At Liberty Live! Feat. Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman on “Booksmart” (ep. 47)

May 23, 2019
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Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman, the director and the writer of the new movie “Booksmart,” joined At Liberty to talk about storytelling, casting without bias, and why "The Big Lebowski" was an inspiration. Wilde is known for her roles on TV shows such as “The O.C.” and “House” and in many films, including the Oscar-winning film “Her.” She is a longtime activist and a board member of the ACLU of Southern California. Katie Silberman has written for TV shows and movies including “Set It Up” and “Isn’t It Romantic.”  This episode was taped live at Brooklyn Public Library.

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EMERSON SYKES
[0:04] From the ACLU, this is At Liberty.

I'm Emerson Sykes, a staff attorney here at the ACLU and your host. This week, we have a special treat. On Monday night, we recorded a live episode with Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman, the director and writer of the new movie “Booksmart,” which will be released nationwide tomorrow, May 24th.

We hope you enjoy this special episode taped live at the Brooklyn Public Library.

***

Good evening.

Thanks very much for coming out. So for those of you who are not familiar with At Liberty, it's the ACLU’s weekly podcast where we have conversations about civil liberties, civil rights, and occasionally really awesome progressive movies. So we're really, really thrilled tonight to have as our guests Olivia Wilde and Katie Silberman to talk about their new movie, “Booksmart.”

You may know Olivia from her roles on television in shows such as “The O.C.” and “House” and many others, as well as her role in the Oscar winning film “Her,” among many, many other films. “Booksmart” is Olivia's directorial debut. And we're particularly proud of her at the ACLU because she's also a board member of the ACLU of Southern California. Olivia is also an artist and activist active on a number of important causes that we'll talk about a bit later.

Katie Silberman is the writer and producer of “Booksmart” and has also written for TV shows and movies, including “Set It Up” and “Isn’t It Romantic.” Olivia and Katie, thank you very much for being with us.

OLIVIA WILDE
So happy to be here.

KATIE SILBERMAN
Thanks for having us.

EMERSON
[1:55] So I've had the pleasure of seeing the movie and I can honestly tell you it's really, really, really amazing.

And so I wanted all of you to have some of that experience at least. So we're gonna start before we have our conversation with playing the trailer.

TRAILER AUDIO
Amy, you've been out for two years and you've never kissed a girl.

I really don't know what I'm telling you with all that stuff.

I have a secret for you. I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush but I got a horrible UTI.
Yeah.
Like, horrible.

I wish that would have been a secret. But you've mentioned it many, many times.

Hey, oh shit. Are we gonna go to school or? Nope.

Isn’t it crazy that it’s the last day of school?

Are you kidding me, Samantha!

She’s got a really cute smile.
Go talk to her.
Oh oh, sorry sorry.
Sharp elbows.
Not as sharp as your chin.
What?

Amy… Ow!

It's the last day. We got you through high school.
I need to go over the end of the year budget numbers.
Can’t we just graduate, head off to college? That should do it right?
We will persist.
I can't hear you. I can't — soundproof glass.

We have to go to a party tonight.
What?
Nobody knows that we are fun. We didn't party because we wanted to focus on school and get into good colleges.
And it worked.
But the irresponsible people who partied also got into those colleges.

I’m incredible at handjobs. But I also got a 1560 on the SAT’s.

We haven't done anything! We haven't broken any rules.
Name one person whose life was so much better because they broke a couple of rules
Picasso.
He broke art rules.
Rosa Parks.
Name another one.
Susan B. Anthony.
God damn it.

Hand sanitizer. Check.
Chapstick. Check.
Mace. Listen, it is very important that you keep this safe. Don't touch your eyes!

Tonight is your night!

What is this?
We ask the questions!
Oh my God. How old are you?
Does not matter!

Well this seems excessive.
Shotgun. Just kidding. I don't have one.

[4:16] Don’t say we're having a date night.
Why? It's funny your parents think we're boning.
What you two have is special.
We are gonna show each other how much we care about each other.
We'll probably just do a Korean face mask.
I don't need to know all the words.

EMERSON
So as you can tell it's a great movie. It's extremely funny, the cast is amazing, the music absolutely bumps. And I wanted to start with a question for you Katie.

So this movie is in many ways a classic coming of age high school movie. There's a pool party scene. There's a graduation scene. You have the cliques, the cool teacher, the lame principal — who you may know — but the movie also feels really fresh and different. And so I'm wondering how you came up with these characters in the story and specifically how did you capture the contemporary teen voice, which I think is sort of a mix of savvy and sensitive?

KATIE
Yes that, I mean that's a wonderful compliment because that is kind of the bar that we set for ourselves when we were making the movie, because when we talked about our favorite movies when we were younger — our favorite high school movies, movies like “Dazed and Confused” and “The Breakfast Club” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Clueless” — they're very timely because they represent the generation that they're portraying so specifically, but they're very timeless in terms of kind of the story that they're telling.

And so we wanted to honor this generation, Generation Z of children, I mean kids, adults, young adults, who are so much smarter and braver and cooler and more progressive than us and who are truly inspiring. Like we were developing this movie and this story during the March for Our Lives and a lot of events where young people were really inspiring me, us personally in terms of of how courageous they were being and how out front they were being with what they believed in and what they were standing up for.

[6:06] In terms of the voices themselves, the cast is so extraordinary. Olivia and our casting director, Alison Jones, just picked the most brilliant, effusive, kind of undeniable people and it was really fun to get to evolve the script to their voices, and so much of what's there is them infusing the characters with themselves and their own voices.

And so it was a matter of kind of like stalking and following as many young people as we knew, or strangers, and listening to them in public places and trying to get a sense... I mean we're also lucky because this generation really puts themselves out there a lot. You can go on YouTube or on social media and hear them speaking in their own voices. And that's really helpful to get a sense of, as you're saying, they're very savvy, they're very smart, they're very mature in a lot of ways, but they're also incredibly sensitive and progressive and young. So when you're young, you're still making a lot of mistakes. So it was a wonderful combination of kind of like letting the cast and their brilliant voices lead where it was going and trying to honor and celebrate all the young people that we were so inspired by.

EMERSON
Well it was an amazing job by you and your fellow writers. And I'm curious, Olivia, how did the project come to you? What about the project made you want this to be your directorial debut?

OLIVIA
I mean, aside from just really wanting to tell a story about two smart girls who are unapologetically smart and so devoted to one another, I really wanted the opportunity to take what could be considered a very simple recognizable structure and surprise people within those boundaries.

And I think for a first time filmmaker that's an opportunity because people will sort of accept a very simple idea and story and then you can say in a kind of Trojan Horse manner, I'm actually going to give you something a little bit different. And I think, you know, that became abundantly clear once Katie came on board and turned the script — which was solid, but a very simple idea — into something really, truly dynamic that said a lot more about multidimensionality and young people and ridding ourselves of judgment and categorization.

[8:11] Then it became something even more surprising and fun for me to dive into because of course for me, it was full devotion to the story for two years of my life. It was putting everything I have into this. And what an amazing joy and opportunity to kind of thread my perspective on things through the eyes of young people and to allow myself to also absorb the ideas of the cast. As Katie was saying, we had this extraordinary group of people who taught us so much. I mean, they really created those characters on their own. And they're all, in their own lives, very progressive and political in really interesting ways. So it was a true, true collaboration.

EMERSON
Well you mentioned the cast, and specifically the two main characters, Kaitlyn Dever as Amy and Beanie Feldstein as Molly, are really unforgettable characters and their chemistry is, is magic on the screen. And I think one of the major themes for the two of them, but also for all of the characters in the movie, is some sense of being misunderstood.

So they're perceived in a certain way, but that's not exactly how they see themselves or how they want to be seen, at least. And I was curious — I want to hear from both of you, but maybe starting with Katie — was that your experience in high school, being misunderstood? What, how were you perceived and did you feel that that was incomplete or inaccurate in any way?

KATIE
I mean I think it's probably everyone's experience in high school — I, I hope. Yes, I mean I think maybe not as clearly aligned as, you know, “I was X” and “I felt like Y,” “people saw me as A” and “I felt like B.” But I think I didn't know myself as well in high school so I put myself in a box that was easy for me to understand, and then everyone else saw that box.

[9:57] We've talked a lot about how how high school is very similar actually to watching a movie, and that maybe those are the two easiest places to archetype people. Like you see a room and you're like, oh, that's the cool guy. That's the quiet girl. That's the goth guy. That's the drama kid. And you do that when watching a movie, too because you want to be able to understand what you're seeing.

And I think more often than not, that's something that we're doing to ourselves as much as we're doing to other people. And so I think I was very serious in high school. I had wonderful friends but I was very responsible, and I think if I had let myself acknowledge that it was okay to have fun and be smart, I would've had a better time. This movie is kind of wish fulfillment for me as to what I hoped had happened when I was in high school. But it's also wonderful now as an adult to talk to the people I knew in high school and get a sense of what they thought I was like because I think it can also be very different from how you assume people are thinking about you.

EMERSON
Well and Olivia, some of the people in this room know this, but for our listeners we actually went to the same high school.

OLIVIA
I was like, when do we reveal our secret?

EMERSON
Yeah. So, Andover in the building.

OLIVIA
Woo! Uh oh.

So we knew each other. We weren't tight but we had mutual friends. And one of our mutual friends was a guy, one of my best friends named KC Osuji who you may or may not remember was actually your prom date.

So as you think about putting yourself back in what it was like to be a high schooler, how you were perceived, we thought we'd have a visual aid to bring you back to that time.

OLIVIA
Bring it back. Oh my goodness.

Oh yes. Look at that, just relaxed and natural as can be.

KATIE
Look at that respectful hand.

OLIVIA
That's just how two people stand, naturally. That's so funny.

KATIE
Is it possible to get that on a T-shirt?

OLIVIA
Yeah. Yeah. We're gonna need to buy billboards now. Look at that. Luckily, I remember, that's a very happy memory for me. I think for a lot of high schoolers, prom’s not happy. Technically it wasn't my prom, it was KC's prom and I got to come and be a fun date.

[12:01] But I... We went to a school that was full of competitive people who were very academically sort of high functioning and really ambitious, and this story that we've told in this film was about two people who are kind of alone in that world.

They're very ambitious and hungry and very, very smart and eager to just dive completely into their cerebral world of sort of academic accomplishment, amongst a sea of kids who would just want to have or somehow seem capable of having a lot more relaxed fun. Whereas we went to a school full of Molly's and Amy's, and it was a funny kind of experience to tell a story where that, that sort of mentality would have been in the minority, as opposed to the majority at our school, where I, for one, felt my experience was people trying to put me into categories that I didn't quite fit in.

And maybe this is a universal experience, but certainly was true for me, where people assumed I was one thing — you know, I was always in the theater, I loved theater, that's why I went to Andover, they had this extraordinary theater program — but I was a kid from D.C. I went to Georgetown Day School in D.C., which is a really progressive school and it's a hippie school, and I went to this very preppy boarding school all of a sudden where I didn't quite fit the bill of any of the boxes.

And so people were sort of confused by me and I kind of carried that, as we do, you know, as young people — when you absorb everyone else's anxiety and wear it on your back. I carried that anxiety of not fitting into those boxes. So in so many ways, this film is my response to that, saying please stop putting people into categories or trying to do so, because if you're doing that to others, you're definitely doing it yourself.

And I felt like well, I am a theater nerd and I'm friends with the teachers and I like the jocks and I like to have fun. Why must we choose? When of course you get older and realize you shouldn't choose. But in adolescence, there is a kind of Lord of the Flies mentality that takes over and everybody must choose a box. I always say it’s in high school and prison yards, it’s like choose your group or you're vulnerable. And that's maybe intensified in a boarding school environment.

EMERSON
P14:14] It's interesting to think about the dynamics among the characters that you're talking about and the dynamics among different people in high school and being put in boxes, because in Hollywood, also, there are boxes. And one of the things that's very striking about this movie is that it's women led — in front of the screen, behind the screen, all of the writers were women.

And so Katie, for you, when you were writing the movie, how central was the idea of representation to you? Was this just sort of naturally the kinds of stories that you wanted to tell? Or how purposeful was it to really put women first, but also queer folks — there's several queer characters, including Amy, one of the main characters. There are a lot of people of color, as well. How intentional was the representation?

KATIE
I think it was intentional in that we wanted to tell a story and make a movie that reflected real life. And that's what it is like in real life. And I think when your leader is someone like Olivia, who is not only aware of that but goes out of her way to try and be authentic in every arena of her life, especially in storytelling, it was very easy to fall into that.

And as you're saying, like, we very purposefully wanted to make a story where there was more than one of every type. If there's more than one queer character, if there's more than one smart girl, if there's more than one hot girl, because if they're real people, you see them for all their other, as she was saying, multidimensionality.

OLIVIA
It was also — just to take that point and carry it into the casting realm and that part of the process — after spending so many years as an actor on the other side of the casting process, I was able to kind of understand why casts are so heavily populated by white actors. And it starts in the first conversation between director and casting director. And in this situation, we had this extraordinary casting director, Alison Jones, who is known for looking further and wider than all other casting directors. She really does give new talent a chance to audition and to have a seat at the table.

[16:05] And we really wanted to meet as many actors as possible and to let the script evolve based on which actors we met. So that was one of the extraordinary things about working with Katie is that I would call her and say, “Okay, so I found this actor. It's not at all what we were thinking. In fact, it's a different gender. Can you completely rewrite the script for this?” She's like, “I love it. I love it. How exciting, now we have someone else to be inspired by.”

But it's been interesting to learn the sort of subtle messaging that's perpetuated through the casting process. For instance, one example that I think is just like a tangible example that we can learn from is casting breakdowns, the descriptions of the characters. This is what is sent far and wide that actors, casting directors, agency — many of those have subtle hints as to what specific race the project is looking for. Even in just subtle things like, “He's a soccer player who flicks his hair out of his eyes,” and it's like, well, there's, there's a race that can do that and there's some that can't and you're sending a message. Or “her blue eyes,” you know, “twinkle like the ocean,” and it's like, what are you saying?

Those are terrible examples, but sometimes I think people don't realize that they're participating in what has limited storytelling from Hollywood's perspective for a long time. So it was exciting to finally be at the helm and have the reins and be able to say, we're doing this differently. Scrap every physical descriptor from every breakdown. We won't do that. In fact, even the gender — if we don't need the gender to be specific, to get rid of it. Let's just say we're looking for a person who has these kind of internal qualities. That's why we ended up with this extraordinary cast.

EMERSON
That's a really powerful description of what most of us obviously would never see in the very early stages of the process. And for you, I'm interested, I mean the movie is first and foremost really funny and really fun. But it also has a very progressive orientation. And for you who, you know, you've worked on hurricane relief in Haiti, you've worked a lot on reproductive rights and a number of other issues, and I'm wondering how you think about what is essentially like a teen sex comedy fitting in with the rest of your body of activism. Is this part and parcel of your world view or was this sort of like a respite from the drumbeat of terrible news?

OLIVIA
[18:21] I think it's part and parcel. I believe in the power of storytelling. You know, I was raised by journalists, three generations of journalists. And I understand the value of allowing for human empathy through telling stories. And whereas my family did it through writing books and making documentaries and producing news programs, it was, my way of doing that has always been to tell fictional stories that allow people to connect.

And by creating what is certainly an aspirational version of the modern world and this young generation — I believe it is true for for many but not true for too many, if you know what I mean. We've created a society with this movie of young people who are as fluid and progressive as I believe this young generation aspires to be and wants to be and is demanding to be. But there are still so many young people living in repressive environments around the world where this would still be a fantasy scenario. So we're purposefully creating that picture for them to recognize and say aha, that's out there for me. There is a world where people will love me unconditionally. There's a world where there are no villains.

And that, I believe, is a powerful tool to to allow us all to evolve. I want people around the world to see this film and feel less alone. I want them to feel seen.

And sometimes, you know, it can feel silly when you make something that does feel like just entertainment. And I remember, you know, I was on a teen soap in the early 2000s, “The O.C.”

KATIE
What was it called? Yeah.

EMERSON
Saw that.

OLIVIA
[19:50] I wasn't gonna get away with without saying what it was called. No, but it's funny because like those kind of programs you can sort of laugh at them — and I certainly did while making it, you know — and then you think gosh, the reach is something it's hard to even conceptualize.

I was on a plane recently and a man kept staring at me and then finally he introduced himself and said that he was from Uganda, grew up in Uganda. And he said that “The O.C.” had been a really important part of his life. And I played a young queer woman on that show. And for a lot of people around the world that was representation they hadn't seen before. And I now value the role I was honored to have in that conversation.

EMERSON
Well and “The O.C.” was the first step of you becoming a queer icon and then of course, then “House,” your character also was bisexual. And then now you're directing a movie with a very prominent queer… so congratulations.

OLIVIA
Thank you so much. Do I get a Pride float?

EMERSON
I'm not the one who gives those out, but I hope so.

OLIVIA
Who do we talk to? Somebody knows.

KATIE
I'll also say it's very rare for someone to say something can be funny and fun in a way that's joyful and still be meaningful. Tell a story that is meaningful in its heart and is saying something that can be valuable, and I'm also gonna make it really funny because both of those things are hard to do. And if you're trying to do them both at the same time, you're making it much harder for yourself, especially when it's your your first feature.

And as our leader, she made everyone know in their bones that she was going to be able to do both. And it was, it's so fun to be a part of something like that because the movies that I watch over and over in my life are usually the funny ones.

EMERSON
Well it's great to be able to get relief but without the cringe that you get with a lot of things that are just for fun.

Katie so you actually used the phrase earlier that the movies that you think are so great about high school are both timeless and timely. And I think your movie does really feel current. And I'm curious about why you decided to set it in the present day as opposed to, for instance, when you were actually in high school, and--

KATIE
[21:54] Which isn't present day?

OLIVIA
1945.

EMERSON
Last year. Last year.

But you know, the movie is, is very overt about sort of its orientation, but not political. Like, the current president is not named, for example. But we get the feeling that we're among friends. So how did you get that balance?

OLIVIA
Well said.

KATIE
Among friends.

I think we've been talking about this a little bit recently. There is such a huge change even in the last few years in terms of what women have gone through, but have kind of found within themselves. And I think that was incredibly inspiring when we were developing the story, at least to me in terms of why we were so excited about celebrating this generation of women.

This generation is incredibly inherently political, much more than I was when I was younger. They’re so much more knowledgeable and engaged than I was in a way that I think will only benefit us.

And so I think that was kind of the goal that we set for ourselves was to tap into that without making it timely about what it was like to be a young woman in 2019, as opposed to if you try to be too timely in a movie, by the time it comes out whatever you're talking about is already over.

EMERSON
Olivia, how did you approach sort of speaking to the moment without being too on the nose?

OLIVIA
Well I think, you know, when I pitched on this, He Who Shall Not Be Named had just been elected. And it was, I was angry and I wanted to tell a story that very much acknowledged the new paradigm while not being so literal and overt about it.

But it was very important to me that we tell the story of a generation that is — against their will — reacting to the terrible situation we've all put them in. So when we think about the Parkland students and we think about their rage in having been forced to be activists, that's how I think about the voice of this generation, saying, “Enough. We'll take it from here.”

[23:51]Politics is woven into their identity. I mean, it used to be that it was a choice. I mean I remember people saying about me as a teenager, you know, “Oh, you’re political.” It was something, was like a hobby. Politics. No longer can it be their hobby. It's the way they live and breathe and move through the world because they have no other choice. Everything they do is a statement. They, it's such divisive times they can't escape it.

So when thinking about that, it was a reason to tell a story about how must it feel to be a 17-year-old woman in that situation when talking about multi dimensionality or when talking about likeability, which is something that is is obviously a catastrophic part of the 2016 election and will be in 2020 and continues to haunt us now. But the idea of, can you be both smart and personable and relatable? Can you be this? Is this something that women deal with more than men? Is this a struggle that is going to continue to hold us back?

So that was a part of the kind of the ethos of the entire project. But as Katie was saying, it was also a direct response to how inspired we were by how this generation was responding. They could have just said we, it's too overwhelming. We don't want anything to do with it. We're tuning out. And it was the opposite, which felt like okay, they need a generational anthem that acknowledges that energy.

EMERSON
Well the movie is going to be a smash hit. Twitter has already announced it. And I'm sure you're already, you know, in the press junket and everything else. But I'm curious to think about what comes next after a project like this. I'm hoping a sequel. I've never said that about any movie before, but I think we need more of Amy and Molly definitely. But I'm curious about sort of where you're thinking about going from here.

Maybe we start with you, Katie.

KATIE
I have legally tied myself to Olivia and will refuse to work without her for the rest of my life. I think what was so — special about this experience — was being able to tell a story about so many different funny women who are funny in different ways. I've experienced a lot in my career of films and stories where there's one woman and they've kind of forgotten to make her funny until the very end and that's when you get called.

[26:02]I hope to continue to be able to do and to tell female friendship stories because I think that's there's like a real dearth of those in the world. And it's such a special and specific and idiosyncratic relationship and I love a buddy comedy so that's what I'm hoping to continue to do.

EMERSON
And Olivia you going to drop the mic on directing after this, or?

OLIVIA
I'm hooked.

It's all I ever want to do. Why would I ever do anything else? It's the best job ever. It's really interesting though, I will say, you know, Nora Ephron has the famous quote, “Remember, you can always change your mind. I've had three careers and four husbands.” Or four husbands, three careers? I mean three, three husbands, four careers?

She changed her mind a lot and that was the point.

KATIE.
Within the quote.

OLIVIA
Within the quote.

EMERSON
That was still a part of the quote.

OLIVIA
It was all that, I did it verbatim. But I, I… Can I spill the beans on...? We are writing a female two hander comedy which is about two women — thank you — about two women at a slightly different stage in their lives. But like Katie said, mining the incredible kind of chemical reaction of two women together is something that has no limits.

So I'm really really excited to dive back into that and do lots of other things.

But I will say, in terms of the kind of changing your mind and pivoting, it's something that I've really discovered the value of, and it's... I started directing music videos. That was kind of my way in. And through music videos I realized that I had never been happier as I was telling stories from the other side of the camera. And there came “Booksmart,” and it's the continued evolution I'm interested in. So now it's thinking, well, but that was a challenge to jump from videos to this. What's the next challenge?

But it's been extraordinary to realize what happens when a movie hits a nerve and when people are ready for something and it's an amazing kind of sort of intercourse with the world. We're all actually much more connected than we realize.

[27:59] I think you can sense it when you're telling a story that's like, this is the next call and response that needs to occur. And there's, you know, there's ritual involved in filmmaking. This is an ancient art form of storytelling. For thousands of years we've been gathering around a fire in the dark and telling stories, and that's what I want to be a part of.

But certainly in this day and age, it's our — the storytellers’ — responsibility to talk about things that matter and to help people to connect. We can't just only rely on the brave attorneys of the ACLU, thank you very much. We must do our part to continue to tell the stories that you guys are actually working on every single day. And I always think about if we create more empathy in the world, then we will find our way out of these dark and twisted times. So I do believe that there is a way for us to use this art form for the greater good while still entertaining. And that's, that's what I'm interested in.

EMERSON
Well you definitely knocked it out of the park with the first one. So I'm looking forward to number two.

And with that, maybe we can open up to the audience for some questions.

Yes. One here.

AUDIENCE MEMBER ONE
Hi I'm Molly McGehee and I'm an indie filmmaker and also right now trying to develop a feature in, in this arena of YA.

I got to watch the advance screening, it was so amazing. I loved it. And you you so smartly had it be so hilarious and then you had a tone shift to — but it wasn't sappy, it was just so authentic and so I was curious, like if you had any kind of thoughts or tips about how you went about that and you made sure to like keep that shift.

OLIVIA
[29:40] Yes thank you. I so appreciate that and that was something I was really striving for because my favorite films do that so deftly. And I think, you know, when I think of filmmakers in the comedy space that really inspire me they are across the map, from Amy Heckerling to the Coen brothers. And what they have in common is a grounded story from which you can play. And I think, you know, specifically with this film I was really inspired by “The Big Lebowski,” and it was a film that I kept thinking about as I was developing it and as I was kind of daring myself to be a little bit more brave in terms of the tonal shift.

I think you can get away with tonal shifts if you have a very strong grounded central story and characters. We continued to say to each other throughout the process, it's a relationship movie. As long as it's about that relationship, then we can play. It can be very funny and broad at times and it can be very sad and poignant at times. But as long as you keep that core story intact, then you can play. So the reason Lebowski came up is because it's a very, very simple story of one man's odyssey to find his rug, and from there, you can play and do a kind of a Busby Berkeley-inspired Viking bowling fantasy. You can do all the bizarre kind of different gradations of performance and environment that they created with that film. And I thought that they could do that because of the simplicity of that core story.

So I think if you are interested in those tonal shifts, make sure that your core and central story is simple and tangible enough that it won't ever falter.

EMERSON
Great question.

Thank you. Another here. Yeah.

AUDIENCE MEMBER TWO
Hi. I also saw an advance screening — absolutely in love. I've never seen female friendship portrayed in the way that I value my female friendships on film. And it was completely thrilling, and I read that a lot of the cast was friends prior to the film. A lot of them became friends during the film. I'm just wondering if there were any tactics that you two used to encourage those friendships, and how?

OLIVIA
[31:52] Well I set them up on playdates. Some of them knew — so about three of them were friends beforehand and…

KATIE
They don't play friends in the movie.

OLIVIA
They don't play friends in the movie. Ironically, they play kind of the nemesis of each other which I think is sometimes works out. If you're close in real life it's actually easier to play antagonistic relationships. But I think it's very important to realize you can't fake chemistry. And I think people make that mistake all the time.

So it's about preparation. I asked the two lead actresses to live together throughout preproduction and production. And they not only did that, but they cut themselves off from their communities, and they're very close to their families and friends and they kind of isolated themselves and hung out only with each other, knowing that they would have to build this kind of multi-layered nuanced friendship that had real history to it. The kind of friendship where you've watched someone grow up and they've seen you grow up and it's very different.

There was so much significance to building the chemistry particularly for Molly and Amy, but then for everyone else as well.

So I think particularly with building relationships, it's about exercises and time spent well before you get to the actual work of being on screen. So yeah, I would send them on playdates and then ask for proof. I was like, send me videos.

KATIE
Also on an even maybe more fundamental level, Olivia cast a group of people who were open and like open-hearted and kind. And I think that's like, I don't know if it would have worked even with playdates if they weren't people who were so willing…

OLIVIA
And fearless.

KATIE
Yeah.

OLIVIA
I think more than someone being super experienced, it's about finding people who are unencumbered by insecurity. Just finding the fearless people. We had, you know, Billie Lourd who plays Gigi in this film and she's just extraordinary. She is not a very experienced actress, but she is completely 100 percent fearless, and she's just someone who was waiting for someone to dare her to try things, and that's so fun to play with. So when looking for your cast, all filmmakers here, don't look at their resumes.

EMERSON
[34:03] Awesome.

I think we have time for maybe one more question. One in the corner. We haven't heard from any men yet.

AUDIENCE MEMBER THREE
Well I guess I'll be that guy.

So right before I came here I just rewatched “Dazed and Confused.” So thanks for mentioning that as one of your influences because it was, it still holds up. So that being said, when you guys were talking about like your influences, are there any films that you guys wish you had the opportunity to tell that story?

And like, if so, how would you have told that story?

OLIVIA
Like how would we have told them differently than the way they were told.

Do I wish I could have told that story.

EMERSON
What are you guys going to collaborate on a remake of?

OLIVIA
Right. What would be the great remake? I mean, it's interesting...

KATIE
Spiderman?

OLIVIA
Spiderman! Feels wide open are ready for adaptation. I, that's such a fascinating question. It's, you know, thinking about you the inspiration for this film, that ran the gamut from all the great high school generational anthems in the canon, to movies like “Big Lebowski” and “Blues Brothers” and — I actually pitched this film to the studio by saying it was the “Training Day” of high school films.

And they bought it. And no, I’m kidding, I meant it because of the high stakes. I really wanted to find those high stakes. Buddy comedies, cop movies are great for that reason. But that's a really fascinating question that I don't know if I have an answer.

KATIE
What's so interesting about that question is kind of as we were saying those movies that we referenced are all so specific, like “Clueless,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Fast Times,” they all feel so specific and emblematic of their filmmakers. So it's hard to think like what would we do differently because they feel so specific in a way that feels like their point of view.

OLIVIA
[35:52] It's interesting though to take something that had been so successful as the high school comedy and to say like, why even try? Why do it again? Because it deserves updating. Because in those movies, even if they're great, they're problematic often in terms of women, in terms of sexuality, they—

EMERSON
Race.

OLIVIA
Race. And it's like there's always a way to take something that has been done really well I guess in terms of broader genre conversations and saying, maybe that can be done in a more interesting way.

KATIE
Or even like “Booksmart,” it seems like a structure we understand that kind of high school party movie but how can we tell that story with two protagonists who we haven't seen at the center of that story?

OLIVIA
I feel like in “All the President's Men” — and now I'm just gender swapping which is boring and easy...

But I was going to leapfrog to like where's the story about the bad ass young litigators? Like the young attorneys who are fighting these civil rights cases, like that's a great story.

Years ago when I started working with the ACLU of Southern California, there was a poll done to ask what do most people think about when they think of the ACLU. And at that time people were like, well I think of old white men, and it was like well that's really interesting because these attorneys are multiracial and many of them are very young and they're hungry and devoted and those are human stories that I feel if people knew who was actually out there fighting these cases, they'd be even more excited to support the work.

So I think that's an example of where storytelling can come in handy. It's like we have to tell these stories so people are like, I now understand what this work is on a more intimate human level and I want to support that work.

EMERSON
The ACLU lawyer buddy comedy?

OLIVIA
Yeah.

That sounds awesome.

KATIE
The Training Day of civil rights litigators.

OLIVIA
The training day and civil rights... Yeah. Training Day works, it does, it works for everything.

KATIE
That’s the pitch.

OLIVIA
Exactly.

EMERSON
I'm looking forward to seeing it. I want to thank all of you for your amazing questions. And your questions were much better than mine so I appreciate the audience. And to Olivia and Katie, thank you for this amazing movie and being with us tonight.

***

[38:00] We hope you enjoyed this conversation.

I had a blast doing it. If you liked what you heard, please be sure to subscribe to At Liberty wherever you get your podcasts, and rate and review the show. We really appreciate the feedback Till next week, peace.

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