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Could Game Night role the dice once more? Screenwriter Mark Perez would be game if given the opportunity.
“It would be great to have sequels. Super titles like Game Night or specific titles like that feel genetically built to have sequels,” he says. “That would mean the movie did well, and that’s all I really care about at this stage.”
Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as a couple whose regular Saturday evening gathering of friends turns into a real-life murder mystery. Perez uses a sports analogy for how he’s taking in opening weekend, which has seen the film earn positive reviews from critics and earn an estimated $16.6 million, a solid number for an R-rated comedy.
“It’s like players who are playing in the playoffs and aren’t thinking about the Super Bowl, but they are really thinking about the Super Bowl. Of course I’d love for there to be many sequels, and getting these characters to do other crazy things would be unbelievable,” he says. “But for right now I think it’s a really cool, interesting movie, and there are so many fewer comedies these days, and I always cheer for comedy, and I love it so much that I hope people see it.”
You’ve said your dad advocated for cheating at the game of life. Did that influence your work on Game Night?
I grew up with a dad who was an immigrant from Cuba. He came over when he was like 13. And he would always tell us that “the way people succeed is by cheating.” He’d always say it over and over again…. He’s super conservative. He just believes the system is best when you cheat. It’s built to cheat. Everyone does it. He used to say, “Nixon, he cheated. He just got caught.” I got asked a couple years ago to write a book for Dark Horse and for Penguin Random House about a con artist. I was like, “That’s right up my alley.” I wrote a book called How to Win at Life by Cheating at Everything, which is basically my dad teaching me how to do stuff. I don’t think consciously I came up from the Game Night idea thinking of that, but it’s almost like growing up in a military family, but reversed. You are always thinking about lying and cheating — not in a gross way. But that’s always in the back of my mind.
These characters are competitive. How about you?
I’ve grown up super competitive, in sports, in everything. I play in a basketball league. As I get older, I’m like “I can’t drive every play. I have to shoot from the outside.” I have to have conversations with myself because I get so competitive. It’s weird when I see people doing that with board games or with charades. I got invited one time, Vince Vaughn did a running charades game. I remember how serious he took it. I was panicked and sweating like I had money on the line. I was like, “Was this fun? Did I enjoy it?” I think that’s human nature to compete. You can’t help it. You want to win.
Screenwriting can be frustrating, because you might work on any number of movies that don’t get made.
When I was in the Disney Writers Program, I wrote a script. They wanted to start doing ride movies. They wanted to do a movie called the Country Bears. I wrote it very quickly. I was under contract. It got greenlit in like a week. I was like, “Oh my god! That’s how easy it is.” I was in my 20s. “This is easy!” Then years go by and you’ve been grinding on a script for three years or four years and it doesn’t get made. Or it gets made, or if it gets made, it doesn’t come out well. It’s not great.
What was the genesis of Game Night?
John Fox, who is a producer on the movie. He used to be an executive at DreamWorks and I sold stuff to him there, so I’ve known him for years. He called me one day. He had just started working for [producer] John Davis, and he calls me one day. “I’ve got a title. Game Night.” And he’s really good at ideas and titles. So I went off and thought, “What would be the best version?” I’ve always loved Three Amigos and Tropic Thunder, where people think something is going on — they think it’s safe — but really something dangerous is going on. I’d been invited to parties where there is an intricate “We’re doing a murder mystery” and weird things like that, so I mashed them together. What if we did a murder mystery night over the night, and a real murder happens?
What sort of things did Jason Bateman bring to the table when he boarded?
If you are going after someone like Jason Bateman, who is awesome, you’ve got to go and chase him, because he’s busy and he’s got a lot of stuff. So we chased him. He gets involved, and he’s got great ideas. It was maybe a year just developing it, because every time you go and sit with him, he’d have better ideas. Then we went out and sold it to New Line. I wrote the script, I probably took another year writing the script, and they loved it, and I went off to do other things. Suddenly we have directors on it and we’re making it. It all kind of happened magically. I guess the whole process was a couple of years. That’s generally, in this day in age, pretty fast.
What did directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein add that went beyond your original vision?
I think people are tired of the regular comedy. I think that’s why you are seeing less of them. “Oh I know that movie.” It seems familiar. In my mind…you have to keep it grounded. When somebody gets shot, make sure it feels real. The directors, when they came on, they took it to another level. Get Out had just come out, and it was a hit. You watch Get Out, what is it? I’m scared, but I’m laughing. To have that kind of vibe — I’m not saying it’s Get Out — but to have that kind of vibe lingering is what they had in mind, I think, when they directed the movie. There is a lot of legitimate action and fear and you’re not sure, and so they brought it to another level. Is it exactly what you write? No. Is it better? Yes. And you are psyched, because it’s even better than you thought it could be.
All the characters are really likable, even a vapid guy like Ryan [Billy Magnussen].
Writing comedy, the first draft, the funniest people are the dicks. It’s just easier. The guy who is the wiseass is always funny. I was in the Disney Writers Program in the late ’90s. A couple lessons you learn and they would beat over the head was “Make them likable. Make them likable.” So you keep that in mind when you are creating these characters. It doesn’t have to be Disney-esque. That’s really likable. You’re not allowed to do much there. But to have those rules, the things I learned at Disney were very helpful at making people funny but always remembering you’ve got to care and like these people.
Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons were two that stood out among this cast. Were you imagining actors of that caliber?
No. Honestly, no. When you write those characters, in my head I go, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a weird cop character named Gary?” In my head that could be a million character actors who are cool, but to get a guy who is in every cool movie right now because he’s so great is awesome. And then Kyle Chandler? Forget it. I’m from Florida, so I watch Bloodline religiously. What the directors did well in casting is they pick people you believe. When Kyle Chandler goes, “We’re in trouble, I’m scared,” you have seen him in enough dramas to go, “I think this might be real.” To bring somebody who is not goofy and is really legitimate, yet you still believe he is the sexier version, the older brother, the more obnoxious brother to Bateman. It makes it fun. That’s a cool brother relationship, but also he brings a gravitas to the character.
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