GIVE ME SOME SUGAR: A FRANCINE MCDOUGALL INTERVIEW (part 2)

When the film was going into pre-production, the Columbine tragedy had just happened and it affected a lot of films and TV shows dealing with teenage violence. Did that incident affect Sugar and Spice at all, or was the film’s release date far enough away from the date Columbine happened that it was okay? ^ Sugar and Spice was actually a very different script when I first came aboard. When pre-production began post-Columbine, we suddenly had to make a PG-13 film. Chunks of scenes were cut out of the script and even the title changed. Some scenes we ended up filming two different ways just in case the way the script had it was too strong for the MPAA’s liking. The one scene where the girls are robbing the bank was actually filmed two different ways. Rather than shooting the gun, one of the characters breaks a piece off of the gun, throws it at the security officer and knocks him out. I couldn’t believe I actually had to shoot a scene that lame. Furthermore, I was constantly arguing with the studio about having guns in the film, but they were adamant that no guns would be seen in the film. How can you rob a bank without guns though? It took three weeks of conference calls and some Polaroids I took of my producer’s kids holding these toy guns before New Line wore down and realized how harmless I was going to make the guns look. Now I am the last person who wants to be responsible to put a gun in a child’s hand, but this film just has such a hyper-reality sense to it that the gun scenes don’t seem at all real. If people could actually take the film and those scenes seriously, I failed.
On a side note, one of the main characters in the film, Cleo (Melissa George), is obsessed with Conan O’Brien. What made you decide to have her obsessed with the late night talk show host? Sure he is a hit with the teen audience the film was being marketed to, but it seems like such a random choice. ^ (Laughing) The writer for Sugar and Spice actually used to date him, so it is not as random as you think.
Did you ever speak with Conan about being in the film? ^ Conan actually just did five bits in various other movies, so when we approached him he just couldn’t do another one. But he did say that he would do the photo at the end, which we thought was a fun touch. He was great, and we had a lot of fun together even if it just was one picture.
So you didn’t have any problems using footage from his show in the scenes he wasn’t in? ^ Actually, the only problem we had was in the scene where Cleo shows that she has a picture of Conan on her panties. We wanted to use the cartoon Conan head that is on his show, but we kept getting the run around since it was licensed. In the end we just ended up drawing own picture.
Now back to you. In your bio found in the Sugar and Spice production notes, it says that you ‘bring an outsider’s irreverent, Edge-of-the-envelope point-of-view to American teen ambitions.’ What exactly do you think that means, in your own words? ^ (Laughs) Well, it seems to me that America is portrayed to rest of the world as the biggest, the best, the fastest… just the ultimate. As someone who isn’t from America I find it extremely funny that America tries to project this kind of thing is when so much of what is wrong with the world is in America. It all comes back to what attracted me to the story I guess– American flag, God Bless America, apple pie, the head cheerleader, the girl-next-door– all these things just don’t exist. It makes me think of “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” What world was that going on in? It sure didn’t occur in the ’50s. It’s interesting that so much of entertainment is about what we can’t have– to get a taste of it. That is why people go to the movies, to live something that no one can live. When I read the script I really liked that the A squad, the cream of the crop that everyone envies, wasn’t part of this perfect world America tries to portray itself as part of. It was a debunking of the myth I got to approach as a non-American.
“Entertainment Weekly” recently had a cover story on the teen film/music scene questioning when the teen market was going to pop, tracing fads from the past like New Kids on the Block to bands of the moment like N Sync. Films like She’s All That were also analyzed, as well as less-successful films like “Boys and Girls.” Do you believe that the recent trend of box-office and chart-topping failures that were geared towards the teen market is proof that teens are looking for more mature forms of entertainment, and that is why Sugar and Spice failed to find an audience since it was marketed as just another teen comedy? Or do you think that Sugar and Spice was just too mature for the audience that showed up, who may have just been looking for another dumb teen movie? ^ Wow, I never thought of that, though I wish I did. Honestly though who knows what teens will show up for. I don’t think that the teen genre is going anywhere though because there will always be teens looking for entertainment geared towards them. Look at Save the Last Dance. That came out during a time most teen-driven films weren’t doing do well and it still went through the roof. Personally, what I think it is is that teens are being catered to now more than ever before and thus they are growing to be more selective. A couple years a go there weren’t many teen films or teen bands so they all did well. Now, however, there are a lot of teen-marketed forms of entertainment, if not too many. It almost seemed like one if not two teen films were opening every weekend for awhile, so it’s hard for the teen audience to support that much product. This makes it harder for studios to predict what they are going to show up for.
In Sugar and Spice each of the five main characters are as different from one another as night and day. There is Kansas the bad girl (Suvari), Diane the head cheerleader (Shelton), Lucy the brain (Sara Marsh), Cleo the sex kitten (George) and Hannah the innocent one (Rachel Blanchard). Which character is most like you? ^ Kansas is definitely me. Like her I was raised by grandparents and grew up on the wrong side of the track. I definitely wasn’t friends with those other types of characters when I was in school. I hung out with Kansas and people like Kansas.
People tend to clique up in high school and hang out with those similar to them. In this film however, you have total opposites as best friends. How realistic do you feel that is? ^ That was actually a big challenge when making this film. When you are in high school you can’t tell one person from another when students are in their cliques. You fall into a group based on your likes and your looks, and you just blend in with those like you. So it was tricky to pull of these five girls who were so different from one another being believable as best friends. After all, why would audiences buy that they are friends because they know that in real life they wouldn’t be. Luckily it worked though. I made sure that the actresses all spent time together before the shoot by sending them to cheerleading boot camp together and having them spend dinners with each other. It was really important to the film that they came off as a squad. On paper this was hard to accomplish and hard to believe, but the work put into it seemed totally normal. They had their own friendships off-screen and their characters had cheerleading as their common bond on-screen so it just worked.
Mena Suvari is obviously a huge star now and James Marsden has definitely jumped in popularity after the success of X-Men. How did you manage to get them signed to Sugar and Spice? ^ Actually I got very lucky on both accounts. I went to press screening of American Pie before it came out and noticed Mena right away. Later on I read an advanced copy of the script to American Beauty and I just knew that it was going to be huge, and so was she. The rest of the world hadn’t discovered her yet, so I got lucky and signed her before she was so in demand. Originally she was cast as Cleo, the sexy role, too, but then when the girl who was cast as Kansas left she was reshuffled to the Kansas role. As for James, he was cast right before X-Men came out, so I got him at the right time as well.
So what is next for you? ^ I actually just sent the script out to an indie, small budget-type film I’ve been working on called “Circling the Date.” It’s about a woman in her late thirties and the relationship she has with a man in his late twenties. She wants to get married and have a child before it’s too late, so she picks a date and if he doesn’t propose by then she vows to leave the relationship. It’s another dark comedy.
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Posted on July 23, 2001 in Interviews by
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