How 17 Again changes up the classic "switch" fantasy

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Jason Filardi, screenwriter of the new fantasy comedy 17 Again, told reporters that he created his own "switch" movie because he liked the classic storytelling structure of the subgenre.

"There's a reason they keep getting made," Filardi said in a news conference on Sunday in Beverly Hills, Calif. "This is the mythic [story], the idea of going back to that seminal moment in your life when you had a choice to make and you would go down this road or that road, and you go down this road. At some point later in your life, you wonder."

17 Again follows the story of Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry), an unhappy thirtysomething businessman who awakens one morning to discover that he has been transformed into his teenage self (Zac Efron). Filardi discussed the process of reinventing the "switch movie" genre alongside director Burr Steers and producers Adam Shankman and Jessica Gibgot. The following is an edited version of that new conference.

There's certainly a number of these "switch" movies already. How did you figure out how you wanted to reinvent that subgenre?

Filardi: I always thought there was a movie in the saying, "if only I knew then what I know now." For years I've been saying, "I know there's a movie in there somewhere." So one day I just started saying, "Well, what would you do? You would go back to high school." And as I was fleshing out the story, I wasn't even thinking about those other movies, but I realized I was doing a reverse Big, and as a joke for a while, we called it Small. Actually, in the original pitch, the kid, Zac's character, comes back, and he's 14 years old, because I thought it would be funnier if he was a 14-year-old kid and he was hitting on his wife.

But when I brought it to Jennifer, she heard the pitch and she goes, "Could we up the age a little bit?" She goes, "I've got this kid, and he's going to be a star." I'd never heard of him, I'd never seen High School Musical, but I went home and I saw his picture and I said, "Yeah, why not?" Thank God. Then it was about, as we developed the pitch more together, just trying to make sure there were differences between ours and those other switch movies, which I hope [we pulled off].

Shankman: For us, where it really clicked was when Burr, who I'm a huge fan of from Igby [Goes Down], when we had somebody with that kind of intelligence and take on it wanted to come to the table, that's what makes the most significant difference. Burr is smarter.

Gibgot: He kept talking about movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Big and trying to really go back to those movies that are classics, that are timeless, I think.

Shankman: And that's what we've made here! On the record, this is one of the most important films you will ever see in your life.