TV NotesPied Pipers of Teenage Angst
By Brooks Barnes, The New York Times
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Josh Schwartz tried his best to appear calm and composed, but the look in his eyes betrayed him. He had never directed anything before — not a short, not an episode of television — yet there he was, making a movie for Paramount Pictures on location in this tony Cleveland suburb.
It was going, well, not great. Summer rain had delayed production. So instead of shooting four pages of the script over the next few hours, Mr. Schwartz, a TV writer and producer (“Gossip Girl,” “The O.C.”), had to burn through seven. There were missing extras, and one of his stars, Chelsea Handler, was being a bit of a handful.
“Maybe I can have a nervous breakdown and complete the scene for your article,” Mr. Schwartz said to a reporter, displaying his dry, self-deprecating humor. He cracked his neck, bending his head toward each shoulder.
Everything turned out fine, and the film, “Fun Size,” about a smart but disturbed teenager who loses her misfit younger brother on Halloween, is heading toward an October release. But the pressure is only mounting: Paramount is betting that Mr. Schwartz and his lower-profile but formidable business partner, Stephanie Savage, can deliver John Hughes-style hits (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) for a new generation.
Many have tried to replicate the Hughes magic: anxiety-ridden, oddball teenagers spinning toward adulthood against a backdrop of moment-defining music. There have been successes here and there (“Superbad” in 2007), but studios, focused ever more intently on big-budget sequels, animation and superhero movies, have largely ceded angst-filled teenage storytelling to television, where shows like “Gossip Girl” have become cultural forces.
Adam Goodman, president of the Paramount Film Group, said in an interview that he was concerned that studios, including his own, had veered too far from originality. He sees an antidote in Fake Empire, the production company owned by Ms. Savage and Mr. Schwartz; it has a first-look deal with the studio, which also pays for its movie development activities.
Specifically Mr. Goodman wants them to help Paramount make better use of its MTV Films and Nickelodeon Films labels, best known lately for “Jackass 3-D” and “The Last Airbender.” By releasing and marketing Fake Empire’s movies under those banners, Paramount can tap into the brand identities that MTV and Nickelodeon have among young consumers to help fill theaters.
It’s a Sisyphean task. Once Hollywood’s most reliable audience, teenagers have become increasingly fickle and distracted by other leisure activities, like video games.
“Stephanie is the secret weapon, a total killer, and I mean that in the best possible way,” said Mr. Goodman, who worked on John Hughes comedies like “Home Alone” early in his career. “I like that both Josh and Stephanie are truly excited to be here. That enthusiasm is contagious and makes its way onto the screen.”
Mr. Goodman added: “They’re also fast. They don’t come from the movie business where everything moves, shall we say, at a certain pace.”
In less than two years Fake Empire has delivered “Fun Size,” written by Max Werner (“The Colbert Report”) and starring Victoria Justice (Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”). The company has also advanced on eight other movies, including a remake of “Endless Love,” the 1981 Brooke Shields vehicle.
But most of its projects are original screenplays based on young-adult novels. One, “Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick,” is about a high school student whose family hosts an exchange student who turns out to be an assassin. Another, “The Luxe,” looks at four teenagers in fin de siècle New York — “Gossip Girl” meets “The Age of Innocence” meets “Moulin Rouge” — who are caught up in a murder mystery.
Of course all of this momentum could vanish at any moment. Projects that are hot in development routinely die before making it to the screen, a lesson Mr. Schwartz knows all too well. In 1997, when he was just 21, Sony Pictures Entertainment bought his first screenplay for more than $500,000 after a bidding war. It was never made.
Trouble at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ended his 2009 attempt at a new adaptation of Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City.” (Mr. Schwartz still hopes to take another stab at it.) A deal for him to write the screenplay for “X-Men: First Class” never came to fruition; he wrote a draft, but producers decided to go in a different direction.
So while Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Savage have big movie ambitions, they are taking care not to neglect their television base. Fake Empire has a rich production deal for TV with Warner Brothers, where it makes “Gossip Girl,” which celebrated its 100th episode on Monday, and the drama “Hart of Dixie.” Another series, “Chuck,” ended its five-year run on NBC last week.
Mr. Schwartz, 35, and Ms. Savage, 42, are working on multiple pilots for the fall season, including “The Carrie Diaries,” a prequel to “Sex and the City.” Fake Empire tends to pick projects that have a significant emphasis on fashion, a passion of Ms. Savage’s, and music, one of Mr. Schwartz’s keenest interests. (The company is named after a 2007 song by the National, a Brooklyn indie-rock band.)
“We love stories about identity and acceptance because they’re so universal,” Ms. Savage said, sitting with Mr. Schwartz in their offices on the Paramount lot. “Everybody feels like an outsider at some point in their lives.”
She added: “Coming-of-age stories in high school are exciting because everything that happens during that time is very heightened. The decisions feel like life and death. There’s this sensational narcissism, but you forgive it because teenagers are naïve.”
How do these two keep their finger on what’s cool even as they progress further into adulthood? Mr. Schwartz is now married with a baby. By Ms. Savage’s own admission, she would rather be at home with her dogs than hang out at a nightclub.
Neither had a particularly deep answer, partly because, in a very un-Hollywood way, it’s not their style to point out their strengths.
Ms. Savage, who grew up figure skating in Alberta, spoke about keeping an outsider’s perspective and relying on younger executives like Lis Rowinski, 33, a former William Morris Endeavor agent who runs Fake Empire’s movie development.
“The truth is that I’m too busy and too old to keep the kind of close eye I once did on new writers with interesting voices,” Ms. Savage said.
Mr. Schwartz, who grew up the son of a Hasbro executive in Providence, R.I., jokingly spoke about what makes his partnership with Ms. Savage work. “I am what they call a Jew, which means that I am neurotic and have a habit of falling into tailspins of anxiety,” he said.
Ms. Savage’s steadier demeanor, he continued, “comes from her Lutheran grandmother, who believed that anything could be fixed if you worked hard enough.”
Ms. Savage rolled her eyes.
They sometimes split duties. She’s more involved with “Gossip Girl,” while he took the reins on “Chuck.” But both were intensely focused on “Fun Size” that night in Ohio.
As filming continued, Mr. Schwartz sat in a director’s chair and stared at footage on a monitor. Ms. Savage, standing behind him, whispered something in his ear.
“I agree, I agree,” he said, ordering up a fresh take with the camera in a different spot.
“We got it,” Mr. Schwartz said when the camera stopped rolling.
“Yup,” Ms. Savage responded.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/mo...ref=television