Jan Chats with Lizzy Weiss, ‘Blue Crush’ Screenwriter

Jan Chats with Lizzy Weiss, ‘Blue Crush’ Screenwriter

(First Posted in 2003)

Lizzy Weiss, the screenwriter behind BLUE CRUSH, represents a new generation of women knocking on Hollywood’s golden door. The success of BLUE CRUSH guarantees that Lizzy will have more opportunities in the future to write stories that focus on the lives of women & girls. In honor of Women’s History Month, Jan spoke one-on-one with Lizzy (the recipient of a BA degree in Women’s Studies from Duke University).

Jan: Lizzy, you just wrote the screenplay for a very successful “mainstream” Hollywood film. That’s interesting because, when people ask why women directors & screenwriters don’t do better in Hollywood, one answer typically given is that most women write very small, personal films. Supposedly that’s one reason why they get locked out of bigger opportunities.

Lizzy: 
This is a very interesting topic to me. I’ve never met her, but Callie Khouri was an incredible influence on me. I remember when she was nominated for an Oscar [for her THELMA & LOUISE screenplay] & I remember seeing her win. I think I was either in college or it was right after college, when I was just beginning to think about all this. It was one of those subtle things: “Oh, women can do this!” There was something exciting about seeing a woman get an Oscar for her screenplay!

Jan: 
Let’s talk about your screenplay for BLUE CRUSH. Was the final version close to your original story? Which ideas were dropped &/or changed?

Lizzy: 
Director John Stockwell & I have co-credit for the final screenplay. I worked alone for about year & half, & I wrote a number of drafts. Then John came on board & we started writing together. My initial 3 drafts were much closer to the article.

For example, my story was originally based in Hana [on Maui], where the girls in Orlean’s article really lived. It was all about that small town world. My girls were a little younger, so their parents were involved a bit more. But the basic story was the same. The focus was on the 4 girls – 4 girls who are best friends & a family to each other.

Jan: 
Did the girls always have jobs?

Lizzy: 
Yes, they had hotel jobs. When I went to Hana to do my research, I found there’s not much there except a town for the tourists. 

So all the core elements were there before I began working with John, but it was… well, it’s funny considering what you said before… it was a much smaller, more personal film. 

Jan: 
Interesting. 

Lizzy: 
That’s what we were going for originally. When the producers hired me, they said: “We’re looking to make a MYSTIC PIZZA/BREAKING AWAY type movie about friendship.” What comes out of Orlean’s article is this beautiful friendship – how surfing ties them to one another. Yes, they love surfing. They have a passion for surfing. But it’s also about how girls at that age have something that they love together, they love being together in the water surfing together.

Jan: 
Yes, but part of what makes the article so interesting is how Orlean makes it clear that this is a golden time in their lives. The options, as they get older, aren’t great for them in the future.

Lizzy: 
Right. That’s where I let go. I didn’t originally talk about the dark undertone of that. The class issues of the town have such an underbelly. But my first draft was very much about, yes, the “golden time” in their lives.

Jan: 
So the original draft avoided the darkness, & then some of the darkness came back in toward the end of the process?

Lizzy: 
Well, it just kept getting bigger! At first, it did have the feeling of MYSTIC PIZZA & BREAKING AWAY – 3 or 4 best friends, a passion for one thing & how they grow through it. It was much more of an ensemble. And then John came at the same time that THE FAST & THE FURIOUS became a big hit. 

There were a lot of women on the producing side. The thing about the movie business – when it comes to the writer & director roles, there are practically no women. But on the producing side, there are tons of women executives. So for the first couple of years, there were a lot of fantastic women working with me, giving me their notes. They all loved this project so much. It was small for them – $15 million backing for this little movie. But they loved it; it was our “small, personal movie.”

But then it grew. People of LA started saying: “This can be a FAST & FURIOUS sort of cool hit! Make it bigger to get boys in!” That’s when we started changing it, & making it bigger & bigger… We made the girls older, & took the parents out. We left Hana & went to a bigger city [on Oahu].

Jan: 
How did you personally feel about these changes? Were you on for the ride, or were you sad?

Lizzy: 
Yes, I was on for the ride, but yes, I was also a little sad, because I loved the article so much. Originally, it had more of the feeling of the article. It was really more about the girls, about their friendship. It had that sort of texture, of the 4 of them, & I really loved that…

It was more about the girls & less about the contest, the competition. It became a story about a girl who has to overcome her fear, which is a whole other issue. Now that’s also something really interesting because, in this case, it’s a girl. But I love movies that are small… like WALKING & TALKING… the kind of movies you carry with you, that mean something to you… 

So I was on board & excited that the script was getting so much attention & that everyone was suddenly saying, “Oh this could be huge so let’s…” Because when you’re in the process, it’s not just about you… So it just changed. You can’t help getting excited by the process, especially for me because it was my first script, my first big project.

Jan: 
Let’s talk a bit about the marketing campaign. As far as you know, did anybody deliberately decide not to target people like me? Did they think guys would get turned off if adult women were in the audience? Because when I talk to my contemporaries aboutBLUE CRUSH, very few of them have even heard of it. 

Lizzy: 
The first issue was the boy/girl thing. The second issue was the age thing. They decided early on that the key audience was going to be young, so they literally blanketed MTV. I heard that on July 4th there was one commercial every hour for 24 hours. That had never happened before.

There was an article in one of the liberal intellectual papers here in LA analyzing the poster: was it “feminist” or not? That was one of the things that I thought got in the way of many reviewers. But these girls, they’re not in string bikinis. They don’t have fake boobs. These girls are wearing bikinis & board shorts because that’s what they surf in. 

Jan: 
I absolutely agree. The actresses in BLUE CRUSH have strong, athletic bodies. They need to look like women who really can get themselves out into the big waves & they do. And about the “fake boobs,” I loved the line where Penny teases Ann Marie: “Is he going to buy you implants?” So just in case the audience missed the point that these are athlete’s bodies… I definitely thought the film was a “feminist” film!

Lizzy: 
Yes. I was not involved in casting, although I was around for some conversations. It was always clear that we were going to get girls who looked like athletes. That’s the spirit of the article – these are girls who grew up in the water & their muscles come from surfing waves.

Jan: 
Well, I predict that you’re going to do very well on DVD now. I think all the women who didn’t know to see it when it was in the theaters will see it now – with their daughters!

Lizzy: 
Thank you. There’s something interesting about you saying: “Oh people just shut off when they see 18 year old girls in bikinis.” Did they expect one of those PORKY’s movies? 

Jan: 
Exactly. So I think there is a whole second market for you, but we have to get the word out! 

New topic. Lizzy, has anybody asked you, specifically, about ADAPTATION

Lizzy: 
No, I guess people don’t really make the connection… Most people would never guess that Susan Orlean, the writer who wrote “The Maui Surfer Girls,” is the same person as the writer played by Meryl Streep in ADAPTATION

Jan: 
I find that so interesting! With all the things that have been written about ADAPTATION in the past few months, is there no one who appreciates that someone wrote a beautiful adaptation of an Orlean story without having to include any masturbation scenes?

Lizzy: 
(Laughter.) I kept looking for the reviews to say: “She [Orlean] also wrote the story upon which BLUE CRUSH was based…” But no one did…

Jan: 
Tell me about the “romance,” how did you create the Matt character in BLUE CRUSH.

Lizzy: 
The script wrestles with the problem of how to be “a girl” & how to be “an athlete” at the same time – how to be in love. Sometimes people feel like there’s a conflict there – how to be in love & be taken care of, & but also be in charge. 

It’s one thing that I love about BLUE CRUSH, something that has always been there, & was always intended to be there, & is still there. We wanted to deal with that push & pull that all girls feel. This is the new thing that girls of our century are feeling: how to do both? This is a particular issue for Ann Marie, because she’s “the mother” of all 4 girls. Someone always rises to the occasion, you know, somehow someone always takes that role, & in BLUE CRUSH, Ann Marie is always the one cleaning up & paying the bills & making the others go back to work. 

So we thought that was an interesting dynamic to the romance. What appeals to Ann Marie is that, for the first time, someone is taking care of her. Matt is very sweet to her. This is a girl who has never been mothered & she’s finally being nurtured by a boy, by a football player, & the relationship is so unlikely, & that is what I liked about it!

We had another writer come in for a couple of weeks. She had a football background and she helped us get the details right for Matt. 

Jan: 
I think it all worked great. So what is next for Lizzy? What are you working on? What should we look for?

Lizzy: 
I just finished a script called THE GLASS CEILING for Paramount. It’s about an older woman (older meaning in her 50s, like a Kathy Bates) & a younger woman (like a Reese Witherspoon, in her 20s). The older woman feels like she’s being pushed out of her place in the corporate world. So she’s insecure when they hire this young woman who gets all the attention. And at first there’s sort of an ALL ABOUT EVE moment between them, where they’re very threatened by each other. But then the older woman realizes that she can use the younger woman, in sort of a “Cyrano” way, to sell her ideas. 

Meanwhile, the younger woman realizes that she’s hit the glass ceiling in a totally different way. She comes in thinking: “I don’t believe in a glass ceiling. In my generation, that’s ridiculous.” But she hits it in a totally opposite way. Everyone sees her as so pretty, but they think she can’t be pretty & also be smart. So they hit the glass ceiling in very different ways, & then they team up to break through it.

Jan: 
Is this a comedy?

Lizzy: 
Yes it’s a comedy, but obviously there’s really serious stuff too. I read so much these days about woman feeling like they hit 50 & no one cares about them anymore. We just turned it in to Paramount, so we’re waiting to see what comes next. But I think it’s a really interesting issue. You rarely see older women in movies any more.

Jan: 
Last topic. I have a quote from another interview where you say: “A screenplay is very different from a novel or short story. The best movies follow the rules seamlessly. You don’t let the viewers see how you hit all your marks, & use all the other classic devices.” Can you talk about that a little bit? I think that there is something important about having respect for the “classic devices.” 

Lizzy: 
I think the best movies are the ones in which a character changes in ways that are unexpected… What’s satisfying to us as an audience is to watch people change, because we want to change in our own lives. Seeing someone else change in a movie, even if it’s only a tiny change, makes me feel: “Okay, maybe I can do it!” That’s the human experience. 

Jan: 
I love your optimism, Lizzy! We wish you all the best in the future!

Lizzy & boyfriend Dan get gussied up for the BLUE CRUSH premier.
(Photo courtesy of Lizzy’s Dad, Irwin Weiss.)

© Jan Lisa Huttner (1/17/03) – Special for Films for Two. Reposted with Permission.

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