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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

'The Intern's Handbook' Author Shane Kuhn Talks Sony Movie Deal, Prior Internships

Kathy Zerbib |
March 28, 2015 | 12:22 p.m. PDT

Senior Entertainment Editor

Author Shane Kuhn says he puts a "ton" of himself into protagonist John Lago (Photo courtesy of Sasha Gullish).
Author Shane Kuhn says he puts a "ton" of himself into protagonist John Lago (Photo courtesy of Sasha Gullish).
Shane Kuhn's "The Intern's Handbook" will forever change your idea of the average, unassuming intern. This book, the first in a series, is stuffed with witty one-liners and grisly narration. The perfect combination of black humor and plot twists makes this story worth bringing to the big screen, as Sony Pictures is set to do.

The protagonist is John Lago, a trained assassin who disguises himself as an office intern in order to get close to his targets: dirtbag corporate executives. This book is written as a DIY manual slash memoir from his point of view to future interns, in which he outlines the necessary rules for survival (and subsequently confesses to breaking these rules himself). 

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At 24 years young, John is on the brink of retirement (After all, who ever heard of a 25-year-old intern?) and needs to complete one more job before he can revel in his pension fund. His last stint is at a Manhattan law firm, where he meets an undercover FBI agent named Alice who is tasked with tracking down the same target. From there, things get rather complicated.

The best part of "The Intern's Handbook," besides the fascinating storyline, is the way Kuhn does descriptions. Every line is over the top, but it works. The goriness is gut-wrenching, the comedy is hilarious and the plot twists are stunning. The violence in the book might be a bit to handle, but it's simply too addicting to put down. 

Dave Franco ("Neighbors") will star as John Lago in the movie adaptation. An interesting choice, to say the least, but Kuhn has faith in Franco's talent. 

READ MORE: Film Review: 'Neighbors'

Neon Tommy spoke with the author about his own lackluster internships and scoring a movie deal with Sony Pictures. 

Neon Tommy: What made you want to write this book?

Shane Kuhn: I wrote this book because I was sick of the entertainment business and I was desperate to create something that I could see through to the end. I spent many years in Los Angeles reaching for the brass ring and had very marginal success. I am a very creative person, so I constantly need outlets, whether they are writing, or music, or filmmaking. I was coming off a straight to video writing project called “Dead in Tombstone” (not my title) and I was wondering if the next stop was the Bulgarian porn industry. So, I said “fuck it” and decided to write a book. I had been kicking “The Intern’s Handbook” around for a while as a potential feature and decided it would be a great book instead. And I burned all my expectations. I just told myself I would write it the way I wanted to write it and I wouldn’t worry about whether or not anyone would like it. As soon as I started writing it, I felt free. The pages poured out and, for the first time in years, I was having fun writing! Imagine that!

NT: How did you break into the film industry? 

SK: I graduated from AFI in 1994, back when Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana roamed the earth. While I was in film school, the independent film movement was really starting to take off. Guys like Richard Linklater (I interviewed him about “Slacker” for my college in London a year before I went to AFI), Gregg Araki, Nick Gomez, Ed Burns, and Kevin Smith were coming up, making indie features and inspiring my classmates and I to do the same. Darren Aronofsky, Scott Silver, and Mark Waters were all in my class. They were in the directing school and I was in the screenwriting. Actually, Jesse Alexander, a massive TV producer now (“Lost,” “Alias,” “Heroes,” “Hannibal”), was in my class. So, given the climate at the time, I took on the ambitious task of attempting to write and direct my own feature film. I completed my film, “Redneck,” but that in of itself was the greatest accomplishment around that project. “Redneck” is a horrendously bad film (sometimes in a good way, mostly always in a bad way), but I learned a lot about producing (which I do now) and had a lot of fun. After that, I focused on writing and it took me about ten years to finally sell something to a studio. In that time, though, I did something of which I am very proud – I co-founded the Slamdance Film Festival, which is now two decades old and has helped to discover people like Greg Mottolla (“Superbad”) and Chris Nolan. But, like I said, my screenwriting career was mediocre at best. I even attempted to direct another movie with my writing partner at the time which was also a colossal flop. I may attempt to direct again someday because I have had a lot of success in corporate videos and commercials and I am hoping the third time is a charm.

NT: Where did you intern? Which of your internships is most like the environment described in the book?

SK: I have had several internships in a wide variety of businesses. My first internship was the summer after I graduated high school at an engineering firm in my hometown – Fort Collins, CO. I was supposed to be filing and typing letters but I spent most of my time sleeping off hangovers in the file room and reading books in the storage closet. Let’s just say I was more interested in using “party” as a verb that summer. What’s cool is that this is the first time I understood the concepts of access and anonymity as an intern. Because people were as reluctant to do their jobs as I was (even though they were getting paid), they were constantly having me do things that their admins weren’t even allowed to do. And I could pretty much go wherever I wanted without getting hassled. It was pretty ridiculous and what’s more absurd is they ended up offering me a job after my internship was done! I also interned in the photo department of a newspaper when I was in college and then when I went to film school in Los Angeles, I interned at a few production companies. The internship environment that I think is most like the one in the book is my first internship. It was a stuffy, corporate hive with a lot of curmudgeonly engineers and office lifers. Also, like I said, they were very particular about keeping departments in their places and running an orderly operation. In short, I was sentenced to spending every day with people who were polar opposites of me for nearly an entire summer. No wonder I drank so much beer! Every time I left there I felt like I needed a shower and a lobotomy!

NT: How important are internships these days? Should students hone in on paid internships, or should they humbly accept unpaid internships even if they don't add much to their real-life skills?

SK: I think internships are incredibly important. Personally, I learned more about the movie business from my internships than I ever did in film school. The concept of the internship is excellent – spend time working with experts in a field who are mentoring you in exchange for you doing the shit work they hate to do. Keep in mind these experts are busy people so even if an intern is not getting paid, it’s still more of a burden for the expert to find time to mentor someone. So, if you approach the internship with mindfulness and intelligence, you will seek out the treasure trove of knowledge you’re looking to gain and use the internship to gain it. College courses actually cost you money and you don’t always learn that much about how you can practically apply it to the work world. Back in time, people learned trades as apprentices and this is a similar arrangement in my opinion. Therefore, whether it’s paid or not (have you seen the bullshit “stipends” companies are offering as “intern pay” in order to avoid lawsuits?), if you choose the right internship and spend the right amount of time in it, you will find it invaluable. In nearly every internship I ever had, this was the case. And in nearly all of those situations, I was eventually offered a job. It’s called paying your dues and it prepares you more for your career of choice than anything else. 

NT: How has the role of the intern evolved over the years, if you believe that it has at all?

SK: I think it has evolved into something companies do just to do it and something interns do just to do it. It’s like some kind of resume checkbox. People are just going through the motions and interns don't get as many interesting responsibilities anymore. That’s going to get worse with all the lawsuits. In fact, many companies have abandoned their intern programs all together and that sucks for all the young people out there who are willing to pay their dues to learn something valuable that you cannot learn in school.  

NT: How much of yourself did you put into John? 

SK: There is a ton of me in John. Of course, I am not a killer. However, John’s frustration with his situation and desperation to make a profound change relates to my own state of mind when I sat down to write the book. Like him, I felt trapped and fearful of attempting to make a change. So, thematically at least, John and I had very similar and relatable experiences.  

Dave Franco will star as assassin John Lago in "The Intern's Handbook" (Twitter/@jessicalandis3).
Dave Franco will star as assassin John Lago in "The Intern's Handbook" (Twitter/@jessicalandis3).
NT: Why was Dave Franco chosen for this role? How will he fit into the story's dark humor and the sarcastic one-liners by John Lago?

SK: Dave Franco is a guy with a ton of talent, an excellent acting pedigree, and great presence. When I met him in person, he immediately reminded me of Tom Cruise back in the “All The Right Moves” and “Risky Business” days. He is highly charismatic and has obvious star power. I believe he has what it takes to bring John to life in a profoundly interesting way and make his mark in cinema. I’m just excited that his first real breakout role just might be John Lago.

READ MORE: 9 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Cast Of 'Neighbors' 

NT: Do you have any fears about the book becoming a movie? How closely will you be working with the screenwriters?

SK: Terrible fears. The script has already gone through two drafts and I’m not involved in that process at all. Basically, when I sold the rights, I had to make a choice. In one scenario, I could have written the script and worked with a great director. In the other, I could have worked with a great producer and they would have an A-list writer pen the script. I chose the producer for a very simple and clear reason: my life is about writing books now. When I optioned the book, I was deeply involved in writing “Hostile Takeover” and my third book, “Business Class,” was next. I am also a Vice President of Creative for a media company in San Francisco – and I have a family. So, I needed to protect my book writing time because I am committed to publishing a novel every year until I croak. The way I look at the movie is that I hope it will be good, but if it isn’t, it will still help me to sell more books and keep on writing. It’s so ironic that I feel this way after all these years trying to make it in the movie business, but that’s what happens when you find your true calling in life – you never want to stop and you can’t bear the thought of anything getting in the way. 

NT: How much of the book - with all its witty descriptions and comic banter - will be in the movie?

SK: I am not sure about that. I would love it if a filmmaker could really capture the essence of the book on the big screen, but so much needs to happen for the film to even get made so I am tempering my expectations. If the movie is not what you or other readers wanted, please don’t hold it against me. Even if I had written the script myself, there are so many steps in film development and production and no one but the studio has final cut.  

NT: Who would you dream-cast as Alice?

SK: I am a big fan of Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna,” “Grand Budapest”) and Emma Stone (“Birdman”). Both are already incredibly accomplished actors and both have tremendous power and presence. In some ways, Alice is an even more complex and sometimes stronger character than John. The woman who brings her to life on the screen will need to dig deep into herself and find a wild and beautiful dark side that is both seductive and terrifying. 

NT: What can fans expect from the sequel?

SK: Fans can expect to see John back in action – bigger than life – in a story that is less a sequel and more the next installment in what I hope will be a very long series. You get to find out what happened after the end of “The Intern’s Handbook” and see the very unpredictable result of that play out in a really fun way. I actually had a lot of fun writing “Hostile Takeover” and I hope that translates on the page. 

Snag your own copy of "The Intern's Handbook" here.

Reach Senior Entertainment Editor Kathy Zerbib here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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