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How Game Night screenwriter Mark Perez sold Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman can smell a winner

Game Night will be a fun night out for grown-up couples. It’s  an all star comedy broken up into couples: Jason Batemen and Rachel McAdams, Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris and Billy Magnussen with Sharon Horgan.

It’s comedy gold when the couples go over to Brooks (Kyle Chandler)’s house for a murder mystery evening, not realizing that real criminals have hijacked their plans. It’s a dark action comedy that goes to real violent places.

Mark Perez wrote the screenplay for Game Night. Monsters and Critics spoke with Perez about making sure the mystery works, ensuring the cast had great chemistry and his upcoming comedies with Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and legendary ‘80s action stars!

Game Night opens Friday, February 23 in theaters.

Kyle Chandler is here to stir things up.

M&C: Did you have to write an actual mystery on top of a comedy?

Mark Perez: When we came up with the idea for Game Night, I was like the only way it’s going to be really funny is if you believe that the stakes are real, that people could actually die, that people could get hurt.

To twist a mystery around the comedy, I come from the world of just writing comedy and trying to be funny and the story is almost secondary. In this one I took a different approach and thought about the twists and turns, the mystery of it all.

It was hard for me. It was something different but it was really enjoyable and I really enjoyed being able to turn it up a little bit and change it up a little bit and have it be a mix of both genres.

Billy Magnussen and Jason Bateman look for clues.

M&C: Would you work backwards from the result and work backwards to get there?

MP: At first you write it and then you know that’s going to happen at the end. Then, the thing is when that thing happens at the end and the twist, you have to go make sure, speaking scriptwise, genetically all those scenes prior make sense.

You have to look at them in reverse. Okay, does this make sense compared to what’s about to happen? It was tricky in that way. There was a lot more mass than I’ve usually done in a comedy but again, it was really enjoyable to flex that muscle.

M&C: Did you play with different types of couples who could be part of Game Night?

MP: Yeah, we tried a bunch of different kinds. We had the older couple that’s about to get divorced. I wrote a bunch of different kinds of couples. I’m really glad with the ones we ended up with.

Three couples ready to play Game Night

M&C: Did it become clear why things like a divorcing couple wouldn’t work?

MP: I don’t know if it became clear, but the good thing about writing a script, and I developed the idea with Jason for months, we would try a bunch of different things and see what worked better.

Finally, you end up in places that you didn’t think you were going to end up in at the start. Those collaborative things where you’re working with somebody as smart as Jason Bateman, you end up somewhere generally speaking that’s better than the place you started. I think that’s where we ended up in the movie.

M&C: Did you ever have more of Ryan’s dumb dates?

MP: No, I did not. I did not but those are great.

Sarah (Sharon Horgan) isn’t like the girls Ryan (Billy Magnussen) brings to game night.

M&C: Was Game Night always going to be R-rated?

MP: I didn’t know, so when I wrote it, I wasn’t sure. As a writer I always push it and I go okay, if they want to make it PG-13, we’ll pull back. So I think I wrote it R if I recall.

I wasn’t sure if they were going to tame it up and make it PG-13 but to be honest with you, I think making it R gives it a cooler vibe. It says something to the audience, like hey, this is going to be edgier and you can trust in it.

The action, suspense and jokes are going to be a little edgier. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be grossout humor but it just says hey, this is a bit more risque. AT least to me as an audience member, I see that and go okay, this is going to be cooler than if it was PG-13.

Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman on the case

M&C: John and Jonathan said the script only had one line about the faberge egg chase. Did you have any idea it would turn into a 90 second single take epic?

MP: No, I didn’t and that’s the cool thing. Somebody asked me: do you write out the action specifically? One time I wrote a script that was kind of a musical, and I don’t know how to write songs. So I would go, “Song about this here.”

I think that’s a lot of times in action. You kind of give the tone of what you want to do and then these directors get on the set and make choices. They get with the stunt coordinator and they go with the actors.

They look at the place where they’re shooting the scene inside that house. They bring that scene to life, twice as big as the idea I had when you write it down.

Still in the game even after the going gets tough.

M&C: Did you have to explain at a certain point why Sarah (Sharon Horgan) sticks around?

MP: I don’t remember, to be honest with you. I’m not sure. You go through so many characters and I wrote this in ’14. I’m sure there has to be a reason.

Any time you’re writing a script, you’re always going through the math of it all. Why is this person doing that? Why is this person doing this? Does this make sense? Is this logical?

I always refer to it as doing math because that’s what it is. Aside from the comedy and aside from the fun, you have to make it plausible that this person would stick around.

We ain’t playing Scrabble tonight!

M&C: You developed Game Night with Jason. When other actors came on, were there rewrites to tailor it to Rachel, Kyle, Billy, Lamorne, Kylie and Sharon?

MP: For sure. Me and Jason, I went and pitched him the idea and he loved it. We developed it for six months to a year.

Then New Line decided they were going to make it. They hire the directors who are also great writers.

As the cast comes on, they make adjustments to who the people are, make sure their voices are right. On top of that, you have all these people who can do such great improv that everything gets amended and changed. I think that’s the beauty of moviemaking, that we all have a part in it.

Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris

M&C: When you developed Mothers I’d Like To… with Jennifer Lopez, did she want to play a sexy mom?

MP: Of course. Wouldn’t everybody want to play a sexy mom?

It was funny, when they came to me with the idea, they were like, “Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry are ugly, frumpy moms and they decide to get hot.” I go, “Okay, aren’t they hot already?”

That was the big problem in writing the script is we had to turn it down for them. I still that movie has potential to get made because I think it’s a women empowerment movie that you can be in your 40s and pushing 50 and still be sexy.

That’s who J-Lo is. She’s a sexy mom who is hanging out with Alex Rodriguez at the Super Bowl.

M&C: Did they want the title to be Mothers I’d Like To…?

MP: You know what’s funny? It was MILF originally and I think Universal got creeped out that maybe that was owned by somebody else. So we put Mothers I’d Like To… for the time being.

M&C: But Jennifer and Halle embraced it?

MP: They loved it. That was the whole premise of the thing. We sold it as MILF. We sold it as these older women starting to date younger guys and finding the empowerment in it. I think just for legality reasons we changed it to Mothers I’d Like To…

M&C: Are you writing anything else?

MP: I’m writing a book, Jews of the Caribbean. It’s a memoir. I grew up all over the country. My dad would always move us to the nicest neighborhood and we’d rent the sh*ttiest house as Cuban immigrants.

So I’d go to the best schools and he would always tell me, “We can make it anywhere. Cubans are the Jews of the Caribbean. We can make it anywhere, we can succeed.” So I just wrote that memoir and I just wrote a script called Low T about action stars.

Imagine Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming in contact with this Low T medication that makes them the action stars from the ‘80s. So it’s like Cocoon for action stars.

M&C: Low T?

MP: Like low testosterone.  Have you ever seen those commercials where the guys put it under their armpits and suddenly they can run a marathon?

This is the idea, that these action stars who are washed up take this special low key medication and suddenly they’re Riggs from Lethal Weapon. They’re suddenly young again.

M&C: Is that for two sets of actors, or the same actors would play both?

MP: We want to get three iconic actors, Mel Gibson, Schwarzengger and Stallone, and have them be themselves. We’d do some CG on them to have them look young again. The fun would be when the medicine wears off and they start getting really old.

M&C: You write books and scripts. Are those different muscles?

MP: Super different. It’s been fun. I didn’t think I wanted to write books but there’s a freedom to it where you can just sit and not worry about the rules and the math of a screenplay and just write.

Not to mention having the IP now, which is so important to selling a movie, to be able to write a book and sell it as a TV show or movie is a good plan for me.

M&C: Your first book is out to TV, right?

MP: That’s right. We just got a big producer, I don’t want to say who, but a big producer who has a hit TV show on the air right now just signed on.

We’re out selling it as a TV show, How To Win At Life By Cheating At Everything. It’s basically a con man trying to go straight and raise a family, but all he knows how to do is con people.

M&C: Is it like each episode is a chapter

MP: Exactly right.

Fred Topel has been a journalist since 1999. Over the decades he’s written for About.com, Hollywood.com, CraveOnline, Rotten Tomatoes and Slashfilm. Fred brings Monsters and... read more

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