'Life as We Know It' writers prefer specs to pitches

Ian Deitchman, Kristin Rusk Robinson worked eight years on film

To pitch or not to pitch?

That's the big question for screenwriters. The alternative to pitching is writing a spec script, which can be the better choice depending on the kind of story they have in mind.

Case in point: "Life as We Know It," directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, opening Oct. 8 from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and Gold Circle Films.

When Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson came up in 2001 with the idea for what's really more a romantic dramedy than comedy, they knew it would be a tough pitch.

"It's definitely funny, but there's something sad there, too," Robinson told me. "We felt that in the development process that might get lost."

Without giving anything away that the trailer hasn't already, Heigl and Duhamel's characters find after a disastrous first date they've got nothing in common but their infant goddaughter. When her parents suddenly die, they wind up with custody of the baby and are forced to put their differences aside.

They dreamed up the idea about a year after selling their first screenplay, "Wildest Dreams," to MGM in 2000. Sandra Bullock was attached, but somehow it never got made.

Deitchman's wife was pregnant then, he recalled, "and we were having that conversation 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, 'What if we leave them to them?' "

When Deitchman replied that really was a great idea for a movie, "She said, 'I know. I pitched it to you a month ago!'"

After apologizing about not having paid better attention then, he pitched it to Robinson.

"Kristin knew the same friends, as well, and we both realized this is something we really wanted to write. 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."

Did they have Heigl in mind to star from the start?

"Katherine was probably in high school at that time," Deitchman laughed.

It wasn't easy getting the project made, he said, because "it gets lumped into the dramedy genre -- although we always thought of it as a comedy. We always felt like just because it's a comedy doesn't mean you can't have honest drama and play that part of it for real."

"Barry got that tone and understood it was just a question of finding the right home," Robinson pointed out. "We were lucky enough to find that home with Paul Brooks at Gold Circle (who produced "Life" with Josephson) and then eventually all together at Warner Bros."

"Once Katherine read it, she immediately got it and signed on and we were finally off to the races," Deitchman said.

Heigl had a short window to do the film. Berlanti signed on soon after Heigl and within months "Life" was shooting.

It helped that Berlanti, himself, is a writer with many TV credits as well as shared screenplay credit for the upcoming "Green Lantern."

"He did his own pass on it, which was fine," Deitchman said. "It was 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."

For Deitchman and Robinson, it was about writing something that could play comedically, but that could also play real.

"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," Robinson told me.

The one thing Deitchman and Robinson don't have on their hands is time.

"We have projects at various studios around town," she said. "Some of them originals and some of them assignments. But we've worked really consistently over the years. We're working on a new spec. We just did a movie for CBS Films."

It didn't hurt, by the way, having their "Life" spec script to send around as a writing sample.

"We actually got work off of that script for those eight years," she observed.

Are they writing any new dramedies?

"We have projects around town that are family comedies. We have projects that are more traditional romantic comedies," Robinson replied. "I'd say the consistent through-line is an emotional life to the story and characters. That could be in a straight comedy or in something that's more dramatic."

Because dramedies tend to be character driven, they're easier to write than pitch, Deitchman reminds: "If it's more high concept, that might be something you pitch. But for us, no matter what it is, it's always going to have an emotional life to it."

They're also exploring small screen opportunities.

"We're dipping our toes in the TV world for the first time, which is fun," Robinson said.

"I think our voice would lend itself well to a TV show," Deitchman suggested. "Certainly that's something 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.' "

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.