When he was taking his girlfriend to the movies in Kendall, screenwriter Mark Perez never thought he would one day be writing scripts for big-time Hollywood studios. The Sunset High grad says his best memories of going to high school in Kendall were movie nights at either the now-defunct AMC in what was then called Kendall Town & Country Mall (now the Palms at Town & Country) or the Falls’ United Artists, which is now owned by Regal Cinemas.
The first-generation Cuban-American now hopes his “tons” of family in Kendall will head out to their favorite theaters to see his latest script brought to the big screen, Game Night. In it, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Gary and Annie, newlyweds with a shared obsession for game night with friends. Then Gary’s wealthy egoist of a brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), joins to up the stakes by hosting a kidnapping mystery at his rented mansion. High jinks ensue when the kidnapping of Brooks appears more real than the participants care to admit.
Perez, a self-described John Hughes fan, admits he never dreamed about writing movie scripts while he was watching films such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Now, when he looks back, he understands he had already found his destiny.
“You know when you have a revelation but you don’t know it?” he says. “Like, I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do, but I look back on it, and that’s when I [think], Oh, that’s when I decided that I wanted to write movies.”
Despite his passion for '80s comedies, even while in college at Florida State University in the late '80s and early '90s, filmmaking wasn’t on his radar. Perez attended FSU before the school had a film major or film program. It wasn’t until he took some English classes that he realized he might have a career in writing.
“My GPA was terrible,” he says of the credentials he brought to the university from his Sunset days, “so the only major I could get into was English literature... and I started getting A’s. I’d be in women’s literature class and get an A on all my writing stuff, and I was like, Man, writing must be easy, huh, for somebody like me getting A’s.”
After graduating from FSU with a 2.6 GPA and moving back to Miami, he and his college girlfriend, now his wife, decided to head to Hollywood with $3,000 and try to make it in the city’s fabled movie industry. She got into acting, and Perez, after investing in books with titles like How to Screenwrite and Screenwriting 101, began writing screenplays. It wasn’t until five years after moving to Los Angeles that he found himself with a gig writing screenplays for Disney as one of the first members of the Disney Writing Program.
During his tenure, Perez was one of the writers of the film Frank McKlusky, C.I.; received story credit for Herbie Fully Loaded, starring Lindsay Lohan; and was the sole writer behind The Country Bears, the one Disney-attraction-inspired movie that didn’t make money, he says. “I had one week left on my contract, and they said, 'You gotta write the whole script,'” he recalls. “I was like, Oh my God, and, dude, I like wrote it in four days. It got green-lit that weekend, and I was like, Making movies is easy! It’s the easiest thing.”
But reality outside Disney soon hit. Perez realized his real passion lay in writing for his adult peers.
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With that in mind, he says the five years it took to bring Game Night from script to screen were nothing short of a miracle. He found the inspiration for the story, his first R-rated adult comedy, when a producer friend gave him the title of the movie. “Game Night. What do you think?” he recalls his friend telling him. “It’s all going to be one night, and then it’s going to be a murder mystery, and what if they don’t know an actual murder happened?”
Perez changed the murder to a kidnapping, and then he was off, creating the type of cinematic situation comedy for which he's always had a particular affinity. “I don’t know if you remember the plot of Three Amigos, with Steve Martin,” he says, “when they think they’re doing a movie scene but actually El Guapo is there to kill them. And then Tropic Thunder is another where they think it’s a movie, but there are actually people out to kill them.”
Soon everyone, including Perez’s old friends and his many family members in South Florida, will have an opportunity to see what the joke is all about when Warner Bros. releases Game Night in theaters Friday. Perez says he’s “over the moon” with how the movie turned out. “Not only is it a comedy, but it’s got a thriller vibe. It’s got a twist at the end, and the score is really cool. There’s a lot of cool things to it that when you’re writing a script, you go, I hope they don’t ruin it, and in this case, they made it ten times better.”
Game Night. Starring Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, and Jason Bateman. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. 100 minutes. Rated R. Opens wide Friday, February 23.