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Pride 2021

Darren Stein 
20th Anniversary Screening Event

The New Current spoke with American filmmaker Darren Stein about his cult classic Jawbreaker that featured the legendary Pam Grier and celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2020.

Hi Darren, thanks for talking to TNC, On May 11th you're going to be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Jawbreaker at the Rooftop Cinema Club in Los Angeles, are there any nerves ahead of the big night?

It’s pretty surreal. It’s nice to know the film has stood the test of time. 

What do you think it is about films like Jawbreaker that have such staying power?

I think in your face in a way that most films aren’t. I wanted it to feel of the time while also having a mythic timeless quality. It’s inspired by films like Grease, Carrie, Rocky Horror and Rock n Roll High School. When you pull from such disparate influences it becomes its own thing.

This is also going to be a reunion for you and your cast what will it feel like for you to see everyone again?

Judy Greer and I did a Q&A a couple of weeks back at the El Cine 20th Anniversary screening at the Downtown Independent followed by a night of drag performances inspired by the film at Queen Kong. Judy got on stage and danced with her drag doppelgänger. It was a pretty magical night.  I’ve always loved drag so having the film be embraced and performed by queens over the years has been incredible. Also spending the night at a club with Judy experiencing that 20 years later was a total trip and quite a gift. 

How did Jawbreaker come to life?

I set out initially to write a horror film but it became more of a comedy when I started writing dialogue. Movies tell you what they want to be and this one really veered into a heightened place so I leaned into that. I found the producers through the producing team on my first film Sparkler and they bought the film to the home video division of Columbia-TriStar which later became Screen Gems.

Was your screenplay inspired by any of your own experiences of High School cliques?

It was my fantasy high school in a way - without the death of course. I went to an all-boys private school which was pretty rigid and academically oriented. As a gay kid, you need the girls to really help give you validity if you’re not going to excel in sports or academics. It was a way for me to express my rage at being robbed of fulfilling high school experience - or the kind you see in movies. 

What was your inspiration for your four main characters Courtney, Julie, Marcie & Fern?

I think they’re all aspects of girls I knew and admired as a gay teenager growing up in a world where I was pretty ostracised from and felt on the outside of. Courtney was that primordial part of me that wanted to burn it all down, Julie was the good girl - popular but with goodness that existed inside her. Marcie was that follower who I always thought was more dangerous than the Alpha because she wasn’t the brains of the operation. My cousin had a best friend named Marcie who was a sort of wild child so that’s where Marcie came from. And Fern/Vylette was named for the plant blooming into a flower metaphor.  I also knew a girl named Vylette who used to be a fixture in the LA club scene in the 90s. I like that she spelt her name like Corvette and she was super glamorous. Vylette is very much inspired by Angelyne the LA billboard queen who was the ultimate 80s image of the platinum blonde, like the New Wave Jayne Mansfield. When Courtney drags Vylette off the Corvette, she says “Who do you think you are? Angelyne?”. 


How did you connect the amazing cast you have with these four unique characters you wrote?

Rose McGowan was the name that got the film financed - She had done Scream so she had some clout. I had seen her and loved her in The Doom Generation. Julie Benz read for Marcie and brought wicked humour that enhanced what was on the page. Rebecca Gayheart was cast as Julie and the three had that ‘Faster Pussycat Kill Kill’ larger than life quality. We had cast another actress as Fern who decided to do a Pilot and we got Judy Greer 5 days before production began. Dyed her hair platinum and we were good to go. The movie Gods really shined upon us because that was the toughest role to cast and Judy had literally just arrived in Hollywood.

You also have Pam Grier, Carol Kane & Jeff Conaway was easy to convince them to get involved in the film?

Everyone was really game. Pam Grier was such a great nod to her bold brazen roles in the 70s in the AIP films. Carol Kane was a fun nod to When a Stranger Calls and she was like a metaphorical mother to Fern. At Prom, her dress is meant to evoke Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and the idea that she gets to be prom queen in her mind every year when she wears that faded purple dress. Jeff Conaway was a Grease call back and PJ Soles is a major hero of mine as Riff Randall from Rock n Roll High School. William Katt was my Carrie call back.

What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

It was a 3 million dollar budget which was really small compared to the teen films that were made by the bigger studio and had 3-5 times the budget. So we were moving a lot faster which is a challenge on a super stylised visual piece like this. 

What is your favourite line from Jawbreaker?

"I made you and I’m God” or “You’re the shadow, we're the sun.” I wanted the dialogue to almost sound like iambic pentameter or music lyrics. 

Looking back do you think there would be anything you would do differently in Jawbreaker?

Of course. But I think that’s the case with every filmmaker and every film.

How much did the experience of making Jawbreaker prepare you for your future projects? 

It was definitely a trial by fire but it gave me the strength to stick to my convictions and persevere because the imagery was so strong - even more so now that the film is still being screened and discovered by new generations.

"Really I just want them to have a fantastic time and not take high school so seriously - channel any residual pain from those years in a humorous way."

What are you currently working on?

I’ve adapted the YA novel KILL THE BOY BAND as a feature. It feels like a spiritual ancestor of Jawbreaker. It’s about a clique of fangirls who kidnap and accidentally kill a boy band member - or was it an accident? It’s got elements of HARD DAY’S NIGHT and it has a major musical element. I’m also putting together a horror-tinged feature about a young girl who gets mysteriously pregnant and it may or may not have been her imaginary friend called THE INVISIBLE BOY.

And finally, what do you want audiences to take away from Jawbreaker?

Really I just want them to have a fantastic time and not take high school so seriously - channel any residual pain from those years in a humorous way.

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