Writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein take us inside the magical world of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, in theaters March 15
Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein both took very different paths to where they are today as one of Hollywood's hottest writing teams. John Francis Daley got his start in acting with the cult classic series Freaks and Geeks and films such as Waiting before landing a role as Dr. Lance Sweets on the hit Fox series Bones in 2007. Jonathan M. Goldstein started out writing for TV shows such as Big Wolf on Campus and The Geena Davis Show, which is where he met John Francis Daley for the first time. In 2011, their writing skills were put on the map with the hit summer comedy Horrible Bosses (they're also writing Horrible Bosses 2), and they return to the silver screen this weekend with The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I recently had the chance to speak with the scribes about how they first started writing together, where the The Incredible Burt Wonderstone idea spawned from, their Vacation reboot/sequel with Ed Helms, and much more. Here's what they had to say.
First off, I'm curious how you both started writing together? I'm a big fan of your work so far. How was that first connection made?
John Francis Daley: It actually goes back to the well-known sitcom The Geena Davis Show. Jonathan was a writer on it, and I was one of the actors, I played Geena Davis' stepson. We met through that, and found that we shared the same sense of humor, basically, liked the same movies, and laughed at the same jokes. A few years later, we tried our hand at writing together, and found it to be really gratifying.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We wrote a script called The $40,000 Man. In 2007, we sold that to New Line, and that was sort of our foot in the door of movie writing.
That's still in development, isn't it?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We're just waiting. It won't be long now.
John Francis Daley: (Laughs) It's in development death.
Did the idea for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone spring from some sort of Vegas trip, or another interest in this world?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We were both huge magic fans. When this came about, we jumped at the chance. It always felt there was a very rich world for a movie here, and it was surprising that it hadn't been done. Given our affection for magic, we were like, 'All right. This is something we've got to do.' It was actually a long process. It's just great to see it all come to fruition.
I know most writers don't write with someone in mind for the roles. Can you talk about the versions of Burt and Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) that you had in your head, compared to what turned up on screen?
John Francis Daley: We didn't write it for anyone in particular, when we first wrote it, but when Steve came on board, we made tweaks and changes that were tailored to him. It was the same with Jim Carrey. What's great about Jim's role, is it has a lot of physical humor in it, in the sense that he is the David Blaine/Criss Angel type, and what that involves is a lot of stunt work. Jim knocked it out of the park with his physical humor, since the beginning of his career. It was fun to see him do that again.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: Also, the secondary characters, played by such dramatic actors, is also great. You don't necessarily think of Steve Buscemi as this sidekick magician to Steve Carell, but, boy, was he good. He's so funny, and he can do so much with so little. It's the same thing with Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini. They're just terrific in this.
Part of the fun in seeing the trailers and posters is seeing these guys in their ridiculous outfits.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: I know!
As far as the technical side of magic goes, did you delve into a lot of research in Vegas and these different acts?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We did. We had a couple of visits in Vegas, meeting with magicians and talking with them. They were very helpful, from David Copperfield to Lance Burton to Penn Jillette. Everybody we could sit down with, we did, and caught all their shows.
John Francis Daley: It was cool to talk to a lot of people I grew up watching, and wondering how they were able to do some of the tricks they did.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We didn't have to exaggerate much. The truth is, obviously, it's heightened, but some of the things in it are pretty close to real stories we were told, or how some of these guys live in these massive suites in their hotels, all that kind of stuff.
John Francis Daley: Their lifestyles are so extravagant.
I read you also had David Copperfield on as a consultant as well.
John Francis Daley: Yeah, he visited the set a lot when we were shooting in Vegas, and he has a cameo in it. He was definitely willing to help with making some of the tricks justifiable.
With guys like Steve and Jim on the set, is there a lot of improvising going on?
John Francis Daley: It is a craft for them, and they take it very seriously, the the extent that you can take comedy seriously. A lot of the funniest moments came from when they did something unexpected or goofy. It was just interesting to see their process, because they go about it in different ways. It's very cerebral. They think about what they're doing.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We went to Jim Carrey's house before we started shooting, and went through his scenes and got his ideas. He had very specific thoughts on who he wanted this character to be, and we tried to shape it into that. Because he's such a physical performer, he really has to feel it to do it.
John Francis Daley: We would pitch something to him and he would try it out. It was a very surreal day. I was a huge fan of his as a kid. I think it was a good two years, where I did nothing but Ace Ventura impressions in school.
I was exactly that way too.
John Francis Daley: Yeah, it was surreal, to say the least.
(Director) Don Scardino is very well known for his TV work, but I believe this is his feature debut. Can you talk about what kind of style he brought to your script?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: He's one of the nicest guys we've met in this business. He's incredibly collaborative, and I think that comes from his TV experience. He always has a very clear idea of how he imagined it, but he's open to other thoughts. He even shared his storyboards with us. It was really the best set experience we've had.
John Francis Daley: He has no ego, whatsoever. He was so happy to have a job and he was thrilled with his work. It was such a light-hearted and easy-going set to go work on.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: That's something we hope to emulate as we start to direct.
You're both writing and directing the Vacation remake. Are there any updates you can give us about that project?
John Francis Daley: We just went on a location scout, so we've been in the thick of it for the last few weeks, hiring our crew. It's such an exciting experience for both of us.
Is WallyWorld still a part of it? Is there a different park they'll be going to?
John Francis Daley: Rusty, because he so fondly remembers WallyWorld as this way of bringing a family together, he decides to take his family to WallyWorld. He's grown up now, he has a wife and kids.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We're really excited about it. We love the original movie, and have a lot of respect for it. We really want this to stand on its own as its own movie.
Is there anything else you're working on that you might be doing next?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: That was a lot of fun.
John Francis Daley: It's a huge departure from the other types of things we've worked on before. It's strictly family-oriented.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: That's something we've set out to do. We're not trying to be pigeonholed and be the R-rated comedy guys. We're trying to cast as wide a net as possible.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, about why they should check it out in theaters?
Jonathan M. Goldstein: We just wanted it to be as funny as it could be, and we hope everyone gets a kick out of it.
John Francis Daley: It's a relatively broad comedy, and I think if you can execute that well, it can be one of the funniest times of your moviegoing experience. I'm just going to say it's the funniest movie of all time.
Great. That's all I have, guys. Thanks so much for your time. It was a real pleasure.
Jonathan M. Goldstein: Thank you. It was good talking to you.
John Francis Daley: Thank you.