Directed by Natalie Morales and written by Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, the Hulu comedy flick Plan B follows straight-laced high school student Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) and her slacker best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) on an adventure that neither one of them wants to have to take. But after a regrettable first sexual encounter, the duo goes on the hunt for the Plan B pill, only to learn just how judgmental some folks can be.
Collider recently got the opportunity to chat with the producing team behind the film — Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, and Dina Hillier of Counterbalance Entertainment — about what made Plan B right for their production company, what makes Sunny and Lupe a great film duo, successfully telling a story with a blend of tones, how impressive Natalie Morales was as a first-time feature director, and always having a back-up plan. They also talked about pulling off the impossible with Cobra Kai, having a set end game for where the story is eventually headed, whether they’ve considered any spin-offs, and what fans can expect in Season 4.
Collider: How did you know this film was right for your company, Counterbalance Entertainment? What made you decide to produce this?
JON HURWITZ: Well, we knew immediately that this was a movie we wanted to make. The writers, Joshua [Levy] and Prathi [Srinivasan], grew up fans of our Harold & Kumar movies. They had a meeting with us and said, “We have our own Harold & Kumar-esque adventure, but starring two teenage girls.” They explained to us the topic of Plan B, which we thought was important, and how they would cover it in a way that’s accessible and has big laughs. We’ve always enjoyed making movies that can draw from everybody in the audience, but also maybe has a little something underneath the surface that you can think about afterwards. We connected immediately to the story and it fit perfectly within the kinds of movies that we’ve always liked making.
When you read something, do you know pretty quickly if it’s the kind of movie you want to make?
JOSH HEALD: We’ve all read a ton of scripts in our careers, up to this point. I spent the first two and a half years of pursuing my career as a reader doing coverage for studios, so I read 1,500 other scripts. You start to see patterns, when we fill a writers’ room and are reading scripts, every single year, and seeing what’s out there and what people are writing about. The ones that you feel, even if it’s not your experience, is when it’s authentic to somebody’s point of view and there’s a real voice. As much as you wish that was in every script you read, it’s really that needle in a haystack that you’re looking for, where the movie jumps off the page, the characters jump off the page, the world sucks you in, and suddenly you feel like you’re living in it and it becomes 3D. We all have the same instincts with those reads and we all react the same way when we come across projects like that, and this was definitely one of them.
HURWITZ: One thing I’ll say about Plan B is that we actually got involved with it before it was a script. They pitched us the idea. It was hearing their authentic experience, and the passion that they had for the story, and reading their other material and knowing the kinds of laughs that the writers were capable of, that one-two punch, it felt like this was something we wanted to develop from the ground up with them. This whole process, from that very first pitch, all the way through many drafts of the script, to the end product, is exactly the vision that was talked about, that very first day.
After you sign on to do a project, do you ever have a moment of panic that you might have made the wrong choice, or does that happen with every project?
HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG: Occasionally in our careers, we’ve gotten involved with projects where we suddenly aren’t sure if it’s the right thing. Usually, we draw attention to that and say something, and if there’s disagreement, we respectfully bow out. We try not to get it to a place where you’re too far down the path on something that you’re like, “What did I just get involved in here?” With this, from the very outset, it felt like totally our cup of tea because we had these young writers saying, “We loved your movie and we have this idea for you.” We felt comfortable, pretty much the whole way through. It was really just trying to figure out exactly what the right structure and the right scenes were. I think we knew, from the very beginning, the type of movie that this was going to be, and that it would be our type of movie.
DINA HILLIER: There’s something that you viscerally react to, when an idea is pitched. While things can zig and zag, if you always have that thing that you were passionate about and that spoke to you, as a producer, it’s your job to help guide it into the thing that you always knew that it could be. It’s not always easy, but if you keep that as a north star and you keep coming back to what you responded to initially, then you can usually get back on track. For the most part, we usually have our instincts guide us in the right direction.
Were there any major changes that happened with the script, with the story, or with anything, once it got going?
HURWITZ: Along the way, you bring on a director and that director has things to add and a new point of view to bring there. You set it up at a platform, in this case Hulu, and they have their feedback. You’re constantly working on the script. You’re working on a script, up until production, you’re working on the script through production, and you’re working on the script through post with ADR lines and things like that. There were scenes in the very first draft of the script that made us laugh really hard and that we thought were amazing, but then, as you’re getting closer and closer to production, sometimes you realize you’ve been holding onto the scene for a long time because it’s funny, but it’s not driving the story forward and it’s slowing us down to getting on the road, for example, or it’s off tone, in some way, and it makes you feel like it’s not something that realistically would happen with these characters. Those are the changes that are happening. You’re constantly doing a gut check on the script throughout.
From Harold and Kumar to Daniel and Johnny, and now to Sunny and Lupe, a great duo can go a long way. What do you think it is about Sunny and Lupe that puts them up there with great duos on film?
SCHLOSSBERG: It’s the banter and it’s the two different personalities that have chemistry. That’s really the key. You end up having two different perspectives and two different voices, yet there’s this bond between them. That’s something that we’ve always tried to do. On Cobra Kai, it’s a rivalry, but still you can see how they’re very much alike and yin and yang. What makes Sunny and Lupe work is on this classic comedy duo level, but it also has its own unique flavor to it because of who they are and their backgrounds.
Dina, what do you like about this female duo?
HILLIER: It’s really about the chemistry. I think Victoria [Moroles] and Kuhoo [Verma] just knocked it out of the park. They had an instant chemistry. Something that Natalie [Morales] did, as a director, was be really intent on making their friendship feel real and grounded, at the end of the day. The comedy was there and there was a great concept, but it felt like a real female friendship. She did a great job bringing that to life, as well as the actresses. That is key. As a female, you want to see yourself and your best friends on the screen, and you want to be friends with them. If you walk away wanting to be friends with these two girls, then fantastic. I think Natalie did a great job of that.
Was it a hard search to find the right actresses for these characters?
HURWITZ: Casting is always a challenge, especially when there are these characters that are so well-defined on the page that you have something in your mind. But you watch audition after audition, and then suddenly you see somebody and, even if they’re not exactly what you envisioned, if that was on the page, they’re compelling and they make you want to watch them. With both of these actresses, it was instantaneous that you were drawn to their performance. You felt like, “I could watch this person for 90 minutes, play this role.” And then, when we had them do a chemistry read, even though it was on Zoom, you felt it immediately. It was not easy. It was not one of those things where you’re looking and it just happens. You just keep digging and watching auditions and hope the right person shows up.
You guys have done the near-impossible with Cobra Kai, making a successful sequel/reboot hybrid show that has the nostalgia that fans crave while still feeling new and fresh. It seems like that show was impossible to pull off, but you did. What was the moment that you realized you had pulled that off?
HEALD: We knew what was in our heads, but we also knew that it was very difficult to communicate. When we pitched the show, we pitched it as giving The Karate Kid story a continuation with a Better Call Saul vibe. That is very hard to hear, if you don’t see it as clearly as we saw it, and it led to some disconnects, in terms of the expectation. People were like, “Is this going to be very comedy forward, or is this going to be very darkly dramatic?” The answer was neither. It’s funny because of who the characters are and what the situations are, and the generational conflict and the fact that there’s karate rivalry at the heart of it, but it’s also going to be dramatic, for all of those reasons. You can have that vision, but to achieve that vision, every step of the way, we had to make sure that we were putting the right pieces of the puzzle together, with the right cinematographer, the right production designer, and all of the right locations to make it work and to make it feel connected to the movie.
But there were a few moments, prior to production, where we looked at each other and said, “Is this going to work?” It really was those first chemistry reads, where we saw Ralph [Macchio] and Billy [Zabka] with our younger actors, in front of us delivering the lines, where we had that moment of looking at each other and realizing that not only was it going to work, but it was going to surprise a lot of people. It was not nerve-wracking to make the season, but it was just a lot of work. It really felt like we had this big present wrapped up in a bow that we couldn’t wait to share with the fandom.
SCHLOSSBERG: On day one of shooting, with Billy Zabka as Johnny, watching Iron Eagle on the TV, I remember thinking, “We’re being given creative freedom right now. This is not an assignment. This is something that we came up with that we’re actually doing. At the very least, we’re going to like this. We’ll see what the world thinks.” That was the moment of, “This is happening.”
Do you feel pressured to continue for an extra season or two than you might have originally thought about or expected, or do you have a set end game that has always been your end game?
HURWITZ: We’ve always had a set end game, as to where the story’s going, but we’ve said from the beginning that we weren’t sure exactly how many seasons it’ll take to get there. We found, even in Season 1 when we were in the writers’ room, there were so many ideas that we had that just didn’t fit into those five hours in the first season, so they ended up getting pushed to the next season. There are ideas that we talked about at the beginning of the show, that showed up in Season 3 or will show up in Season 4. And then, there are ideas that just fall by the wayside. There’s no added pressure to elongate the series. We’re still having a blast making it. There’s still a lot more story to tell, in our minds. We just finished shooting Season 4 and we have a lot more that we’re excited to do, going forward. So, we can’t tell you exactly how many seasons we’re going to have, but we know that we’re going to enter each season with enthusiasm and confidence. Eventually, we’ll talk to our friends at Sony and Netflix and say, “We think this is probably around the time we should be winding it down,” and hopefully they’ll give us that time to do it. We’ll see.
Have you thought about any spin-offs or any characters you would like to spin off to focus on, somewhere down the road?
SCHLOSSBERG: The show itself is, in some ways, a spin-off. We’re taking Johnny’s life and his POV. It’s one of those things where we think about it all the time, in some ways. With every character, you think of what their backstory is. When Jon says we don’t know how many more seasons are left of the show, part of it is that we think every character has a lot of story to tell. Is that something that would be a part of the Cobra Kai story, or is it something where somebody deserves their own story? These are all things that we talk about. We love this universe and love the idea of playing with it. Everything is possible.
With Season 4 finished shooting, what can you tease about what we can look forward to with Daniel and Johnny seemingly on the same side now, and finally actually sharing more screen time together?
HEALD: All we can say is that they’ve made the arrangement they’ve made. They know that they’re headed toward this tournament and they know that scores will be settled there. That look they gave each other at the end of Season 3 says it all. We’re leaning in, and these are two guys who have been leaning way away from each other for 30-something years. The big story to tell is, how is that going to go? Will there be growing pains? What will they be like? Will they be able to get over themselves and get over the ax to grind that they both had? And will they be able to achieve that, before the tournament gets here? So, there are lots of new wrenches to throw at them and lots of old grudges to rehash, and it’s all happening in a little bit of a shared space.
SCHLOSSBERG: To circle things back around to Sunny and Lupe and the chemistry that we were talking about, you’ll get a lot more of that than you’ve ever gotten, in Season 4 with Johnny and Daniel, just by the nature of how Season 3 ended, and with that, all the fun that you would think could come with that. So, you’ll see their own chemistry at play.
Dina, when you’re working with these guys, who have done things like Harold & Kumar and Hot Tub Time Machine, where does your sense of humor and your level of comedy fall in among theirs?
HILLIER: I’m happy to say that I think it’s pretty much aligned. There’s rarely something that comes where it’s like, “Whoa, do you know who you’re working with?” I think it’s because, yes, they’ve done those, but there’s so much more that we respond to, as a company. We have lots of stuff in development, from live-action to animation, that’s male-driven and female-driven. They have very broad comedic tastes, as I do. There are certain things that we all respond to, but for the most part, it’s fairly similar.
SCHLOSSBERG: Dina worked very closely on Community, which for a network show at the time had its moments of absurdity. When she says broad, it’s a broad range of different tones and things, including the smartest comedy to the dumbest comedy, to stuff that’s really heartfelt, to things that are absurd. We all had that same mindset.
HURWITZ: It’s been fun working with Dina at Counterbalance because the four of us were all born within a year of each other, and we all have the same frame of reference and the same touchstone movies, and we all love the same stuff. There are certain things that we’ve been able to introduce each other to. Josh has known Dina for a while, and Hayden and I met her just before we started working together. It was immediately clear that we all share a sensibility and that sensibility is to do a wide range of different kinds of entertainment that is fun and crowd-pleasing for the audience, whatever that may be, telling stories that maybe you haven’t seen before, but that are accessible for anyone to enjoy.
HEALD: The guys and I began our careers writing very R-rated features with jokes and comedy that is not unlike the type of jokes and comedy you’ll see throughout Plan B. Cobra Kai, for us, was a little bit of a bridge to another type of storytelling, where we don’t have to lead with the filthiest joke we can imagine, that’s been worked over in a roundtable with the three of us, for six months. We can be earnest and you can come upon comedy in a different way from just going for dialogue-driven jokes, at all times. The fun has been collaborating with Dina and figuring out, genre to genre, what we respond to, what we like, and what else is out there that we can lean into from a storytelling perspective. It’s been fun to grow up a little bit, but also to lean into our bread and butter, at the same time.
It seems like any partnership can be challenging, but with a group of you guys working together, it’s great that it all finds its place and that you haven’t killed each other.
HURWITZ: We love collaboration. Hayden and I have been partners in this business for our entire careers, and that started while we were writing in college together. We’ve been friends since high school. Josh, we met our freshman year in college, and came out to L.A. soon after. We’ve all been friends for a long time. The work that the three of us do is really just an extension of our friendship and the kinds of conversations that we’d have at a dinner table or hanging out. We joke around a lot and we tell stories a lot. The kinds of movies or TV shows that you’ve seen from us, that’s the vibe that is around, when we’re all hanging out, and Dina fit in perfectly in that crowd.
And we have plenty of other people that we collaborate with. In the Cobra Kai room, there are a lot of writers in that room who have been there since the first season, many of whom we met right before making the show. You read their material and you have an interview with them to decide if it’s somebody that you want to spend a few months with, have a good time with, can joke around with, and is smart and can tell a story. You find like-minded people and you make sure not to hire assholes. If you do, you get rid of them.
HEALD: The four of us can and do occasionally disagree vehemently with one another and we do want to kill each other, and that’s the fun of it because you get to see and experience somebody’s passion. We’re not just trying to move the ball forward and inch it along. We are taking big swings and we are standing on our own soapbox from time to time saying, “This is the way, and it’s the only way. If you’re not with me, you’re against me and I’m going to burn this whole office down.” That’s what’s fun about it. Because we’ve all known each other for so long, there are no hurt feelings. It’s all coming from the perspective of, “I believe this so strongly that I’ll never give it up.” And then, inevitably, somebody gives it up and you move on and go to lunch, and usually the project is better for it, every single time, because you’ve gone through the gamesmanship of figuring out why something’s either better or worse or neutral.
Is there anything with Plan B that you were surprised you were able to get away with, or that you feel maybe you couldn’t have gotten away with, if it wasn’t for Hulu?
HURWITZ: Not really. I remember being on set and thinking to myself, “Hayden and I have made six movies, and five of them have had penises in them.” I realized that’s really our calling card, at the end of the day. Sometimes they’re real and the actual actor’s penis. Sometimes they’re a prop. This one was a special one.
SCHLOSSBERG: It’s interesting seeing the evolution of fake penis, over the span of 15 years. I got up close. You’ve gotta make sure. It’s all about the texture.
HILLIER: Joking aside, you can have that scene, but then you’re also bawling with these two friends at the climax of the movie. The fact that can live together in one movie and it doesn’t feel jarring is a testament to the writing and the director, and just being mindful of wanting to have both of those live in the same movie. That’s why it feels different and modern and for a new audience, which is what I love about it so much. It does make me laugh, that’s also part of the movie and that’s okay. A female audience wants to laugh at that too. I love that we go there.
HURWITZ: One of the things that we love about entertainment, and especially the way comedy has evolved over time is that you can laugh really hard, but also make an audience cry within the same movie or TV show. With Cobra Kai, there’s a wide variety of tones within the same show, but it all works together and we always say that’s because that’s just the way life is. Everyone lives their own life and you’re the same character in your own life, but sometimes you have moments that are hilarious and sometimes you have moments that are devastating. If you’re following a natural, real character, you’re going to get that, in an honest story. So, in Plan B, as long as Sunny and Lupe, at the center, are true to who they are, and they’re going through their adventure and reacting in the ways that you’d react to each moment. Then you can have those very sophomoric moments and you can have true heart and growth.
It’s a lot for a first-time feature director to take on, and I was really impressed with what Natalie Morales did with this movie. How did she handle things on set with the actors? Did it feel like she had more experience as a director than she had, because of her acting background?
SCHLOSSBERG: Oh, yeah. The ability to work with actors is a huge part of directing and she came in with that knowledge, but you have to do that with multiple different types of people. You have to do that with the studio and you have to do that with producing partners like us. You could see right away that she’s somebody who listens to what you have to say and respects it and takes that in, but also has her own vision. That’s the key to directing, especially if it’s your first time on a feature like this. It didn’t feel like it was her first time. It felt like it’s in her nature to collaborate, yet take a stand and be a leader. That was the aura she gave off, all the way through.
HURWITZ: We knew it from the first meeting we had with her. We knew that she was a first time director, but we remember what it was like for ourselves, the first time we had a directing opportunity. For us, we had never directed anything. We had never directed a home movie before directing a feature film. We had a clear vision for what the movie was and we knew how to articulate that vision to a wide array of people. And the moment you met with Natalie, she got the movie. She read the script, and she loved the script and loved what it was trying to do, but she had her own ideas, she had her own vision for what it would look like, and she had her own vision for what it would sound like. The movie that you see is the movie that she talked about, in a very passionate way and a very clear and concise way. It was not a surprise at all, throughout the process, that when she was giving notes on the script and helping guide that process, and when she was dealing with casting and we saw her in those casting meeting, and then when you saw her on set, she had a complete command, every moment of the way. You just knew that the movie was in her head and she just needed to get it done.
You guys have talked about how you weren’t totally sure you would get Elisabeth Shue to come do Season 3 of Cobra Kai, and obviously you have to have a backup plan with something like that, but how often does that happen, as producers? Do you have lots of backup plans for everything you do, or do you get superstitious about coming up with too many backup plans?
HEALD: With the Elisabeth Shue situation, we really didn’t have a backup plan, or not a backup plan that was viable, that we would have enjoyed presenting to the audience and saying, “This is still our ideal show.” It’s important to not have a backup plan sometimes and take those big creative swings because, if you just have too many backup plans, then your final product can be a mish-mash of backup plans sewn together and it starts to not be all like what you originally intended. But it’s important to also have backup plans one tier down, for the things that don’t have to be a home run, and either you’re going to have a grand slam home run or we’re going to strike out. For some of those base hits, there are lots of different ways to get on base. If it’s about moving a storyline forward, and it’s not the biggest end-all situation that your whole series or your whole film relies upon, it’s always important to have an out. So, it’s a combination. It’s about being willing to compromise and knowing when to be inflexible, and it’s choosing those moments carefully, so you don’t undo the creative vision of how something sets out.
HURWITZ: But with Elisabeth Shue, it was about being inflexible. We had a backup plan, but it was not something that was at the level of what we did. We had an out because the show must go on. We have to deliver something, if the worst-case scenario happens. But we knew that she was willing to do it, so at the end of the day, we had to find a way that was going to get her to do it. We were unwilling to entertain any scenario where she wouldn’t do it.
HILLIER: I definitely like to have a plan. I’m definitely type-A. You always move forward assuming that it’s going to work out. That’s the nature of our job. You’re scrambling at the last minute. Whether you’re in production or in development, you just have to be ready to roll with the punches. That’s something that we’re all used to doing, if something comes up. But yes, I like a plan.
Plan B is available to stream at Hulu.
William Peter Blatty’s 1990 film acts as a mirror and continuation of the original 1973 masterpiece.
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