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

admission

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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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The Breakfast Club Paul Gleason

The Mean Team

The 10 Biggest Jerks From ’80s Teen Movies

Catch Footloose and The Breakfast Club during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

The ’80s gifted us with many glorious things like “Thriller,” dance aerobics, and Tab, but none quite as glorious as the teen movie jerk. Often a gentleman, but occasionally a lady, these deliciously douche-y antagonists sauntered around the halls of our favorite cinematic high schools with perfectly feathered hair, popped collars, and a general air of smugness. Before you travel back in time to the Reagan Era for IFC’s ’80s Weekend, check out our list of the biggest jerks from ’80s teen movies. Shoulder pads and Aquanet are totally optional.

1. Steff, Pretty in Pink

No man rocked a linen suit and loafers in the ’80s (or really SINCE the ’80s) quite as well as James Spader’s hunky, “richie” bad guy from Pretty in Pink. Steff looks old enough to be in grad school, which may explain why he’s always seen idling in the halls with a cigarette coolly hanging off his lips instead of actually going to class. He’s also the kind of guy who has house parties where he roams around in open silk robes, rolling joints, and condescending to pretty much everyone including his supposed best friend Blane. Steff may harbor a secret crush on polar opposite Andie, but we’ve always had a love/hate crush on him and his ridiculously great hair.


2. Troy, The Goonies

Yes, the Fratellis are the real villains in our favorite flick about a ragtag group of teens searching for pirate treasure, but without number one tool, Troy (Steve Antin), and his equally terrible father trying to turn The Goondocks into a country club expansion, there’d be no reason for the pirate treasure search in the first place. Troy is the epitome of the Letterman jacket-wearing, convertible-driving preppy jerk we’ve come to know and hate from ’80s films. His sole aim is to “make it” with girl-next-door Andy (Kerri Green) so when she refuses to ride up his wishing well bucket (in more ways than one) and sends up his embroidered cardigan instead, he angrily yells, “ANDY, YOU GOONIE!” At least he has his sweater back to keep him warm from the cold shoulder Andy just gave him.


3. Hardy, Some Kind of Wonderful

The highly attractive Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) has many less-than-attractive traits including being cruel, misogynistic (“She’s gonna have to beg!”), cheating on girlfriend Amanda (Lea Thompson), and being a total rich snob. Like fellow John Hughes movie tool, Steff, Mr. Jenns also loves a beautifully cut suit and perfect hair, which may be the only thing bigger than his oversized ego. But none of that is enough to keep him from losing two things he can’t just buy back with his gobs of money: his pride and ex Amanda. Looks like THIS Hardy boy has more than a few mysteries to solve, starting with how to become a less terrible person.


4. Heather Chandler, Heathers

New World Pictures
New World Pictures

Lunchtime poll: would you rather be Heather Chandler or kill Heather Chandler? Such is the dilemma faced by frenemy Veronica (Winona Ryder) whose life (and everyone else’s for that matter) is made a living hell by the resident queen bee of the Heathers clique. Ever stylish, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) favors violently red power suits with huge shoulder pads and matching hair scrunchies. She’s as ruthless about tormenting anyone who gets in her way or barfs on her designer shoes (ahem, Veronica) as she is her croquet game, and frankly, her acid-tongued, NSFW comebacks (some involving chainsaws) are totally legendary. What’s her damage? Oh, just ruling Westerberg like she’s the queen of Westeros. How very.


5. Biff, Back to the Future

Universal
Universal Studios

Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) is basically your typical school bully: pushy, a little dumb, and egged on by a gang of equally pushy, dimwit friends in Converse sneakers and 3D glasses. He also can’t take a hint from pretty Lorraine (Lea Thompson) who clearly wants nothing to do with him either inside or outside of a car. Like most bullies, Biff’s main target is resident school nerd, George “HEY McFly!” McFly (Crispin Glover), whom he forces to do all his homework and beats the crap out of on a regular basis. Speaking of crap, though, Biff gets a truckload dumped on him during a game of chicken with George’s son, Marty (Michael J. Fox). Hey, Biff — if you need us to help you clean up, we’re gonna make like a tree, and get out of here.


6. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid

Columbia
Columbia Pictures

No list of ’80s teen movie villains would be complete without mentioning the weirdly prolific William “Billy” Zabka. Johnny Lawrence is, without question, the greatest of his bad guy personas. A top karate student at Cobra Kai, blond jerk Johnny immediately dislikes grasshopper Daniel (Ralph Macchio) after he notices him getting a little too chummy with ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) at a party. Naturally, this is the catalyst for the showdown to end all karate showdowns, and Johnny will do anything to win; even an illegal move against an already injured Daniel. In his leather jackets and karate bandanas, Johnny is the ultimate dreamy bad boy you love to hate and hate to love. Sweep the leg? More like he swept us all off our feet.


7. Principal Vernon, The Breakfast Club

Universal
Universal Studios

Good ol’ Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) — or Dick, as Bender (Judd Nelson) would call him — and his 1,000-word essay during Saturday detention are all that stand between our Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), Athlete (Emilio Estevez), Basket Case (Ally Sheedy), Princess (Molly Ringwald), and Criminal (Nelson) and freedom. With a wardrobe possibly raided from Barry Manilow, Vernon is overly stern and harsh, especially to John Bender, whom he locks in a closet and gives detentions to as freely as Oprah gives away cars. Hey, you mess with the bull, you get the horns, right? (Click here to see all airings of The Breakfast Club on IFC.)


8. Reverend Moore, Footloose

There are overly-protective fathers and then there is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). Stubborn and pious, Moore refuses to lift the ban on dancing and rock music in Bomont, putting an even bigger wedge between himself and wild daughter Ariel (Lori Singer). Moore is all fire and brimstone in the pulpit, preaching against the very things — like sex, drugs, dancing, and alcohol — he believes led to son Bobby’s death in a car accident. When Ren (Kevin Bacon) stands up to him during a town council meeting and quotes joyful passages about dancing from the Bible, Moore’s demeanor begins to change. Come on, Reverend. No one can resist a slice of Bacon! (Click here to see all airings of Footloose on IFC.)


9. Jeanie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Much like Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is less-than-amused by brother Ferris’ (Matthew Broderick) shenanigans, especially considering he never seems to get in trouble for anything with either their parents or school. But Jeanie’s attempts to catch her brother in the act wind up landing her in the police station where she finds time to make out with a drug dealer and throw some serious shade before speeding off with her mother to try to beat Ferris home. Jeanie Bueller’s day off is decidedly not quite as fun as Ferris’.


10. Stan Gable, Revenge of the Nerds

26 year-old Ted McGinley was cast as cardigan-wearing jock Stan Gable partially based on a calendar-modeling gig he’d had, which explains a lot about what you need to know about Stan. The alpha male of the Alpha Beta fraternity pretty much coasts by on his good looks and athletic abilities while delegating all his dirty work to doofus best friend Ogre (Donald Gibb). But make no mistake, Stan has it out for any and all nerds who try to steal both his spot as big man on campus and his girl. Never cross a man in a cardigan.

Flashback with IFC’s ’80s Weekend July 29-31st!

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Pokémon Go   Hollywood   YouTube

Catch 'Em All

Pokemon Go Goes Hollywood, Real Life Futurama, and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Indiana Jones catching Pokémon, Donald Trump meeting Grimace and more.

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Photo Credit: Lucasfilm / Nintendo / YouTube

It pains us to say this, but this summer is not even half over. Beaten on all sides by weather, current events, and anyone behind a podium, we could definitely use a breather. Luckily, we have a handful of funny videos before you break for the weekend.

From a scarily accurate real-life version of Futurama to Trump meeting a beloved McDonaldland character, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. The Best T-Shirts in Film

From Wayne and Garth to your neighborhood skateboarder, everyone loves a great T-shirt. In fact, the quickest way to humanize a character to a viewer is to put ’em in a novel-T, and there’ve been a few cinematic greats through the years — which YouTuber Travis Greenwood compiled in a supercut worthy of a mall kiosk.


2. I’m Afraid to Talk to Men

Comedian Chris Fleming has a knack for outrageous characters and bizarrely catchy earworms. Give a listen to his latest ditty about his fears that any encounter with dudes will lead to him talking about birds or mentioning Stevie Nicks. Looks like we found our 2016 summer song.


3. Real Life Futurama Fan Trailer

In a gorgeous and dazzling abuse of intellectual property rights, this teaser for Fan-O-Rama — a fan-made, real-life version of Futurama — shows a keen eye for detail and a big heart for the animated series. Cinema Relics clearly went all-out for this one, from a fully articulating Bender to a jowl-wobbling Nixon head, and it definitely has us looking forward to the full-length video.


4. Pokémon Go Hollywood

As more and more countries are invited to clog the overloaded servers, there’s no denying Pokémon Go is a cultural phenomenon. And while it didn’t take much prodding to get us all into Pidgey-wranglin’, YouTuber Darth Blender conceived of a Hollywood filled with Pokémon-sponsored product placement. Set to the cartoon theme song, Indiana Jones, Deadpool, and Mad Max are determined to catch them all.


5. Donald Trump Meets Grimace

A testament to his staunch honesty, integrity, and humility, Donald Trump continues to run a flawless presidential campaign with absolutely no cause for concern, alarm, or emigration. But despite the media’s intense vetting process that begat zero scandals or impeachable acts, Trump does have one small blemish from his past: a series of embarrassing McDonald’s ads featuring him alongside Grimace. But thankfully, for the lives and safety of this planet, this is the only regrettable thing he’s done.

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The Bad News Bears Walter Matthau

Batter Up

10 Surprising Facts About The Bad News Bears Movies

Catch the Bad News Bears movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount/Everett Collection

The Bad News Bears has become one of the most popular sports comedies in movie history. For some fans it’s a classic underdog story. To others, it’s an honest depiction of kids. Regardless of what you get from the movies, you can see all four of them on IFC this month: the original Bad News Bears (1976), the Richard Linklater remake (2005), the sentimental sequel The Bad Bews Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and the bizarre cash-grab The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) –- where a Little League player battles a Kaiju monster.

Before you tee up with the Bears, check out a few things you might not know about the enduring rough-and-tumble baseball movie franchise.

1. The cast got paid to ad lib.

Bad News Bears Stretcher
Paramount Pictures

The original 1976 Bad News Bears is beloved for its warts-and-all depiction of a group of rowdy youngsters. To make the dialogue feel more real and unpredictable, director Michael Ritchie would pay the actors a dollar each for the best ad-lib of the day. Some of the funniest lines were improvised, including the throwaway bit after Ahmad gets hit in the crotch. Coach Turner calls for a stretcher and Toby asks, “A stretcher for his balls?”


2. The first Bears film originally had a different ending.

Kelly Leak
Paramount Pictures

The original ending of The Bad News Bears had Kelly Leak stealing a Mercedes after he found his Mom was having an affair with Bob Whitewood (the Councilman who hired Buttermaker). There was a police chase that ended up at the stadium where a game is going on. Kelly grabbed a bat, hitting the winning home run but couldn’t go to home because the police were waiting there for him.


3. You can thank ‘Nam for the Bears losing in the first film.

Bad News Bears Team
Paramount Pictures

Richard Linklater (who directed the 2005 Bears remake) noted on the DVD commentary that adult test audiences wanted the Bears to win the big game, but kids loved that the Bears lost. Linklater adds that it was necessary for the Bears to lose in the original, because America was coping with the outcome of the war in Vietnam.


4. The Bears came from all over the country.

Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

The filmmakers saw over 1,000 kids in Los Angeles, but felt they couldn’t be natural. Director Michael Ritchie said professionally trained child actors had too many bad habits and “talked like kids in The Brady Bunch.” The filmmakers auditioned young actors in New York (where they found three Bears, including Tanner) and Texas (where they discovered Engelberg) in order to assemble the ragtag bunch.


5. Where’s Engelberg Now?

Engleberg Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

12-year-old Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played Bears catcher Engelberg, had never acted before. His mother worked in the shopping center where they held the auditions and saw a sign reading: “WANTED: Kids who weigh more than 160 pounds.” Gary weighed 205, but after the movie he lost 65 pounds and grew four inches, losing his role in the sequel. He was offered a part in Jaws 2, but turned it down because he wanted to play football instead. Today he works for an electronics company in his home state of Texas.


6. Tatum O’Neal did her own pitching.

Tatum O'Neal Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

O’Neal, the youngest actor to ever win an Oscar, did her own pitching in the key scenes on the mound. A pitching coach from USC worked with Tatum for five weeks where she learned to throw a curveball, which she could only occasionally throw during filming. (For every one pitch that was used, there were 60 takes left on the cutting room floor.) Despite all this effort, many critics wrote that the film must’ve used a pitching double.


7. The Bears almost met Castro.

Bad News Bears Cuba
Paramount Pictures

In 1978, comedy legend Carl Reiner was approached to direct a fourth Bears movie. Paramount had arranged for Fidel Castro to co-star in The Bad News Bears Go to Cuba, featuring the Revolutionary Leader playing catch with the Little Leaguers, giving a pep talk and throwing out the first ball of the World championship game against the United States. In the script, the game ends with a tie of 0-0 and the two teams share the trophy six months at a time. (Die-hard fans will remember that the last line of The Bad News Go to Japan is Tony Curtis’ character scheming an exhibition game in Cuba.)


8. The Bears inspired a low-budget rip-off.

Bad News Bears Cuba
American International Pictures

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan opened in theaters two months after the release of Here Comes the Tigers, an obscure Bears rip-off directed by Sean S. Cunningham. (The filmmaker would later find fame with Friday the 13th, a title he’d wanted to use for a kids’ soccer comedy.) Tigers follows a reluctant coach, a juvenile delinquent, a “booger-eating moron” named Timmy and features a soundtrack of classical music. Fittingly, IMDB classifies Tigers as a remake.


9. Corey Feldman was a Bad News Bear.

Corey Feldman Bad News Bears
CBS

In 1979, the Bears came to the small screen with a cast of younger players. The TV version has Buttermaker (played by Jack Warden) coaching rather than spending a year in prison after driving a client’s Cadillac into a swimming pool. The cast included eight-year-old Corey Feldman, in what would be his first regular television role. Presumably the producers cast young actors so they wouldn’t get too old if the show proved to be successful. Unfortunately, it only lasted two seasons.


10. The Bears remake had to be booze-free.

Bad News Bears Beer
Paramount Pictures

The 2005 Bad News Bears remake established early on that Buttermaker drinks non-alcoholic beer. (Director Richard Linklater couldn’t use real beer or include actual brand names.) In the victory scene, Buttermaker hands his team bottles of non-alcoholic brew. Despite these compromises, co-screenwriter John Requa was pleased with Billy Bob Thornton’s ability to keep the film from becoming too sentimental, noting that the actor is “incapable of delivering corn.” Even if it means drinking “Goldweisen.”

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