo: © 2010 Warner Bros. Pictures
Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll in Flipped.

So for me, it’s always felt much more like Stand By Me. It feels almost like a companion to Stand By Me. We also set this in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. That was a time when I was going through that first crush that I had on a girl.

Andrew Scheinman: Vis-a-vis the comparison to When Harry Met Sally, Rob and I have talked a lot about the fact that in life, or at least in Rob’s films, the girl always seems to be a bit more advanced maturity-wise than the boy, and the boy has to catch up. It was true of John Cusack all the way back in The Sure Thing, and it’s true in this film. The girl [here] is very mature and knows what she wants right off the bat, and the boy has no clue and is dragged kicking and screaming to the right place.

What attracted each of you to this story?

Rob Reiner: What grabbed me is that it connected with the exact feelings I had when I had my first crush. I thought, “Wow, this person is not just writing for young people, but for everyone.” The writing was much deeper and more sophisticated than a normal book that was written for kids. It resonated with me and connected me with those same feelings I had when I was a kid.

I was also totally fascinated by the fact that it was told from both the girl’s and the boy’s points of view.

Andrew, what hooked you?

Andrew Scheinman: What hooked me was when Rob said, “Read this, it’s really good.”

That is a good hook.

Andrew Scheinman: But then I read it! After that, it was a lot of the same things Rob said. There’s such universality to it, and again, since we seem to be comparing it to other films, for years after Stand By Me, I would run into people who would say, “That was my story.” And I would say, “Oh, you grew up in a rural town?” And they’d say, “No, I grew up in Manhattan.”

It’s because it doesn’t matter where you’re from – it was the emotional underpinning of the story. It’s the same with this film. Everybody remembers the first crush. It’s a very powerful feeling you don’t forget.

Tell me about the decision to move the story from present day to the 1950s.

Rob Reiner: It was done for two reasons: the one obvious one is that that’s when I came of age, in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. I was 12 years old in 1959, so I set it then because that was a time I could connect with. But the other reason was that when I read the book, it had a very timeless feel to it. Even though it was set in the modern day, it felt like it could be at any time. And I wanted to kind of strip away the distractions of technology that you see today with Facebook and texting and so on, and make it purely about those feelings that you have when you first fall in love.

Andrew, how much logistical writing work was involved in adapting this book to a different time period.

Andrew Scheinman: Surprisingly little.

It was pretty effortless?

Andrew Scheinman: In terms of making that adjustment, fairly close to effortless. We used a lot of the dialogue directly out of the book. To tell you the truth, the book felt like it was not written in the present day… Actually, while there were things that were difficult about the adaptation, changing the period wasn’t one of them.

Alright, let’s talk about the pain. What was difficult?

Andrew Scheinman: We had a great time doing this. The most difficult thing was, as with adapting any book you really like, paring it down to make it a film. There were a lot of really wonderful little side journeys that there was no room for in the film. Rob used to always say, when you’re cutting a film, if you have a couple of really good things left on the cutting room floor, that means you probably have a pretty good film. If there was any difficulty, it was in deciding what parts to keep.

Can you give me a rough thumbnail of your basic system for handling the writing together? Did you do it together or in chunks separately?

Rob Reiner: What Andy and I do is, we sit in a room together. In this case, I sat with a yellow legal pad – we don’t use a computer – and we’ll go through it. In this case we had the book as a blueprint, so we’d go through a section and decide what we wanted to keep and what we wanted to lose, we’d underline and highlight things with a yellow highlighter, and we’d just start working. But I’ll be the one on the yellow legal pad and Andy will be the one wandering around.

Andrew Scheinman: We’ve been doing this for a long time. Every film Rob’s done, with the exception of Spinal Tap, we’ve done either a little or a lot of work on. The only thing that’s varied in 25 or 30 years is which chair we sit in. What you sit in at the beginning of the two to three month process is the chair you sit in for that whole thing.

So it’s like baseball? It’s very superstitious?

Andrew Scheinman: Yeah, maybe, maybe…

Rob Reiner: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s superstition or just…

Andrew Scheinman: Laziness.

Rob Reiner: Yeah, we’re just creatures of a habit.

Well, script writing is a habituated thing.

Rob Reiner: Yes, it is. And we’ve been comfortable with each other since we met in 1974, and we’ve been doin’ this for a long time. We have unbelievably similar sensibilities. There’s rarely a time when Andy will say something that I don’t think is the right thing or vice versa… Or we both will say, “This isn’t the right thing.” It’s so rare that we have even a remote disagreement on what should be in or not.

Has any particular strengths emerged, like Andy’s good at one thing and you another?

Rob Reiner: Andy is probably better at dialogue…

Andrew Scheinman: Rob is way better at structure. I mean, we both do both, but Rob is absolutely laser-like in terms of what should and shouldn’t be in a screenplay.

Rob Reiner: More often than not, we’ll come up with a line that’s just out of left field that’s great, or, if I come up with something, he’ll find a way to make it curvier and funnier.

Curvier, I like that. Finally, what is your feeling about the health of the romantic comedy as a genre?

Rob Reiner: There will always be a place for it, but generally speaking, there are fewer and fewer places for films about people in real situations with real feelings than there ever have been before. Everybody’s just coming back from Comic-Con, and the fantastic, the superhero, the otherworldly are kind of taking over. You see less and less films of what real people go through on earth.

I make films about human beings that live on earth. There’s less and less of that in general, rather than the specific genre of romantic comedy.