Hollywood Screenwriter Justin Zackham Discusses Writing “Second Act” And Coining The Term “Bucket List”

Photo Credit: The Bucket List

If you have ever wondered how the term “bucket list” became so popular, you can just ask Justin Zackham. After all, he’s the man who created his own personal bucket list before deciding to turn that idea into a multi-million dollar screenplay starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

After graduating from NYU Film School, Zackham came up with his own “List of Things to Do Before I Kick the Bucket,” which he later simplified to “Justin’s Bucket List.” Number one on that list was to get a movie made at a major Hollywood studio, but he never could have imagined the script would somehow find its way to Rob Reiner, who called Zackham and told him he would like it to be his next film.

His latest movie, “Second Act,” which is currently in theaters, stars Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini and Milo Ventimiglia. The comedy tells the story of ‘Maya,’ (played by Lopez), a middle aged woman who struggles with unfulfilled dreams until she has the opportunity to prove she is ready for her second act. Next month, Zackham is about to set off to fulfill his own personal travel bucket list as he and his family are on a quest to visit every country in the world (and set a Guinness Book of World Record).

Photo Credit: Second Act

We caught up recently with Zackham to find out why Rob Reiner thought “The Bucket List” would be a hit, how he feels having the term become a worldwide sensation and the extraordinary people he can’t wait to meet on his own personal travel bucket list.

Your latest movie, “Second Act,” with Jennifer Lopez, Milo Ventimiglia, and Vanessa Hudgens talks about how it is never too late for a second act in life. Why did you decide to tell this story about unfulfilled dreams?

I didn’t figure that out until after the fact. I guess I am inadvertently eternally optimistic. I gravitate toward stories of underdogs. I believe you get to choose the life you live. One of my friends said, ‘I hope you have the life you are proud of, and if not, have the strength to change it.’ So many people think we are either crazy or say they wish they could do that. You can do anything you want to; you just have to follow it up. Every country we go to, we will sit down with one extraordinary person and find out why, through their own choices, they have led an extraordinary life. We will be doing a YouTube video and you can also follow our travels on Instagram (thisbucketlistlife).

How did you come up with the initial idea of a bucket list?

I had gone to NYU Film School and then moved to LA.  There’s an extended adolescence that happens when you first move out there. I started bartending and wrote a list called ‘Justin’s Things To Do Before You Kick The Bucket.’ I later shortened it to ‘Justin’s Bucket List.’ There were things like ‘get a major motion movie made’ and ‘find the perfect woman ‘on the list. I had it up on a board and hadn’t crossed anything off. Then I thought it would be a good idea for a movie and wrote the script. We were going to change the name of the title (“The Bucket List”), but Rob Reiner wanted to keep it because he thought it was such a positive thing.

Did you ever think the term would become as popular as it has, even having it listed now in Webster’s Dictionary?

No, it was just a temporary title for a movie. It was fun when Jack Nicholson ad libbed during a scene in the movie “bucket list cutesy.”

Photo Credit: The Bucket List

Tell us about your own personal bucket list and how you and your family are on a mission now to make the Guinness Book of World Records.

When I was writing the script, I used things from my own bucket list that’s in the movie like visit the Pyramids and Taj Mahal, and jump out of an airplane. I haven’t done any of those, but I did marry the perfect woman and hope to be a good dad. My wife loves to travel and she has home schooled our kids for a couple of years. She’s always looking for an excuse to travel. We are eventually planning to move to Ireland to open a studio there, but still had things on our list that we hadn’t done. Some people think we’re inspiring, but those who know us think we’re insane (laughs). Starting next month, we will do Central and South America. We are going to keep going until we are done or our 10-year-old says, ‘Enough of this already.’ The Guinness Book of World Records is great and we’d love to get it, but we are doing it for our sons to have that connection, to have an appreciation for each other, and a love of travel. That’s what we hope they get out of it.Photo Credit: Second Act

Photo Credit: Justin Zackham