Not so long ago Larry Doyle was an aspiring screenwriter who tried, unsuccessfully, to sell his latest idea for a film script. But rather than give up, he turned that idea into a witty, sexy novel which was published and a hit. That novel was “I Love you Beth Cooper”, and Larry Doyle was hired to pen the screenplay.
The film version, directed by Chris Columbus, hits theatres this weekend and Doyle’s novel is back on shelves with some additions from his screenplay. The author/screenwriter spoke to PAUL FISCHER from New York.
Question: First of all, when you wrote this book originally, I just want to clarify, did you – do you write it with the intention of it being a movie? Was it structured as a novel?
Doyle: I wrote it after I thought I couldn’t sell it as a movie.
Question: So, did the screenplay come first, or did a draft of the book come first?
Doyle: What came first was a treatment for a screenplay. You know, like, a script-ment, that I showed my agents. And they didn’t think they could sell it.
Doyle: Too small. No room for a star. It’s exactly the kind of movie that people in Hollywood always say they want to make, but they won’t make. You know, a movie that can be made for a price. You know, a lot of independent movies, a lot of ” inexpensive” movies, are also narratively-complex. We’ll call them art movies, do you know what I mean? So, there isn’t really anybody trying to make small-budgeted commercial movies. And the studios are afraid of them. And the independent people don’t really want to make something that’s that ” commercial.” So it’s all in this category, where the agents didn’t feel they could sell it. And it was after that that a book agent read the treatment that I wrote, and said that she thought it would be a fine book. And so I wrote – from my treatment, I wrote it in prose. Which – I’ve sort of always gone back and forth between writing prose and writing TV and movie stuff. Not that hard of a transition.
Question: What is the different sensibility that is required when writing a novel, as against writing a screenplay? I mean, in terms of the language, and in terms of the kinds of beats, I suppose, that you come up with as an author, as opposed to a screenwriter?
Doyle: Well, I mean, the biggest difference, which I don’t necessarily follow when I’m writing prose – but the biggest difference is, of course, you have to show everything in the movie. If someone’s going to be a certain way, you can’t just assert it. You have to demonstrate it. And so in a book, you can get away with – through inner monologue, or even through just narrative imperative – you can just get away with saying a character’s a certain way. Or you can say things about their back story. As long as you’re entertaining about it, you have unlimited space for exposition.
Question: And obviously you have a different way of expressing yourself descriptively, when you’re a novelist, too, that obviously you don’t have as a screenwriter.
Doyle: Yeah. Well – I mean, the writing is certainly a lot more baroque when I’m writing the prose stuff. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that you would put in stage directions. Although I’m kind of notorious for writing stage directions that are way too long. And putting jokes in stage directions, which, by the way, executives hate. But – you know, you’re not supposed to do that. And you do have to have – especially when you’re writing the first couple of drafts of the screenplay, where they’re going to be read by movie executives and not by people who actually make movies – you have to be more obvious. And then, when it looks like it’s going, you take a lot of that stuff out.
Question: The novel is a lot more graphic than what ended up in the movie.
Doyle: That was a studio mandate.
Question: Do you regret that? I mean, would you have been happier if this had been an R-rated movie?
Doyle: Well, you know, I don’t know. Because here’s the thing – I want the movie to be popular, and I want the audience to be able to see it. And for some reason, a lot of – first of all, one of the big differences between the book and the movie – and this is just the way these industries think – the book was widely read by adults and teenagers. Its audiences didn’t fall into one particular category. And they didn’t try to market it directly into any one particular category. Now, the movie, they’re marketing it, and they just don’t think a single person over the age of 18 is going to go see it.
Question: Which is very sad, I think.
Doyle: Well, it is. But that’s the way they work. You know? I mean, that’s what they do. They identify their quadrants, and then they go after them. But – you know, if you haven’t been watching MTV while reading Seventeen magazine over the last couple of months, you have no idea this movie’s coming out. But if you’ve been watching MTV, you sure as hell know it’s coming out. You know what I mean? Because they’re all over MTV with the film. And – you know, you get those tracking poll things, and it’s amazing. Like, for example, the awareness of the movie, people who know the movie’s coming out, is something like close to 90 percent of girls under the age of 25. And, like, 40 percent of guys over the age of 25. It’s like living in completely different universes.
Question: Do you have to learn a lot about compromise when you’re working in Hollywood?
Doyle: Well, yeah. Yeah. Although – I mean, if you’re a writer, to be really perfectly frank about it, it’s not compromise. It’s acquiescence. I had a very good experience on this movie, which means that my input was listened to, and considered. But a compromise suggests that both sides of an equation have the power to stop the compromise from happening.
Question: Right. And you don’t have any of that, really.
Doyle: No. As a writer, your only power is in whatever your persuasive powers are. But if the studio or the director or anyone decides to go another way on something, that’s it. You don’t really have any recourse, other than to get yourself fired. It was not really a problem on this movie. But I just mean, in general. They like to call it a collaborative medium, and talk about compromise. But writers really don’t have any power. So, it’s not really collaborative, so much as it is your serving the purposes of other people, who are really actually your boss, not your collaborator. And I had – stop that, and I want to clarify, because I’m making these comments in general. I had a really good experience on this movie, with Chris.
Question: Now, was there ever a version of the movie that was on a parallel line to your original book, or not?
Doyle: Well, I think the movie is really pretty darn faithful to the book, in terms of basic structure, and a lot of the lines are the same. The biggest change in the movie happened after the movie was shot, which is, there’s a sequence at the end where the boyfriend comes back at the lake, in the book. And when we were showing it, testing it and showing it in front of the audiences, it just felt like – and some people said the same thing about the book, by the way – that it was just one two many times. So we did it without them coming back, and it worked great. Because I think by that time, too, the relationship between the two main characters had developed enough that you didn’t want them interrupted again. You know? That it would just be an unnecessary comic escapade, when emotionally you were reaching the end of the movie. So that is the biggest change. There were a couple of other changes, but a lot of them were made for – you know, a movie, or at least this kind of movie, just shouldn’t be three hours long. So a bunch of stuff came out like that. One sequence that I rather liked in the book that I thought would have been funny, but I think came out because of budget – where they get chased onto a children’s playground.
Question: Oh, that would be funny.
Doyle: And they’re in one of those long tubes, and these arms start coming in at them, and stuff. But that would have required actually building this playground, because the one I made up didn’t really exist.
Question: What did you think of the casting choices?
Doyle: I think that they all played the roles really well. You know, they obviously don’t match the book precisely in terms of physically. But some of them are like, a revelation. Like, Jack Carpenter doesn’t look anything like Rich in the book. And in a lot of ways, he doesn’t even act that much like Rich in the book. But I thought he was just great. He really breaks out in it. The only one who sort of physically kind of looks the way they do in the book is Lauren Storm, who plays Treece. And she, funnily enough, when they were talking about casting her, I was against casting her, because she weighed about 25 pounds less than she does in the movie.
And I was like, ” Well, we’ve got all these jokes where she’s saying she’s fat, is we can’t do a movie where teenage girls are gonna go to it, and a skinny girl’s talking about being fat.” But she put on all the weight, so she looks great. You know, I think everyone did real well. I was really pleased with – I thought Lauren Storm was really funny, and I thought Jack Carpenter was really good. I was really pleased with Hayden, because she did – for me, anyway – a lot of really nice levels of acting that added a kind of a depth to her character, when she’s not talking. Which is hard, you know. But you could tell that there was a girl inside the pretty face. And you could even tell when that girl was putting on a veneer that was designed to keep you from knowing it.
Question: Have you been asked to, or would you consider, writing a sequel to the book?
Doyle: Yeah, I thought about writing a sequel to the book. I had an idea for it, but nobody liked my idea. So I’m not sure if I went and did it, what I would write. Part of the problem with writing a sequel to the book – you know, anything that’s popular, I guess, people want sequels to. But there has to be a narrative reason for it. And they sort of – in my mind, in the book – aside from whatever plot sort of things you wanted to do with them – but, the sort of emotional reason why they get together in the book – is finished. You know, they’ve learned what they’re gonna learn, and you could easily write another book with those characters, of hijinx. But I’d have to have someplace for them to go emotionally.
Question: What are you working on now?
Doyle: I’m writing a novel that is imagining a universe, called Go Mutants! And it’s sort of – I don’t know, it’s also inspired by – for some reason, I like writing fiction that lives in Hollywood-land. And this particular concept is that all of the aliens and the mutants of the ’50s sci-fi movies – like, all those invasions, and stuff, all happened. And it’s a generation later, and now some of their offspring are in a high school. And it’s sort of like – you know, Rebel Without a Cause, but James Dean has a giant brain. So, that’s the basic idea.
Question: Do you see a movie in that as well?
Doyle: Well – I mean, Imagine and Universal did. I’ve got the whole story worked out. It’s a nice coming-of-age thing. He’s – Huge Brain Daly, and a very James Dean-like kind of a loner. He’s got that angry-young-man thing, and he has to grow up in the course of the thing. And one of his friends is a radioactive ape, and – you know, and a lot of the cameos with a lot of ’50s things. And it’s a very fun universe. It’s sort of what the people in the ’50s thought the future would look like.
Question: Oh, that sounds really great.
Doyle: There’s a lot of plastic furniture.