Like many movies on the fringe, Maggie Carey’s comedy, “The To Do List,” almost didn’t get made. Her script, which was about an overachieving high school grad trying to experience every sexual act she’s ever heard of before going off to college, had been sent to studios on spec, and they all passed. That was until producer Jennifer Todd — who now runs Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company — picked up the Black List script and helped Carey find financing and attach a cast.
Two years after filming the raunchy, ensemble comedy, the movie is out. It stars “Parks and Recreation” cast member Aubrey Plaza, former “Saturday Night Live” star Bill Hader (who is Carey’s husband), and a pack of character actors, from Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) to Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”). In a recent phone interview, Carey talked about her small project with big names, and how it got to the big screen.
Q. Jennifer Todd is kind of a big deal, right?
A. She’s awesome. She’s done some incredible work. What I love about Jennifer is that she’s done huge studio films and then she’s done some incredible indie movies, too. And it was also great to work with a female producer. It wasn’t a thought at the time, but it was kind of awesome to have that point of view when we were making a movie that was focused on the female point of view.
Q. You filmed this movie two years ago. Did the lag time before release drive you crazy?
A. I took advantage of it. We had no budget, so everything was favors. . . . I was fortunate to get a great cast, but they’re all on TV shows, so when we needed to do reshoots, we had to stop editing for three months to wait for a hiatus. The movie was luckily set in 1993 so it didn’t affect the story at all. I never stopped working. We just kept showing it to people and getting feedback and trying to make it better.
Q. For a movie with no budget, you have a huge cast with big names. Is this where you called in favors?
A. Aubrey and I know each other from Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. We were both in improv classes together. I’m pretty familiar with Bill Hader because we’re married. That was the core team. Then we all have a crush on Connie Britton, so we knew we had to have her. Bill had worked with [Christopher] Mintz-Plasse, so he sent him the script. And of course, Andy [Samberg] is a good friend. Bill worked with him on “SNL.” Really the only cast member we didn’t know was Rachel Bilson, and she was amazing. She’s absolutely the best. She’s funny on the first take.
Q. You set this film in 1993. What movies did you watch as a teen?
A. “Can’t Buy Me Love” was one that my friends watched constantly. And also “Pretty Woman” came out around then. I grew up around John Hughes movies, so “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty in Pink.” When I was trying to get financing, sometimes I’d refer to the movie as a dirty “Sixteen Candles.”
Q. This film is dirty. Was that why you had trouble getting it made?
A. When I wrote it as a spec, all the studios passed — they didn’t want a hard R story about a girl losing her virginity — or they didn’t like the script [laughs]. It could have been that too.
Q. Well, it’s still a hard R.
A. It is. And I love that there is no nudity and it’s like the most unsexy sex scenes ever — ever directed. I will take credit for that. It’s not a sexy movie. It’s also not a romantic comedy. It’s just a comedy.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.