Writer/director Sean Anders and writer John Morris have penned plenty of comedies like “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010), “We’re the Millers” (2013) and “Horrible Bosses 2” (2014), but they strike a different tone with “Instant Family” starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) decide to adopt three children in Anders’ most family-friendly film to date. This is also a personal movie for Anders, because he and his wife adopted three kids.
Sean and John sat down with the Phoenix Film Festival and other movie outlets in a group interview to chat about foster care, incorporating real-life experiences into the script and much more!
“Instant Family” arrives in theatres on Friday, Nov. 16.
Q: How did you sell your movie to Mark Wahlberg?
SA: Obviously, we know Mark from the “Daddy’s Home” (2015, 2017) movies, but (he) gets 15 offers a day. This movie has a different tone. I wasn’t sure, if he would do it or not, (but) I sent him an email. The next morning, I (drove) my kids to flag football, we (arrived) early and nobody was there. We (sat) in an empty parking lot, and Mark calls, so I jump out of the car.
He immediately says, “Hey, I got your email, and I just wanted to call and say, ‘Yes!’”
It was amazing. That doesn’t happen. Movie stars don’t call you and say, “Yes!” They call and say, “Oh, it sounds like a really great project. We should talk about it.” He started talking to me about (foster care children) that he met over the years, and it was (a subject) that really mattered to him. I’m so excited, because Mark Wahlberg is doing (the) movie. Now, (I) got a movie!
My kids asked, “What? What happened?”
I said, “Mark Wahlberg is going to do the adoption movie!”
They (responded), “Yea!!! Who’s Mark Wahlberg?”
(Then), my wife calls and says, “You know that flag football is tomorrow, right?”
So, I drove to an empty parking lot, got a “yes” from Mark Wahlberg and drove home.
Q: This movie is more personal than your others. How did the creative process differ, when you are taking stories from your own life?
JM: We spent like two years writing it. Sean adopted the children, and he would tell me stories about the (adoption) process and everyday things that would happen to the kids. We then sat down to write the film, and I remembered (those stories). We rehashed all (those moments), and they wound up in the script.
SA: There was a long research process as well, because we met with social workers and other families. It is a fictional tale inspired by my own story, but also inspired by (other) families that we met along the way.
It was the same process as “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010), a really personal, well-researched (project). You know, I really wanted (the studio) to release (that film) as “Hot Tub Time Machine - Based on the Incredible True Story”, but they wouldn’t do it.
Q: The movie mentions that 500,000 kids are in foster care today. Do you hope that your film will shine a light on foster care and contribute in some way?
SA: Absolutely. Foster kids are like any other kids. They need families who have love to give. I really hope that people (will) come away from the movie with a better depiction of who these kids are. There have been great movies about foster care, but they tend to reinforce negative ideas about kids in the system. I’m hoping (to shed) a more positive light on foster kids, and by the way, it’s honest positivity. My story and the stories of other families who I met - even the ones who have gone through some really rough times - have wonderful, heartfelt, sweet stories to tell.
Q: Rose and Mark thrive in dramas and comedies. Were there specific moments during the shoot that you really enjoyed?
SA: All of it. Rose was amazing from the beginning. Mark and Rose haven’t worked together, and we never worked with (her). In the first scene, Ellie (Byrne) looks at (foster) kids on a website and proposes the idea (of adoption) to Pete (Wahlberg). It was an emotional, but funny scene. In the middle of our very first take, I could hear the crew whispering how good Mark and Rose are together. Everybody instantly knew that they had really good chemistry.
Q: The film highlights a lot of positives about adoption, so John, did you think about becoming a foster parent after working on this film?
SA: You’ve adopted what, 26 kids now?
JM: I have a teenager, and I thought about giving him up for adoption. It’s funny, when Sean brought up (the idea of adoption), I told him that kids are kids. Mine are loud, and they’re sticky, and they’re going to break your s***. If you can deal with that, then you can have kids. You can have three kids, and it will be fine, but no, I haven’t adopted yet.
SA: By the way, I can deal with everything but sticky. Loud? Breaking? That’s fine. Sticky? I don’t tolerate sticky.
Q: Is “Instant Family” the modern nuclear family?
SA: I don’t think there is a modern nuclear family. Family is changing in so many different ways. I can speak from my own experience. I met my kids in about the most random way possible with just a phone call. Within weeks, they were in my house. I was supposed to be their dad, and they were supposed to be my kids. You would think that cannot be a recipe for a family, (but) I love my kids like crazy. They are such great kids!
Many (children grow) up without families and some of the basics that we all take for granted, (so) I really hope that more and more people explore adoption, because, at least in my own experience, it was a wonderful way to start a family.
Q: You have directed four rated-R films, and “Instant Family” is your third PG-13 film, your most family-friendly movie to date. Will you continue in this direction, or is “Horrible Bosses 3” on the horizon?
SA: We really don’t think in terms of ratings. John and I both have families. Our lives are wrapped up in our kids and our day-to-day, so I think that those kinds of stories really interest us. We are just in that part of our lives.
SA: Yea, straight up NC-17.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.