The Bosses


At first glance, writing partners John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein might seem like an odd couple. Goldstein is a Harvard Law School graduate-turned-television writer; Daley is a former child actor (most notably from Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks) who now stars in the lucrative procedural show Bones. Goldstein is 46; Daley is 30. But when two people share the same sense of humor—a little bit juvenile, a little bit silly, and entirely un-self-conscious—age ain’t nothing but a number. After their success as the screenwriters of Horrible Bosses and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Daley and Goldstein are making their directorial debut with a reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation (they also wrote the screenplay). Out this week, the new Vacation follows Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) as he tries to recreate his formative childhood trip to Walley World with his wife (Christina Appelgate) and their two sons, with scene-stealing cameos from the likes of Charlie Day, Chris Hemsworth, Keegan-Michael Key, and Michael Peña. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who were the protagonists of the original 1982 film, also make an appearance.

Next up, Daley and Goldstein will pen the script for the next Spider-Man film, due out in 2017. Here, Goldstein and Daley talk to an old friend and fellow comedy writer Will Forte, who was just nominated for two Emmy Awards for his television show The Last Man on Earth.

WILL FORTE: I haven’t talked to you guys in a long time. It’s wonderful to hear your voices. I want to congratulate you on what is being called your directing debut, Vacation.

JONATHAN FRANCIS DALEY: [laughs] You know better.

WILL FORTE: Yes, your real directing debut was a little something called Audio Tour.

DALEY: I’d like to think Audio Tour got us this Vacation job.

FORTE: I think we all know that that’s the case. That was so much fun.

GOLDSTEIN: Do you play it for people at parties like I do every time I have people over?

FORTE: Oh yes. It is the only thing I mention from my oeuvre.

DALEY: It’s a great icebreaker.

FORTE: So I have to ask you, Vacation was one of my all-time favorite movies growing up. I assume that you guys loved it as well?

GOLDSTEIN: Haven’t seen it.

DALEY: I’m not a fan.

FORTE: [laughs] It’s one of those movies that I thought was such a classic that I would go in thinking, “Oh, why are they trying to make this movie again? It was perfect.” Like every time you hear that Fletch is being remade, you’re like “Oh, don’t remake Fletch!”

GOLDSTEIN: We thought the same way. It is not—emphatically, we say—a remake: it is a sequel, and that was our condition going into it. Because we love that original movie, too, and we wouldn’t want to try and replicate that, let alone ask some actor to replicate what Chevy did.

DALEY: It kind of shaped comedy, for me, and made me want to do what that movie did. So, it would just be sacrilegious to try and redo it.

GOLDSTEIN: But it felt okay to try and bring it to the next generation, and that’s what we wrote: it’s Rusty grown up, taking his family on a road trip trying to recapture what he remembers from the trip he took as a kid.

DALEY: Obviously, we are aware that people will continue to be cynical about it up until—hopefully—they see it.

GOLDSTEIN: People want to hate it. They come, I think, braced to hate it.

DALEY: Which in a way good for us, because it sets a really low bar.

FORTE: [laughs] I was very protective of this movie, because it was a really special movie to me, and then when I read the script I was so excited. It has the spirit of the movie, but it’s so different. It was very beautifully done. Did you feel this pressure, even though it’s totally different than the original, from Vacation fans?

DALEY: Absolutely. At first we didn’t feel the pressure quite as much because we had just signed on to write it, and it wasn’t until later that we threw our hats in to direct and actually got the job. As a writer, you are somewhat cushioned from whatever backlash might come from the movie. Then when we got the directing job we realized, “Oh shit, now we actually have to make it come to life.”

GOLDSTEIN: We have to make it good, which is never a criteria when we’re just writing a movie.

FORTE: So, having Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in the movie as their characters, Clark and Ellen Griswold, did you feel pressure from them? What was that experience like, being with these people who were in this much-beloved original movie?

GOLDSTEIN: We were thrilled that we got them. I think that we would have been hesitant to do it without their involvement, because it’s sort of a stamp of approval—if you can get the people who made it famous in your movie, it’s saying, “Alright, this is not a piece of shit, I want to be a part of it.”

DALEY: That said, even the day before they came to set we were worried that Chevy was going to show up and say, “This is all shit, I’m just doing this for money.” [laughs] So it was nice that he seemed to like the material and was really excited to get back into Clark Griswold’s shoes again.

GOLDSTEIN: There were a couple spots where I think we had written swear words and he was like, “Clark wouldn’t say that,” which was kind of interesting. He felt that the character was a little more innocent, maybe, than it’s become in our comedy world. But I remember them saying “fuck” a lot in the original movie.

DALEY: Only when he hits his boiling point. I guess he would have to be at his boiling point to swear in this one.

FORTE: So just insert a lot of boiling points, right? That seems like a fairly obvious solution. Now Ed Helms is playing Rusty. I’ve gotten to meet him a few times. He is an awesome guy—an amazing, sweet, wonderful guy. But I haven’t spent a ton of time with him, so I’m just wondering, is there a seedy underbelly to Ed Helms that you discovered?

DALEY: Well, there’s an inherent evil at his core… No, he is—like you—known as being one of the nicest comedic guys in the business.

FORTE: Okay, but I am me, so I know that there is a seedy underbelly to Will Forte.

GOLDSTEIN: I wouldn’t describe it as “seedy underbelly” so much as a very thoughtfulness that you both have. You approach comedy with intelligence, and a questioning mind. You don’t just take it as it is; you’re like, “What can I do to make this sharper? Does this work on all levels?” Ed did that all the time, and as we went along he started to trust us, and we found this way of working together that was so organic it just got better and better. It was so collaborative, which was great.

DALEY: And just because he’s nice doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate darkness, as well.

FORTE: Oh, there it is. It’s coming out. Keep going with that.

DALEY: [laughs] You have it too, for sure. There is a decent amount of darkness in the movie, and it’s all in the approach. You don’t have to be mean-spirited to be dark, and that’s what we were trying to achieve.

GOLDSTEIN: Ed naturally brings this kind of innocent likeability to it. In other actors’ hands, things might come off as really kind of gross. But with Ed, you’re rooting for him.

DALEY: He is blissfully unaware of the problems that his family has in the movie, and if he were known as the more sort of cynical actor, or someone that has a kind of unsavory edge to him, that obliviousness would have been thought of as carelessness, or being a dick. But, because he’s just so likable, he really gets to get away with a lot more.

FORTE: That’s a wonderful way to describe him.

GOLDSTEIN: Which, I think, true of your character in Last Man on Earth.

DALEY: By the way, it’s our favorite show.

FORTE: Oh, thank you very much. Now let me ask you this, because right now we’re writing our second season, and there are things from the first season that we want to allude to, but it’s a tricky thing of how much do you want to include things that people might remember—you want to blaze new territory, but you want to touch on some of the things that you really liked from the first season. I assume, when making a movie like this, it’s just this tricky thing of how much do you pay homage to the original versus blazing new territory? Are there are bunch of things that are call-backs from the original?

DALEY: It is a delicate balance. You want to allude to the stuff that people remember about the first one, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re just sort of brushing past it as if it never existed. But, at the same time, we have to sort of deliver this story in our own voice, and for that reason we can’t continue to go back to the same well.

GOLDSTEIN: Also, it was important that it could stand on its own for the large number of people who don’t really know the original movies. We found anybody under 25 or 30, they may not have seen the originals, so it had to be something that just you could see with no precedent, which is probably true of your show.

DALEY: It is pretty serialized, too, but every episode has to stand on its own.

GOLDSTEIN: In the trailer there’s a bit where Rusty’s making the case to his family of why they should go back to Walley World, and his wife, Christina Applegate, is asking “Do you just want to redo the vacation you took 30 years ago? Isn’t that a let-down?” A whole meta conversation. And he says, “No, no, this vacation’s totally different: that had a boy and a girl, this has two boys.” We were trying to beat the obvious critics to the punch on that.

DALEY: If we acknowledge it, at the very least, I think it allows us to get that out of the way, so we can do our own thing afterwards.

FORTE: You’re such an interesting pairing to me. How did you guys start writing together? When did you first meet and decide “we’re going to start writing together”?

DALEY: I was an actor and Jonathan was a writer on The Geena Davis Show, which was a short-lived—

GOLDSTEIN: —not the one you’re thinking of, where she plays the president.

DALEY: Yeah, that was Commander in Chief. But this was up against Joan Cusack’s sitcom, and later Bette Midler’s sitcom.

GOLDSTEIN: It was not the most successful show.

FORTE: How did that bring you together?

GOLDSTEIN: [John] was on the show as an actor, and I was writing on it, and one day he showed me these videos he made and they were the equivalent—the same kind of humor—of videos that I made when I was 15. It struck me: we have this very same sensibility, despite our age difference. We co-wrote a pilot that we intended John to play the lead in. It was going to be set at a Playboy mansion; John was the son of a Hugh Hefner-type character, who wanted to hand the reigns to John’s character, and John just really wanted to go to college. It didn’t go anywhere.

DALEY: We didn’t really go out with it. But we enjoyed the process so much, and it was very easy for us to write together.

GOLDSTEIN: I did television as a writer for about 10, 12 years. Then we had this idea for a feature, and John and I talked about it—”It’s such a long slog to write movies, let’s try it together.” And that was something called The $40,000 Man, which wound up getting…

FORTE: I remember reading that script, and I loved it so much. That was the first thing that you wrote together?

DALEY: That was the first feature that we wrote together, and we didn’t really think anything would come of it because it’s such a silly premise.

GOLDSTEIN: We actually set it aside at like page 60, and were like, “No one’s going to buy this. It’s stupid.”

DALEY: “Let’s focus on our real careers: me doing shitty pilots and Jonathan doing television.” And then we finally decided to finish it…

GOLDSTEIN: And gave it to our then-agents…

DALEY: And they loved it.

GOLDSTEIN: It was that reaction you always hoped to get from your agent: “Holy shit, we’re going out with this tomorrow!”

DALEY: The only note I think they gave us was to make it 10 pages longer. Then we went out with it, and there was a bit of a bidding war, and New Line acquired it, and we’ve been primarily doing our movies with New Line ever since.

FORTE: That is awesome. Now John, being an actor and a writer, does that mean that Jonathan does all the stuff and you just call him every once and a while and give him notes? How do you find the time to work together?

DALEY: It’s an equal pairing, in that I attach my name to it.

FORTE: [laughs]

GOLDSTEIN: I suck one year from John’s life to my own. That’s our arrangement.

DALEY: Don’t ask how.

FORTE: Because in doing research on you, I know that John, you have been a working actor for a long time. I read that you started out in the cast of Tommy, which is exciting. Do you have something to say about Tommy?

DALEY: I was nine years old; I was doing the national tour. My dad was in the show as well, so he was my guardian and also costar as we traveled across the country, and then to Germany. It was my first real taste of professional acting work, and I loved it. I never wanted to go back to school.

FORTE: And how long after Tommy did you do Freaks and Geeks?

DALEY: I was nine when I did Tommy and I was 13 when I did the pilot of Freaks, but I looked nine when I was 13. [laughs] It was difficult when I was acting on Bones, and we was writing all these features, because our feature career really took off a couple years after we wrote $40,000, basically after Horrible Bosses came out. At a certain point, I had to make a choice [between] making a lot of money on this network TV show, written by someone else that I didn’t really have a creative hand in, or really being able to create new things. When Vacation came around, I was faced with that choice, and obviously, I think, I made the right decision, but I guess we’ll see on July 29.

FORTE: I don’t know, I would say, “You got to choose the money every time, bro”.

GOLDSTEIN: That’s Forte for you.

FORTE: That is just amazing to me, like whenever I hear about Tina Fey, just thinking about her life and thinking about how many things she’s doing at the same time. And looking at you, acting and writing, and I even saw you had a band called Dayplayer?

DALEY: Yeah, I did. That kind of fell by the wayside.

FORTE: Then when I was looking at Jonathan: before writing, you were a corporate litigator? Is that correct?

GOLDSTEIN: That’s right, Will.

FORTE: You had gone to law school, Harvard Law School, I see. Ooh la la.

GOLDSTEIN: It’s not something I like to brag about, but yes, I graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. [laughs]

FORTE: With honors? That’s crazy, because when I decided to go into the comedy, it was the hardest decision, and I had some shithead job where I didn’t have to give up anything. Were you on some law school scholarship?

GOLDSTEIN: [laughs] No. I was $85,000 in debt.

FORTE: You spend all this money on law school. You work for a couple years, and then you give all that up. It’s hard to get a comedy-writing job, so you must’ve really felt that calling. That’s a really ballsy move.

GOLDSTEIN: It was terrifying at the time. On the other hand, I remember saying: “I’d rather fail as a comedy writer than succeed as a lawyer.” It seemed to me a bigger risk to wake up at 40 years old as a miserable lawyer and it being too late to change directions. I was 27 or something like that and I was making 100 grand a year. I looked at the senior associates working with me, and they were so unhappy—the light had gone out in their eyes. I was just like, “I’ve got to get out of this.” And, weirdly, law school did lead me out to Hollywood, because I had a friend who was writing a spec TV script, and I said “what’s a spec script?” and he explained it, and then he went out and wound up getting a job writing on Friends. That inspired me: if he can do it, I should try it.

DALEY: Jonathan’s Harvard Law was kind of like our Geena Davis Show.

FORTE: Had you had any thoughts about getting into writing before law school, or this came out of nowhere?

GOLDSTEIN: No, I was already writing stories. I was fascinated by movies. I grew up a total movie addict, and in my teen years I would go and watch these old double features with a friend every weekend. We would see everything from the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. I wanted to see all the movies that had happened before I was alive. The thought of getting into Hollywood, getting into show business, was so tantalizing that it was always a piece of my growing up.

FORTE: Wow, that is amazing. What else do I got here? I had a whole list of questions and I jumped around all over the place.

DALEY: You could hit us with some super personal questions if you want.

FORTE: Just roughly, give me the diameters of each of your buttholes.

GOLDSTEIN: The diameter or the circumference?

FORTE: I was pretty clear; I wanted the diameter.

GOLDSTEIN: [laughs] My bad.

DALEY: [laughs] He’s stalling!

FORTE: No! I was asked, by you specifically, to ask a personal question, and it does not get much more personal than that. I guess I called your bluff.

GOLDSTEIN: Normally I measure the circumference, so I have to… let me get a tape measure out. John, can you hold this?

FORTE: Can we jump this part of the interview up to the very top, so we lead with this?

DALEY: I mean, screenwriting 101, you start with something that takes place later in the movie and then say, “How did I get here?”

GOLDSTEIN: “You’re probably wondering how the diameter of my butthole became eight inches.” [laughs]

FORTE: [laughs] Oh, geez. I better get a question. What is your plan now? Has this lead to other opportunities? Is this the way you want to do it now, from now on—direct whatever your write?

DALEY: Obviously we want to continue doing this, and a lot of new opportunities, or potential opportunities have presented themselves, so we’re seeing what we should do.

GOLDSTEIN: We’re not 100 percent certain yet. Once you get to direct your own thing, it’s a little hard to imagine going back to just writing and handing it off to somebody. Writing and directing a movie is the closest you can come in Hollywood to creative freedom. I guess if you were self-financing it, that would be even better, but it’s really gratifying. When we wrote in the past, we always envisioned it playing.

DALEY: It was always frustrating, when we would write something and hand it off, and then see it not quite portrayed in the same way that we imagined it. It’s really gratifying in that sense. Then on the day when you’re directing, you realize, “Oh wow, it’s impossible to make it the way we imagined, because of this this and this.” So, there is a lot of compromising and thinking on your feet, and figuring out ways to make things work that worked on page but don’t quite work on the day.

FORTE: But even being able to solve those problems with your own fixes is great. If you pass this off to another director, they’ll solve that in their own way.

DALEY: Right. When we were doing shorts, we associated directing with having to think about every possible thing. When you direct a big feature, you realize that there are people that have done this forever, and are so good at it that you don’t have to think about everything at once.  They present you with their best options, and you pick and choose which way to do it.

GOLDSTEIN: Pre-production is a series of Q&As, basically. It’s really smart people who are really good at their jobs coming to you and saying, “Alright, here are 15 things, you have to tell me how you want them.”

DALEY: We had a whole conference call about just the whole color of the car that they drive—many conference calls, actually.

FORTE: What color did you go with?

DALEY: It’s a weird light blue.

GOLDSTEIN: An electric blue, almost.

DALEY: Robin’s egg, maybe?

GOLDSTEIN: We designed a car; that alone is crazy. We didn’t want to redo the Queen Family Truckster that they drive in the original, but we wanted to try and create an iconic car.

DALEY: Fortunately, it was supposed to be a poorly designed car, so some of the weird features it had didn’t have to be completely practical.

FORTE: And where did you guys make the movie?

DALEY: Atlanta.

FORTE: I like Atlanta; I enjoyed Atlanta.

DALEY: Are you in New Orleans?

FORTE: No, I was just there. I got to do a little part in the Key and Peele movie, and it was really fun. I was only there for a couple days, but god, the food out there is amazing.

GOLDSTEIN: Keegan [-Michael Key] has a part in Vacation, as well. He plays Rusty and Debbie’s friend who lives on the block. Basically he’s the perfect dad.

DALEY: He’s ball of energy. He’s so charismatic and energetic. And it’s coming from a genuine place, too. It’s not put on. It’s unbelievable. It’s so inspiring to work with someone like that, because they have endless ideas and energy; an amazing improviser. When he saw the movie, it was gratifying, because he was laughing so hard during the whole screening. It almost came to a point where I thought he was almost angry at us. It was like that scene in Cape Fear, when De Niro’s watching the movie and laughing really hard the whole time, while he’s smoking that cigar. We were like, “Oh, shit, is he going to punch us after this screening? What’s going on?” But he seemed to really enjoy it.

FORTE: When I went out there, Kristen Schaal told me that I had to get a hug from Keegan. That there was something about his hugs that was next level. Did you guys experience the Keegan-Michael Key hug?

GOLDSTEIN: He is a good hugger. I will attest to that.

FORTE: He just closes you up in his arms, and it’s this feeling of security. Like your problems all melt away just for a couple seconds when you’re in this hug and then you’re back to real life and it’s almost like you don’t know how to deal with the rest of your life—you want to be in that hug forever.

DALEY: And Peele, terrible hugger. [laughs]

FORTE: He’s the worst. That’s why they’re a team! If we were to do like a newlywed game, who would win, Jonathan: your wife or John?

DALEY: It depends on the question. If it’s about butthole size…


FORTE: Do you guys know each other’s birthdays?


DALEY: September 2.

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, we do. So what’s next for you, besides the show?

FORTE: God, the show takes up so much of my time, that’s really all I can do. We were working so hard on the post-production at the end of the first season, and then they asked us to come back in the fall. So we only had a couple weeks off before we had to jump back in. I was really excited to get to do the little part in the Key and Peele movie, and did a little part in [Adam] Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6. That was really fun, to get to go out there and do those things.

John, are you playing a part in the movie, at all? Do you have that desire to eventually take the next step and be able to write, direct, and be in the things that you’re directing, or do you just want to keep those separate? 

DALEY: No, I would love that. I have a stupid little part in the movie. Jonathan has a little part in it too—much more memorable part than mine. I was going to ask you, how do you do it? How do you do it without second-guessing everything? I don’t really know who I am. [laughs] I don’t know who I would play. It’s weird. I feel like other writers know me better than I know myself as a writer.

GOLDSTEIN: That was a pull quote: “I don’t know really know who I am.”

DALEY: [laughs] That’s going to be the headline, and then the butthole thing is going to be the subheader.

FORTE: [laughs] That’s very interesting. I suppose when you read a script you’ll probably see a part and it calls out to you, and sometimes you’ll read scripts and go, “Oh, there’s nothing that really called out to me.”

DALEY: Exactly. But when we write our own there’s never anything I can see myself in. Maybe it’s because we’re thinking of big, bankable stars a lot of the time when we’re thinking of these characters—even the smaller characters—so it’s just putting some more faith in myself. I learned a lot from this.

FORTE: [laughs]

DALEY: Thank you.

FORTE: This is about JFD—John Francis Daley—and this probably makes you very jealous, Jonathan. John, you were listed as number 94 on VH1’s list of greatest teen stars.

DALEY: [laughs] I’m working my way up to number one. I think by the time I’m 70 I’ll be the number one teen star.

GOLDSTEIN: Right behind you was Jessica Biel, so you have that on her. But Jack Wild beat you out, which must be tough.

FORTE: I do believe that you will climb up that list, but it is impressive the people you are ahead of. The top 100 is rounded out by Jessica Biel at 95, Robert Romanus from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, then William Zabka from The Karate Kid—he’s wonderful—and then Helen Hunt, Desperate Lives, Lee Curreri from Fame, and Patrick Dempsey, Can’t Buy Me Love! Pretty awesome group of people.

DALEY: That’s my conversation starter, in most conversations.

GOLDSTEIN: Oh, speaking of lists, I don’t know where you were on this list, so I don’t know if this is awkward, but how did you feel about the Rolling Stone SNL rating that they did? Did you think it was accurate, or bogus?

FORTE: It was interesting to read that. I felt okay with where I was—I was somewhere in the middle. My goal going into SNL was always, “Just don’t be the worst person that was ever there.” I feel like I was, at the very least, second to last. So I was fine with that—there were things I disagreed with or agreed with, but I was fine with being in the middle. I did a bunch of weird stuff, so I didn’t come out of SNL like “oh, this guy’s got the goods! This guy, for sure! He’s set!”

DALEY: You’re in my top 10, for sure.

FORTE: I’m proud of what I did there. I had a delightful time, but I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, that’s for sure.

DALEY: Well, you’re not 94 on America’s teen stars, but…

FORTE: That list was because it was around the SNL 40th anniversary.

DALEY: Right. Did you go?

FORTE: I got to go. It was the most incredible night. All your heroes are there—sitting in the stands looking around, every seat was taken by some crazy famous person.

DALEY: That’s got to feel like a weird dream.

FORTE: Yeah, I get really nervous around famous people. Specifically, my hero comedians. I don’t want to go meet them. I was really close to Bill Murray so many times, and I could never bring myself to go up and talk to him. I don’t want Bill Murray to think I’m an idiot. I wouldn’t know what to say to him, because I just love him so much.

GOLDSTEIN: Was there anyone you talked to that night that you were meeting for the first time, celebrity-wise?

FORTE: I got to meet Kevin Kline for the first time, and he was wonderful, just so nice. There were people who I have so much respect for that I was forced to meet before through the SNL experience. Like Dan Akroyd, who I love. He hosted the show, so I got over my fear of him. I got to meet Dana Carvey for the first time!

GOLDSTEIN: Oh wow! I actually lived in a building with Dana Carvey in L.A., recently. I’d see him coming from the gym.

DALEY: Did you say anything to him?

GOLDSTEIN: No, he always looked like he didn’t want to talk to anyone.

DALEY: Well, I think he’s a nice guy, because he just randomly followed me on Twitter, so…

FORTE: He is the nicest guy. I was talking to him, and in the background I heard somebody doing a Prince cover, and after a while it dawned on me, it’s very possible that that’s not a Prince cover I’m hearing, but actually Prince playing a Prince cover. So I excused myself from Dana Carvey and I went in there, and sure enough, there’s Prince ripping it up on “Let’s Go Crazy.” I was like, “How have I not been in this room watching this?”

DALEY: Talking to Dana Carvey!

FORTE: Prince plays for another 45 seconds. I see 45 seconds and I’m like, “Oh, now what’s he going to play?” And he walks off the stage, and then a DJ started playing again. What I heard from everybody was that for the past two hours there had been the craziest combination of incredible musicians playing—Paul McCartney was playing with, like, Miley Cyrus. Huge musician after huge musician, and I missed everything. [laughs] But, it was because I was getting to meet Dana Carvey and getting to talk to Kevin Klein.