Q & A with Screenwriters Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson

Stars of the upcoming Warner Bros. romantic comedy, “Life As We Know It,

Stars of the upcoming Warner Bros. romantic comedy, “Life As We Know It," Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with leading filmmakers Martin Grove talks to screenwriters Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson about the romantic comedy “Life As We Know It,” directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, opening Oct. 8 from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and Gold Circle Films.

Directed by Greg Berlanti (TV’s “Brothers & Sisters,” the upcoming “Green Lantern” feature), the film’s screenplay is by first time feature writers Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson. “Life As We Know It” was produced by Barry Josephson and Paul Brooks and executive produced by Denise Di Novi, Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt, Katherine Heigl, Nancy Heigl and Bruce Berman. Starring are Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks and Hayes MacArthur.

The Story (no spoilers): In “Life As We Know It” Katherine Heigl plays Holly Berenson, an up–and–coming caterer, and Josh Duhamel is Eric Messer, a promising network sports director. After a disastrous first date, the only thing they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their infant goddaughter, Sophie. But when Holly and Eric suddenly become all that Sophie has in the world, they’re forced to put their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they must find some common ground while living under one roof.

Q: How did “Life As We Know It” come to be?
A: Ian: It started basically in that we had just sold our first script the year before in 2000 and we were trying to figure out what to write for our next spec. My wife was pregnant at the time and we were having that conversation that every neurotic soon–to–be parents have — “What happens if we die? Who do we leave the baby to?” My wife and I had two single friends and she said, kind of jokingly, “Well, what if we leave them to them?”

And I said, “That’s a great idea for a movie.” She said, “I know. I pitched it to you a month ago!” I said, “Oh yeah. I wasn’t really paying attention.“ But then I pitched that idea to Kristin and she knew the same friends, as well, and we both just realized this is something we really wanted to write.
Q: When was this?
A: Ian: This was in the summer of 2001. We started writing it and sold it at the end of that year.
Q: And the two of you had sold one screenplay before that?
A: Ian: We’d had a sale the year before of a movie we wrote that Sandra Bullock was attached at the time to star in. We sold that to MGM. That was called “Wildest Dreams.” That never got made.
Q: What happened after you decided your idea for “Life As We Know It” was a good one to write?
A: Kristin: Well, Ian and I had a conversation about whether this was an idea to pitch or to write as a spec. We decided on writing it because we felt the tone was going to be so specific. I mean, it’s definitely funny, but there’s something sad there, too, and we felt that in the development process that might get lost. We were passionate about it and we wanted to write it.

Ian: We wrote it and we were lucky enough to sell it. Barry Josephson was the producer who bought it and stayed on from Day One and really fought to get it made for eight years.
Q: When you wrote it, did you have Katherine Heigl in mind to star in it?
A: Ian: (Laughs) Katherine was probably in high school at that time.

Kristin: One of the best things about it taking as long as it did to come to fruition is that we’re so lucky to have this combination of cast and a director in Katie and Josh and Greg that wouldn’t have been possible the year that we actually sold it. So we were more than happy to wait that long. Now we can’t imagine any other group making it.
“Life As We Know It” screenwriters Ian Deitchman (left) and Kristin Rusk Robinson (right)

“Life As We Know It” screenwriters Ian Deitchman (left) and Kristin Rusk Robinson (right)

Q: Why did it take so long to get made?
A: Kristin: It changed homes in that time.

Ian: We were very lucky that we were able to stay with the project that whole time. I think it’s hard (because) it gets lumped into the dramedy genre — although I think we always thought of it as a comedy. We always felt just because it’s a comedy doesn’t mean you can’t have honest drama and play that part of it for real. But I think it’s a tricky tone and it’s the kind of thing where it needs the right group of people who can then take it and run with it and execute it as a film.

Kristin: I think Barry got that tone and understood that and it was just a question of finding the right home. We were lucky enough to find that home with Paul Brooks at Gold Circle and then eventually all together at Warner Bros.

Ian: We always got it and Barry always got it. And then it’s finding those people who also get it. Once Katherine read it, she immediately got it and signed on and we were finally off to the races.
Q: When did Greg come aboard to direct?
A: Kristin: He came on just after Katherine.

Ian: Basically, Katie came on and then it ended up at Warner Bros. And she had a window (in which she could do the film) so Greg came on just a few months before it actually went into production. We feel incredibly lucky because he was truly the perfect guy to do this. I think people are going to be really impressed with what he’s capable of as a director. He did what any writer really wants their director to do, which is take your script and make it their own and just make it into a really special film.
Q: So many times when directors come on board what you find is that they rewrite the script or bring in a new team or several new teams of writers. How did you guys manage to survive all of those pitfalls?
A: Ian: He did his own pass on it, which was fine. It was always a very personal script for us and we always knew that whoever was going to direct it, it would need to be a personal script for them, too, because again it’s all about the tone. For us, it was very much about writing something that could play comedically, but that could also play real. And Greg completely understood that and ran with that. Frankly, we’re thrilled with the results.
Q: Were you involved during production? Did you do any rewriting on set?
A: Ian: Once Greg came on, he’s a wonderful writer, himself, and he kind of took it from there.

Kristin: We went to the set, which was a delightful experience, but it was like a relay race — you’re handing it off to the next hands. We sometimes joke that our scripts are our children and one we were dressing up and getting ready to send off to college (to see) what kind of young person it’s going to become. And in Greg’s hands we think it turned out pretty good!
“Life As We Know It” screenwriters Kristin Rusk Robinson (left) and Ian Deitchman (right)

“Life As We Know It” screenwriters Kristin Rusk Robinson (left) and Ian Deitchman (right)

Q: As writers, having something produced and with a major star is certainly very good. What’s happened to you guys since this?
A: Ian: We’re working on a new spec. We just did a movie for CBS Films. The thing that’s so interesting is that “Life As We Know It” was a great spec script for so many years. We actually got work off of that script for those eight years. It’s not the only script we wrote, obviously. We’ve been writing for a long time.

Kristin: We have projects at various studios around town. Some of them originals — a pitch — and some of them assignments. But we’ve worked really consistently over the years.

Ian: It’s always been important to us to not just go up for rewrite assignments and things like that, but to write our own ideas and to bring our own ideas into the fray. And that’s what we’re trying to do right now. We have a spec that we’re working on. We have a pitch we’ll be going out with. Things like that, as well as looking to see what other jobs are out there.
Q: In this case with a dramedy you had a more difficult genre to sell. Are you going now in a more conventional direction?
A: Kristin: We have projects around town that are family comedies. We have projects that are more traditional romantic comedies. I’d say the consistent through–line is an emotional life to the story and characters. Those are key. That could be in a straight comedy or in something that’s more dramatic. It’s just, “Are there relatable characters that speak to us emotionally in the idea?” That’s what we gravitate towards.

Ian: That and we’re always looking for a great high concept idea that is grounded in something emotional. Our goal is to have everything we’ve written made into a film, as every writer’s goal is. So that’s what we’re just continuing to do.
Q: Is it harder to sell emotional ideas?
A: Ian: I think it so depends on the concept. If it’s something that is more of a “dramedy,” those tend to be more character driven. So those are things we tend to write as opposed to pitch. If it’s something that’s much more high concept, that might be something that you pitch. But for us, no matter what it is, it’s always going to have an emotional life to it.
Q: When you’re writing, do you work together in a room or by e–mail?
A: Ian: We work together.

Kristin: Usually, one or the other of us will come up with an idea and then we will break the story together. We will sort of decide on a beginning, middle and end in a lot of detail. And then for the first draft, the real rough assembly draft, we will split up scenes and write them individually and assemble them and then all of the rewriting we do together in the room. But we find that it’s easier to rewrite if we have something on paper. So that first assembly draft is just about getting something on paper to work from.

Ian: We learned that the hard way.
Life As We Know It — In theaters October 8th

Life As We Know It — In theaters October 8th

Q: When you’re writing are you on computers? Are you using Final Draft?
A: Ian: We’re on Final Draft on a computer, basically. We work in Final Draft and do all of our rewriting that way.

Kristin: And we Skype.

Ian: We Skype at night.

Kristin: We both have young children so after our kids go to bed we will also fire up the computer and work over Skype.
Q: Are you both here in L.A.?
A: Kristin: Yes.
Q: With “Life As We Know It” was there any scene that was just impossibly challenging?
A: Kristin: I will say this, there are a few moments that will embarrass one of my nieces when she’s old enough because a lot of it is borrowed from experiences with her — including the bathtub scene (Note: If you can’t guess what happens here, check out at the trailer.)

Ian: The structure of the movie was always tricky and we always looked at it as, “This is like the worst year of their life.” If you're looking back at it 10 years ago, this is that year. I think one of the big breakthroughs early on when we were writing it was figuring out how to come up with transitions and using the seasons almost like chapter breaks. It gives the movie a chance to breathe and kind of move on to the next emotional marker.

Kristin: Always, the challenge of the script was finding ways to be emotional and finding humor, too. There’s a scene where the main characters have an argument. They’re in a pretty stressful situation and it’s natural they’re upset. We chose to have them start this argument in front of the baby’s room and she’s sleeping so they have to whisper. Having them whisper the whole time lightened it and we found some humor in it. We think that was a nice balance.

Ian: It was certainly one of our favorite scenes and kind of emblematic, I think, of the tone — being able to have a kind of comic way into the scenes, but enable the characters to really say raw, emotional, real things to each other.
Q: Are you working on anything right now?
A: Kristin: We’re working for CBS Films on an adaptation of a book. We’re doing a rewrite for them. We are working on a new spec. We’re dipping our toes in the TV world for the first time, which is fun.

Ian: We’re excited about trying to get out there and get into the world of television. We’ve always wanted to write something in television. I think our voice would lend itself well to a TV show. Certainly that’s something that we’ve always wanted to do. It’s just finding the right concept that we feel like, “Okay, we can write a hundred episodes of that.”