Class of ’oo | Even as the previews continued to roll, Jon Hurwitz W’00 stepped out of the West Palm Beach movie theater to place a phone call to his friend and writing partner Hayden Schlossberg. He had some bad news to deliver.
“Somebody,” Hurwitz said, “just made our movie.”
He was referring to American Pie, the 1999 coming-of-age comedy about four high-school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. At the time, Hurwitz and Schlossberg were writing a screenplay of their own, and when Hurwitz saw the American Pie trailer—while in Florida for Spring Break during his junior year at Penn—he noticed more than a few similarities.
But even though there was a twinge of jealousy, the release of American Pie provided the writing duo with an extra shot of adrenaline. They realized there was indeed a market for R-rated youth comedies, and if their screenplay—which was called Filthy, and followed the lives of a couple of young adults through their post-college haze—was good enough, they might just be able to make it in Hollywood.
More than a decade later, Hurwitz and Schlossberg have not only made it as successful Hollywood screenwriters—a career that was launched when they sold Filthy while still in college and boosted when they created the popular Harold and Kumar films [“Arts,” Nov|Dec 2004]—but they also recently wrote and directed the latest installment of the movie that once inspired them.
Yes, American Pie.
The third sequel of the iconic franchise, called American Reunion, hits theaters on April 6—just a few months after A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas was released to favorable reviews.
“It’s definitely the most exciting time of my career,” Hurwitz said recently, between bites of a German pancake at his favorite West Hollywood brunch spot. “Harold and Kumar was really well received and American Reunion tested really well. We know it’s a crowd-pleaser. We just hope the crowd goes.”
Hurwitz and Schlossberg got their slice of the pie when an executive at Universal Pictures came up with the idea for an American Pie reunion film. He sought the minds behind Harold and Kumar, who were fast developing a solid reputation in Hollywood for their creative comedic style.
They could have easily turned it down. For starters, they were gearing up to direct A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas—the third movie of that franchise—in the summer of 2010. And while the original American Pie became a worldwide phenomenon for combining raunchy escapades with a kind of teenage angst that felt very real, the rushed-out 2001 sequel and 2003 follow-up American Wedding (not to mention the four money-grabbing, straight-to-video spinoffs) left a lot to be desired by many fans and critics.
But because of their love of the first film—jealousy aside, Hurwitz saw it six times in the theater before buying a bootleg copy—the duo quickly signed on to the project, finding someone to direct A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas in their place. And once the writer/director tandem was on board—and had delivered a screenplay that those involved believe will recapture the magic of the original film—the entire cast signed on as well, in large part because of Hurwitz’s true appreciation for the franchise.
“It was like he was a superfan,” laughs actor Jason Biggs, who stars as the sexually frustrated Jim Levenstein in all four American Pie films. “It was borderline creepy—but in the best possible way … They wanted to make the best possible American Pie film because they wanted to watch the best possible American Pie film, as fans of the movie.”
The two writers’ fandom actually extends well beyond American Pie. In fact, much of their writing inspiration stems from writing duos like the Farrelly Brothers, whose films There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin were devoured by Hurwitz and Schlossberg as they were searching for their own comedic voice.
Not that those voices were ever hard to find.
At Randolph High School in New Jersey, Hurwitz campaigned for student-council president by plastering signs in the hallways with ridiculous one-liners like “He can believe it’s not butter” that made even the principal laugh out loud. Around that time, Hurwitz met Schlossberg, and the two high-school buddies wrote a coffee-table book called “Would You Rather?” in which the reader was confronted with a choice between doing two raunchy and absurd things. It was never published, but a couple of years later Hurwitz saw a near-identical book being sold at Urban Outfitters and realized they had been on to something.
For two straight summers while in college, Schlossberg, who attended the University of Chicago, came to stay at Hurwitz’s Baltimore Avenue house, where the two wrote their first screenplay. Though it was way longer than it should have been, they polished it up, reached out to an assistant director who had worked on some of their favorite films, and convinced him to read it. “And before we knew it,” says Hurwitz, “a producer was calling us from LA.”
Like so many other scripts, Filthy never found its way onto the big screen. But using their momentum and same comedic style, the pair struck gold with the 2004 stoner flick Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which centers around the quest to attain the perfect late-night meal, the same type of quest Hurwitz and Schlossberg often embarked on after long writing shifts, only with fewer obstacles.
“There’s a boyishness to our comedy,” says Hurwitz. “When Hayden and I started writing, our thing was that we wanted to make movies that the 13-year-old versions of ourselves would like. That means they’re R-rated and they have nudity and curses and things like that—but that there’s also a certain sort of sweetness underneath the surface.”
“My first impression of Jon was, ‘Oh my god, this guy is super sweet and really, really smart,’” says Biggs, who bonded with his director immediately. “And then, all of a sudden, he’d have these zingers. There’s obviously a very dark side to his sense of humor that pokes through every now and again, where he just comes out of left field with such ridiculous things. It’s brilliant.”
One thing about Hurwitz that never seems to change is his ambition. He had it as a high-school student when he joined just about every extracurricular activity available. He had it in college, as an aspiring screenwriter. And he had it in Hollywood, when he plotted a business plan to turn his first feature film into a franchise—and when he successfully directed the same famous American Pie actors he had once looked up to on the big screen.
“Maybe one day we’ll try to do our Oscar fare,” Hurwitz says. “But one of my favorite feelings in the world is sitting in a movie theater, surrounded by people laughing at one of our movies.”
—Dave Zeitlin C’03