Jawbreaker director Darren Stein talks about the origins of his dark comedy, the casting process, his Jawbreaker Broadway musical, new movie projects, and more.
Back in 1999, writer-director Darren Stein released his second full-length feature, Jawbreaker, which starred four up and coming young actresses: Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz, and Judy Greer. As the years went on after the initial release, not only did the actresses' careers begin to take off more and more, but the movie itself gained a cult following as well.
Jawbreaker was recently released on Blu-ray for the first time last month, and I recently had the chance to speak with writer-director Darren Stein about the making of his dark teen comedy, the Blu-ray release, and his plans for an upcoming Broadway musical, which may just enhance that cult following even more. Here's what he had to say below.
Can you start off by talking about your original inspiration for writing this?
Darren Stein: It actually began with me wanting to write a horror film. I was a huge fan of Alien growing up, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Carrie. I thought, well, what's horror? It's when ordinary life goes wrong. That could be mundane. I thought, well, what if these high school girls kidnapped their friend as a prank, and accidentally killed her? I thought, what about a Jawbreaker, because that's sort of an adolescent girl version of a ball jack (Laughs). So then, I started writing the dialogue as more of a black comedy. I was raised in Encino and I was around a lot of valley girls. The John Hughes movies, even though they're not L.A.-centric, definitely felt that way. Then Heathers was definitely a big part of my psyche. It became more darkly comedic, but still with some horrific undertones.
It's funny to watch this now and look at this cast. They were all, not unknown, necessarily, but they have all went on to great careers. Can you talk about assembling this cast? Did you see big things coming from all of these women when you first started making this?
Darren Stein: Yeah. Well, Julie Benz, for instance, who played Marcie Fox, she just came in and read and she blew us away, because she was hysterical. She brought this really demented, unhinged quality to the blonde bitch you knew in high school. Rebecca Gayheart brought a very vicious, sadistic quality, because she's so larger-than-life with that hair and gorgeous face. You really needed that kind of look to stand up to Rose McGowan, who is also stunning, but playing the evil girl. Judy Greer was fresh off the boat. I think Jawbreaker was her first movie. We cast somebody and the girl we cast, got a pilot, so she pulled out. We had production starting in two weeks and we had to cast this critical character. We met Judy and she was absolutely brilliant. It was a real stroke of luck that Judy happened to come out to L.A. at that time. She had just gotten out of an acting college. Then Rose McGowan, she was just born to play Courtney Shane. I saw her in The Doom Generation and was completely captivated by here, as I think a lot people are from her in that film. She's just a complete work of art, all pale with the black haircut and just naturally bitchy. The studio who financed the picture at the time was Columbia Tri-Star Home Video, the home video division of Sony. It wasn't Columbia proper, but, at the same time, they were making movies like Cruel Intentions and Can't Hardly Wait, which had $15 to $30 million budgets, and we had a $3.5 million budget. We didn't get a marketing push or anything that those films got, but, conversely, Jawbreaker is a much more transgressive film, to make it for that budget.
I read that you wanted women in their 20s to play these high school girls, as an homage to Carrie and movies like that. It turned out great, but it's funny to see it still going on now, these 26-year-old actors playing high school kids.
Darren Stein: Yeah, it is funny. I mean, I don't mind teen films where the kids feel like the real age, but I really have a special place in my heart for films like Carrie and Grease. You watch them when you're a kid and they just seem so much older and more mature. It heightens high school into this new experience. It's like when you're in 10th grade and you look at the 12th graders and say, 'Oh my God. They're adults. Is that going to me be some day?' And, because Jawbreaker exists in somewhat of a parallel universe where everything is more colorful, and the stakes are somewhat higher, it made sense to cast it in a way that took it to that next level.
It doesn't seem there are any special features on this new Blu-ray. Can you talk about why that choice was made?
Darren Stein: Yeah, the Blu-ray is all about the movie. There is no director commentary on it, like the DVD, and unfortunately, Sony sold part of their library to Image Entertainment, and they only sold the film, not the digital rights, so they couldn't use the extras. But, the thing that's great about the Blu-ray, is the film has never looked better. It's got brighter colors, more shadows, more detail than even the 35 mm print has. I supervised the transfer and Sony paid for the transfer. For any fan of the film, it's a definite must-have, because the movie has never looked this good before. It looks completely different. That would be the reason to get it. I wish there would have been extras on it, although it wasn't meant to be, so I released these four clips that I called The Jawbreaker Diaries that I put up on YouTube. They are from my own personal behind-the-scenes footage, which has never been seen. It's Rose, Rebecca, Julie, Marilyn Manson, Pam Grier, Carol Kane, The Donnas, Jeff Conaway, everyone who's in the film. It's special footage that has never been seen and really should have belonged on the DVD or the Blu-ray. The fans want more footage and there was this half-hour MTV special, which would have made a good extra. We're developing a musical now, based on the movie, and we could've included a song from the musical.
Are you going to try and bring the original cast back for the musical?
Darren Stein: No, because it's about singing and dancing and it's a different kind of thing.
Is this a done deal yet to open on Broadway then?
Darren Stein: It's not a done deal yet. Yeah, make sure you say that it's in development (Laughs). We haven't settled on any of the casting and we're working out the financing. Sony knows about it and they're excited about it. We don't have a date yet, but I wrote the book, which is like a libretto to the movie, which is great because it really retains the flavor of the movie.
What kind of a style of musical would you say this falls under then?
Darren Stein: I would say it's probably like a Little Shop of Horrors, or Avenue Q, or Hairspray. It's slightly more Rocky Horror with a bit of an edge. I mean, the cool thing is it's this mainstream tale, but because it deals with death and the dark threads to it, I liken it to Rocky Horror or Little Shop of Horrors. We've definitely gotten a lot of good feedback to the music and hopefully we can get it off the ground. It's been fun to reimagine the film as a musical, to look at the characters in a new way that doesn't exactly adhere to everything in the film. It takes it into more uncharted places.
Are there any projects on the movie side that you're lining up, or are you just focused on the play right now?
Darren Stein: Well, I produced a movie that had a limited release last year called All About Evil, with Natasha Lyonne and Thomas Dekker. That did a midnight tour of theaters across the country and it was directed by a really talented filmmaker out of San Francisco named Joshua Grannell. I got involved with that just because I really loved his work. But yeah, I'm actually writing a film write now, which is about a coven of witches. It definitely feels like something new since it deals with media and reality TV. It's sort of like picking something that's mythic and supernatural and wanting to be famous and bringing it into the media age where the Kardashians exist. People are famous for being on TV and, perhaps not doing much.
A coven of witches set in modern-day definitely sounds interesting.
Darren Stein: Yeah. I don't want to tell you exactly what it is, because I feel the idea is still fresh, and I don't want to put it out in the press yet, exactly what it is. It's pretty high-concept, though. It's like Scream meets Black Swan (Laughs). It's got sort of a melodrama, girl-on-girl conflict of Black Swan, and the snarky, modern-day media references that Scream had. We'll see what happens with it. I'm also doing a movie called Chalet Girls, based on a young adult novel. It's going to be shot like a feature film, and it will be distributed in 10-minute increments on the web. We haven't cast it yet. We're shooting it in November and December, so we'll be casting that probably in October. It's basically about these 20-something girls who go to work at a family's chalet at a fancy ski resort. It's sort of like Gossip Girl in the snow (Laughs).
What would you like to say to fans of Jawbreaker about why they should pick up the Blu-ray and why they should keep their eyes out for the musical?
Darren Stein: I think Jawbreaker is a great film for Blu-ray because it's so stylized and it's such a visual experience that watching the film on Blu-ray feels like you're seeing it for the first time again. It doesn't feel like you're watching it again on DVD because of the visual quality and color. It's just one of those movies that you just pop it in and let it play, and the Blu-ray experience will heighten that. The fans will see details in the film that you can't see on the DVD. It's a whole new viewing experience.
That's about all I have, Darren. Thank you so much for your time, and best of luck with the play and your other projects.
Darren Stein: Thank you very much.
Darren Stein's Jawbreaker is currently available on Blu-ray right now. You can also to watch The Jawbreaker Diaries behind-the-scenes clips and, if you want a sneak preview of the musical, you can for video excerpts from a December 2010 concert which features songs that will be used in the musical.
Jawbreaker was released February 19th, 1999 and stars Alexandra Adi, Tatyana Ali, Joni Allen, Charlotte Ayanna, Julie Benz, Marita Black, Billy Butler, Chad Christ. The film is directed by Darren Stein.