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Allison Anders on Why Remaking ‘Beaches’ Made Sense, And What She’s Learned From Directing TV

The groundbreaking indie legend was too "punk rock" for the original Garry Marshall film...until she gave it a chance.

Allison Anders

Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

When Lifetime asked iconic indie filmmaker Allison Anders to direct the network’s “Beaches” remake, the director found herself in an interesting position: She’d never seen Garry Marshall’s 1988 melodrama.

“In fact, I can say this to IndieWire — I was like, ‘Well fuck no, I haven’t seen “Beaches.” That’s everything my generation of filmmakers was against,'” Anders said.

READ MORE: ‘Beaches’ Remake Trailer: Idina Menzel Belts ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ in Lifetime Promo

Nonetheless, she decided to check out the original, and found herself deeply surprised by Marshall’s depiction of the decades-long bond between CC (Idina Menzel in the remake, originally played by Bette Midler) and Hillary (Nia Long in the remake, originally played by Barbara Hershey). “I feel like the messiness is what was appealing to me, and that they endure through that messiness,” Anders said. “I mean, that’s the key, the endurance of the friendship.”

That was ultimately what drove Anders to take on the project, because she saw it as an opportunity to correct a major gap in the current pop culture landscape. “When I see female friendships today on screen, I still don’t quite believe them,” she said. “They’re not messy enough or they’re messy in a really intellectual way.”

Coming at the project with a newfound respect for Garry Marshall, Anders found herself a bit intimidated: “I was just amazed that Garry Marshall would choose that material. I really had this renewed enjoyment of him. Then he passed away right when we were leaving to go make it, and I saw him on something where he was saying, ‘I just want to entertain people.’ I was just like, ‘Oh god, I love you. I hope I can make people cry as much as you did.’ That was always the goal. It’s like, ‘If we can just please make people cry as much, then we’re good.'”

Nia Long and Idina Menzel, "Beaches"

Nia Long and Idina Menzel, “Beaches”

Lifetime

“Beaches” is the second film that Anders has directed for Lifetime, following 2013’s “Ring of Fire.” And while Anders began her career as a film director with independent classics like “Border Radio” and “Gas Food Lodging,” she’s also directed a fair amount of episodic television – including upcoming installments of new series “Riverdale” and “Time After Time.”

Working in television, Anders said, has its disadvantages. But she not only credits it with keeping her up to date on the latest technologies — it’s made her a better director. More on that, as well as why remakes in general have value, in the edited transcript below.

One thing that I noticed about “Beaches” was every scene feels very centered in what that scene is about. When you show up for work each day, do you tend to focus on the big picture or small picture?

I do a little bit of both. I’m always right there in what we’re doing for sure, but there’s another part of my brain that has to kick in and go, later, “This matters.” Especially if we’re doing any kind of improv. You gotta think of the arc of everything. Every little thing has to be storytelling. Your brain has to kick in and go, “Okay, now let me think down the line.”

In a way, as a director, you’re keeping all of that in mind. From post all the way down. Like, “If I do this, I’m gonna have a problem in post later. This is gonna bite me in the ass.” Or, “This will work. This will fly,” or, “I know how I’m gonna do this later and how I’m gonna cut this and how this is all gonna work.” You’re actually thinking long-term at all times.

Beaches Lifetime Nia Long

I’m not consciously doing that, by the way, because it’s just so automatic now. Believe it or not, I think that’s from all these years of TV, because I cut more in my head. Everything that I do, I’m already thinking, “Well, I’m not gonna use that, but I’m gonna go straight here.”

As a TV director, especially when you’re coming in and doing a bunch of different shows, it must be like physical training in a way.

Absolutely. Of course, I wouldn’t have had a job then as a woman director, but it feels like the old studio system where you’d just be working all the time — you do a western and then you do a film noir and then you do a comedy and you do a musical… You get handed these things that you’re supposed to do and you just go out and do it.

Let’s say you happened to see “Beaches” in 1988 and you loved it then. Do you feel like you would have been able to do this now?

I did think about “What’s the movie that I love that I would not redo?” I thought, “Well, there’s plenty of movies that I wouldn’t.” I would never remake a Win Wenders movie.

I think something like “The World of Henry Orient” — it’s just a great female friendship movie that, if I don’t remake it, somebody should remake it. You can’t touch the original, but you could bring new girls to it and you could bring a different energy to it. You could update it in ways, not in terms of the emotion or intention, but you could just make it a little more accessible.

That’s an example of something where, yeah I love the original madly, but you could conceivably redo it. There was a movie that ruled my world as a child, and it influenced everything that I did, including my ideas of romantic love and all kinds of things, called “A Stolen Life.” At one point, Heather Graham said her boyfriend at the time, Miguel Arteta, was doing a remake of it. And then he told me, “Well, I wrote the script for it. I’m off of it now, but you should take a look and see if it’s something.”

I saw the problems that he had to face with it, that were complicated for updating it now. He’s kind of a jerk, the guy that’s their love object. I was like, “Oh, he is kind of a jerk.” That informed my romantic life. “I’m screwed. He is a jerk, isn’t he?” [laughs]

Is that one of the things of value that comes with doing a remake, the idea of making it more accessible?

I think so. Here’s what you can do: You can make it more accessible, obviously, with new stars and stars that people recognize now. But there’s another reason to do it, which is you can come at it with a different energy while still admiring the original energy. I feel like we did that. Ours is a little bit more inside the female characters and it’s also a little more raw.

As a filmmaker, what else does a remake bring you?

It’s nice to have an original take. It’s always good to go, “Oh, here’s the original material, and what do I love about it? What can I bring to that? How can I protect that and then give a little bit more of myself?” In a way, it’s like directing episodic, because with episodic I didn’t originate this stuff. In a way, you’re interpreting a remake just as you’re interpreting a script for an episode of a show that you didn’t invent.

The beauty of not being the author is great, because you’re just using the tools to deliver that story, and then empowering everyone else to tell that same story. That’s definitely the best way to work, even if it’s on a TV show. When every department is empowered to be storytellers and you’re all telling the same story, then you’ve got magic. That’s really the goal.

Beaches Idina Menzel Sania Victoria

I saw you did an episode of “Time After Time.”

Oh yeah, I sure did.

You haven’t done a lot of genre?

No, I haven’t, so that was interesting. Oh my god, the body count in my episode is pretty hilarious, for me to have directed it. Yeah, that was fascinating. Some wonderfully young actors and some really beautiful artistic people working on that. Then, I did an episode of “Riverdale,” which was just an absolute dream, because those characters are so dear to my heart. But then I get to see this dark side. It was really fun. That was a really beautiful cast and just a beautiful vision for the whole thing.

If or when you get an opportunity to do another feature, a proper feature film, what’s the biggest thing you think you’ll take to that experience from TV?

Oh god, so much. I was always fast anyway, but now I know how to be even faster. One thing that’s been genius for me is one piece of equipment. The Mini Technocrane, which I learned on “Murder in the First” from the beautiful cinematographer Mike Mayers, who’s also a director. I used it on “Riverdale.” It’s a gorgeous piece of equipment and it’s very efficient. You can use it to make these fluid movements and go from like a long lens to a beautiful closeup. It’s elegant and it’s fast and it’s great.

Are you enjoying this balance of mixing features with television?

I sometimes love TV. The problem with episodic is that you never know what you’re getting into. You never have the script. You’re already booked long before you’ve got a script. What if there’s something that’s highly offensive to you? You have to do it anyways. You just never know the environment you’re walking into. But some environments are very director-friendly. “Riverdale” was a really good example of where me and the writer could work together just gorgeously. It was just heaven. I was empowered to bring 30 years of experience directing to the job.

You would hope they would always be open to that.

It does not always happen. But then you have something like “Riverdale.” At one point I was like, “God, you guys. I was gonna quit doing this and now you fucked me, because you’re all so great.”

It’s really good. You get to bring things. You learn stuff. With the way that technology changes now, if you’re not directing episodic, I don’t know how you’re keeping up, because everything’s totally different.

We went through years in film, never seeing much change. Maybe a stock change. Maybe one new little toy. The Steadicam came along, but for years, there was really nothing new. Now, there’s something new every time you go on a set on TV. There’s some new toy. There’s some new way of doing things. If you’re not directing episodic, you’re just not keeping in touch at all.

“Beaches” premieres Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime. 

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