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Writer/Director Maggie Carey's To Do List For 'The To Do List'

CBS Films
Aubrey Plaza (L) and Alia Shawkat in "The To Do List," which opens July 26 nationwide.

For writer-director Maggie Carey, having the "The To Do List" in theaters nationwide is the last box she has to check off on her own To Do list.

The movie takes places in Idaho, but has roots in Austin. Carey is a graduate of UT's School of Radio, Television and Film, and the movie's script got off the ground at the Austin Film Festival in 2010. 

Here's Carey's own To Do List to make the "The To Do List," based on her interview with KUT News.

1. Get Your Editing and Directing Chops

"Growing up in Boise, Idaho, it was really hard to get a hold of cameras or equipment it was a great time in my life where I could just focus on finding my voice and point of view. I was very much into comedy and hung out with undergrads doing comedy. I found my place there. I found a couple great professors who taught me editing and wrote crazy things while I was here that they didn’t get but what I loved about being in Austin is it has such a great independent film community. There's this real sense you can do it. There’s great crew, great people and if you write something, you just do it. Artistically, you don’t think about 'if it will be commercial or not, or 'if it will make money.'  I've in NY and LA and in LA it's more critical and you can feel beaten down. When you're here its so fun and people are just fans of it. It was huge and I really glad I had the opportunity to find my voice in a safe community and then move to LA and get really beat up."

2. Write what you know

"The To Do List" is loosely based on Carey’s life, growing up in Boise in the early 1990's. In the movie, the character played by actress Aubrey Plaza is the valedictorian of her high school class who discovers boys the night she graduates high school.

"So she makes lists to understand of all these things she needs to do to understand and be good at sex. That is all fiction. The point of view is something I know very well being a teenage girl, being a Type-A girl, I ironed my T-shirts for soccer practice. When you're writing there isn’t a message, I really just had a specific thing that struck me was this point of view when you’re a teenager and you so badly want to know about sex but haven’t had it. There are certain things in life you don’t understand until you experience it. She has this journey of she really wants to lose her virginity. Is it what she expected, no? Is it a bad experience? No, it’ll be a great story. There’s a big build up to that first time but when I talk to my friends it never happens that way."

3. Contact Your Friends From High School for Research

"I saved all these notes back in the old fashioned days of the 90's. I had my old ticket stub for a MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice concert. I gave it to my production designer and they did a fantastic job with it. On set we had the year books. There was a lot of denim on denim. The same with the hair stylist we looked through the yearbook and picked out hairstyles to emulate. It's set in 1993, but this is all coming from Boise, Idaho so it’s really 1988."

4. Get Your Script on the Blacklist

"I wrote the script as a spec and it went out to studios and everyone said 'no.' Then, it was on the 'Blacklist' -- this list that Hollywood execs put together every year. They’re asked what are their favorite scripts they read but aren’t getting produced. It’s this great backhanded compliment where it’s like, 'we loved your script, we will never make it.'” 

5. Get Invited to the Austin Film Festival

"AFF was doing a panel about the 'Blacklist' and they invited our script to do a staged reading. I had always wrote the script with Aubrey Plaza and Bill Hader in mind, and we cast it with local actors and actresses in Austin at the time. It was this great crowd of 300 people. I got to hear the script aloud for the first time and with a cast. It played really well and a bunch of people blogged about it and we used that momentum to attach the rest of the cast. We got our financing and we got to shoot it."

6. Be Friends with Famous, Talented People

"Aubrey Plaza and I met at Upright Citizens Brigade and I wrote the script with her in mind. We went to our friends and people who we were fans of their work. Aubrey was working on a movie with Scott Porter, Jason Street from Friday Night Lights. We have the incredible Connie Britton and Clarke Gregg who is also incredible. Alia Shawkat, she and Aubrey are really good friends. Sarah Steele, Johnny Simmons--he and Aubrey had done Scott Pilgrim together. I have to say the one person I didn’t know was Rachel Bilson and she kills it on set. She is so funny and she improvised some incredible lines. And they all worked for 1993 wages. We paid them $5 dollars an hour." 

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