Photo by Sean Gallagher
Article by Emily Hendren

When speaking with filmmaker Sean Anders, it doesn't take long to see why fans and critics alike flock to his films: the endearing and addictive likability present in each of his characters radiates through his own personality. The jack-of-all-trades writer, director, and producer of such films as She's Out of My League, Sex Drive, and Hot Tub Time Machine speaks of his work with humor reflective of his material. And when he speaks, he tells of his journey into the business of Hollywood; he tells stories of collaboration with his partner and friend, John Morris, and he describes what comedy means to him and how he creates and molds it into form.

The Journey In

From a young age, Anders knew he wanted to take part in the film industry. Although he declares that he "hadn’t done much writing, [and] wasn't a good student," he knew that he "always wanted to make a movie." His first project, Never Been Thawed (2005), winner of the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the Wisconsin Film Festival and the Breakout Filmmaker Award at the Sedona Film Festival, landed Anders in the filmmaking world with a grab bag of experiences. The low-budget film allowed Anders the opportunity to wear the hats of director, writer, producer, actor, and even costume designer—hats he would don again in the creation of the 2008 film, Sex Drive. Anders describes his process and reasoning of making the first film as "doing it really, purely for the fun and the love of it." As a hands-on artist, he explains that the beauty of making a film is just that: the making of it. What he likes most is creating work and following it from beginning to end, advice he gives out to new filmmakers, saying: "I always tell people, 'just make your own movie.'"

Talent and Luck

After Never Been Thawed and the success of Sex Drive, Anders hit the Hollywood scene, wide-eyed, uncertain of the new turf, but not alone. His friend and partner, John Morris stood at his side, equally unsure of what Hollywood had in store for the new duo, and equally eager to show filmmakers and fans what they had to offer. The comedic plot of She's Out of Me League (2010) at first glance tells the tale of a young man in unbelievable, unexpected relationship circumstances. Beneath the surface story of a guy dating a girl who was, as the title suggests, out of his league, was Anders and Morris's way of sharing and digesting their newness at Hollywood’s front door. "We weren't really writing about a hot girl. That [girl] was John and I making a movie with our friends, and then Hollywood was at our party…the whole experience took us by surprise," says Anders as he describes the metaphor he and Morris used to create the hit film. The writing team wanted to capture how "scared and overwhelmed" they felt after the film industry had "cracked open the door" to them. They wanted to share the happenstance emotions of surprise and circumstance, and used their inspiration-of-the-moment to do just that.

So How Does it Work?

With their handful of lucky breaks and solid writing to back those breaks, Anders and Morris faced Hollywood's gunfire with gusto and charisma. The team that has survived early days of filmmaking with only a $35,000 budget and the critiques of being the new kids at the grown-ups' table has learned to support each other as friends and artists. They typically work between eight and twelve hours a day together, spending "most of that time talking, bouncing ideas back and forth."

The two spend weeks making outlines, play-acting, and testing dialogue, at which point Anders takes the ideas, writes a treatment (a run-down of the piece, one paragraph per scene), and gives it to John. Anders describes his collaboration with Morris as one of balance—one in which they fill in each other's gaps, wherever needed, to form a complete writing unit.

Anders explains, "I do all the physical writing, and then we get back together and go through it all. It works for us because I'm a detail person and John's a more 'hanging back, big-angle' kind of guy. We trust each other implicitly"—and it is easy to tell that he means it. For a writer who is best-known for his often jaw-dropping raunchy comedy, Anders speaks of his colleagues with kind, honest respect. When one of his best friends, Michigan painter and photographer and story board collaborator on Sex Drive, Sean Gallagher, comes up in conversation, Anders mentions that "when you spend some time with him you think, 'I should be a better person.'" Perhaps his unwavering dedication to his art and to the artists behind the screen is why Anders' films, often brass and slightly hard-edged, transcend expectations and become endearing and memorable.

What's Next?

In the future we can expect to see Anders popping up in multiple subgroups of comedy and beyond into action and drama. The most immediate project he and Morris have teamed up to write is the family comedy based on the 1938 children's book, Mr. Popper's Penguins. The film, starring Jim Carrey is due to be released by Pixar Animation Studios in 2012. Along with Penguins, we can expect to see Anders' work emerging in other family comedies, possible television projects he has in the works for a cable network, and of course, what we know and love him for best: the rated R comedy.

© Emily Hendren, 2010