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'The Vow' writers: A tale Tatum and McAdams could appreciate

February 20, 2012 |  7:30 am

The Vow, starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, has become a hit at the box office. Its writers have endured their own romantic struggles
What if you were engaged to your professional partner and called off the wedding -- but decided to keep working together anyway?  It could be a plot line from a movie like "The Vow" or "He's Just Not That Into You." But it's something a tad more surreal: the real-life story of the writing duo behind those films.

Directed by Michael Sucsy and released last week, "The Vow" is set to close out a strong holiday weekend with a likely four-day haul that will top $27 million, making it the most lucrative release of the young year. The relationships in the Rachel McAdams-Channing Tatum romantic drama, in which he must court his amnesiac wife anew after she wakes from a coma and reverts to an earlier version of herself, are complicated enough.

But the tale of writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein rivals anything their characters grapple with.

Kohn and Silverstein dated for seven years, then broke up in the early 2000s. They proceeded to marry other people -- she, in 2005, music executive Jason Linn; he, two years later, actress Busy Phillips. They each now have daughters with their new spouses. But they continue to collaborate on scripts about relationships and romance -- in fact, they've found far more success since their breakup -- as they practice what is surely one of the oddest professional relationships in a town filled with them.

Abby: "It's a little weird," speaking by phone this weekend in a joint interview with her writing partner, the two routinely finishing each other's thoughts.
Marc: "Maybe more than a little weird."
Abby: "I think when I first started dating [my husband], he had questions, but he got it pretty quickly."
Marc: "My wife had a tougher time at the beginning."
Abby: "It's not simple."
Marc: "It's not a simple thing to explain on a first date."
Abby: "On a third date."

After meeting in film school at USC and hooking up as lovers and filmmaking partners, Kohn and Silverstein graduated and began writing feature scripts about young love. Though only in their 20s, they soon sold a pitch, a back-to-school comedy titled "Never Been Kissed." Within a year, the movie was shooting with Drew Barrymore. It was considered a respectable hit when it came out in 1999.

PHOTOS: "The Vow" premiere

The years that followed were rougher. The pair toiled in television, watching as pilot deals came and went. For a time their relationship intensified -- they became engaged and were just a few months from the wedding -- then it sputtered. The two decided to break up. (Abby: "When we were younger it was work all the time." Marc: "It was probably a little unhealthy, though we got a lot more done." Abby: "We got a lot more done, and we also didn't do anything else.")

Most couples would have thrown in the towel on their creative partnership at that point. But the breakup wasn't messy, and besides, the two had more pressing concerns.

Marc: "When we decided not to get married, we were contractually obligated on a pilot."


Abby: "We were in pre-production; we couldn't take time off."
Marc: "So we figured we should try to work together."
Abby: "We had to do it."
Marc: "It was not great."
Abby: "But it didn't take that long for it to get normal again."

They continued with that pilot, then others. At one point they even created a show,  "Splitsville," that was based on their own story. It didn't turn into a series, but the pair continued trying to get a movie or television show going.

Then a few years ago, a break came. After numerous writers tried to crack the story on a thin self-help book called "He's Just Not That Into You," Kohn and Silverstein had the idea to turn it into an ensemble romance with overlapping characters. They  were given the assignment, then watched as the movie went on to become a hit in February 2009.

Soon after, they did some work on "Valentine's Day," another ensemble romantic comedy. That became a hit too. And then came "The Vow," a project at the company then called Spyglass (a third writer the pair didn't work with, Jason Katims, also got a screenplay credit, while a fourth received a story credit). The movie is Kohn's and Silverstein's third Valentine's Day hit in four years -- all after they called it quits as a couple.

The two events, they say, might not be a coincidence. They speculate that they're able in their scripts to cover the gamut of romantic experience -- breakups and happy unions, expressed as both comedies and dramas -- because they'd been through it all themselves.

The inspiration for "The Vow," in fact, came from a potential scenario in their own lives. "It was like 'What would happen if somehow I forgot I was with my husband and thought I might still have feelings for Marc. How would my husband react?'" Kohn said. (Silverstein added that he thought one reason the movie has caught on is because  "there's something sort of simple and appealing about someone promising to do something and trying to stick to it.")

The pair is heading back to their writing cave (well, an office they rent jointly). They'd like to try to write an original script; much of their work to this point has been based on existing projects. They're also set to start work this week on a rewrite of a comedy called "Mean Moms" that's a sequel of sorts to " Mean Girls." It's something they feel qualified to write now that they have children themselves, just as they feel qualified to write a range of other romantic stories.

Marc: "I think we have the best of both worlds. I know a lot of writing teams that, as good friends as they are, still can't say to each other what we can say to each other."
Abby: "There's no tiptoeing with us."
Marc: "We've already said the worst possible things to each other."
Abby: "Well, maybe not the worst."


Review: "The Vow" leaves you wanting more

"The Vow" leads strong weekend with $41.7 million

"The Vow:" What is it about Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams?

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams in "The Vow." Credit: Screen Gems