B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
When thirteen-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood of Little Secrets) falls under the intoxicating influence of Evie (Nikki Reed), the most popular girl in school, she finds herself entangled in a fast paced, unfamiliar world. Her mother (Holly Hunter) frantically tries to understand her daughter's radical transformation, horrified to learn the extent to which Tracy has fallen beyond her grasp. Also stars Jeremy Sisto ("Six Feet Under") and Deborah Unger (Between Strangers, Sunshine). First-time director Catherine Hardwicke co-wrote the script with then thirteen-year-old Nikki Reed, upon whose experiences the film is inspired.
  Thirteen
   
 

I've worked as a production designer on about twenty films—from super low budget Roger Corman motorcycle movies, to cool indie films like Richard Linklater's subUrbia and David O. Russell's Three Kings, all the way up to Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise. In between each job, I've been writing my own scripts, trying to get my own movie made.

I first wrote a period piece and figured out how to make it for under $10 million, but everyone said I'd never get to make that. So I wrote a cheaper film that mostly takes place in the woods, but I couldn't get that one to go either. I realized I had to follow the path of many of my indie heroes: write a film that I could make myself with a digital camera if I had to. I had several different ideas, but it all really came together during a haircut.

The back story: my ex-boyfriend Seth and I had gone out for four years and during this time, I became very close to his kids. After we broke up, I started getting my haircut at his ex-wife's house so I could see the kids at least every couple of months. One day while getting a quick trim, I started to notice big changes in their thirteen-year-old daughter: Nikki wasn't laughing any more. She was angry with her mother, her family, and herself. She was obsessed with her image—waking up every day at 4:30am to do a magazine-perfect job of hair, makeup, and wardrobe styling—to attend seventh grade. She looked like a supermodel, was ridiculously popular, and hated everyone.

I was worried—her parents were worried. As a way to reach out to Nikki and inspire her to think about more positive things, I started taking her and her friends to plays and art galleries. She was interested in acting—I set her up with a coach and shot little digital scenes with her, but she needed more challenges. I suggested we write a screenplay together (that's difficult!).

We thought it would be a teen comedy—but I kept wanting to make it specific and real and the more questions I asked Nikki about real stuff in middle school, the more we realized that this is what the movie should be about. The real stuff Nikki and her friends were dealing with—their parents, their friends, and society.

Nikki had a free week in January 2002, so we sat down and wrote a semi-autobiographical story. Nikki and I acted out every scene, over and over, until it felt right. She usually played the kids—I played the adults. After six days, we finished the script. Nikki started eighth grade winter quarter and I decided I had to make the movie. This one was going to happen.

I turned down production design jobs and refinanced my house. I set a start date: I really wanted Nikki to be in it and I wanted her to be close to the same age. I didn't want to interrupt her school, so I decided it would have to be made that summer—five months away. We shot a very intense scene with a crew of one (Kara Stephens, our B Camera operator), then we edited it and started showing it to people.

Our producers, Michael London and Jeff Levy-Hinte, came on board quickly—they helped get the script to Holly Hunter and scrape together the money. Three weeks before shooting, Working Title gave us the last chunk of cash needed and we suddenly had a lean crew, a bunch of my nephews as interns, and twenty-four shooting days.

Evan Rachel Wood, our super-talented star, was in nearly every scene, so most days we could only shoot for eight and a half hours (she was fourteen). Every minute had to be precisely planned—every shot except for the first and last are hand-held… in one scene we pushed Elliot Davis, our fantastic cinematographer, in a shopping cart he spotted on the side of the road. We shot the film on Super 16mm film, so our camera was smaller and lighter.

The art department dressed the main house a week in advance and we had six hours of rehearsal a day for the five days before shooting. Holly, Evan and Nikki came to the first rehearsal already off-book and very prepared for their parts. We worked hard on all the difficult scenes, slugging them out, bringing them to life, just the four of us. The actors even spent the night together in the house one night—the home and their relationships became real to them.

With this kind of preparation, we were able to shoot intense scenes on a very tight schedule. The crew pitched in and the actors stepped up to the challenge—pouring out their hearts, then rushing into hair and makeup and wardrobe, changing into a new look, and coming back for
another grueling scene.

I think some of the energy in the film comes from the fact that nobody sat around waiting much—we were always shooting. The experience was intense, painful, exhilarating—and the hardest work I've ever done…but
I loved it. Now maybe I'll get to make my other films…

   

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