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Arlington native and screenwriter Isaac Aptaker explains how ‘I Want You Back’ almost came home to Boston

Screenwriter and producer Isaac Aptaker's first feature film, "I Want You Back," comes out Friday on Amazon Prime.Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The Jenny Slate-Charlie Day rom-com, “I Want You Back,” the brainchild of longtime writing partners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, is out this week on Amazon Prime. The pair have gone from filming low-budget shows in their East Village apartment to a powerhouse duo with projects like “This Is Us,” “Love, Victor,” and “How I Met Your Father” under their belt.

Aptaker, who grew up in Arlington, said he “was obsessed with TV” as a child. When he realized that he wanted to be a screenwriter, penning an imaginary episode of “Boy Meets World” was enough to convince his mother not to cut off his time in front of the tube.


“She was like, ‘Oh OK, you can watch as much TV as you want,’” Aptaker said.

After graduating from Arlington High School, Aptaker interned for WGBH’s “Survivor’s Guide to High School” before leaving Massachusetts for New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study screenwriting, where he met Berger.

Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker have been writing partners since film school, with shows such as "This Is Us," "Grandfathered," and most recently "How I Met Your Father" under their belt.Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“My father was the head writer of ‘Sesame Street,’” Berger said. “I was lucky enough to be one of those people who was raised thinking that it was a real job that you could actually have.”

Toward the end of their time at NYU, the pair wrote their first TV show, “The Walk Up,” and received a $10,000 grant from the university to film it.

“We didn’t murder each other through that process,” Aptaker said, “so we moved out to Los Angeles around the same time, and lived in the same crappy apartment complex, to try having a go of it professionally.”

It started with Aptaker working as an assistant to film producer Robert Cort and Berger writing celebrity gossip, but since they moved to LA, the pair have never stopped collaborating.

As they worked their day jobs and wrote by night, Aptaker and Berger penned the script for “Lauren Pemberton Is No Longer in a Relationship.” While it ultimately never made it to film, the script landed them on industry news outlet the Tracking Board’s 2010 Hit List, alongside scripts for films such as “Now You See Me” and “Apollo 18.”


From there the pair signed with their manager and transitioned back into television writing, joining the short-lived 2011 NBC sitcom “Friends with Benefits.” They went on to the 2012-14 sci-fi comedy “The Neighbors” and the 2015-16 sitcom, “Grandfathered,” before their longest-running gig to date: co-running NBC’s award-winning drama “This Is Us,” with producer and screenwriter Dan Fogelman.

For their latest project, “I Want You Back,” Aptaker and Berger were inspired by 1999 teen drama “Cruel Intentions.”

“Everyone in that movie is so sexy and so cool and whenever there’s a scheme they seem to know exactly what they’re doing,” Berger said, “and [we thought] what if there was a movie where the people were scheming but they were not like that? They were more like people that generally have no idea what they’re doing but are trying to fake it as if they do, and that made us laugh.”

Charlie Day from Rhode Island and Jenny Slate from Milton star in the Amazon original "I Want You Back."Courtesy of Amazon Studios/Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

“I Want You Back” follows the story of two newly dumped singles, Emma (Milton native Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day, who grew up in Rhode Island), as they hatch a sneaky plan to win back their exes (Scott Eastwood and Gina Rodriguez). The film — directed by Jason Orley and produced through Aptaker and Berger’s The Walk-Up Company — was originally set in Somerville and Cambridge, near Aptaker’s hometown, but for production and financial reasons the film eventually settled on Atlanta.


“There was a Tufts connection, there was a Red Sox game, they go out to a big nightclub [in] Downtown Crossing,” Aptaker said. “It was a very Boston movie that became a very Atlanta movie.”

Still, Aptaker added that he’d “love to” work on a Massachusetts-based project.

Stream “I Want You Back” on Amazon Prime.

Sam Trottenberg can be reached at