BPS 137: The Art & Craft of the Romantic Comedy with Charles Shyer

We have on today, one of the best rom-com and comedy writers and filmmakers of all time a master at visual storytelling. I’ve been a fan of many of his films growing up, specifically, Father of The Bride. Now that I have two daughters of my own, it is fondly scary to rewatch it.

Charles Shyer is an award-winning director, screenwriter, and producer whose work includes some of the best fuzzy-feel good films of all time. Shyer grew up in the film industry where his father worked with D.W. Griffith and was one of the founders of the Directors Guild of America. 

He is the director and writer of the 1991 comedy film, Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Kimberly Williams (in her film debut) in this remake of the Spencer Tracy classic, George (played by Steve Martin) and Nina Banks (played by Diane Keaton) are the parents of young soon-to-be-wed Annie (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley).

George is a nervous father unready to face the fact that his little girl is now a woman. The preparations for the extravagant wedding provide additional comic moments. Martin, a businessman, and owner of an athletic shoe company finds out his daughter is getting married, he finds himself reluctant to let go and goes on a spiral. It is one of those movies with a lot of smiles and laughter in it, and a good feeling all the way through. The film grossed $129 million and has had two sequels of it made in 1995 and 2020.

He wrote and co-produced one of the most pivotal films in Lindsey Lohan’s career, The Parent Trap (1998). It captured the story of identical twins Annie and Hallie (played by Lohan), separated at birth and each raised by one of their biological parents, later discover each other for the first time at summer camp and make a plan to bring their wayward parents back together.

People fell in love with the movie and Lohan’s exceptional performance, leading to an instant box-office success with a $92.1 million gross. 

There are but few writers who are able to master the craft of romantic comedy, and Charles Shyer is one. His films include Private Benjamin (1980), Irreconcilable Differences (1984), Baby Boom (1987), the Father of the Bride sequels, The Affair of the Necklace (2001), etc.


Shyer directed Baby Boom and co-wrote it with his long-time writing partner, Nancy Meyers in 1987. It stars Diane Keaton (a super-yuppie J.C) who discovers that a long-lost cousin has died, leaving her a fourteen-month-old baby girl as an inheritance. Like most of his films, this too was a box office success. Her life is thrown into turmoil.

J.C. Wiatt is a successful New York businesswoman known around town as the “tiger lady.” She gets news of an inheritance from a relative from another country and off the bat she suspects it’s money. Well, it’s not money, it’s a baby girl. At first, she doesn’t accept until the lady that gives the baby to her has to catch her flight. J.C. is now stuck with an annoying baby girl.

Her boyfriend doesn’t like the idea of a baby living with them and he leaves her. J.C. has enough of it and takes her to meet a family ready to adopt her. She leaves but hears the baby cry while walking away and has to go back. The baby is too attached to her now and won’t let her go. Later, her baby gets into mischief which causes her to get fired.

Now, she sets her eyes on an old two-story cottage in Vermont to get out of New York life. When she arrives, the house needs more help than originally thought. She gets bored one snowy day and decides to make apple sauce. Her baby loves it and she decides to sell it. Pretty soon everyone wants some of the baby apple sauce. J.C. hits it big and falls in love with a local veterinarian.

All this happened after he made the switch at the start of his career in the industry, from pursuing directing to writing and landing a gig on the 1970 TV series, The Odd Couple. Where Shyer eventually worked his way up to head writer and associate producer, writing about twenty-four episodes of the show. 

The sitcom, The Odd Couple was formally titled onscreen as Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. It was broadcasted on ABC from September 24, 1970, to March 7, 1975, starring Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison.

In our conversation, Shyer tackled the making of some of his well-known films and the changing writing culture in Hollywood. It’s always a good fun day at the office when I can chat up with folks like Charles. 

Enjoy my chat with Charles Shyer.

Right-click here to download the MP3



  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 0:10
I like to welcome to the show, Charles Shyer. How you doing, Charles?

Charles Shyer 0:13
I'm okay, man. Thanks.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
Thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate it. I've, I've been a fan of of many of your films growing up for a long time, and specifically one that I refuse to go back to watch because I have daughters now is Father of the Bride. Because I have two daughters. I'm like, when am I going to actually have the courage to watch that movie? Because I remember it so fondly, like, but now it's a whole other conversation.

Charles Shyer 0:40
Right? Right. It's Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 0:43
It's brutal. It's a brutal conversation when your father and I don't want to go there yet.

Charles Shyer 0:48
When your father would daughter. Yeah, it's it rings, it rings. pretty true.

Alex Ferrari 0:53
Yeah, exactly. And, and one of my daughters, that happens to be a tomboy, and all that kind of stuff. So it's kind of like, Oh, so um, so before we get started, how did you? How did you start in the business?

Charles Shyer 1:06
Well, I, you know, basically, you know, my dad was in the movie business. So I kind of came up through through the ranks a little bit, you know, I, I used to go onto the set with him when I was a kid all the time. Like, probably from the time I was seven years old. Through my teenage years, I, I go on the sets, when because, in those days, they worked always six day weeks, my when my dad was making movies, and so I'd go on the set, and then, you know, I, I, it was kind of a natural, you know, he'd been in, you know, a dry cleaner, I probably would have gone into the dry cleaning business, you know, but, uh, you know, I went into the movie business and, and, you know, I was lucky enough to get into the, to the DGA training program, I was one of the first people to get into that. And it was kind of it was just starting out then. So it wasn't really well formed. But I did get I did get some experience. And then I was lucky enough to become a second assistant director. And from there, I went to work for Gary Marshall and Jerry Belson. And that kind of sprung me into a whole trajectory of, of writing, and I was their assistant, you know, right, I was pretty Marshall's assistant on the show called Hey, landlord, and basically you I was like, 22 years old, probably. But my job was basically, you know, do their Christmas shopping, get their cars, cars washed, you know, by implied cycles, and shit like that. And then for that trade off, I got to sit in on story meetings and stuff like that, and they welcome me to do that. And they were very, very, they're very open about all that. And, and, you know, then, you know, once in a while I give them, you know, I popped in with my shitty idea. And, and they would, they would, they were so nice about it, they'd say, That's good. That's good, you know, keep thinking. And then Gary finally said to me, you know, why don't you try to be a writer. And he introduced me to another writer and started to he actually became my manager, Gary Dell. And, and he kind of guided me, you know, through, you know, a bunch of stuff. And eventually, I became like, the, the head writer on the odd couple, the prayer, you know, and, and, and that kind of sprung me into, you know, other stuff.

Alex Ferrari 3:34
Like God, the odd couple, like I used to watch that show all the time growing up, and he also worked on happy days, I think one episode. I did.

Charles Shyer 3:41
I did a couple of happy days. A couple of Marjorie's families, you know, I mean, I, yeah, I wrote a couple of odd couples, I wrote, like, there was a TV show called barefoot in the park back then. And, you know, I bounced around in TV. I didn't really like TV in those days. It wasn't like it is today. It was kind of like an orphan, to movies, and I wanted to work in movies. So

Alex Ferrari 4:05
I remember I remember that. I mean, you never if you were TV, if you were a film actor, you would never in a million years to a television, I would be like, Oh, you're over your career is over. So you're obviously retiring to television? Where now? Yeah,

Charles Shyer 4:17
it's the opposite. Yeah, it was definitely not the cool thing to do. So you know, and people would say, Oh, he's a television writer.

Alex Ferrari 4:25
Oh, yeah. They have to put you in the box. They have to put you in a box. There's no way you could, if you wrote Happy Days, there's no way you could write anything else but Right, right. Right. How did you how did you break out of it? Because I know that a lot of a lot of writers coming up today have that same problem. I mean, hollywood still loves to put people in boxes. I mean, you're right. You're the horror guy. You're the common romantic comedy guy. You're the action guy, and you can jump back and forth. How did you break out?

Charles Shyer 4:49
I you know, I wrote a script. We wrote a script based on a book called cut and run about a young black guy who, who inherits by mistake has sent front row seats through Lakers, he had applied for, for tickets, and he got the wrong ones and he got front row seats. And he used those tickets, it was a really good idea actually, to kind of manipulate, manipulate his way into, you know, all kinds of things and became like, he used those tickets as his as his ticket. And anyway, now, it was a kind of a good script. And we, my agent sent it to Universal somehow got got got wind of it, and read it. And then they offered us smoking the bandit for rewrite. And, you know, it was, you know, I'm a guy from Studio City, you know, I never heard of an 18 Wheeler, radio. I mean, I didn't know what that was. But, you know, it was a chance Burt Reynolds was a big movie star.

Alex Ferrari 5:56
He was

Charles Shyer 5:57
huge, huge, huge, huge, huge. So, we said yes, and, and we did it, and, and I didn't work on it that long. Actually, I worked on it for probably two and a half weeks, but was day and night. You know, yeah, we're on it. And I kind of I didn't learn about CB radios. I didn't. Really I didn't. I always loved country music so and, you know, meeting with Bert was kind of cool and mad.

Alex Ferrari 6:24
And that's and that's Bert at like, for people that listening even understand that people like know, Burt Reynolds and stuff like that. But for him, there was a five or six year period, that there was no bigger movie star in the world. He was the Tom Cruise of his day, the Brad Pitt of his day, there was just nobody, even close to him. And smokey was one of those reasons. I mean, smokey was a massive hit. Man, I mean, massive blockbuster hit for it was

Charles Shyer 6:48
the number two movie of the year after Star Wars. So I mean, it was Yeah, and what's weird is, you know, I mean, I always say this, but you know, those my first movie credits so they paid us I think we got paid. I think maybe $15,000 for the two of us. So if 70 $500 each, you know for this movie that made $300 million. The gap the craft service guy made more money on the movie than I did. It's it's really weird.

Alex Ferrari 7:21
But and welcome to Hollywood I guess at that point. Yeah, I

Charles Shyer 7:24
mean, well, yeah, it's it's that the accuracy I you know, the joke about the Polish actress who comes to Hollywood and sleeps with the screenwriter. It's Yeah, you're really treated pretty much like shit, but they were they were you know, and how Needham who was like the only it was the only DGA member, I'm sure at that time who was packing heat. He carried a gun director with a gun in his in his waist. But he was a good guy. And he, you know, he was like a real shit kicker and would say things, you know, you write it all, I'll film it. And he was a courageous guy do anything. And that's why the movie you know, they had those way out stunts.

Alex Ferrari 8:11
Yeah. So I was gonna ask you how many of those stunts were in the script? Or was that all kind of just worked on on set? No, no.

Charles Shyer 8:17
I mean, I think like that. Some of those you know, when the top of the when the top of it I haven't seen the movie a long time, but the top of the car goes under?

Alex Ferrari 8:25
Yeah, Jackie Gleason said Jackie Gleason score. Yeah,

Charles Shyer 8:28
yeah, we came. We came up with that. I when I first saw the movie, like, you know, back in the day, I was gone. I I thought it was really bad. I thought, Oh, my God, I can't believe it. But then they then I guess after birth died, they did a 40th anniversary or something of the movie. And I took my kids. One of them who's sitting with me right now. I took my kids to go see it in a movie theater. And I realized that it it I saw I saw it a hold up from what a different way and it really works. You know, Jackie Gleason was great. Jerry Reed was great. Sally had a great, great chemistry. The music was great. And how did a good job man Gleason was just fucking hysterical. He'll, you know, I mean, just brilliant. So yeah, it worked. The movie worked.

Alex Ferrari 9:18
So that so after that, obviously your your name gets now you're you're a writer on a big big Hollywood hit. So then you collaborate with jack nicholson directing project and he's an actor in it. What was it like collaborating with him on that level? Not just as a you because you were a writer on that project. But how did you How is jack nicholson as a director?

Charles Shyer 9:46
He, he I think jack in those days was was off balance about comedy. You know, I mean, I remember seeing any, because we I had right we went down to Durango, Mexico and that's where pursuit. And so I would during the day, my partner and I would go to Jack's house, you know, because he had housekeepers and all that shit. And we would write there because it was so much nicer than what but but he, he studied comedy. He was very open, you know, to suggestions and stuff at that time and maybe always is like the coolest guy you've ever met. He just is me just, you know, with his shades and smoking dope and being cool. And and

Alex Ferrari 10:37
is that before is this pre is this pre or post? This is post Easy Rider, right?

Charles Shyer 10:41
Yes, post this right. Okay, buddy, but he was a big, a huge movie star and he was about to go do

Alex Ferrari 10:47

Charles Shyer 10:48
Yeah. So. So he talked to Stan Stanley Cooper kind of phone. I remember him, you know, he call him Stan the man. Yeah. You know, I had nicknames for everybody. But it was fun. And the thing about jack is that I think the challenge was in many ways he could he could keep going. Even more, we're shooting till two, three in the morning, pitching and stuff, you know, and we were younger than him. And but it was very hard to drop, jack, you know, we would start to fade, you know, if your eyes start to roll back in your head at a certain point. And he keep going, No, no, come on. Let's keep going. Let's keep going. And so you couldn't, he just had energy that I you know, I couldn't even imagine having. But he was a cool guy. And a good guy. I really liked him a lot.

Alex Ferrari 11:43
And, and then I remember a movie that you wrote that I remember was almost became part of the Zeitgeist at the time was private Benjamin. And that came out was at I think it was 1980. And I was I was very young at the time, but I remember seeing it. I remember my parents talking about it. And I just remember being Was it the first time there was a comedy placed in boot camp? Is that or was it just the twist of of a woman with with Goldie Hawn?

Charles Shyer 12:13
I think it was the twistable I think there was there was ID Martin and Jerry Lewis

Alex Ferrari 12:19
Gomer pile obviously

Charles Shyer 12:21
did a service comedy, but you know, and stripes came out after us. But um, yeah, I think it was the twist was this Jewish American princess who ended up in the army. And, and Goldie was, was perfect for that part. You know, I mean, she really knew how to play it. And, you know, her mom was Jewish, so she got it. You know, and writing it with Nancy, who's, who was the Jewish girl from Philadelphia. It just all came together for us.

Alex Ferrari 12:55
Now, how do you approach working? Because you're gonna you've written a lot of stuff with with Nancy, how do you approach having a writing partner? As opposed to writing by yourself?

Charles Shyer 13:05
Well, um, you know, yeah. For me and Nancy, we, everybody I've written I, you know, I've written with with Nancy, I wrote with Alan Mandel. And I wrote with Elaine Pope, and I'm, I just wrote a couple scripts with my friend, Rebecca Connor. What, what, what you have to have is the same sensibility. And that's, that's tricky. Because Nancy, and I just, you know, we just laughed at the same things. We love the same movies, we kind of educate each other on the movies that will that each of us loved. And Nancy really made me laugh. I think she wrote the best one liners of anybody I know, except Neil Simon. I mean, she was up there with the, with really running great lines. And, and we were just always in sync when, you know, as we, as filmmakers, had this thing, that if, if we're doing something and one of us, doesn't like if we were doing a scene, and one of us didn't agree with it, we would always try it another way. We would never say nobody dictated what we're going to do what we'll find a compromise or both of us. If one of us doesn't like it, we'll find another way to do it. You know, and that was kind of we It was kind of almost unspoken. We just were in sync, Nancy and I were very much in sync when we're making our movies. We hardly ever disagree that you really, really laugh.

Alex Ferrari 14:34
Now when you were working on with a fresh faced Whoopi Goldberg on jumping jack flash. It was one that wasn't your first was that your first directorial feature? I didn't directed penny. That's right, which was your first directorial my first director or tutorial was irreconcilable differences. That's right. Yes. with Ruth drew and Shelley long. What was it like jumping onto that set like Yeah, as a director, because you've been around so many

Charles Shyer 15:03
obviously, that was the thing, that for me, being on a set was really I knew, you know, when I was 10 years old, I knew what a key grip did. You know? I mean, I, I knew it. Oh, you know, so I was never that was one of the things people you say you're nervous about directing first movie, I, I really wasn't that nervous, because I knew I knew the menus. So well, I just was so comfortable on a set. I grew up on movie sets. So and, and Nancy and I had written the script. So that's the other thing when you've written a script, you, you're not, the actors can't ask you a question that you don't know the answer to, you know, and, and so for me, that was great, very emboldened, and also, Ryan, O'Neal was fantastic to work with whatever his reputation was in the world. He was just totally great. And totally there for us. And Shelley was brilliant and, and Sharon Stone, who we discovered in that movie, it was all it was very, it was very harmonious. And we just all really got along. And it was a really cool experience. And we saw the movie, American cinema take did a screening about a year ago. And Nancy and I went, we were both kind of nervous about seeing it again. But I thought it really held up. And it was pretty inventive. I liked it. I thought it was a cool movie.

Alex Ferrari 16:34
Now, when you were when you're on set, I mean, every once in a while, I know all directors have to deal with this at one point or another where you have the especially when you're the young director, that you know the first time director, you'll have the seasoned dp or the seasoned production designer or seasoned script soup, you know, script the, who starts, you know, busting your chops a bit or, you know, starts testing you. How do you approach that I'm assuming you've had that happen to you in your life at one point or another onset?

Charles Shyer 17:03
Well, you know, what it is, it's, it's, um, for me, when I realized that that was going to happen, you know, and, you know, I, you know, what I never wanted to do was, when I realized after the first time, I blocked the scene, you know, you have these guys in with the turquoise belts standing there watching you saying he doesn't know what he's doing, you know, and I said, I'm not doing this yet. So I, I realized early on, clear the set, just me the DP, the script supervisor in the first assistant director, and the actors, and Nancy, Nancy was there, and I blocked it that way. So nobody's watching, I don't have to worry about it. You know, and I, and the actors, then we bring everybody in, so and I and on irreconcilable, Billy Fraker was the was the DP, who, you know, who was kind of a brilliant, and a great guy, you know, and was there for us and, and had a had worked, you know, with Warren Beatty, when he first directed to heaven can wait. So he was very good with first time directors. And he was just so kind to us. And, and, and just really knew what he was doing. He was a cool guy. So that helped a lot. And he and he really did a beautiful job, you know?

Alex Ferrari 18:20
Because that's how you handle this. So you've cleared the set, did everything and then and then brought everybody in? Yeah, because

Charles Shyer 18:26
guys, you're shaking your head, like, yeah, like you could fucking do it better. Dude, come on.

Alex Ferrari 18:34
It's always that way that I read. I was, you know, when you I mean, I'm assuming, I don't know if it happens to Steven Spielberg. But I'm assuming somebody out there has gone. I could have done that better. Like, right.

Charles Shyer 18:44
This is what what he's doing. And I, you know what? I don't I don't know what I'm doing. I'm trying to figure it out. You know, but you know what it is? It's like if you're, if you're writing a script, and somebody's looking over your shoulder while you're writing, you know, what the fuck, you know, you can't you know, like, give me a break. And that's why Martin Scorsese has a rear view mirror, you know, on his monitor when he's shooting, so he can see if people come up behind him. Oh, I

Alex Ferrari 19:10
didn't know that. Really?

Charles Shyer 19:11
Yeah. Yeah, I could. And I'll never let what I have, I always make the producers have their own monitor. So I'll be there sitting with the script supervisor. And my favorite dp operates himself. So he can come over and look at the playback that we want. But I don't ever have anybody around me. I mean, I'll have my son or my daughter or something like, No, you know, nobody who's going to shake their head.

Alex Ferrari 19:37
Do you ever let the Do you ever let the actor watch.

Charles Shyer 19:39
Yeah, sure. I would, you know, this last movie I did. I was so lucky, because it was a very difficult shoot. But I had the nicest actors ever that I've ever worked with. Yeah, I mean, Justin Hartley was that as as nice as, as anybody and cooperative as anybody I've ever worked with. So That was really cool. helped me through it.

Alex Ferrari 20:02
Now how do you balance, confidence on set with when you are just like, Hey, man, I just don't know what we're gonna do here, let's figure it out. Because there's, it takes a strong, strong, deep, strong director who's very comfortable in their own skin to just say out loud, guys, I really don't know what we're gonna do here. I'm open to ideas, let's let's figure this out together. That doesn't happen often, especially early on in your career, unless you're very comfortable with yourself, how do you approach that confidence and also just confidence of not knowing what, because we all don't know the answers at all times as a director?

Charles Shyer 20:35
Well, I, first of all i storyboard, I'm not cocky enough to just go in and wing it. So I just want everything. You know, I storyboard everything. I don't storyboard, I map it, you know, so I know where, in other words, I have a dinner scene. I all know, before the actors get there, where everybody seated, you know, I'll diagram it and stuff. So I don't think you have to. You have to instill in the actors confidence in you, you know, and like, what I didn't realize, like, on this last movie, I did. I've done so many movies now that they assume a certain that I know, more than I know. But so I, you know, which is kind of comfort, which is nice, actually, because it kind of will just follow whatever you want to do. And, you know, a certain times as I know, you know, I'll change things in the middle. This isn't working. And, you know, I think if you're honest, you know, they'll, they'll understand unless they're jerks, and I guess, you know, I've worked with some actors who are really been really not nice. And it makes you uptight, you know, you don't want to you don't want to freeze up, but I don't know, it's, it's, it's a challenge.

Alex Ferrari 21:53
It's a challenge, to say the least. But I have to ask you, I was asking you earlier when you worked with will be on jumping jack flash. Did you work with him? Did you work with me at all work? like writing that or anything? we rewrote the script.

Charles Shyer 22:05
And when we got the script, it was actually a drama. Oh, God. It's a little different company. And then, and then, for some reason, I don't know Nancy, and I were kind of arrogant. In those days. We didn't want to put our name or our names aren't on our Didn't we use pseudo names? You did

Alex Ferrari 22:23
you? Did you pseudo names? Yeah. But it's on your IMDb but if you did use a pseudo

Charles Shyer 22:26
name, which was so ridiculous. But, you know, I don't even know I know that. That that the first director who did it was Howard ZIF, was on it with directed private Benjamin and directed another movie I did called housecalls, with Walter Matthau, and Glenda Jackson, but Howard, and would be somehow didn't get on. And Howard got fired. And then Penny Marshall came on. And, and did it and I don't, to be honest with you. I don't think I've ever seen the movie.

Alex Ferrari 23:07
Fair enough. Fair enough.

Charles Shyer 23:09
I don't think I have, if I have I have no recollection of it. You know, I but I know what I was. You know, I've talked to her a few times about it. And she was very sweet about the rear. We did a really good rewrite on the script. But we did make it funny. I just don't know if it was a very good movie cuz I never saw it.

Alex Ferrari 23:32
Right. But it did. Okay. at the box office did okay. It did. Okay. And she actually she ended up doing a write in her career. Not too bad. Not too bad. Now, what is your approach? With directing actors? How do you pull that those performances out? Especially comedy, which is so difficult? I mean, obviously, casting is a very big part of that. But how do you kind of, you know, corral or pull those, those performances out?

Charles Shyer 23:58
castings kind of can't be overstated how important casting is but you know, I, I mean, like, you can, it's, it's different with every actor, like was Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, Nancy and I would actually and they like this, Nancy, and I would actually go into the set and, and work out the scene ourselves. And then we would act it out for them. Literally,

Alex Ferrari 24:29
you know, so it's a step away from a line reading. Yeah,

Charles Shyer 24:32
it's a step closer than a line. I would I would do the block. And I remember we did it several times. And Diane and Steve loved it. They loved that. Oh, great. Okay, I know exactly. Yeah, well, you did, they'd make it 1000 times better. But um, so we would do that a lot. And then, um, you know, I I I will give line readings are all keep going till I know I have something that I can use, you know, it's not like Broadway, you're not coming back tomorrow night you better get it now. Now oftentimes I'll think, Oh, I can loop this reading or this intuition, you know this the way they're saying something, but um, you know, it's, um, you know, when somebody is not funny or they don't have rhythm. You're kind of up against that man. You know, you've miscast?

Alex Ferrari 25:29
Yeah. And I think and people listening, comedy is all about timing. It's all about the beats. And it's literally fractions of a second that something's funny. And something's not it's frames. It's six frame. It's, yeah, it really comes down to that. I mean, I've been an editor for most of my career, and I've got comedies and I've caught with some very accomplished comedians, who were like, Nope, that's, that beats off on the beat. And it's all about that timing. And you I'm assuming you because you've done so many comedies in your career, you can kind of sense those beats on set when you're directing. Yeah,

Charles Shyer 26:04
you know, I it's a weird thing, because I don't think I don't believe that it's something you can learn. You know, my dad was funny. And I think you kind of inherited, you know, my daughter Halle, Nancy, and my, you know, is a is a accomplished now writer, director. But, uh, you know, I mean, you grow up with a certain kind of humor, and you're, I don't know, maybe not everybody, but for me, that was real helpful. And then I always loved comedies. Like, you know, I liked comedies and I like westerns. I, you know, like, movies that took place in outer space. I, you know, I wasn't interested in you know, I just didn't dig at all you know, and still don't, but Billy Wilder movies, I always thought of Preston Sturges. Oh, you know, are those guys I mean, those were the movies I really loved, you know, where are, you know, like, 20th century, you know, like Carole Lombard. I mean, you know, but that was the thing, though, back in those days. Then actresses like Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, people who could just knock it out of the park these women, but you don't really have them anymore like that. I don't know why. You know,

Alex Ferrari 27:13
it's not Yeah, I know exactly. What you mean.

Charles Shyer 27:15
You didn't have to get them line readings. Dude. Really? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 27:19
They just they were just masters. It's like, yeah, they're just mad. It's like walking on a Hitchcock set in his prior. He's just like, you know, he doesn't even look at what are the rumors? He never looked at the at the camera. Yeah, well, yeah. I was like, yeah, it just like, just give me my storyboards. And let's move on with looking at the leading ladies, though a lot of that's what that's what the rumors were. Now, when you write do you begin with plot or with character?

Charles Shyer 27:46
I would say plot plot done really? Well. Yeah, I like this new movie that I wrote is kind of autobiographical. So I started with the character, but the plot was about my life. So it was kind of intermixed, but I would say more than not, like the hook of the movie are. Yeah, what? Yeah, I would think more. I would think more plot but the characters right. intertwined with that, you know, it's hard to separate them, you know,

Alex Ferrari 28:17
well, of course, you need both, but I always love to know, what's the genesis of the of the idea is like, I have this idea for this caper, and then I'm gonna create characters in it, or I'm like, I've got Indiana Jones, and I could be an adventure for him.

Charles Shyer 28:28
Right? Yeah. For me, it would be more I the caper would come first. I think for me. Like, what the reconcile what like with Benjamin, it was more you know, the situation and Jewish girl joins the army. You know, I have that then I can go from there are irreconcilable of a kid, you know, wants to separate from its parent, his or her parents. Alright, well, who are they? You know, then you start going that far? Who is she? Who is the Jewish American Princess, you know, our that kind of thing, basically.

Alex Ferrari 29:05
Now, how did you get involved the father of the bride and trying to remake a classic?

Charles Shyer 29:11
Yeah, I you know, Steve Martin contacted us. I mean, he had seen he had three people he liked good scene, baby boom and really liked it. And, and there was a script already written that he didn't love. And I, I remember, so we love Steve so much. It was like an honor. And he was in New York. So Nancy and I, I hadn't First of all, I had never seen the original founder, Brian, I didn't even know it existed. You know, it's not wouldn't be my kind of movie, necessarily. But I remember. So we said, Yes. Let's go meeting God. Are you kidding me? So, so we got on, on the airplane, and I hadn't read the script yet. Right. You know, I just knew I wanted to stay in Yeah, I read the script. And I wanted to jump out of the airplane.

Alex Ferrari 30:04
Was it that you just were not a fan?

Charles Shyer 30:05
I thought Jesus, man, this is awful. Um, and, um, you know, but we went in and met with him. And I think he had three different people. He was in Viet Minh ads into the grill. And we met with Amen. And he said, Yeah, let's make it and and that was going on, we went back and we kind of watched the movie, or we watched it. I guess we watched the movie The night before we met with him in the hotel or something. Maybe Nancy had already seen it. I don't know, I hadn't. And, and then we just went ahead and what what's good about a movie like that is when somebody is so clearly identifiable in their, the way they act and, and everything. It's easier to write for him. You know, so right, we wrote it for Steve, knowing what Steve could do. And then, you know, we've made baby boom with Diane. So we, we had to shoehorn into her into the script. Nobody wanted her nearly nobody. Why? Because they said that she was the kiss of death. She had made movies that had bombed and baby boom was not a hit, and they can't push and he can't believe the kind of actresses you know, we fought for and fought for. And finally they gave in. But

Alex Ferrari 31:23
you would think like, it's Diane Keaton, for God's sakes, like

Charles Shyer 31:27
Annie Hall.

Alex Ferrari 31:30
Godfather, I mean, come on, let's see that.

Charles Shyer 31:32
No, but you have no idea. Well, a lot of times in movies and put maybe in any job, your boss is dumber than you?

Alex Ferrari 31:43
You know, shocking, right? I know. Shocking. Shocking, you know, but yeah,

Charles Shyer 31:46
you know what I mean? They get to be my paws? Because I, you know, I know the most of the times when people who hated me in high school. So you know, exactly, you know, so, um, you know, it's hard, you have to end you have to have that, that technique of when they give you an idea, you have to say, That's a good idea. But how about we do this instead, based on your idea, which is not based on their idea at all, but massaging them? Yeah. Mike Nichols said, you know, executives thinking having a note is a creative. It's a creative, you know, thing, and it's not really I mean, anybody can have notes. But um, yeah, it's hard. It's, you know, you got to play the game.

Alex Ferrari 32:36
But you got, so you obviously got Diane in, but like, so working with someone like Steve, who at that time, I think he was at the height of it's part of his powers as well. He was a huge star at the time. You know, how much of how much was he riffing on set? Because I mean, he's, I mean, he's, he

Charles Shyer 32:53
always, he's a very, very polite person. So he would always say to us, when you have what you want, when you have it the way you want it, like we're shooting the scene, when you have it the way you want it. Tell me because I have an idea, you know, and then he would do his idea, which was invariably better than anything we had. And every time it was his idea, it's in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 33:15
Oh, really?

Charles Shyer 33:16
Funny. But he never would, would say, what he always wanted us to get what we wanted first, and then he would do it, which is kind of it's a

Alex Ferrari 33:26
smart way of approaching it. Because if you like him, or Robin Williams, or someone like that, that just are just spewing genius constantly. And then you're like I because I've heard I've spoken to many people who've worked with Robin. I'm like, how did you handle Robin on set? And like you don't you just get them? You get what you want once and then you just let them loose? Because it's just again, most of the time what, Robin?

Charles Shyer 33:51
hold it hold it? Yeah. Because they're, they're better than you. I mean, yeah, you deal with it. You know,

Alex Ferrari 33:59
you're working with geniuses. I mean, yeah, yeah. It's Steve, is that Steve is that guy?

Charles Shyer 34:03
Yeah. And he was also really sweet about everything. So I mean, that was, it was really kind of he did anything that role fitting like your glove. Oh, you know, I

Alex Ferrari 34:14
mean, it's remarkable. And then Kimberly, the daughter, the story was that she came in as a friend of somebody who was auditioning, and then No,

Charles Shyer 34:24
that's not really true. I you know, she was going to Northwestern at the time. And she, you know, she was like, I don't know if she'd even done anything. She had done nothing. She said nothing. No, but and a lot of a lot of women who became stars, either, you know, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansen, a lot of people audition for that role, but none of them seemed exactly right. And then Kim came in. And I don't know she just ring the bell for us. It was like Lindsey and Parent Trap. She just felt right She was innocent. And we kind of wanted to an unknown. And I don't know if you ring the bell for us. That's what Lubitsch used to say.

Alex Ferrari 35:10
It's just like it. There's a thing that you can't, you can't quantify. When you when the, when the right actress or actor walks in. It's nothing that you can explain you just like, but that's just the That's just it. And then I'm assuming when they got together with Steve and Steve was like, well, this is obviously this is

Charles Shyer 35:29
Yeah, we screen tested or I know with Steve maybe with Diane too I think with Steve for sure. And yeah, it was just she was right. But you're you're right. When when you've had that feeling, just go with it.

Alex Ferrari 35:42
Listen to the gut. Listen to don't ever. Oh, my God is that is that like the best advice you can give somebody right now is just like, Listen to your gut. Because I've I've not listened to my gut so many times in my career. And I've always, I've always, it's always screwed me.

Charles Shyer 35:58
You know, Alex, Nancy, and I used to have a thing on our monitor that actually said gut duty. It's good. Just so we remember you. Because you're absolutely right. That instinct you have to go with.

Alex Ferrari 36:11
Yeah, because if you let this get in the way, if you let your brain get in the way you're done,

Charles Shyer 36:16
yeah, you'll improve it into a failure, as Billy Fraker used to say that's exactly what happens. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 36:24
Now after after father the bride father bride was a monster hit. Very big hit. You've already done a few hits already but fathered by that. Was that the one of the biggest of your career at that point?

Charles Shyer 36:37
Yeah, I guess so. Um, you know, we got nominated for an Oscar, we won the Writers Guild Award for private Benjamin and got nominated for an Oscar. So that was a pretty big, pretty big success for us. But yeah, I guess, I don't know. I

Alex Ferrari 36:52
it was a pretty it was I know, it was a pretty big deal when it came out. Did the doors open a little bit faster for you after that?

Charles Shyer 36:58
Oh, actually, you know, for me and Nancy. We, I don't think we ever wrote a script we didn't sell. You know. So I just honestly, I mean, we we, we were right in the high we could kind of do what we wanted back then.

Alex Ferrari 37:16
Right? It was in the height of your powers at that. Yeah. And it was the height of

Charles Shyer 37:20
a time where they made movies for, you know, not like today where 20 million bucks. 25 million bucks. Yeah, it's today. It's really a battle. You know.

Alex Ferrari 37:31
Now you got to go with streamers. streamers are making those kind of 25 million $20 million movies. Yeah,

Charles Shyer 37:36
I mean, and I luckily got in with Netflix and and I've loved working with them. creatively, financially in ain't the best situation but, but creatively they've been pretty fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 37:51
Yeah, I hear they just let you go.

Charles Shyer 37:53
Once it's they let you go. I mean, I don't you know, I hardly give us any notes on the scripts. I'm maybe that's because the scripts are good and stuff, but and they're not. They're not jerky about it. They don't, they don't dictate. Um, you know, I give me a little bit when we were doing we're doing positive bride Jeffrey Katzenberg, we had this preview, and we got these numbers like Lion King numbers, you know? Yeah. I mean, we're like, cute. But and Katzenberg said to us, you know, look, I have some notes. I'm going to give you these notes. But all I'm asking is that you read the notes and you try them. You don't have to ever show me. And if they work fine if they don't, don't worry about it. And it was like it was it was so freeing that and we did try some we tried them all. And if they worked we kept them and if they didn't, you know we did and we never heard from them again. And that was it. And that was such a cool thing. And that's kind of the way Netflix is they say to you, you know we have an idea try it. Tell me what you think if you guys disagree tell us so I mean they're very open about that creatively so that that's great. And that's a it's almost almost but not quite even trade off for not getting paid

Alex Ferrari 39:14
so but please let everybody know that that's generally not the way it works in Hollywood that you generally don't don't have freedom and have creative now you don't you know how and how did you deal like coming up with what was like the worst scenario on if you could tell the name of the film or not that you just had to like fight tooth and nail for your vision?

Charles Shyer 39:33
Well, I remember what I remember once I had a warner brothers called me and Nancy into a meeting and had notes on private Benjamin and we looked at and he had this login script with like, you know, how do you turn down two pages

Alex Ferrari 39:45
on start dog eared it? Yeah,

Charles Shyer 39:47
yeah, there must have been 50 turn downs on the on the script, you know, and by the time we got the before turn down, dance and I was so prepared and in Nancy especially was so tough that he closed the script and said, I can't do this. He stopped doing this Netflix. Really? Yeah, well, wait,

Alex Ferrari 40:09
but what did you guys do? So what did you guys do? We just said, Well, if

Charles Shyer 40:11
you do this, you know, a lot of times, it's like a domino thing. They have an idea and it affects, you know, the third act or something, you know, they're just don't think shit out. So you know, and, and they were also idiotic ideas, you know, a lot.

Alex Ferrari 40:29
might get shocking.

Charles Shyer 40:30
Like they want to, they didn't like, I remember when Kim met her boyfriend. In the movie, they were watching. I know, his go Friday, or one of these movies, one of these hawks movies and, and they wanted us to make it a more contemporary movie, you know, it's all this shit that you go. Wow. Right? But they want to they want to put their imprint on the movie in some way. So I guess they can tell their wives or girlfriends or boyfriends.

Alex Ferrari 40:57
That was my idea. That was my idea. Yeah, exactly. That was that was my idea. Oh, you see the Howard. They were gonna make a Howard Hawks movie there. But I put it at You see?

Charles Shyer 41:09
I mean, yeah, I made him use James Cameron. You know, which is funnier? You know? I don't know. It's, you know, look, you just deal with it. But you can't, you can't let them break your heart. And you can't. You gotta you've got to grow with it, dude, or your, you know, don't you know, this, this culture? It's so toxic. You fuck up. You can be gone forever. We see that all the time with people.

Alex Ferrari 41:41
It's not like me. Oh, God. Imagine the things that were said or done in the 80s 70s or 80s. I mean, Jesus Christ.

Charles Shyer 41:48
How can I wait, the directors like Otto, Prime Minister George Stevens and guys like that? Who would scream at the crew?

Alex Ferrari 41:55
Oh my god, legendary.

Charles Shyer 41:57
You couldn't you can't do that anymore, man. You know, dope HR. And you'll be you know, Joe Pesci, I had a problem on my last movie with the production designer. And, and, you know, because it just wasn't happening, and I got pissed off. You know?

Alex Ferrari 42:13
They were they were screaming they were screamers.

Charles Shyer 42:15
Yeah. And Netflix got really upset about it. Because the production designer quit. But I was glad he quit because he was no good. Right? That's one of the problems when you make a lower budget movie, you often get lowered lower quality, or cattleya caliber, lower caliber people in and brands, you know, and you know, I mean, people who make good money make it for a reason.

Alex Ferrari 42:50
There's, there's a reason why Ron Howard waits for his first ad. That's right. There's a reason he's like, I can't shoot until I had,

Charles Shyer 42:58
like, the first ad I just worked with, I don't know, in my movie would have turned out. I know, it wouldn't have turned out as as, as well without him or with my friend who's a dp, you know, I fought for certain people. And, you know, you know, they helped make the movie with you. You're not alone.

Alex Ferrari 43:17
One thing I want people to be and I've said this 1000 times on the show, I want people to be very clear about this. No matter who you are, no matter how, what age, you're at what level of business you're at, you still got to fight. Everyone's got to fight, you're gonna get punched in the face constantly. Because there's an illusion. There's like this kind of myth out there. It's like, Oh, well, you've been nominated for an Oscar, you want an Oscar and you've made hundreds of millions of dollars. Like they just roll up and just throw money at you. You feed and you can do whatever you want. That's not the reality of the business. No, no,

Charles Shyer 43:46
no. Also you're fighting you're fighting nature, you're fighting all these kind of, you know, things where the actor doesn't get it right. You know, I can't tell you how many times I would bury my head in my you know, I hate moving you know, you go I can't do this as this flipping me out. You know, or you wake up in the middle, you know, and the other thing is that you realize it's Billy Wilder said this every day after you wrap on the drive home, you realize how you should have shot the scene you just shot? You know,

Alex Ferrari 44:16
isn't it Marty isn't it Marty says if you don't look at your movie at one point and go this is absolute crap. You're not doing it right. Right.

Charles Shyer 44:24
Yeah, no, I mean, the first time we looked at private Benjamin, we thought career Ender will never done we're never we're never work again. Let's go make cookies and assembly. You know. And same with baby boom, we thought this is it will never work again. You know, and we didn't blame them for never hiring. It's again. it you know, it just, you know, it takes so much work to get it right. And then a lot of times you can't get it right because it doesn't work. That's

Alex Ferrari 44:54
right, exactly. And I just want to talk about a Parent Trap because honestly, it is one of my favorite Like my family and I love it. I introduced my daughters to it. How did you approach doing that classic because that was a beloved classic.

Charles Shyer 45:07
Well, it was more Nancy's idea to Mike because Nancy had loved the Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills. Yeah. Yeah. And, and we were at Disney anyway at the time. And so we went to Jeffrey Katzenberg and said, We want to remake it. And that came kind of naturally that was a, you know, it was barely it. Again, this was more Nancy than me because I didn't really, I, you know, I loved Hayley Mills. And I thought the original movie was really good. And I like Brian Jeep. But But um, I know it was kind of a not an easy rewrite, but it was something that came very naturally to us. And then when we got when we got Lindsay that was that was striking gold rule. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 45:55
she was

Charles Shyer 45:56
that was when she was she was amazing. She was amazing. I mean, she was 11 years old and just could act her ass off. I mean, she was just great. And, and, you know, it launched her obviously. And Natasha was great. You know,

Alex Ferrari 46:11
Dennis? Yeah. Dennis.

Charles Shyer 46:13
Yeah, sought us out. Actually, she wanted the part. We didn't really even know her work that well, but she was so. So perfect for the role. I mean, we got very lucky. All the casting on that movie really worked out.

Alex Ferrari 46:26
Yeah. And I mean, after watching that movie, when I was younger, I was like, I gotta go to Napa. I mean, that's just gorgeous.

Charles Shyer 46:32
Yeah, we shot we shot a lot of that on the Coppola state. Oh, okay. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 46:36
I've been that. That's a that's such a stunning.

Charles Shyer 46:39
It was great. And, and, and also, hey, you know, because Dean Cavalera did the production design on that we did all Coppola's movies, you know. So he got us in with Francis. So we spent time with Francis. And that was just all pretty great.

Alex Ferrari 46:54
That must be pretty cool. hanging out with friends.

Charles Shyer 46:58
And having Dean travelers through your movie is pretty incredible, too. He's like a genius. That's right. Cameron Mandy's one of these amaze may be the best production designer, one of the top three or four of all time.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
That's amazing. And I'm gonna ask you a few questions as all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Charles Shyer 47:22
Man, I don't know. I mean, my son who's sitting here with me, it wants to do it. And I I think number one, if you would? Do you want to be a filmmaker? I don't know what that means. Do you want to be a writer or a writer director, I think if he I think to be a director, it's what it really helps to be able to write your own movie. Because if you don't, you're going to have to make films that knock people out, they'll let you direct. But if you write a script, you can kind of handcuff yourself to the script, if it's good enough, you know, and and say, that's what we did with. That's what we did with irreconcilable. We said we're not going to we're not going to go with another director. What you know, you know, but it's I think it's really hard today, I guess, maybe with streaming and stuff who come up with a really strong idea. But if you write it yourself, I know you're, you increase your odds program. It's like,

Alex Ferrari 48:23
now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Charles Shyer 48:31
That that i think i i think it took me a long time to realize I'm better than I think.

Alex Ferrari 48:42
You mean, imposter syndrome getting over imposter syndrome.

Charles Shyer 48:44
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. You know, I mean, I, you know, on this last movie, I started to really feel a sense of accomplishment for what I've done, you know, like, one of the weird things that happened on this movie, this crew, the most, the thing that they were most impressed that I'd ever done, was smoking in the band. And, you know,

Alex Ferrari 49:07
that's pretty, it's a pretty cool credit, I have to say,

Charles Shyer 49:10
No, but when I was my head was when I'm not What are you talking about? And why would that be me? You know, now, you know, understand that changed my life. And, you know, like, Justin Hartley has that Jeep the car that Burt Reynolds drove in the movie. I mean, you know, these be I'm going well, geez. Alright, but starting to appreciate what I do. What I've done was was something that took me a long time to really embrace

Alex Ferrari 49:37
and three of your favorite films of all time,

Charles Shyer 49:39
I would say, oh, lucky man. Lindsay Anderson movie. Do you know that room?

Alex Ferrari 49:43
I don't know that movie.

Charles Shyer 49:44
Oh, oh, you know, I have to see that movie with Malcolm McDowell is that I would say All About Eve. Yeah, probably More of the apartment 20th century, and I think back to the future is one of the best screenplays ever.

Alex Ferrari 50:06
It's that's perfect of a film has ever been made, honestly. Yeah.

Charles Shyer 50:10
It's like the apartment is a perfect movie.

Alex Ferrari 50:14
Correct. And that's been mentioned many times in the top three here at the show up there. All About

Charles Shyer 50:20
eat the dialogue is like, forget it who writes like this? I mean, who writes, you know, you're too short for that gesture. I mean, who writes lines like that? You know?

Alex Ferrari 50:33
That's awesome. And what's your what's your your next project that you're that's gonna be coming out? Well,

Charles Shyer 50:37
yeah, I'm, I'm editing this movie. Now that will be out. It's actually not coming out till Christmas of 22. But because we don't finish until February, but then I'm going to try to do this autobiographical movie that I've written that I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll probably do it with Netflix again. So I'm gonna do that because I like working there. I can only get them to up the salary a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
Hopefully, they'll watch this and maybe they'll take it and

Charles Shyer 51:09
be good. No, it's a good it's a nice place to work though. I have to say,

Alex Ferrari 51:15
Charles, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, man. It is. Thank you so much for having being on the show. And, and doing it just brings so much joy and happiness to people around the world. For all the years you've been doing this man. Are you too kind? Will you let me know when it's gonna be on? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I'll send you a link when it's already. It'll be on in a few weeks. But thank you again so much for being on the show, my friend.

Charles Shyer 51:36
It's a pleasure. Thanks, man.

Please subscribe and leave a rating or review
by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show?
Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors

Want to read all the 2016-2022 TV Pilots?

Learn from the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today!