Divas in Disguise; Richard Day Talks About His Debut Feature “Girls Will Be Girls”
by Claiborne Smith
There is one fact that anyone who sees “Girls Will Be Girls” can not deny: the movie’s screwy, beyond-black humor, which suffuses every scene, has clearly been itching to spill forth from its first-time director, former sitcom writer Richard Day, for some time. “Girls Will Be Girls” is a celebration of that demented, outré stuff and Day, who also wrote the script, gleefully pumps it out. The stars of the movie — the bitter and demented Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick); a rapidly aging has-been (who has-never-been talented); naive waif Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp); and perky Arkansas native Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson) — compete with one another to find love and fame in Hollywood. Since they all live in the same house, the competition can get a little intense (like one character who causes another to go on a wild acid flashback without her knowledge). The fact that the actors who portray these dames are men is only a minor little fact the movie does not call major attention to.
Richard Day himself is an interesting character. “I moved to L.A. to work in music videos but that died pretty quickly,” Day says. He then entered the American Film Institute’s writing program and began working on sitcoms. “If you’re in Los Angeles and you’re remotely funny, you end up on staff at ‘Just Shoot Me,’” he says. “You almost have to guard against it because you can spend your whole career that way — I worked on some shows I’m really proud of, like ‘Mad About You’ and ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ but then suddenly you find yourself at ‘Good Morning Miami’ and you just want to shoot yourself… So this film was a way to put my money where my mouth is whatever it is, it’s my voice. It’s not watered-down.” indieWIRE contributor Claiborne Smith spoke with Day about “Girls Will Be Girls” and the reason no one laughed at his movie when it played at Sundance.
indieWIRE: Given the really demented nature of your movie, I’m almost afraid to ask this, but how did this whole thing come about?
Richard Day: It came about because Clinton [Leupp] and Jack [Plotnick] have been doing those characters for a long time in benefit shows. I became friends with Jack and would start going to the shows and I used to think, “They’re really funny, but they need better material.” So I started to help them write sketches and then that was so much fun, it seemed like it would be nice to put their characters in something more substantial than a five-minute sketch. As we talked about that, I went to see Jeffrey Robertson perform and he was incredibly talented. None of us had any direct friendship with him at that point but we just approached him and said, “Would you be in this project with us?”
Initially it was going to be a television series but I could not get anyone interested. In fact, the studio where I had a deal to write a pilot said that if we went out with a pitch like that, we would lose all credibility. So it was just going to die and I wanted to do it as a play, thinking that would generate some interest. But then Coco said to me, “I am not putting on that dress and wig for $15 a night. Why can’t you just do it as a movie?” And then we decided we would, but the funny thing was, it was going to be something that I was going to shoot on my little DV camera in my house, where we ultimately did shoot it. I had dinner with a friend of mine, and he said the two things you can’t do are shoot it yourself and edit it yourself, both of which I was going to do. So I hired a DP, an inexpensive one, but he still said, “It’s just as inexpensive to shoot on HD as on DV, given the larger expenses of a film,” and then the movie just kept snowballing.
iW: You found yourself in the directing seat accidentally?
Day: Yeah. It’s always been something I’ve been wanting to do, but the only thing I’d ever directed was a play off-Broadway, so it wasn’t something I could in good conscience call myself at the time that we undertook this. But having done it, I loved it and I’ve done another one and I hope to continue.
iW: What are you working on now?
Day: It’s called “Straightjacket.” I did the play in New York and then we did “Girls” and “Girls” sold for more or less what we spent on it and we’ve put that money into “Straightjacket,” which is a film of the play.
iW: What’s it about?
Day: It’s about a gay movie star in the 1950s who is forced to marry his boss’ secretary in order to avoid exposure. The easiest way for me to explain it is, it’s the Rock Hudson story if the Rock Hudson story were a Rock Hudson movie. It’s not particularly realistic but I like it because it’s a film that’s in the 50s style if those films were actually allowed to discuss the actual issues of their day.
iW: What was the shoot like for “Girls Will Be Girls”?
Day: It was actually a lot of fun because essentially having done another one now, it was much more a feeling of my friends in my house making a little project to amuse ourselves. Everybody chipped in. I suppose we had a production designer but the truth is that the star, Jack, did all of the heavy lifting in that department — picking the colors and in fact carting over most of the furniture from his house. And there was no costumer. These are just the clothes they had for their acts. And what I find funny about that is that when people comment on the movie — and maybe this just means they’re grasping for something nice to say — they always point to the production design and the costumes, both of which were non-existent. The sets were just a collection of all our stuff and the costumes were what people had.
iW: Does your house feel really empty and lonely now?
Day: What’s funny about that is the DP came to me and he said, “You have white walls. We can not shoot white walls.” And we thought, “Why not paint it all these crazy fun colors?” which we did and it looked really good on film and I was looking at it every day and thinking, “You know what? When everyone clears out, I’m going to keep it this way.” But the minute the equipment moved out and it wasn’t lit for a movie and you just looked at these ghastly colors on every wall, it was really, uh, awful. So I put primer up. Having said that, I have yet to pick a new color and it’s been a year. The house got trashed making this film.
iW: How did the distribution deal with IFC happen?
Day: IFC Films was at the very first screening at Sundance. We had a meeting with them about strategy after they bought it. Most of the people who saw it at Sundance said, “We like it but it’s not for us.” But what I thought was really funny was that the first screening at Sundance was not by our standards a success. The movie is a comedy and people weren’t laughing. When IFC said, “We were at the first screening and we loved it,” Michael Warwick, the producer, said, “Well, you weren’t laughing,” which I loved him for. And they said something that was so eye-opening, they said, “Of course we weren’t laughing because that would drive up the price.” All of the people there are trained to sit on their reactions, which – it’s just so funny. You kill yourself making this movie and everyone there is trying hard to not show you that they like it as a point of professional pride.