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From indies to studio: Stella Meghie on 'Everything, Everything'

From indies to studio: Stella Meghie on 'Everything, Everything'

The summer movie’s already begun and it’s seems to be a great season for women behind the camera. Even before premiering Wonder Woman last week, Warner Brothers launched their summer schedule in May with another film helmed by female director, the adaption of the YA best seller Everything, Everything, based on the novel by Nicola Goodloe. Director Stella Meghie landed the job after directing last year’s wonderful, award-winning indie comedy Jean of the Joneses.

After interviewing Meghie last year as SXSW, seeing her with Everything, Everything just a year later suggests she really is a director on the rise.  

Lesley Coffin: How did Jean of the Joneses lead to a studio project like Everything, Everything?

Stella Meghie: Right after SXSW I was signed to CAA, and this was literally the first script they sent me. I read the script a few weeks later, spoke to the producers by phone and pitched for the movie. I got hired a few weeks later. They were really eager to shoot it before the end of the year, so it became my next project. It turned out to be this very fast process, and while Jean of the Joneses played at Toronto, I was on set shooting this film.

Lesley Coffin: This is like a dream experience in Hollywood, to go from a small movie like Jean to a Hollywood film at a major studio. When we spoke at SXSW, I remember you were planning on making another indie. Did you need time to adjust to having a studio backing you on a project that you hadn’t written?

Stella Meghie: I really didn’t have time, I just had to dive in with the draft of the script I originally read. You immediately feel when a budget is bigger, but the wheels started going and I was on the train. I wasn’t comparing and contrasting while filming. And while this film was made on a much bigger budget than Jean, it’s one of the smaller studio films. And we were on a tight schedule. So it didn’t feel that different, there aren’t huge differences between shooting a $1 million dollar film and a $10 million dollar film. You still have a lot of pressure.

Lesley Coffin: I did notice that like Jean, you really embrace costume and set design as a way of expressing the character. Jean really used the jazzy, urban influences of apartment life and the characters wear lots of dark colors and animal print clothing. This film’s really open with a mix of bright whites and warm colors. When do you start thinking about that aspect of the film during development and pre-production?

Stella Meghie: When I’m writing or reading a script, I’m thinking about and creating a lookbook, that’s when I start thinking of what the color palette of the film should be early on. Jean’s look was more aggressive, we used reds and golds and leopard print, kind of in your face. This was the opposite, it was soft and all white and pastel. I wanted it to have a dreamy look and feel. That’s what I included in the look book right away. You can usually control how a film will look, but you have less control over who you’ll get to be in it. But once you have a cast in place, you make adjustments to make sure everything fits seamlessly together.

Lesley : Had you seen Amandla Stenberg before casting her as Maddy?

Stella Meghie: I’d seen Hunger Games, although she was much younger, and I’d seen her in a more recent indie film, As you Are. But she did come in and audition which really got her the role.

Lesley Coffin: I was so happy to Anika Noni Rose in the film, I love her theater work but we don’t see as much as we should in films. Did you have to convince any higher-ups to give her the role, and not shop it to a bigger name in Hollywood?

Stella Meghie: She was on my mind for the role for a long time. She’s a Tony Award winning actress and has been in some great films, but I did have to pitch my case to the studio about why she’s the right person to play Maddy’s mom. I really had to spell out what I thought she could bring to the role, and fortunately they came around. I was so grateful to have someone with those dramatic chops who could really bring something to the role. She really grounds the film in a really challenging role.

Lesley Coffin: The book is described as young adult fiction, so you really have to consider the audience you’re making the film for. How did you prepare to make a film that fit that criteria?

Stella Meghie: It was a real learning curve because Jean had a very different feel and audience. That film allows for quiet moments and pauses, I could use a jazz soundtrack in that film, because that older audience’s a little more accepting to that approach. This was a film I had to gear towards that age range of 11 to 17. And I don’t consider myself a fan of young adult books, and when I read it I didn’t think of it as young adult book. I just read it and never thought of who were buying it. And the original cut of the film I had was a little longer, probably played better for a slightly older audience, and then we adjusted it to make sure the kids we knew were going to go see the film, who should see the film, would enjoy it as well. We adjusted the pacing and music a little.

Lesley Coffin: The odd thing about this film is, it has a big twist, but a lot of the kids going to see it already know the twist because they read the book. So, you essentially had two different audiences to satisfy at once.

Stella Meghie: You just have to make sure the film plays for both. It’s been interesting reading some reviews that down the story, because it is the story from the book that’s been on the bestseller list for a long time. People love the story and they love the twist. But I was more concerned when the twist happens in the film that people who’ve only seen the movie, feared they would feel like they hadn’t signed up for that kind of movie.

Lesley Coffin: It really shows why it can be easier to adapt a book that’s undiscovered, because you have freedom to change the book. The rabid fans of the book wouldn’t have accepted an adaption that didn’t include the twist.

Stella Meghie: It would have been crazy to change the ending. The core audience would have been really upset with me.

Lesley Coffin: Were there scenes you did change to give the film that cinematic feeling?

Stella Meghie: One of the biggest things we changed was the house, it’s really different in the movie. It’s written as a quaint, comfortable, and much smaller home. And I felt that it might feel a little too tight in a film, so we opened it up a bit and made it a little more modern and expensive. The square footage of Maddy’s house increased considerably. And then the fantasies we added, having them in the same room talking, rather than just constant texting in their rooms.

Lesley Coffin: I remember you saying with Jean of the Joneses that you wanted to make universal films that were about specific people. This is a different project, it’s not based on your family and you didn’t write the script, but I think you still managed to do that here. Did you feel that universal connection to the characters and story?

Stella Meghie: The life Maddy lives is such a tale, it’s more of a fable or fairytale. The books is a small and quirky tale, and that’s hard to translate into a movie that will play on 3,000 screens. So I tried to make it as specific as possible, I added in things that I personally love. The clothing, the music, the shots are elements that are specific to my personal taste.

Lesley Coffin: And there’s the benefit of the story being about a teenager, because at least we’ve all been teenagers and experienced first loves.

Stella Meghie: That’s where you hope even older audiences will latch onto the story. They’ve been through some of that. Whether you’ve been stuck in the house or not, your first meeting with a boy you like will be awkward. We’ve all kind of been there, so even though her situation is fantastical, she’s still just a girl figuring things out. I talked to Amandla about that aspect a lot, that she’s just the nerdiest girl times 1000, but there are plenty of girls in grade nine who’ve never kissed a boy. That’s what people can relate to.

© Lesley Coffin (6/19/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Amanda Stenberg as “Maddy” and Anika Noni Rose as "Pauline" in the Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures romantic drama Everything, Everything.

Photo Credit: Doane Gregory