In the five years that it took me to make Pretty Persuasion,
I had heard the script being compared to everything from Clueless
to Heathers to Mean Girls. Although the film borrows
some elements from the teen-comedy genre, it’s not a teen movie
and I’m not even sure I feel comfortable calling it a comedy.
But because the script read that way, when it finally came down to shooting
the film, I was extremely careful to protect myself against all the
obvious trappings of the Teen Movie genre. So here are two simple elements,
one decided in pre-production, and one decided in post-production, that
I think make Pretty Persuasion a not so teen movie.
In the script, Kimberly (Evan Rachel Wood) is described as wearing the
traditional school girl uniform—a short plaid skirt, white blouse,
and knee high socks. In a film about a high school girl who accuses
her teacher of sexual assault, this seemed incredibly obvious. Make
her the sexy Lolita, the slutty little schoolgirl. But somehow that
seemed a little too cliché. After all, we’ve seen that
look so often it seems to be a requisite at most strip clubs.
When I hired Danny Glicker (Costume Designer) the first thing I said
to him was to ignore the descriptions in the script. I wanted to create
a world that felt timeless with a complete absence of cliques or individual
flair at the school. After a few meetings we came up with a concept
for a more sophisticated, Grace Kelly-esque look for the girls uniforms.
With this idea in mind Danny designed these great long pencil skirts
with Peter Pan-collared blouses. We then put all the girls in pink and
the boys in blue. The combination felt more period than contemporary.
The look gave Kimberly an underlying innocence that undermined her vulgar
and sometimes absurd dialogue.
To complement the uniforms I exaggerated the world itself. We cast
absurdly perfect extras to surround our actors and we instructed everyone
to walk with perfect posture. Even the props were designed to contrast
the normal high school look. You won’t find a single knapsack
or contemporary school bag at Roxbury High (our fictional Beverly Hills
high school). The students carried leather satchels or simple textbooks
covered in brown paper bags. As absurd as it seems, these details come
across as pretty subtle. None of it really jumps out at you but it clearly
feels different than the expected.
After we finished shooting and I first sat down to discuss how much
music there should be and where I wanted the music to play, Gilad Benamram,
the film’s composer, just assumed there would be some cool “hit
songs” peppered throughout the film. He seemed more than a little
surprised when I told him to score the entire thing. I didn’t
want any songs—rock, hip hop, pop, etc.—I didn’t want
anything that you would normally expect to hear in a high school setting.
As a matter of fact I wanted him to stay away from anything that might
sound like something a teenager would listen to. So we went through
the film, scene by scene, assigning themes to each character and discussed
where the score would have the most impact.
The day I went to listen to the music that Gilad had written was probably
the most stressful day of the entire production process for me. My anxiety
had nothing to do with his abilities, he’s an incredibly gifted
composer, but I had tremendous expectations of what the music should
be and what it would to do the film. Also, to be honest, I wasn’t
sure my idea of “no songs” would work.
I couldn’t be happier. The music is better than I ever imagined
and it does exactly what I hoped it would. Who needs hit pop songs!
If you listen carefully to the soundtrack you can hear the individual
character themes and how they move and blend seamlessly throughout the
film—creating a single, cohesive score that truly compliments
So when you see an ad for this film and you think you know what to
expect, don’t jump to conclusions. At first glance it may look
like a teen movie. It may sound like a teen movie. But Pretty Persuasion
is definitely not just another teen movie.