In the romantic comedy "Life as We Know It," Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming restaurateur and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) is a promising network sports director. After a disastrous blind date, the only thing they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their goddaughter, Sophie. But when they suddenly become all Sophie has in the world, Holly and Messer are forced to put their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they'll have to find some common ground while living under one roof.
"Life as We Know It" is directed by Greg Berlanti from a screenplay by first time feature writers Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson. The film stars Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks and Hayes MacArthur.
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN
Everyone has a different plan for their perfect life. For Holly Berenson, it's expanding her small, high-end boutique café into a restaurant, maybe even someday in multiple locations. For Eric Messer, it's moving up from being a broadcast technician to a full-fledged director in national sports television.
But life as we plan it is seldom life as we live it. Such is the case when Holly's and Messer's plans are put on hold by the sudden and tragic death of their mutual best friends, Alison and Peter Novack. Holly and Messer have always tolerated, rather than enjoyed, each other's company, but now they find themselves co-guardians to the Novak's baby girl, Sophie.
Says Katherine Heigl, who stars as Holly, "These two people are just thrown into this situation, and have to rise to the challenge and do the right thing. But to do so means they have to sacrifice a lot of their own dreams."
Josh Duhamel, who stars opposite Heigl as Messer, adds, "They both love this little girl, and they both feel obligated to at least try to do what their friends wanted…even though they're both going in completely different directions in their own lives, and they really don't like each other."
Backed into a corner, Holly and Messer will have to make it work…somehow.
"While they may not be able to see it that way at first, raising Peter and Alison's child is a testament to this couple they both loved," offers the film's director, Greg Berlanti.
The original script, written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, came first to the attention of producer Barry Josephson. "It was a wonderful screenplay that gripped me right away," Josephson states. "It was entertaining and heartfelt, and had a strong hook. I also loved the concept, because it's something that so many of my friends with kids have talked about. Who would be the best choice to take care of their child? A friend or a relative? Who would it be?"
Josephson shared the screenplay with producer Paul Brooks, who found it "very relatable. And funny, and warm and affecting. I thought the characters were terrific, and the story felt so complete and so balanced; I laughed and cried in equal measure."
Heigl felt the same. "I'm such a romantic comedy fan," she says. "I love them, I go to see them in the theaters, and this one was really funny and, at the same time, had so much soul to it."
Duhamel, agrees. "I thought this script was special. The story was very funny, but also tragic and sad at the same time. In my opinion, those are the best movies."
The idea for the story came from a conversation Deitchman had with his wife while she was pregnant with their daughter, in which the subject of guardianship came up. "We both jokingly said we should leave her to our friends Mike and Clara. Who knows us better?"
Rusk Robinson recalls, "I laughed when Ian told me about that exchange, because I also know both Mike and Clara who, like Holly and Messer, are not a couple and have very different personalities. But we thought there could be great comedy in that, so that's what we had to write next."
Deitchman follows up, "We also liked the fact that the opportunities for humor would be grounded in something emotional that we could run with, which appealed to us right out of the gate."
It appealed to Berlanti as well. "I was really drawn to the movie because the script cracked me up one moment, and just felt so real and raw the next. The most important thing for me is delivering an emotional experience, especially when you have a story that has so many conflicting feelings happening all at once."
"Greg has an amazing ability to tell human interest stories, but in a way that isn't soft and isn't only geared toward either males or females," Duhamel comments.
Heigl states, "I really couldn't have wished or hoped for a better director or someone more unbelievably collaborative. He was exceptional and just a funny, great guy who knows how to tell a mean story. Working with Greg was such a rewarding experience."
According to Josephson, "Greg completely embraced the project. If you look at the television shows that he has written, they deal with social issues, with conflicts, with how people interact with one another. Throughout the shoot, he made sure the chemistry was working but that the conflict was there."
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
As "Life As We Know It" opens, we meet Holly Berenson and Eric Messer…on a blind date. A horrendous blind date.
"We all know that blind date," Berlanti attests, "that starts off badly and just goes more and more awry."
Heigl confirms, "It's not as if Holly and Messer are just uncomfortable with each other, or just don't connect. It's awful. They hate each other."
"They don't even make it out of the driveway," Duhamel laughs. "It goes that bad, that quick."
Unfortunately, because of their mutual best friends, they're stuck in each other's lives and forced to be around one another on numerous occasions. They both tolerate it, for the sake of their friends and their goddaughter, Sophie. But once they're left to care for the baby girl, the situation seems, well, intolerable.
"Holly and Messer are polar opposites," Heigl states. "He's this sort of 'take it or leave it' guy--relaxed and kicked back, rolling with the punches--and she's…not." Heigl's character, on the other hand, has a business and a business plan. "She's responsible, organized, scheduled, a bit obsessive compulsive. In her professional life and her personal life, she needs to know where things are heading; she's not really a girl who can wing it."
Josephson says that, in all of Holly's planning, she had not yet planned for a family, let alone an instant one. "She was not prepared for this at all. As a matter of fact, she was preparing for a completely different life. Now she's trying to get her feet underneath her, and it's not that easy. Katherine played that dilemma beautifully."
"In addition to the story, the reason I wanted to be a part of the movie was to work with Katherine Heigl," Berlanti confesses. "I know how well she can do both comedy and drama, so for me she was sort of the personification of Holly."
One thing the actress did have in common with her character was a love of the culinary arts. "I do love to cook," says Heigl, "though I don't get to do it as often as I'd like. Once every six months or so I like to go all 'Martha Stewart' and throw a small dinner party for friends." Her research for the role of a chef proved fruitful in her own life. "I learned how to properly chop and julienne vegetables, which saves a lot of time!"
Heigl was key in getting Duhamel on board as Messer. The friends had been hoping to work together for some time when "Life As We Know It" came their way. "I thought he'd be perfect for Messer--even though Messer is a bit of a scruffy, baseball cap-t-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy and Josh is really polished. I just knew he should play this role."
Duhamel spent a lot of time discussing the character with his director. "Greg and I felt it would be easy to fall into the trap of just playing him as a charming womanizer who needs to learn about love, but we wanted him to be a lot more than that. We both felt that it was okay if he was unapologetic or says or does things that the audience may not like right away. Face it, guys can be like that."
Like Holly, Messer is on a track to move up in his career, before things get derailed. "He's basically the guy that pushes the button, but he's waiting for his shot to finally direct, which, not to be cliché, is what he's always wanted to do," Duhamel continues. "When he does get his chance and things don't go quite as planned, he blames Holly and that adds to the tension between them."
"Josh Duhamel is too good-looking, has too much hair, is too tall, too nice, too charming, too good at what he does," Brooks deadpans. "Seriously, though, he was a bit of a revelation. Great instincts, great timing. And I think the chemistry between him and Katie was just brilliant."
Berlanti couldn't agree more. "Josh is one of those guys' guys who men would want to hang out with and women love, which is exactly what we needed him to be in this role."
Josh Lucas plays the other man in Holly's life, Sam. "There were Joshes everywhere on this film," says the director, referring not only to two of his stars, but also to Heigl's husband, Josh Kelly, who occasionally came to set. "You threw a rock, you hit a Josh," Berlanti jokes.
The filmmaker loved what Lucas brought to the role. "Josh Lucas is so inherently charismatic and likeable. As a director, you're looking at a situation where there's another leading man who has been on screen for 20 minutes, and this new guy has to come in and compete for the affections of the leading lady. Josh Lucas could do that, and you believed it. Sam is really comfortable with himself and his place in life, which is something that Messer really isn't yet, and that's appealing."
"Sam has been coming into Holly's café, hoping to catch her eye and have a moment to flirt or ask her out," Lucas says. "But circumstances cause them to keep missing each other."
At the center of the film's romantic triangle is the person who has brought them all together: Sophie, left in their charge by Alison and Peter Novak, played by Christina Hendricks and Hayes MacArthur. The baby was played by triplets Alexis, Brynn and Brooke Clagett.
While twins are frequently used to play one baby on screen, it is rare to find identical triplets. "We thought, 'Let's increase our odds of getting all of the different emotions we need by having three babies play one," Josephson relates.
The girls were adored by cast and crew alike. "The wonderful thing about working with babies is just how natural they force all the other actors, and everybody around them, to be," Berlanti observes. "I think it brought a wonderful sense of realism to the scenes."
"I love being around kids," Duhamel reveals. "I actually came to the production a week or so early in order to get to know the babies, so they would feel comfortable with me and we'd be able to bond a little."
The timing of the shoot was unexpectedly serendipitous for Heigl. "I was literally experiencing new motherhood on film at the same time I was experiencing it in my own life."
The actress wasn't sure how it would be working with triplets, however. "At first I was really nervous," Heigl says, "but by the time we got to their last day and we had to say goodbye, I almost started crying. I had grown so attached to them."
While Messer and Holly are making their way through parenthood, they share not only parental duties, but a residence. As part of the arrangement to care for Sophie, they move into Peter and Alison's house, where they become quite an attraction for their new and fairly nosy neighbors.
Berlanti offers, "I would hope that most young parents have a support group of young parents or couples that are also kind of going through the same experience. With that in my mind I thought 'Okay, let's go out and get some real comedians to add to the humor of the situation.'"
The filmmakers sought out several actors they knew could handle the art of improv and really add to the uniqueness of each character. "We got Melissa McCarthy, Andy Daly, Rob Huebel, Jessica St. Clair, Will Sasso, Bill Brochtrup--all individuals who would be able to do their thing over and over again while I just let the cameras roll. What they brought to the film was immeasurable. Every time the neighbors show up on screen I know the audience is going to have a great surprise, yet everything they did fits right in with the tone of Holly and Messer trying to make it through this first year with Sophie."
Both Heigl and Duhamel couldn't have had more fun working with the ensemble. "They made the neighbors quirky, eccentric, silly, funny…but they were still real," the actress affirms. "No one went so broad that you couldn't relate."
Joining Holly and Messer at their respective jobs are DeRay Davis as Holly's second-in-command, and Reggie Lee as Messer's boss. At home, Britt Flatmo portrays the babysitter they couldn't live without, and Sarah Burns plays the social worker who needs convincing that Sophie should live with her godparents.
The filmmakers were thrilled with the entire cast. "I can't remember a movie where I've had more fun every day, and that's largely due to our cast," Josephson says. "They are terrific on screen, and we had very much the same vibe on set. Everybody seemed to love what they were doing and to be really passionate about their roles, big or small."
HOME AND HEARTH
The filming of "Life As We Know It" took place in Atlanta, Georgia, where the story also takes place. Finding the neighborhood, and especially the house that Holly, Messer and Sophie would live in, was key.
Production designer Maher Ahmad offers, "For the exterior, we settled on a Colonial style house on a very pleasant street, with a bit of a curve and a little bit of a hill, providing good angles on the house. Then we had to determine what we needed for the interior of the house, since we didn't want to simply replicate what our real house offered inside."
The designer expanded the interior for practical purposes, but still created something that was in keeping with the exterior of the home. "My goal was to give Greg and Andrew Dunn, our director of photography, a set that would allow them as much variation in things to see and ways to shoot while keeping as much architectural and visual interest as possible," Ahmad expands. "To give them a lot of open views and the ability to move easily from one room to another, I designed big French doors and a back hallway that connects everything together, so they could dolly through on any kind of axis and see the big entry hall."
"The house is pretty beautiful," Berlanti states. "I think most of us decided we wanted to live there. Maher did an amazing job giving us something that suited all of our needs."
To fulfill the needs of the characters, Ahmad informs, "All of the appliances in the kitchen had to function, especially once Holly moves in because she is a chef and we would see her cooking. And two of the fireplaces on the set were operational, which would help convey the passage of seasons."
"The movie takes place over the course of about a year, and all the events that come with that--birthdays, Thanksgiving, and so on," Berlanti notes.
In families with children, one of the most heartwarming rooms in the house is the nursery, and Sophie's room had to be special. As it happened, Ahmad received some input from an unexpected source: producer Barry Josephson, whose wife was about to have their first baby. "Barry was doing his own nursery, so he had some suggestions, including building a dormer window into the room, to make it feel both light and snuggly," Ahmad recalls. "It made a nice architectural variation for the room."
Josephson appreciated how much the design team's efforts assisted in creating the right atmosphere to tell the story. "After the tragedy they've just gone through, we couldn't have them move into a house that was somber. It needed to feel like Holly and Messer would be off to a fair start if they were living there. The design Maher gave us felt very positive and very organic in terms of family."
The baby's room wasn't the only place influenced by Josephson. In one sequence, during a block party on the street, an ice cream truck appears. "Our art director, Austin Gorg, is a very skilled graphic artist, and came up with a logo and caricature for the side of the truck: Big Barry's Ice Cream," Ahmad grins. "It was a bit of a surprise to Barry, but one that he seemed to enjoy."
Though the house was the central set in the film, there were others that were critical to our understanding of Holly and Messer's individuality: Fraiche, Holly's café; and the studio where Messer works as a broadcast technician for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.
"The Fraiche location was really important. We looked at a lot of places--I personally saw as many as 40--before we found Belly General Store." Though almost ideal for their purposes, the store needed a bit of work to turn it into Fraiche, but, says Ahmad, "The owner was gracious enough to let us change whatever we needed to."
The NBA was also very cooperative with the production. "We couldn't have done what we needed to do without them," Josephson declares. "Not only did they allow us to use real footage, but they got us into Phillips Arena and introduced us to the Atlanta Hawks." The filmmakers were permitted to shoot at a game, as well as a scene on the floor of the empty venue, which depicts a critical moment for Messer.
For the broadcast booth, where Messer works during games, Ahmad and his team were prepared to build a set when TBS stepped in. "As it turns out, Turner Studios had a large production booth available, with all the switchboards and monitors and so on, which worked out really well for us."
A 'LIFE' OF ITS OWN
For the cast and crew of "Life As We Know It," both life and storytelling are about feeling connected.
"We all go through so much in our lives--sometimes it's exhilarating, sometimes tragic, sometimes beautiful," Katherine Heigl states. "If we can tell those stories honestly, so that people sitting in the audience feel for the characters and their situation, well, I think that's the point of what we do, and hopefully what we've done here."
Josh Duhamel adds, "I think that every man who is making that transition from singlehood to fatherhood will be able to relate to this movie."
Director Greg Berlanti states, "In a lot of ways, I found directing a film a lot like being a first-time parent. For months, you do everything you can to prepare for it, but once it's happening--once you're on set or once the baby's arrived--you really have to go with the flow. That's what Holly and Messer have to learn. And I think that's what makes it a very universal story and one that I hope audiences will enjoy."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
GREG BERLANTI (Director) most recently co-wrote and produced the action film "Green Lantern," which stars Ryan Reynolds in the title role. Based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Comics, the film brings superhero Green Lantern to the big screen for the first time and is set for a June 2011 release.
Berlanti made his film directorial debut in 2000 with "The Broken Hearts Club," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
As a writer, director and producer, he is the force behind several of the most inventive and acclaimed works on television. Currently, Berlanti serves as an executive producer on the ABC drama "Brothers & Sisters." He also co-created and will produce the upcoming ABC television show "No Ordinary Family."
Previously, Berlanti executive produced the ABC series "Dirty Sexy Money." He also served as an executive producer, co-creator and writer on ABC's "Eli Stone," for which he was nominated for a WGA Award. Berlanti started in television as a writer and executive producer on "Dawson's Creek" before going on to create and executive produce two of The WB's most critically acclaimed dramas--"Everwood" and "Jack & Bobby."
IAN DEITCHMAN & KRISTIN RUSK ROBINSON (Screenplay) are screenwriting partners who met as undergraduate Radio-TV-Film students at Northwestern University. Deitchman spent his first years in the entertainment industry working for James L. Brooks on various projects, including "The Simpsons." Robinson got her start as an assistant to director Randa Haines.
Since 1999, Deitchman and Robinson have sold spec scripts and pitches, and worked on feature film assignments for Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and Universal, among others.
They have also recently written and sold an original feature comedy, "Like Father," with Ashton Kutcher attached to star and produce.
In 2009 Deitchman was elected as a member of the Board of Directors for the Writers Guild of America, West.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING