Cari Lynn is a contributor to AwardsLine

Despite creating one of the year’s biggest box office hits, Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids co-screenwriters and longtime friends Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wigg are self-effacing, readily confessing to embarking on their script by buying a how-to book. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Wiig says. “We bought Syd Field’s book, and then we were like, “OK, I think on page 30, our first act has to be over…?’”

Wiig and Mumolo met in the early 2000s at L.A.’s improv and sketch theater group The Groundlings, where they describe gravitating toward each other. “Some of my favorite things that I wrote at The Groundlings — all of them, I think — were with Annie,” Wiig says. “We just have a great writing marriage. I call her my creative wife.”

Wiig made her Saturday Night Live debut in 2005, but it was after her two-minute scene in 2007’s Knocked Up (she plays a mid-level suit who bitingly tells Katherine Heigl’s character that they cannot legally ask her to lose weight) that director-writer-producer Judd Apatow approached Wiig about doing a movie of her own. She immediately recruited Mumolo as her writing partner.

The duo drew on themes from their own lives as thirtysomethings. “The original nugget of the idea came from the feeling I would get every time one of my friends got married,” Mumolo explains. “They would hop into their wedding-mobile, the Rolls Royce or whatever it was, and as they drove away, I’d get this heavy feeling in my chest of being left behind. I was single and struggling really hard, doing these sketch comedy shows and working every job under the moon. And then, as each of my friends went along a more traditional path, and I was going to all these fancy engagement parties and weddings and being in that whole bridesmaid culture, I felt like I was always comparing myself to other women. That was the main story we wanted to tell, and that was the most important part to us. The comedy, we hoped, would come out later.”

In only six days they pounded out the first draft of Bridesmaids, which Apatow then took to Universal. But the writing collaboration hardly ended there. Over the next four years, Wiig and Mumolo continued to revise the script under Apatow’s tutelage. “The evolution of it is kind of staggering,” Wiig says. “Rewrite after rewrite and years of working on it and fine-tuning it and having table reads and changing characters and trying to figure out what the story was and what the emotional journey was — before the jokes.”

Even before the release of the film, there was a frenzy of shock and awe about this all-female buddy movie, this guys-movie-for-girls, this ladies version of The Hangover. As if Sex And The City hadn’t taught us anything about women’s behavior? And besides, isn’t funny, funny? Wiig and Mumolo admit that they too were surprised about the hoopla. “We didn’t realize how much of an impossibility this seemed to people,” Mumolo says. “I grew up watching Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn and Goldie Hawn, and I just thought, let’s do something like that in an ensemble, but we never anticipated this. Kristen always says, ‘I never thought that six women on a poster would send the town into a frenzy.’ ”

The cast, heavy on Groundlings alums (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Michael Hitchcock, Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph), brings powerful improvisation chops to the table, and the release of the Bridesmaids DVD has no shortage of outtakes and extras. But don’t go thinking it’s just a bunch of riffing. “People always assume that if there’s improv you just showed up and made up the movie as you went along,” Mumolo says.

She describes how, in addition to the shooting script, she and Wiig brought in volumes of previous drafts, organized into scene-by-scene packets, as well as alternate lines of dialogue and jokes they’d written. “After we shot the script, we’d see if there was room for playing. Every day we were going through packets and rewriting and circling and highlighting.” After shooting alternates, if there was still time, they’d shoot what was referred to as Dealer’s Choice. “If the story was tight enough we would have room to let people improvise.”

Historically, Oscar hasn’t taken comedy seriously. However, this year, the screenplay contenders include Groundlings alums Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants). “You have the luxury [at The Groundlings] of putting so many sketches up every week that you exercise that muscle of what the audience might gravitate toward or connect with,” says Wiig, who was there at the same time as Faxon and Rash and gushed over their success.

According to Mumolo, she and Wiig are working on a new collaboration. “It’s in the very beginnings, like a seed right now … just a discussion between Kristen and myself.” She also breaks the news that we won’t be seeing Annie (which wasn’t meant to be Mumolo’s namesake — the name just had the right “rhythm”) as the bride anytime soon. “It doesn’t seem like we will be doing a sequel. You know when you just feel like something worked and that you should just leave it alone and let it be what it was?”