The title says it all in screenwriting team Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson’s latest script. Eat, Sleep and Poop is the story of a successful pediatrician whose life and practice changes once his wife becomes pregnant. In other words, he thought he had the baby thing covered until it happened to him. The script is loosely based on the real life story of Dr. Scott Cohen, a Beverly Hills pediatrician who just published a guide to parenting by the same name. When the writing team – best known for the romantic comedy Four Christmases - got a hold of this book proposal and teamed up with Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and DreamWorks to develop, they knew they had something special. Script sat down with the dynamic duo to discuss how they landed the job of adapting a parenting guide into a feature length film and their success in Hollywood along the way.
SCRIPT: How did you get involved in Eat, Sleep and Poop?
MATT ALLEN: My pediatrician and our manager’s pediatrician is Dr. Scott Cohen, who is the reigning pediatrician of the year at Cedars Sinai. I have a bit of a man crush on him. I hesitate to leave my wife alone with him sometimes.
CALEB WILSON: He’s good looking, he’s charming and fun. And it’s the best title for the movie ever. Because it has the word “poop” in it. My dream has always been to write a movie that has “poop” in the title, and get away with it so no one thinks I’m the bad guy.
SCRIPT: How do you go about adapting reference material into a feature length narrative?
MATT ALLEN: The book is a guide. It’s like a Dr. Spock book. It’s not a narrative. We had to create a narrative based on the idea of this doctor and the comedy of babies.
CALEB WILSON: We sat down with Dr. Scott. He talked about his thriving practice, but told us his perspective changed when he had a child. Just hearing that he had a thriving practice without a kid sounded like a movie idea.
MATT ALLEN: In a lot of ways, it’s his real journey that he went through after he had a kid. He started to think, “Maybe I’m a little hard on parents when I tell them you’ve got to do sleep training.” When it’s your baby crying in the other room, you feel different. Until you have a child, you don’t understand, it’s pure hell.
SCRIPT: Do you have children?
CALEB WILSON: Actually, Matt is a father of two small children, but I’m a father of no children, in this country, that I know off… Truthfully though, I can see where Dr. Scott was coming from before he had his kids. When Matt would ask me for advice about his girls, I would give him the most logical response. Matt would say, “I know what you’re telling me, that makes sense, but I want to punch you in the face.”
MATT ALLEN: Caleb doesn’t understand, I have to plan my day around nap time. You can’t throw a kid in the car whenever you want. My girls are six and four.
CALEB WILSON: I’m great with kids for 45 minutes or so. I get them fired up and then I just leave. I really don’t know what it’s like to be a parent.
MATT ALLEN: We are equally using my knowledge of children and his lack of knowledge about children to write the script. It’s working out well.
SCRIPT: How are you developing the story?
CALEB WILSON: We’re developing the script with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. It’s a joy. As busy as Walter and Laurie are… (They are making Men in Black III)… they work so well together. The breadth of knowledge between those two is amazing.
MATT ALLEN: It’s like going to film school with the best possible people ever, and we get paid for it. Professionally, it’s the coolest thing that’s happened in our careers, to work face-to-face with those two. When Walter breaks story with you, he starts with the character. He sees what can happen structurally in a way that is impressive to watch. He can do it so quickly.
CALEB WILSON: What’s nice about working out the story with a producer who’s also a writer, is that you can’t throw out an idea and they understand what it takes to make it work. It’s unique. They’re very hands on people.
SCRIPT: How did you become writing partners?
CALEB WILSON: We have been friends for a long time. Matt was an agent at ICM and I was an assistant at Brillstein-Grey. We used to watch movies and say, “This is great, and this sucks.” That’s what spawned the idea for our first screenplay. We were looking at a movie that was just god-awful. We thought, we can do better than this. So we wrote Man Child. It was about a pill popping, alcoholic little person who was posing as 12-year-old in order to gain an inheritance.
MATT ALLEN: Mike De Luca bought it at New Line, and we were really excited. We developed it with him. Then when Mike left, it was put in turn around. But it launched our careers. We were thrilled to be writing.
SCRIPT: How do you maintain a consistent voice?
CALEB WILSON: Really easy. Matt and I have the same voice. The same sense of humor. Especially the first five or six years, you couldn’t tell our writing apart. In Man Child, we used the cadence of actor Norm Macdonald. We just used his voice. When you think of Brad Pitt, you can’t think of his voice. He’s an actor who embodies the part, but Norm was very easy. We used his comedic tone as our main character’s voice. Matt and I crack story together. Until we both agree, it’s not right. We have an office in Santa Monica where we meet and crack story. When we have a clear outline, we start writing.
SCRIPT: How do your styles differ?
CALEB WILSON: Matt is really good at structure.
MATT ALLEN: Sometimes, inherent in the concept, I know what the act breaks are right away. We have a good head start. Like with Four Christmases, the structure was fairly obvious. How the characters fit together for that story. I always start with the end of act two. If I don’t know where that low point is, I’ll spin off. I’ll just keep on going. If I don’t have an end point, I get nervous.
CALEB WILSON: If I have a really good first act, then I know where I’m going. But usually, I have too many set pieces to work with. I’m always trying to include more moments.
MATT ALLEN: He’s the James Cameron of comedy writers.
CALEB WILSON: I like to say, “I’m a guy’s guy, but I’m my momma’s son.” I cry when no one is around. But when there are people around, I’m farting and making noises. At the end of the day, great story is great story. Great writing is great writing. If you want to learn how to format and write a script, ready 50 of them. Great writing, great character and great story. Story wins in the end.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to aspiring screenwriters?
CALEB WILSON: Especially, when working in a group environment, listen to what everyone has to say. Unless you know, don’t throw out your responses or agree. You’re not going to figure it out right there. Early on, I think Matt and I would agree to too much in the room. You want to make these people happy, but at the end of the day, they are paying you for your expertise. They are paying you to take their input and sort through it.
MATT ALLEN: My advice is to work with other writers. Break story with other writers. Just talking to them and working through things with them makes you better. Also, just because you read all those screenwriting books five or six years ago, doesn’t mean you can't revisit them. I’ll get wrapped up in an issue, and I’ll pick up Save the Cat and find the answer. It’s right there. Sometimes you just forget what you already know.