Like the lead character in POST GRAD, screenwriter Kelly Fremon came out of college with big plans for her future. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine, she temporarily moved back home to begin the search for the perfect job. “Eight months later, I still didn’t have a job,” says Fremon. “By then, I was trying to get any job and no one would hire me. I was totally unemployable. It was a very weird awakening to realize ‘This is the real world and it’s not at all what I thought.’”
“We never dreamed how relevant the film would be while filming given today’s economic climate,” continues Fremon. “Thousands of recent graduates are and will continue to face the same predicament as Ryden.”
Fremon knew she eventually wanted to be a screenwriter. “But I felt dumb for even hoping, like I was buying a lottery ticket,” she says. “Finally, I was working as a receptionist and writing at night. I started a script about a girl who was stuck at home, who couldn’t get a job, and didn’t understand what was going on. As soon as I finished it, I gave it to everybody I’d ever met.”
Ali Bell of the Montecito Picture Company read the script and was touched by the truth in POST GRAD. Bell contacted Fremon and told the writer she too had experienced the same difficulties after college. “Kelly’s story was exactly what happened to me and a lot of my friends,” says Bell. “We all thought we had our futures figured out and knew exactly where we were going. We were full of confidence, and we went out there and hit a brick wall. It’s devastating.”
Bell championed the script to her colleagues at the Montecito Picture Company and Ivan Reitman, one of the founders, read the script and made an offer a week later. “Kelly Fremon had the wonderful idea of writing about what happens in those first few months after you graduate from college,” says Reitman. “It’s about that first job, having to move back with your parents after you’ve been independent, and first loves. It was done in a very quirky, charming way and we absolutely fell in love with it.”
The Montecito Picture Company, which includes Reitman, Tom Pollock and Joe Medjuck, as well as Bell and Jeffrey Clifford, made the successful comedies I LOVE YOU, MAN and OLD SCHOOL. “This script was quite original,” says Medjuck. “We felt it was something we’d never seen before. We read a lot of scripts and it seems if you get one script about a two-headed man, you’ll get six scripts about a two-headed man. I’d never read a script that was about this particular topic.”
But it was Fremon’s unique voice that most impressed the producers. “She has a real sense of character, first and foremost,” says Clifford. “She was able to channel her own experiences into the script in a way that felt heightened and kind of crazy, but at the same time, very grounded and real.”
After the initial thrill of selling her first script, Fremon realized that she still had a lot of work ahead of her. POST GRAD went through an intensive development process. “I had never written a screenplay before,” she admits. “I just put pieces of my life on the page. Ivan showed me how to organize and structure it as a movie. We kept all the same characters and it had the same general framework, but he helped me fine-tune it.”
“Ivan has a strong sense of story and sees a script three-dimensionally as both a director and a producer,” adds Clifford. “We went through several rewrites of the script and finally came to a place where we loved what we had.”
Reitman zeroed in on the script’s big-picture elements, Fremon remembers. “When I went into that first meeting, he said, ‘I love the script, but I’m not going to tell you what I love about it today. I’m going to tell you everything I hate about it. And that’s how we started.”
As the director of classic comedies including GHOSTBUSTERS and TWINS, Reitman has strong opinions about what makes a movie funny. “What I’ve always found with comedies is you have to set the tone just right,” he says. “The tone of POST GRAD is very realistic. There’s an honesty to it. A film like this is all nuance and subtlety, played against some very big physical gags. The challenge is to make the elements just the right size, so they can live in the same world. If you believe in the truth of what’s going on in the story, you can feel free enough to laugh.
“This film’s humor comes from all different angles,” he continues. “There’s old-fashioned physical comedy like I haven’t seen in a realistic movie like this. And there’s the character comedy that comes from this eccentric family. In real life, families are full of eccentric people, and here we get our share of it in the Malbys.”
Director Vicky Jenson had already made a name for herself in the world of animation, most notably as one of the directors of the phenomenally successful feature films SHREK and SHARK TALE, and she was eager to take on the challenges of directing a live-action feature. She gives her own eccentric family credit for helping her land the job. “Ali Bell remembered stories I told about my family,” she says. “We did things like haunt our own house to scare my uncle when he came to visit. Everybody got involved. My dad actually drilled holes in the floor so we could pull filaments through and have things fly around. That’s how I saw the Malbys. And we all have a little Malby in us, so I knew people would relate.
“I could see right away that the producers were completely in love with this project,” says Jenson. “They were also really receptive to the ideas I came into the room with. What I love about Ivan is that he acts immediately. Right there in the room, he said, ‘You’re the one for this project.’”
Clifford concurs. “When we first met with Vicky about the script, it was one of those magical moments. We knew she was the person we wanted to work with. She grew up with a bunch of brothers and sisters in this artistic, eccentric family. She’s from the San Fernando Valley, like our main character, and she knew its sense of place.”
In making her live-action directing debut, Jenson was supported—and challenged—by Reitman, who was personally involved with the production throughout shooting, she says. “He looked at the dailies, and called me up with any input he thought might help. Sometimes we disagreed and our phone calls would get really loud and passionate, but he was the first one to say, ‘Look, I’m just passionate about what I do and I know that you are, too.’ I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The director, who like Ryden was raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, sees a lot of herself in the lead character. “It doesn’t matter where you grew up, you have this feeling about your old neighborhood. When it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave and you’re not supposed to go back.
“The appeal of this story is that in all of the funny and painful frustration we watch this character go through, we can recognize our own issues,” the director says. “It’s great to have goals, but not if they blind you to the life that’s right there around you. Everybody comes around to that to some degree in the movie.”
The film also tackles what Jenson sees as a unique situation facing today’s graduates. “Ryden is trying to figure out how to be an adult—what is expected of her and what she deserves out of life. There are a lot of college grads flowing out into the world who have been high achievers with great plans and great ideals and lots of expectations. There aren’t necessarily wonderful jobs out there for all of them.”
Although POST GRAD is a comedy, says Clifford, it’s not frivolous. “This movie lives in the real world,” he explains. “Audiences can expect a really funny film that’s about a character they’ll recognize in themselves. Whether you’re a teenager who’s about to go through this experience or somebody in their twenties, thirties or forties, who has already gone through it, you can appreciate it. You will remember how hard it was and, at the same time, how wonderful it was to figure out where you were going to go.”
And that is what Jenson set out to create, she says. “I like a good laugh as much as anybody does, but I’m not a big fan of high jinks and slapstick for their own sake. Comedies that affect audiences strongly and mean something are the ones that work best. Laughter is such a strong way of reaching people. When we wrap truth in this kind of fun, it can get through better than something that just keeps hammering away without humor.”