‘We are always in sync’
Writer-duo Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, whose Amazon original, I Want You Back, is all set to premiere this Friday, discuss their decade-long partnership, writing process, and more
Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger first met in 2005 at New York University's Tish school while pursuing majors in dramatic writing. They wrote their first script together in college. Today, seventeen years later, the writing duo has acclaimed titles—across television and feature films—such as Love, Simon, its spin-off series 'Love, Victor', This is Us, and How I Met Your Father, to their credit, and are now awaiting the release of their next feature, the romantic comedy, I Want You Back.
Having worked together on numerous projects over the years, are they able to read others’ minds by now? Elizabeth laughs and admits that they do. “You spend so much time together that if your thought processes do not align, it’s not going to work, and you will end up disliking your life. It’s really important to our relationship that we stay aligned; we see each other as much as we see our partners. We are always in sync, and we enjoy it.”
The acquaintance with each others’ writing styles doesn't take away the element of surprise though. “There are always gonna be moments of surprises and moments that you don’t quite anticipate. We split our work into halves and work on it separately. When we combine them, it somehow feels like the same puzzle,” says Isaac.
Their next, I Want You Back, is a romantic comedy about a man and woman who bond over the process of pursuing their respective exes—as the title alludes to—after experiencing painful breakups. The film has a host of characters, people who are based on those around the writers. “We take inspiration from ourselves... our friends, our mistakes, misfortunes…” Elizabeth shares, with a wide smile. “I think we are always—especially with a movie like this—aiming to make these people relatable. Hopefully, people will go, ‘I know that person!’ or ‘Hey, that’s my idiot friend!’. We want our films to portray the lives of our viewers and the people they know.”
At one point in the film, Jenny Slate’s character offers comfort to a perplexed child by sharing that adults are as confused and uncertain as kids. This line—which encapsulates the essence of the film—is inspired by the duo’s own experiences, while scripting the film. Elizabeth shares, “We wrote this movie while attending dozens of meetings, driving around the town, and making a ton of mistakes. The combination of trying to act like grown-ups who are in complete control of their lives while, in reality, having no idea about what’s happening around, is a prevailing feeling in the film, and I suspect we were in a similar zone while penning it.”
Modus operandi varies from writer to writer. Some create characters first and spin the world around them, while others tend to cultivate characters from the milieu of the story. For Isaac and Elizabeth though, thanks to their working style, it’s a combination of both, with characters and their world coming to life simultaneously. “We spend a lot of time understanding the ideas and characters of the film. If it’s a comedy, we try to make each other laugh to figure out what makes the film and its characters interesting. We then map out the whole story, and like Elizabeth said, we write in two chunks. Once we get near the 100-page mark, we collate our parts and begin rewriting and polishing until we think it might finally look good.”
Barring Love, Simon, and now, I Want You Back, Isaac and Elizabeth have predominantly worked in the long-format medium. “We love both features and series. There are some fundamental differences, of course—the pacing of the story and how long you live with these characters. There’s a satisfaction in telling a story in say, 90 minutes or two hours, where you have the opportunity to explore scenes and let every scene breathe, as opposed to a TV show, where you have to cram a lot into one episode. On the other hand, you also have to make a series that will have longevity and one that will allow you to spread the story in a completely different way. I think both have their own appeal; it’s just about tapping into different kinds of storytelling.” Isaac quickly adds, “This is why we do both; it’s fun to bounce back and forth.”
The duo had a fruitful (read ‘hectic’) 2021, completing work on the third season of Love, Victor and later, How I Met Your Father. In addition to I Want You Back—which Isaac says was written a while ago and was waiting for the cast to fall into place—they have also wrapped up their work on the sixth and final season of This is Us. Speaking about their headspace when there are as many characters and storylines to keep track of, Elizabeth tells with a laugh, “Right now, yes, it is all a little crazy. I Want You Back has been with us for a long time, and we are now so close to people finally getting to watch it. It’s exciting that we are nearing the finish line. But yes, it’s all bonkers!”