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‘Rough Night’: How Two Screenwriters Broke Boundaries to Make an R-Rated Female-Centric Comedy

The hard-R comedy isn't a rarity in the studio world, but one directed by a woman is. Here's how the partners smashed that standard to make their very funny new film.

“Rough Night”

It comes as little surprise that Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs are a lot of fun to be around, laughing easily and finishing each other sentences when it comes to talking about their work. And there’s a lot of work to talk about, particularly their feature film debut, the Sony comedy “Rough Night.” Aniello directed the hard-R female-centric feature from the pair’s screenplay – they’re often splitting duties this way, though Aniello emerged early on as the director – which also features Downs in a supporting role.

READ MORE: ‘Rough Night’: Filmmaker Lucia Aniello Breaks Into the Male-Dominated R-Rated Comedy — Watch

Written as a spec script, “Rough Night” sparked a minor bidding war in the spring of 2015 when Sony Pictures picked up their then-untitled screenplay (the film later appeared on the Black List that same year). “Rough Night” follows a motley group of old friends, reunited for a catastrophically bad bachelorette weekend that goes topside when the gals accidentally off a male stripper during a raucous evening out. That’s just the start of the misadventures that unspool over the course of the funny, bawdy story.

Breaking Down the Boys’ Club

The hard-R comedy isn’t exactly a rarity in the studio world, but one directed by a woman is, and the pair is still surprised by the limited company the budding director now finds herself in — one that includes names like Susan Seidelman, Amy Heckerling, and Gillian Robespierre. Aniello says two of her all-time favorites include a pair of hard-R comedies from female directors, Tamra Davis’ “Half-Baked” and Betty Thomas’ “Private Parts.”

“Obviously, there are less women than men directing across the board, but weirdly, comedy is still so much a boys’ club,” Downs said during a recent interview. “It’s really kind of shocking.” Aniello added, “Especially in features.”

“Rough Night”

Columbia Pictures

Both agree that the television landscape is friendlier to female creators, if only because it can move more quickly than its movie brethren.

But the film world offered them the chance to really get down and dirty, and the raunchy, wild, and occasionally violent feature they’ve crafted embraces its rating with gusto. (Officially, the MPAA gave the film its rating for “crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images,” which is about the sum of it.)

“It’s hard-R,” Aniello said. “It’s a capital R, it’s a beautiful capital R.”

But, added Downs, that doesn’t come at the expense of depth. “I think really delighted by how grounded it is,” she said. “It’s not super sketchy or broad. We tried, when we were writing, to think about what we would actually do if something like this happened.”

READ MORE: ‘Broad City’: Abbi and Ilana Prank Each Other in Hilarious April Fool’s Day Short — Watch

Aniello and Downs have cultivated their working relationship over the course of the last decade. The personal and professional partners first met at an Upright Citizens Brigade improv class in 2007 and soon started collaborating on a series of digital shorts, before launching their own production company. Just as Aniello and Downs were building their portfolio (including “The Real Housewives of South Boston” and what would become the mini-series “Time Traveling Bong”), so too were their fellow UCBers and pals Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who had turned their attentions to “Broad City.”

Aniello directed the pilot of Glazer and Jacobson’s popular Comedy Central series, with Downs popping up in a supporting role. Once the cable outfit officially picked up the show, Aniello and Downs joined the show’s fledgling writers room (they also produce episodes of the show, and Aniello has directed 11 so far).

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