DID YOU READ

“Admission” screenwriter talks higher education, comedy, and writing for Tina Fey

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In “Admission,” the new film from “About A Boy” director Paul Weitz, Tina Fey plays an admissions officer for Princeton University who has a crisis of faith when she’s introduced to an alternative-school prodigy who might be the son she gave up for adoption years ago.

Based on a novel by a former reader of Princeton candidates’ applications, “Admission” is a lighthearted, funny take on parenting and the pursuit of life, love, and higher education, thanks to a script by Karen Croner. Fey is joined in the cast by Paul Rudd, who plays the idealistic head of an alternative school she visits during one of her recruitment drives.

IFC spoke with Croner about “Admission,” writing for Fey, and what the film really says about the importance of where you go to school.

IFC: Before we even get started, it’s worth pointing out that I went to a relatively unremarkable state school for college, so there was a lot about this movie that I found surprising – and fascinating – about the admission process.

KAREN CRONER: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m a public-school girl, too. I went to a big public high school in Los Angeles and then applied to the University of California system, knowing that whichever school I got into is the one I would attend. So it’s all brand-new to me, this process. But we were applying to middle schools a while ago for my son, and it’s a really fascinating rabbit-hole to go down.

IFC: It certainly seems that way, but I’m curious how much of the book made it into the movie. How similar are they? I got the impression that the book wasn’t really a romantic comedy…

CRONER: Well, one thing that usually happens in Hollywood is, whenever a book is optioned, the author is then completely shut out of the process. I absolutely abhor that, and with everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to keep the author as involved as possible. So I’m very good friends with the author [of Admission]. That being said, though, the book was given to me and described as a very sad book about an admissions officer who has a breakdown. I had just gotten through getting my son into middle school and thought, “Hey, that doesn’t sound sad – that sounds funny! I want to see that character suffer like I did!” [Laughs] So maybe I came at it from a slightly unhealthy position.

IFC: Beyond the general tone of the story, what other changes occurred in the adaptation process?

CRONER: A lot of the book is very internal. Also, the main revelation of the book – which our movie starts with – happens at the end of the book. In terms of the plot and the tone, though, it’s a pretty major departure. But it’s still really true to the theme of a woman who is barreling ahead at breakneck speed with blinders on, and having the guts to look up and go, “I’m doing the wrong thing and I have to change.” So in that way, it’s very true to the book. The woman who wrote the book was a reader for Princeton’s applications, so she was able to take us behind those closed doors and show us what really happens [in the admission process]. It was a great inspiration for me to interview admissions officers and try and understand who would do this job and what shapes their decisions. They’re an absolutely fascinating group.

IFC: And that comes across in the film, too – but it’s clearly not the only theme of the movie. Beyond the admissions process, what else did you set out to explore with the story? It feels like there’s a lot of interesting points in there about parenting, the whole “nature vs. nurture” relationship, and what type of people hold all of this power to change students’ futures….

CRONER: It’s not just about the admissions world, no – it’s about having the nerve to look at this job you’re doing and this life you’re living and how you’re in the process of launching everyone else into spectacular lives and realizing that it’s time to launch yourself now.

IFC: This is a major departure for you, too. Your previous projects have almost all been these intense dramas, but this movie is genuinely funny. What brought on this shift in focus?

CRONER: What happened was, I’d written a lot of dramas for television and “One True Thing,” which was very sad. And I’d just written the saddest thing ever about girl soldiers in Uganda (“Girl Soldier”), which is possibly one of the saddest things I’ve ever come across on this planet. So one night, out of the blue, I turned to my husband and said, “I want to write a comedy for Tina Fey.” I had this realization that this was something I always meant to do, but I’d gotten on a particular path. So I guess I have a very personal connection to the story of a woman changing her life. [Laughs]

IFC: So you had Tina Fey in mind for this project from the very start?

CRONER: We gave her the book and I told her how I wanted to change it, and she signed on to the project. Once that happened, we were able to get it set up at Universal. Still, the real pressure was on writing that first draft and turning it in to perhaps one of the greatest writers out there, Tina Fey – which was thrilling and terrifying. But she read it and said she was in.

IFC: Is it intimidating to write for someone like Tina Fey, who is so highly regarded as a writer already?

CRONER: It’s absolutely inspirational, and at the same time, every line you write, you think, “Tina’s going to read this. Tina’s going to judge this.” So it couldn’t have been more exciting. The chance to write for an extraordinary writer is a huge challenge, but it was also such an affirmation and a blessing. And here we are. I feel extremely fortunate.

IFC: Were there any surprises for you when you saw the final cut of the film? From the writing side, you can only envision so much, and then the director and cast put their own spin on your work…

CRONER: Well, in the same way that I took this book and made it my own, the director then came in and made it his own. That’s the way it works. What surprised me most was what great chemistry Tina and Paul had when they were on screen together. They were somehow able to make parenting issues sexy. That really surprised me. It made the movie into this perfect date movie for parents, but it will also work for so many other audiences, too.

And I’ll tell you what else: Lily [Tomlin] and Tina and I are all serious feminists, and the character that Lily plays in the film is so funny. She took it and ran with it. We’re all able to laugh at ourselves and that part of ourselves, and Lily’s ability to have such a sense of humor about that type of character she was playing was a great surprise.

IFC: So did this movie scratch that comedy itch for you, and now it’s back to dramas? Or are you planning to try out another genre?

CRONER: The next thing I’m writing is an R-rated comedy for Charlize Theron, so I’m going even harder into comedy next time. And honestly, everything I’ve written along the way, I inevitably write a screwball sequence in every script that I have to cut out. So the comedy has always been there. Somebody once described life as this leaky life-boat and we’re all going down together, so you can either cry about it or laugh about it. I’ve embraced the laughing as we go down.

IFC: Any interest in going back to television?

CRONER: Absolutely. I’ve written an autobiographical television series for Fake Empire, who did “Gossip Girl,” “The OC,” and a thousand other shows. It’s based on growing up in Laurel Canyon, and it’s about a woman who returns to her family’s compound as an adult and moves back home. So it explores the same kinds of themes [as “Admission”] in some way.

IFC: Back to “Admission,” what’s the one thing you hope audiences will take away from the movie with regard to higher education and our pursuit of it?

CRONER: The point of the movie is that it doesn’t matter where you end up going to school. It’s not a referendum on you in any way. No one should ever base their self worth on these kinds of decisions, and unfortunately, these kids are in the insane situation of competing with far too many people and having to brand themselves and sell themselves. We’re trying to look at this system and stand back for a second and say, “Don’t let this define you.” We’re trying to take some of the pressure away from it and demystify the powers-that-be that seem to be determining your fate.

”Admission” hits theaters March 22, and stars Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, and Lily Tomlin.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.