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Nell Scovell wrote a movie based on ‘Lean In’ — but Hollywood tried to turn it into ‘Bridesmaids’

Kristen Bell was involved at one point, but now the film is “in turnaround” — not good.

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“Lean In” cover with “Bridesmaids” art Eric Johnson for Recode; original images: Knopf Doubleday, Apatow Productions

In 2013, “Lean In” was a nonfiction bestseller, but Nell Scovell — who co-wrote the book with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — thought it could make a good movie. She translated the book’s teachings about women in the workplace to a fictional story.

“Everyone assumed it was going to be about a group of women who are best friends and some choose to go into the workplace and some choose to have kids,” Scovell said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And I said, no. It’s going to be about two best friends who are graduating from law school at the same time, they both go to work for the same law firm. One’s a man and one’s a woman: How do they get treated differently?”

Scovell spoke to Recode’s Swisher in late April at a live event in San Francisco, produced by the Commonwealth Club of California. Previously a writer on TV shows like “The Simpsons,” “Murphy Brown” and “Coach,” she was proud of her final draft and got a studio on board to produce it; at one point, “Veronica Mars” and “The Good Place” star Kristen Bell did a read-through and “loved it,” she recalled.

But then the notes from the producers started coming in, trying to make the movie fit what they thought a story “for women” should be.

“One of the issues with that script was, the lead woman wasn’t a mess,” Scovell said. “They kept saying, ‘Couldn’t you put in a makeover scene? Women love makeover scenes!’ Like ‘Pretty Woman.’”

“And this was women giving these notes,” she added. “The problem is, you look at what’s been successful — it’s ‘Bridesmaids.’ She’s a mess, she’s trying to get her life together, ‘that movie worked, all movies should be like that about women.’ You don’t say that about men.”

Today, the “Lean In” movie is “in turnaround” — Hollywood lingo for treading water, with the original studio having given up on the picture, although it may get made eventually if another studio buys it.

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Scovell also talked about her new book “Just the Funny Parts” (the contents of which she discussed in more detail on a previous episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka), as well as writing jokes for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg. And she said there’s a downside to the downfall of entertainment figures like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein — their abuses were so egregious that others get overlooked.

“We end up in a place that if you haven’t raped a dozen women, you’re a gentleman,” Scovell said. “Two of the producers who condemned Harvey Weinstein, I know for a fact have settled sexual harassment suits. That doesn’t make me feel really good about the whole thing.”

“My personal opinion is that #MeToo was born out of the feeling that women have nothing left to lose,” she added. “We watched Donald Trump win this election — or steal this election — and so now, there’s no reason not to speak out.”

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