For episode 3 of the show, Jordan spoke with Sofia Alvarez about her latest project, the romantic comedy TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, which was released on Netflix on August 17.
The film was adapted from Jenny Han’s 2014 novel of the same name. It follows 16-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey, whose life is thrown through a loop when someone exposes the secret love letters she wrote to—you guessed it—all the boys she’s loved before.
Sofia Alvarez is a playwright and screenwriter. Before TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, she was a staff writer on FXX’s MAN SEEKING WOMAN and USA Network’s SIRENS.
Listen to the episode here:
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Thanks for listening. Write on.
Jordan Carlos: I’m Jordan Carlos, and you’re listening to On Writing, a screenwriting podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. This is a show about the stories we see on our screens and the people who make them happen. You’ll hear from writers in the film, TV, news, and digital media industries about their work from pitching to production, from process to favorite lines, and everything in between. Welcome to On Writing. My guest today is the writer of a very good film which is like blowing up on Netflix, called For All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I’m joined by Sofia Alvarez. Sofia, thank you for joining us. Really appreciate that.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, happy to be here.
Jordan Carlos: Man, here’s my thoughts on your film.
Sofia Alvarez: Okay.
Jordan Carlos: I hate teenagers. I don’t get them. I’m like pick a side. Are you a kid, are you an adult? You’re gross. You made me like them. You made me like them, I have to admit, and I don’t like new things. I’ve said that before, but this, I absolutely loved. I can’t wait to watch it again, and I can’t wait to watch it, actually, with my daughter.
Sofia Alvarez: How old’s your daughter?
Jordan Carlos: My daughter, she’s five and a half, but there’s some films that I think are like oh, yeah, I can watch that with her, and she’d really like it. You did a wonderful job in that respect of just creating a movie that, in a great way, is just like your favorite meal, like a pizza that you want to just have again and again and again. I have to know, one, how did the film come your way? I’m sorry, how did the whole project come your way, and two, what was your process in writing it?
Sofia Alvarez: So, the project came my way pretty traditionally. I had been working on this TV show, Man Seeking Woman, which was a Simon Rich show that was on FXX, and it was between our second and third season, and I was really happy on that show, and then our third season pickup took a little bit longer than we were expecting, and in that time, a play of mine, Friend Art, had been scheduled to be produced at Second Stage. I’m trained as a playwright, started as a playwright, so this would have been my New York premier, and I just had to do the play, even though I was really sad to leave my TV show, and that seemed like a hard decision at the time to leave, but I just knew I had to do the play. Because I had made that decision, I was all of a sudden available for other projects, because I hadn’t gone back to season three of Man Seeking Woman, and so then, in that time period, this book, my agents just sent it to me and were like they’re looking for a writer. Are you interested? Read the book, let us know what you think. I read it, I loved it, I thought it was just like a really great teen love story and really warm and funny, and then I just went to L.A., and I pitched for it and then got it. It was pretty standard.
Jordan Carlos: What was your pitch? What was your angle?
Sofia Alvarez: The book is very warm and very friendly and very sincere, and so part of my pitch for the movie was this book is a best seller. This book is beloved. Let’s try to bring the tone of the book to live as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel for the movie. I think I went in, and I just sort of took what I thought the best parts of the book were and tried to make that as concise as possible but giving it my own sort of vibe in the room in terms of some of the character stuff. That’s where we landed. It wasn’t really outside the box pitch. I think I just had a lot of enthusiasm for the project, and that came through.
Jordan Carlos: Well, it definitely came through onscreen. I did see elements that did make it almost feel like a play. I guess I’m remembering the October banner so clearly, where it’s like October. We set our story in fair Verona. It felt like it had these wonderful elements, kind of like the three daughters and the father and the five loves.
Sofia Alvarez: There are also some long scenes, which is very theatrical, and which I was glad that they let us get away with and just filmed the entirety of these scenes that I’d written that I was at first nervous would be too long for a movie, because you’re always like cut, cut. What’s the quickest we can get in and out and get our point across? But, especially that scene where they’re in the diner, and they’re talking about their parents for the first time, that’s a pretty lengthy scene. All of the diner scenes, actually, are pretty lengthy for a screenplay, and I was glad that they kept them pretty much in their whole length when they filmed it.
Jordan Carlos: Yes. I think that creates an intimacy about the story. I was wondering though, upon watching it … I haven’t read the book, but I’m guessing that for Lara Jean, there’s a lot of like, we learn about her interior world, because she’s a person who lives in fantasy a lot. The question is how did you tease that out in order to make for … a book that’s all interior is hard to adapt to screen.
Sofia Alvarez: I knew we were going to need to use voiceover. That was sort of like never questioned, but I think voiceover can sometimes either give too much away or be a little cheesy. Voiceover is a little tricky, so you want to use it sparingly, but you want to also get across what you need to get across. Something that happened in this process that I was actually really grateful for as the writer was just based on come changes that had been made on set, some of the voiceover from the script wasn’t working once we were in the edit room, and they let me go into the edit room and rewrite a lot of the voiceover in editing as opposed to like … and so that, just for me as a writer, was so beneficial. It was still like my intention and my voice, and even if things were changing, I felt like they were still aligned with the intention of the original script as opposed to shoehorned in at a later date to try to make scenes work written by who knows who.
Jordan Carlos: For you, it was like a living document.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, exactly, and that was really great. In terms of her interior life beyond that, making sure her friends and both of her sisters, and then the character of Chris and the character of Lucas could be really good sounding boards. This is a character who lives very much in her interior life, but what is something she would say to Chris, her best girlfriend, that she could not say to Peter, the guy she wants to date? You can get a little bit more of her out in ways that feel authentic, even if it’s not talking to the person who you’re talking about.
Jordan Carlos: Exactly. What you can say to one person, you can’t say to another person.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, and so just using those supporting characters in a smart way, I think, helps with that.
Jordan Carlos: Did you bring a lot of your own high school experience to bear?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I think it’s impossible kind of not to bring your own high school experience to bear when you’re writing about high school love.
Jordan Carlos: Were you a romantic in high school? Were you not a romantic? Were you in your head?
Sofia Alvarez: I think something that was true of Lara Jean, and that I really relate to also, is that … and I think that comes through in the movie, is I think when you’re a girl in high school, you’re used to thinking of yourself kind of as the only one with feelings. I don’t mean like-
Jordan Carlos: Yes.
Sofia Alvarez: You know, like you’re always sort of putting yourself in the position of people don’t understand me, or why did that guy do this thing to me that hurt my feelings? I think sometimes, or at least, this was my experience, I didn’t always realize how much of an active player I was in those relationships and how things I was doing might be hurting the guys I was dating or not dating as well.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, okay. Got you.
Sofia Alvarez: I think something for Lara Jean is like it takes her so long to realize that Peter likes her, and she doesn’t realize that things she’s doing, because she feels self-protective, are actually hurting his feelings in some way. She’s just thinking oh, I’m protecting my heart, not realizing I’m kind of dissing him right now, or insulting him in this way with this action, because she’s so wrapped up in trying to be self-protective, and I think that’s something that I really related to from my own high school dating experience, and it maybe wasn’t until watching the film back that I realized how much I brought in of that.
Jordan Carlos: Are you a fan of the Bronte sisters? It felt like a lot of keeping Mr. Darcy at arm’s length and kind of these romantic machinations that become taught at the end when people are actually really sincere about how they really feel, but the games of love are kind of the fun and games at the beginning.
Sofia Alvarez: I love Jane Eyre. I love the Brontes. I love Jane Austen. I love all of those old romances.
Jordan Carlos: They work.
Sofia Alvarez: They work, and they’re very sincere, but I also love all the rom-coms that came out like-
Jordan Carlos: Failure to Launch.
Sofia Alvarez: Not Failure to Launch.
Jordan Carlos: Whoa. Whoa.
Sofia Alvarez: Oh, my God. I actually am not that familiar with Failure to Launch.
Jordan Carlos: Go in.
Sofia Alvarez: Nothing against Failure to Launch.
Jordan Carlos: What’s your favorite rom-com.
Sofia Alvarez: When Harry Met Sally.
Jordan Carlos: That’s a pretty great one.
Sofia Alvarez: The quintessential rom-com.
Jordan Carlos: That’s pretty great. I watched it way too early. Did you watch it way too early? I watched rom-coms way too early.
Sofia Alvarez: My thoughts about When Harry Met Sally are when I was really young, I remember thinking … like too young, like middle school or younger-
Jordan Carlos: I watched them in middle school, too, and I was like love has to be complicated. I can’t like this girl.
Sofia Alvarez: I didn’t get it. Yeah. I was like this movie is so realistic, but I don’t really think it’s that romantic. And then, when I watched When Harry Met Sally when I was older, I was like this movie is so romantic. I don’t think it’s that realistic.
Jordan Carlos: Realistic, exactly.
Sofia Alvarez: Because I don’t think they would end up together in When Harry Met Sally.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, absolutely not.
Sofia Alvarez: Even though-
Jordan Carlos: I thought you meant Harry’s apartment.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, no. Harry’s apartment, way not, when he’s like throwing cards into the hat, and it’s like enormous, and he can’t even make it.
Jordan Carlos: The rug. The huge afghan that he has to-
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, that they could put either way.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, it goes this way. You know, prices were different in Manhattan back then.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I don’t know. I guess Harry had a good job.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. He wrote speeches for politicians.
Sofia Alvarez: No, he was like an analyst or something.
Jordan Carlos: He was?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Okay. I guess … listeners, let us know.
Sofia Alvarez: What Harry did.
Jordan Carlos: We have very smart phones.
Sofia Alvarez: Could he have afforded that apartment. Yeah, When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Clueless. Those, I think, are like the best.
Jordan Carlos: I got a Clueless vibe from it. Of course, Clueless is based on Jane Austen.
Sofia Alvarez: Emma. Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, of course. Yeah. That was what I was getting, a strong vibe of that. I think that’s what’s missing from the landscape is taut, smart. It was a romantic comedy, which I detest romantic comedies, because they always ended the same way. It’s a guy running through an airport trying to stop a girl from getting on a plane to Portugal, and he’s got no ticket, and he gets through TSA with no problem. They’re just like, what? You’re in love. Right this way. I have a huge problem with it, and it didn’t end that way. All my expectations were subverted and switched around. I’m not going to give too much away, but the main character doesn’t even say the words that I think she would say at the end. Amazing. Applause.
Sofia Alvarez: That was not really her journey. She had to get to … she had a smaller mountain to climb.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, she did. She did.
Sofia Alvarez: Just as important as a mountain, but I really wanted it to feel authentic and realistic, and I think he was in that place at the end, but I don’t know that she was.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. I’ll say this. Jazz is the notes that you don’t play, and this … and without being … I think there’s one reference made to it, but without being explicit, Lara Jean is a girl, an Eurasian girl … she’s multiracial, but the point is, she’s a minority, but not much hay is made about it. She’s desired by these two guys, and her own self-worth and things like that aren’t really … that’s not even … I mean, it’s addressed, but I don’t know. I was past it in a second. It was like Lara Jean was just like yeah, I’m pretty great. I’m a catch, and you guys would be lucky to have me.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, she’s quiet but confident. Her identity, being Asian is obviously a huge part of her identity, but that’s not what the story’s about. It’s not a story about being a half-Asian, half-Caucasian girl in Portland in 2018. It’s a story about a girl-
Jordan Carlos: Does that just make you Caucasian, I guess?
Sofia Alvarez: What?
Jordan Carlos: Would that just make you Caucasian?
Sofia Alvarez: No. It’s half-
Jordan Carlos: If you put Caucasian and Asian together.
Sofia Alvarez: Oh, yeah. I don’t know. Well, whatever it is. Yeah, that’s not what we’re … she couldn’t be played by anyone other than an actress who brought that to it, because that is a big part of who she is, but that’s not the story we’re telling here, so it’s just another aspect of her. I think a lot of her confidence comes from the fact that she has this really solid family life, and so you can be a girl who’s like a little bit shier and a little bit introverted, but that doesn’t mean you have no sense of self, and I think a lot of times when we see these introverted female characters, it’s like I don’t even know how to express myself. That’s not it. I’m just shy, but I still know how to stand up for myself, and I still have a strong core of who I am. You see that come out with different characters, and then you see her retreat with different characters, and I think that’s very true to life. I don’t think anyone is one thing all of the time
Jordan Carlos: I often thought that teens don’t know how to express themselves. They just do it with emojis and things like that and call things either trash or fire. How did you do that? How did you trick us into thinking that they could?
Sofia Alvarez: I’m not currently a teen myself any longer, and there were no emojis when I was a teenager, so I had to sort of pull from my own experience as much as thinking about kids today, but I think that something I try to do, no matter who I’m writing for … like, I actually just did a musical for much younger children, like elementary school aged kids, and something I tried to, and to all the boys, and in that musical, Amos and Forest, was not write down to a younger audience. Like, trust them to be on the emotional level that we all are, and then trust that they’ll come along with you on that ride, and I think that they do. I think sometimes we think they’re not going to understand, or they’re not going to relate.
Jordan Carlos: You mean
Sofia Alvarez: They’re not gonna understand, or they’re not gonna relate, but-
Jordan Carlos: You mean you, Jordan?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: I do that. You can just say you do that. That’s totally fine. And I do, yeah.
Sofia Alvarez: And also, another part of it was, especially having come from comedy rooms, I think we get into, as comedy writers, this rhythm of writing in jokes, and I don’t do that as a playwright, and it’s something I’ve sometimes felt insecure about in comedy rooms, how I don’t do that. And with this movie, it was like, “Well, teenagers don’t really speak in jokes.”, so let’s try to just write them how I think they would talk to one another. And then, of course, there’s like, “Is this gonna be funny enough? Are people gonna relate to this?”. But actually, I was very excited by the response to it, in that, “Oh, well maybe not every movie needs to have a joke every third line to be considered a comedy, and it can just have kind of charm and levity, and be-
Jordan Carlos: It was so charming. You’re writing is charming, the dialogue is charming. And, let’s talk a minute about how it’s exploded. This is one of the biggest movies on Netflix, and I’ve read so many articles about it. It’s crazy. How does that feel?
Sofia Alvarez: It feels great! And, obviously I knew that the book was a big hit and bestseller, but I had no idea that the movie would be this … would have had the response that it had.
Jordan Carlos: Well, it has happened. And, I wanna ask you though … So, where did you write this thing? And will you write it in the same room again? Write another script in the same room because you had such luck with …
Sofia Alvarez: I wrote this in … I work out of the Brooklyn Writers Space, and they have three locations and the one that I primarily wrote this one in-
Jordan Carlos: Loved it.
Sofia Alvarez: Closed down.
Jordan Carlos: No! Oh no!
Sofia Alvarez: So, I still work out of the Brooklyn Writers Space, I love them. And so there and my apartment.
Jordan Carlos: Well, I think you should write … The next film you write, you should write out of there, even though it’s probably a Quiznos now, you should just whatever.
Sofia Alvarez: I’ll just go back to that building?
Jordan Carlos: Absolutely.
Sofia Alvarez: It’s next to an Apple Support store, and be like, “Hey.”. But no, the new Brooklyn Writers Space is also quite nice.
Jordan Carlos: That’s great. So people … There’s other writers there, you can get coffee, that kind of thing? You kinda-
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, it’s like … You know library carrels? Those three-
Jordan Carlos: Oh, yeah.
Sofia Alvarez: So, it’s just a silent room full of library carrels that … And then-
Jordan Carlos: Sounds like a great business model!
Sofia Alvarez: Attached to a kitchen with coffee and … it’s great!
Jordan Carlos: Gotcha’. People are banging out the great American novel there, things like that.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah, people are doing all kinds of things there, great American novel, articles, there’s a lot of journalists there, there are playwrights, screenwriters.
Jordan Carlos: Did you feel inspired by the people that you shared the space with? Were you like-
Sofia Alvarez: It’s so quiet in there. It’s like, there’s no talking.
Jordan Carlos: Then how’d you make a comedy? ‘Cause comedy, for me, there’s a lot of bouncing ideas off of each other, like a comedy writers room. So, I write for the show Divorce, on HBO, and it’s a constant jokes and jokes, and you-
Sofia Alvarez: That’s how it was on Man Seeking Woman, and on the show Sirens that I wrote on before that.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, cool! So how’d you do it in absolute silence?
Sofia Alvarez: Well, I’m most used to being a playwright, which is all by yourself, so actually screenwriting is much more my sort of, where I’m comfortable. I mean, I had a lot of fun in those comedy rooms, but it was very different than my experiences being a playwright where it’s just me alone in either my apartment or a silent writer space. And, I listened to a lot of music. There’s this band, Yumi Zouma, who I listened to a lot writing this script, and I just felt like their album was very much the tone of the movie. And, I do that a lot when I’m with either a screenplay, or a play, where I’ll pick an album or a particular band that I think embodies the tone of the script I’m trying to write, and then listen to it over and over again whenever I’m working on that script and it kind of seeps in-
Jordan Carlos: So, do you-
Sofia Alvarez: In a way that I find helpful.
Jordan Carlos: That’s super helpful. I mean, do you ever … And, when you’re writing, do you paint a picture in the script that … Let’s say you’re describing the setting, or something like that, then that will never make it, unless I read the script I wouldn’t know about this description. Do you know what I’m saying? Do you …
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I, as a writer, really rely on dialogue, probably because of my training as a playwright. And so, a lot of times I’ll write way more than I need and then a lot of my editing process is cutting that down. But, let’s get to the crux of this scene through a much longer scene and let the characters talk around something for, I know, longer than I’m ever gonna need to use in this scene and then I’ll go back and see, like, “What are they quintessentially saying?”, let’s-
Jordan Carlos: Cull it down. Speaking of scenes, what was your favorite to write in the script?
Sofia Alvarez: Oh, I really like both of the diner scenes between Lara Jean and Peter. And I like the diner scene between Lara Jean and her dad. So, that first diner scene, when they’re talking about … he comes to tell her that he doesn’t want to be with her after getting her love letter, and then she admits that he’s not the only one who got a love letter. And you see him kind of seeing her in a different light for the first time, ’cause he’s this popular guy who assumes everyone’s in love with him, and then to have her be like, “Actually, I didn’t send one letter, I sent five letters.”, and have him take a step back, and be like, “Oh, I was thinking of this girl in the wrong way.”. That, I think was really exciting, because you’re playing with his expectations of her there. And then, that next one between them where it’s kind of their first date, even though they’re in the fake relationship after they’ve been to a party together, and you see him kind of falling for her, and you see her totally not getting it and then kind of hurting his feelings because of it. That was really fun too, ’cause I think it’s always fun to play with peoples expectations of what is going on versus what’s actually going on, and ways people unintentionally hurt one another, are writer candy for me, that’s in all of my work.
Jordan Carlos: I also liked how it wasn’t like … You’ll watch a romcom, and what happened there in that scene when Peter basically … she kind of … It’s a mild rejection of Peter, but Peter isn’t like … in some romcoms it’s like, “Flip table!”, and then, “Peel out!”, he’s just like, “Yeah, no, we’re cool.”, it’s very important to be cool.
Sofia Alvarez: And he’s gotta keep up his appearances too, but he lets it down a little bit.
Jordan Carlos: I mean, and just the awkwardness of the resolution and his kind of diatribe at the end, about the … I’m trying not to give anything away of the film! But, the post-ski trip situation was … I think he still found a way to make it cool, because he’s the biggest dude in school who could beat up anybody. And, I don’t know, I found it … That you worked within the construct and the guard rails of each character super well and they’re all dimensionalized to me, even the little sister who’s like … she gets all the funny lines in, like, “I’m gonna steal this thing!”, you’re gonna steal this scene. But still, I believed her, I believed her as a character.
Sofia Alvarez: And, I think that a lot of that comes from the book, the characters are really … there’s a sincerity to all of them. I’d say one character change that was important to me to make for the movie, was that … We wanted this movie to be as much about the relationship between sisters as it is between the love story. And in the book, the little sister sends the letters out of spite because she’s mad at Lara Jean, and you have real estate in a book to pay that off, ’cause you have so much time, that you can go through that story and what it means. But I thought that in the movie it was just gonna hurt us, in terms of our sister relationship, and I also didn’t want to paint Kitty in that light. So, I really wanted her to send the letters out of love for her sister, even if truly misguided love as opposed to, “I’m doing this thing to you ’cause I’m mad at you.”, and I think that’s really helpful in terms of allowing us to still have that super strong sisters bond in much less time than they would have in the book to keep all those balls in the air.
Jordan Carlos: I bought it. I loved it. 10 year olds … I think she’s like 10 or 11, it’s … Those people, they are complete, there are complete [inaudible 00:23:56] that we just mess up in their teenage years. But, they’re already … they should just retire, they got it. I thought, when she said, “I have to cancel plans, to hang out with you on a Golden Girls marathon.”, it was …
Sofia Alvarez: It really paints who Lara Jean is versus who Kitty is.
Jordan Carlos: Yes. Insular versus extrovert.
Sofia Alvarez: And how sad … I remember, I had an older sister who was more extroverted than I was and went out more, and so that’s fine ’cause she was my older sister, but if you had a younger sister who was the more extroverted, you’d be like, “Ugh, damn.”.
Jordan Carlos: That got invited to parties.
Sofia Alvarez: You expect it in one direction. In the other you would just be like, “Oh, no.”.
Jordan Carlos: That was definitely not my situation, but … My brother was so popular and I was a nerd, and I just got invited to all the parties ’cause he was there.
Sofia Alvarez: When you have a popular older sibling, you can really coast for a while because of them. I knew about so much cool music ’cause I had an older sibling, you can pretend to be way cooler than you are.
Jordan Carlos: Oh my God. The minute my brother graduated from high school, he came home and I was listening to Ace of Base, and he was like, “We have to do something about this. This is not good for business.”. So, let me ask you, as a writer, do you write a lot of drafts? Do you like to write only a few? What’s your deal?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I mean I definitely do quite a few drafts. And I think that there are some scenes that are pretty similar from one draft to the next, and there are others that you end up re-writing a thousand times, and you have that problem scene that you’re like, “Ugh.”. But, I definitely … I don’t think anything ever comes out of the gate ready.
Jordan Carlos: Like a bee, born fully formed!
Sofia Alvarez: No, I do a lot of editing, and I especially do a lot of cutting ’cause I think I tend to really over write on first drafts, as I was saying before.
Jordan Carlos: And so, what’s your favorite part? I mean, being done, probably, is your favorite part. But just, are you a … some people are lazy writers, some people write sunup, sundown, some people are like, “I have to write a thousand words a day.”, something like that. What’s-
Sofia Alvarez: I’m definitely not a sunup to sundown writer.
Jordan Carlos: Do you like to procrastinate?
Sofia Alvarez: I think all … What writer does not procrastinate? I mean, have you ever met one?
Jordan Carlos: I don’t know! Yeah, I have. I’ve met writers that don’t procrastinate, it’s-
Sofia Alvarez: I would say I’m probably solidly in the middle. I think that I like to have a lot of different projects going on at once, so that when I’m getting frustrated with one thing, I can sort of move onto the next. But within that, I like to dedicate weeks to certain projects, I don’t really love to be going back and forth between things on the same day, but I’ll say, “Okay, this week I’m gonna dedicate to this play, and then next week I need to really get in gear on that screenplay that’s my job right now.”. But then, I’ll also take a lot of breaks, if I’m not on deadline for something, well I feel bad, but I am trying to be better about it, by being like, “I’m just gonna do nothing for these few days, and that’s okay.”. But once I’m getting close to the end of something, and especially once I’m in the editing phase, I’m much more diligent about working a lot. But, I’d say when I’m in the discovery phase with something, I need it to be a little bit more fluid, and I need to write something and take a break, and think about it and come back to it, and be reading a lot that’s not related to what I’m writing.
Jordan Carlos: Interesting.
Sofia Alvarez: I find the best breaks I can take, are breaks just to read a book even if it has nothing to do with the project I’m working on. And that is always more helpful to me than pretending I’m writing, but actually dicking around on Pinterest or something.
Jordan Carlos: So, what were you reading that was completely different when you were writing this?
Sofia Alvarez: Oh God. So, I was writing this … I guess I wrote the first draft of this at the end of 2016. I, weirdly, around the same time that I got this job, I was up for a job on that show, “I Love Dick”, that I didn’t end up getting. So, I read Chris Kraus’ book, “I Love Dick”, that made me feel like I was truly going insane, but also brought up love and romance in such a weird way for me. That book is so dense and so twisted, but also so true in so many ways that that was, I’m sure, really in my head when I started this project, in a way that seems strange but was true.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, I see the influences. They’re all over.
Sofia Alvarez: What else was I reading a couple of years ago?
Jordan Carlos: That’s an interesting thing, to want to read something else while you’re writing this. Who knows? Maybe-
Sofia Alvarez: But, I’m not thinking of them as being actively influenced, I think it’s just sort of to get out of-
Jordan Carlos: Absolutely.
Sofia Alvarez: My own way.
Jordan Carlos: For sure, just to get out of your own way. Do you write, because this is called [On Writing 00:28:55], do you write at night? Are you a morning writer? Or-
Sofia Alvarez: I know this is pretty strange, ’cause most people are like, “Oh, first thing in the morning or late at night.”, I tend to write a lot on the afternoons. I think especially if I don’t get a really early start in the morning, by around after lunch, my self-loathing has kicked in to the point where I’m like, “Alright. Let’s get to it!”. And then I-
Jordan Carlos: So, you fight the noonday demon? Is that-
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I do a lot of writing, I think, in the afternoon between two and six, but-
Jordan Carlos: Two and six?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. But then also, I’m not a very good late night writer, but sometimes I’ll have spouts of morning writing. But-
Jordan Carlos: Were you always writing? Have you been writing plays since you were 10?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. I’ve wanted to be a playwright since I was a little kid.
Jordan Carlos: Wow. And who were your heroes? Who were your playwriting heroes?
Sofia Alvarez: I love Maria Irene Fornes, she’s just amazing. For my college thesis I directed a production of her play, “Mud”.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, I know that play.
Sofia Alvarez: It’s great. And then her play, “Fefu and Her Friends”, is still my favorite play I’ve ever read, but I’ve never seen it performed, which is crazy, but I just-
Sofia Alvarez: Armed. Which is crazy, but I just love that place so much. I think it’s amazing.
Jordan Carlos: Hopefully it should be watched eventually.
Sofia Alvarez: I’m always like plays are written to be performed. And my favorite play I’ve never seen before. And I think there are a lot of really amazing contemporary playwrights working right now too. Amy Herzog’s Mary Jane was so amazing. That was in New York Theatre Workshop last year and Annie Baker’s play John was really, really wonderful I thought.
Jordan Carlos: Do you get out to the theater often?
Sofia Alvarez: I do. It’s one of the reasons I try to stay living in New York as opposed to moving to LA is to go to the theater a bunch.
Jordan Carlos: Let me ask you this. Did you go to school in New York City?
Sofia Alvarez: I went to undergrad at Bennington College in Vermont.
Jordan Carlos: Heard of it.
Sofia Alvarez: I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. So I went from Baltimore to Bennington and then I went to grad school at Julliard for playwriting.
Jordan Carlos: Oh you had a Julliard tote when you walked in.
Sofia Alvarez: I do. I do have a Julliard tote. It’s a really strong tote bag.
Jordan Carlos: So is your family … Do you come from a family of playwrights?
Sofia Alvarez: Not playwrights, but both of my parents are writers.
Jordan Carlos: Oh cool. And what do they write? What medium?
Sofia Alvarez: My dad was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun for 20 years.
Jordan Carlos: Heard of it.
Sofia Alvarez: So he came up through the Baltimore Sun with David Simon. So when I was in college, my dad … Well actually when I was in high school my dad quit his job at the Sun to go work on ships because he thought he was going to see the world and be a writer and work on ships and he could do that.
Jordan Carlos: Oh boats.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah. He was like I can do that because my grandfather was a ship engineer and so he could get in the union. But since he was a writer who had no experience, the only thing he could get a job doing was being a janitor.
Jordan Carlos: Oh man.
Sofia Alvarez: If you’re in the union, you don’t get to pick your batt. So the boat that came in that needed someone for was docked in Baltimore. So he had to live on this boat scrubbing toilets two blocks from his house. When he had had this romantic idea that he was going to see the world and just write about it. We all thought he was so insane, but then that ended up really paying off for him because the second season of the Wire took place on the docks. And so then he was friends with David Simon from being reporters together and so then he became a staffer on the Wire because he just spent two years on the docks in Baltimore.
Jordan Carlos: Which people will tell you as a staff writer, it’s pretty similar to cleaning out toilets.
Sofia Alvarez: Then he did screen writing throughout my college years. Then he really missed Baltimore, so he moved back and is doing journalism and fiction writing again. And then my mom writes nonfiction books but is always 10 years ahead of the curve on any given subject. So she wrote a book where she interviewed every prominent transgender person in American that came out in 2003.
Jordan Carlos: Oh yeah.
Sofia Alvarez: And then her last book was called Roots of Steel, and it’s about the disappearance of the working class in the US. But specifically through Bethlehem Steel and Baltimore. And that came out like 10 years ago. She’s just always like …
Jordan Carlos: What’s next? Just so I know, is she a pre cog?
Sofia Alvarez: She was a Guggenheim fellow last year.
Jordan Carlos: Heard of it. So you come from dumb stock. Your family is just buck of knuckle braggers.
Sofia Alvarez: But playwriting was an untaken slot when I was a little kid.
Jordan Carlos: That’s so funny.
Sofia Alvarez: Because my sister was an actress. She was older than me. And my brother’s a cartoonist. He’s also a chemical engineer, so playwriting was open. I was like mine. I’m going to take playwriting. I don’t think I was thinking of it that way.
Jordan Carlos: So Thanksgiving in your house just sounds boring. You guys don’t talk about nothing. Definitely no political speak.
Sofia Alvarez: It can be a little intense. Especially because my dad’s house is all hard backed chairs.
Jordan Carlos: He has hard backed chairs?
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah it’s not very comfortable.
Jordan Carlos: He likes Frank Lloyd Wright stuff.
Sofia Alvarez: No it’s just a bunch of books.
Jordan Carlos: I was trying to be as kind as I could.
Sofia Alvarez: No Thanksgiving is fun, but then it’s nice to also go to my inlaws’ house to lie around on comfortable couches and watch TV and have a normal Thanksgiving.
Jordan Carlos: Have a normal Thanksgiving. So let’s compare. So 16 Candles is like a character in this film. Can we compare Jake Ryan to Peter really quickly?
Sofia Alvarez: Oh comparing Jake Ryan to Peter. In what sense?
Jordan Carlos: Can we compare Jake Ryan to Peter, is he the 2.0 Jake Ryan? Is Peter 2.0 Jake Ryan.
Sofia Alvarez: This is something I’ve never really thought about before. But I guess Jake Ryan is looking for something different, which Peter’s also looking for something different. They had both been with the most popular girl and now they’re with the loner girl on the sidelines. I think Peter Kavinsky is probably a little more …
Jordan Carlos: What a name.
Sofia Alvarez: Self aware than Jake Ryan is. Jake Ryan I think it takes him a couple more steps to get to maybe where Peter starts out. But that might be the difference between being a … He’s not a Millennial. What’s Peter?
Jordan Carlos: Oh my God. He’s a Gen Y.
Sofia Alvarez: Yeah being Gen Y versus Jake Ryan’s Gen X.
Jordan Carlos: That’s being kind. Jake Ryan’s the end of the Baby Boomer generation maybe.
Sofia Alvarez: Oh my God. That’s crazy. Yeah so that’s probably no fault of Jake Ryan’s. It’s just generational gaps between them might have done that.
Jordan Carlos: I’d risk to say Jake Ryan is born in 68, 69 probably, right?
Sofia Alvarez: Wow.
Jordan Carlos: They would’ve grown up on the Brady Bunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and E.T. Things like that. Great movie though. Great movie nonetheless. All great hallmarks of pop culture. Here’s a question too. Are Austin teens just the ones that watch Golden Girls and get old school references like 16 Candles? She makes him watch 16 Candles.
Sofia Alvarez: She makes him watch 16 Candles.
Jordan Carlos: And you even address Long Duk Dong which thank you for doing that. Long Duk Dong, I’m going to just go out on a limb and say ruins those moments ruined the film. When you watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s you’re like somebody put Breakfast at Tiffany’s on.
Sofia Alvarez: Then you’re like oh God.
Jordan Carlos: Micky Rooney comes on and you’re like what is this? Why?
Sofia Alvarez: You’re like I can’t. Especially, do you think of this in terms of showing things to your kids?
Jordan Carlos: Sure.
Sofia Alvarez: And it’s like this is this great movie. We just have to leave the room during this horribly racist section.
Jordan Carlos: We watched Peter Pan.
Sofia Alvarez: Or somehow cut it out.
Jordan Carlos: I showed her Peter Pan and I was like big mistake. Tiger lily. Oh man.
Sofia Alvarez: Because a lot of that stuff you also forget. And then you’re watching it and you’re like oh God. This is bad.
Jordan Carlos: We were different people then. Even though when I was little I was like something not right here. But my parents weren’t like this is not … They were just like enjoy!
Sofia Alvarez: So many old movies that just could be so great if not for …
Jordan Carlos: Racism.
Sofia Alvarez: Overt racism in so many of the characters.
Jordan Carlos: But I love how you handled it. I love you handle it. The cognitive dissidence of her loving the film and then also understanding the toxicity and problems with [crosstalk 00:37:36].
Sofia Alvarez: That there’s a problem with loving the film.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah there’s a problem. But the film is her way of reaching out and having an attachment to her mother, right? Because those are things that she liked in the past. That’s what I got from that.
Sofia Alvarez: I don’t know if 16 Candles is specifically something that her mom liked. I think Laura Jean is just a bit of an old soul in that way and likes things that … Because she has a really vintage vibe. The way she dresses. I think especially with the internet it’s easier to find a lot of that stuff now. It’s not like … Even when we were young I feel like Bewitched was Nick at Night. Even though it wasn’t your generation you knew about it and watch it and think it was cool. I loved the Golden Girls a ton.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah absolutely.
Sofia Alvarez: So a Golden Girls marathon, maybe not every weekend, but …
Jordan Carlos: Dorothy. Blanche.
Sofia Alvarez: Sometimes.
Jordan Carlos: Amazing. I think St. Jerome was brought up a lot and Betty White would always talk about St. Jerome. It was a great show. I used to watch it. I was like oh my God I like this. I’m such a nerd. Nobody else likes this my age. I’m alone. You really captured that. There’d be like Nick at Night. I would watch. I’d watch Dobie Gillis, Mayberry RFD. This would all be on Nick at Night. And TGIF the whole thing because my phone wouldn’t ring. So no one wanted to hang out on Friday night so I’d watch the whole thing and you nailed it. You nailed it. I was like oh man that was me. Because we’ve talked a lot, so I want to talk about one more thing. The very end, the ski trip. You do a great job of setting the stage for the final act. I have to ask. Did you ever have one of those class trips where it was like do or die? What’s going to happen? I’m not a woman, not yet a girl, but the other women kind of situations.
Sofia Alvarez: No we didn’t have a ski trip. And they go on that ski trip in the book. But then I remember in my high school experience those what are the virginity losing places? Would be either prom or senior week. So that’s why in that VO I gave her she says that the ski trip was the place where more people lost their virginities than senior week and prom combines. I was like okay we’ll just take the ones that I remember and make this one the ultimate, the even more so. Yeah but I never had a ski trip like that or went on a ski trip like that.
Jordan Carlos: Oh my God. It reminded me of the one with John Cusack … Better Off Dead. It reminded me of Better of Dead. You took the best parts of so many romantic comedies and brought them to bear. You did a good job.
Sofia Alvarez: Oh thank you so much.
Jordan Carlos: And alchemy you distilled it down and it was awesome. Before you go, any advice to writers out there? Not new ones, but just writers in general that are slaving away in work cubicles in Brooklyn. Some of them closed.
Sofia Alvarez: Well what I tell … I teach television writing at NYU also.
Jordan Carlos: Oh cool.
Sofia Alvarez: What I always tell my students. So I this is I guess a more younger writer thing, a piece of advice. But a piece of advice I also give them is to apply to everything because even if it seems like you’re not getting anything, you never know where those seeds you’re planting are going to end up. Someone years down the road could be like I read this thing you applied for that thing you didn’t get, but I really liked it and I always thought of you later for this other thing. So even if you think I’m sending all this stuff out and nothing’s happening with it, there are things happening behind the scenes. You just don’t know about. It’s good to get your work out there as much as possible. I have certainly seen that in my own career, so that’s what I tell me students more than anything else. Just nothing’s going to happen if you keep it to yourself.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. Too true. Well thank you for sharing that and not keeping it yourself. Thanks of course to Sophia Alvarez. The screenwriter of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a great film. It’s on Netflix now. Please watch it right away. Thank you so much. I’m Jordan Carlos. See you next time. That’ll do it for this episode. Beyond Writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the Writer’s Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org. Or on social media at @wgaeast. I’m Jordan Carlos and you can find me at jordancarloscomedy.com and at Twitter at @Jordancarlos. Thanks for tuning in. Write on.