News Column

Boise native Carey enjoys success with 'The To Do List'

August 10, 2013


Aug. 10--Working in the independent film industry, it's important to set achievable goals so you know when you meet them.

For Maggie Carey, screenwriter and director of "The To Do List," this is what all the effort boiled down to: "I wanted to make my high school girlfriends laugh," she said from her home in Los Angeles.

When the movie came out, the Borah High graduate knew she'd hit it on the nose.

"They all came down for the Hollywood premiere and sat in front of Aubrey Plaza (the film's star)," Carey said. "Afterwards, Aubrey said, 'Maggie, now I know why you kept all those things in, because (your friends) were laughing at every little detail.' And that was the whole goal. You can't please everyone. But I wanted to make them laugh."

Carey's comedy opened July 26 and became a popular summer flick. It will play at Edwards 22 Cinemas in Boise for at least another week.

The little film outpaced expectations for a teen sex comedy, especially in critical praise. It has earned about $3.4 million at the box office so far, after grossing $1.58 million its opening weekend -- a little more than what it cost to film it.

The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger wrote, "This movie is smarter and better acted and just plain funnier than most of its predecessors in the my-first-time genre."

For Genzlinger, that included the movie that "blew" Carey's mind, "American Pie."

Across the board, the reviews ranged from cheerful to glowing -- although Carey says she hasn't read any of them.

"But I've been told about the positive ones and I'm really excited," she said. "I'll be the first one to tell you what's wrong with the movie. That's why I'm not reading them."

The film is about a smart, ambitious teenager, played by Plaza, who graduates from a Boise high school in 1993. (This is about as far as the biographical stuff goes, Carey says).

Brandy makes it her goal not only to lose her virginity, but also to become sexually experienced the summer before college. She makes a list of everything she needs to do, checking them off one by one.

Carey took the premise that's been the crux of so many male coming-of-age comedies and turned it on its head. Brandy is less driven by hormones and more by ambition.

She then worked to supply a smart, clever script and a well-heeled supporting cast, including Carey's husband, "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Bill Hader.

Also helping the movie stand out is its sweet-natured nod to the 1990s, with references to Tracey Gold and Trapper Keepers, to Wonderbras, Marky Mark and VHS tapes.

Carey shot "The To Do List" in Los Angeles at a breakneck pace, and brokered a rare distribution deal for an independent film with CBS Films. That allowed her to skip the year of traveling to film festivals that indie flicks normally take.

Carey said whatever true-to-life moments come out in the movie are the result of developing Boise in the pre-Internet 1990s.

"We were a little behind the times then," she said. "We would drive six hours to the first mall in Salt Lake City to shop. That was high fashion."

Carey credits her childhood in Boise with helping her growth as an artist. She said she rode her bicycle everywhere, tromped through pastures and played in the ditch behind her family's home -- all unsupervised.

She took her first stab at filmmaking at 14 out of sheer boredom over spring break. It was titled "Boys Are Idiots." Carey filmed her guy friends to see how far they could spit while chewing tobacco.

After high school, she studied film in college, inspired by Kevin Smith's 1994 comedy "Clerks."

" 'Clerks' was a huge inspiration," Carey said. "Before that I didn't even know that film school was something you could do. When that movie came out, I thought, 'I better get in on this.' "

Carey honed her comedy chops in New York's Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe, where she met Hader.

She's also written several projects with writer/actress Liz Cackowski, including episodes of HBO's "Funny or Die Presents ..." and an online series, "The Jeannie Tate Show," about a soccer mom who interviews celebrities out of her minivan.

Carey and Hader live in Los Angeles but visit Boise regularly.

"Boise's gotten really fun in the past few years," Carey said. "Every time we visit there's so much going on. It's really cool."

Carey is happy about the attention her film has received but said it's probably not going to propel her into a major studio deal.

"The budget depends on the story. I'm happy for it to be an indie," Carey said. "I love independent films and working in that world. It's hard dealing with a low budget, but you have more creative freedom. I like working that way."


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