Along the way we managed to take a few detours into 'Sixteen Candles' fandom, because, let's face it; no fan of '80s cinema should ever pass up the opportunity to compare notes on the real life Jake Ryan (real name: Michael Schoeffling). Read on for all this and more, including how Gluck sees Kunis and Timberlake as the new Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and how he really feels about Twitter, Facebook, and texting.
First of all, I love Emma Stone. Thank you for giving her a starring vehicle.
Isn't she great?
How did you cast her and how did you know she was the one for the part?
All the adjectives that Emma Stone has ... I was looking for Emma Stone. She's such a big, huge part of this movie. When she auditioned for me, I told every actress to go home and do any scene in the movie on a webcam and email it to me. Four hours later Emma emails me the confessional scene -- that's actually going to be on the DVD -- and I walked over to the studio with it, pushed play, and said "Here she is." And they said, "You're right!"' It was that easy.
What direction did you give these actresses when you sent them off to perform into a webcam?
My point to her and to all of the other actresses and the studio was that a lot of this movie is you and your face. You can't hide. I can't do smoke and mirrors just for you. So it's just you. She just did it! It's a speech, so it was all right in the camera, like in the movie, so she had to do it eventually.
You've also got a great supporting cast -- Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Thomas Haden Church. How did they fall into place?
It was mostly due to the tireless efforts of the studio head, Clinton Culpepper, who just put his ass on the line for all of these big people and said come on, it's going to be special. It was basically just Clint putting his reputation on the line and he hand-delivered and gift-wrapped this cast for me. My biggest fear during the making of this movie was letting these guys down, so when I screened it for every one of them separately I was very relieved that they said they liked it.
So, 'Easy A' is about an awesome girl who is somehow invisible in her high school.
First of all, she's not awesome. She's kind of anonymous. People wonder, can Emma Stone be anonymous? Of course she can. She hasn't found who she is yet. The most popular girls in high school are the ones who know who they are -- cheerleaders, big people [on campus] that are comfortable. She doesn't know who she is. She's on the sidelines.
Here's my big question: Olive's ostracized for allegedly being promiscuous, but don't real teenagers have sex all the time?
I get that question all the time. The answer is, not as much as you think. We shot this outside of a big city in a small town in California -- a conservative town -- and sex does happen, but it's the same level of people talking about sex happening. "Wow, she's not a virgin anymore -- she's in play." That, I believe, happens all the time in high schools now.
The small California town you set 'Easy A' in -- Ojai, in Southern California -- is photographed and captured beautifully. Did you have a particular relationship to that town, something that brought you there specifically?
It's my love letter to Ojai. I did know Ojai; I know it very well. I wanted a town that was an "America" town, not a big city. And I wanted a town where the one thing worse than going to a high school where you can't escape anything is that you also live in a small town. You leave school at three o'clock in the afternoon and at four o'clock you're on the main street and the same people who were talking about you are still talking about you, in your face. I wanted a small town feel, and Ojai's a pretty town.
In this conservative setting you have Amanda Bynes' character representing the conservative collective voice as Olive's uber-Christian teen classmate...
I like to call her "uber-evangelical." It's not that she's Christian; it's that she's a zealot. That's the most important thing. I like exploring characters that are extremely confident in their belief system, very "holier than thou," but can't really answer any questions about the genesis of their belief system. They have no answers, it's just what they've been taught, it's black and white and binary. Emma's character is clearly not binary; she's a mess. I like putting those two different types together.
Emma Stone has a line about not wanting to be a 'Gossip Girl in the Sweet Valley of Traveling Pants,' and there are other references to the teen movie genre including overt references to John Hughes. How did you make sure 'Easy A' stood on its own in the genre while acknowledging and paying homage to what's come before?
I love '80s movies, and I kind of wanted to make an old '80s movie. I like to deconstruct genres while kind of supporting them. I tried to make a really good movie while referencing them at the same time, trying not to take you out of the story too much with it. And the 'Traveling Pants' line, Emma just came up with that on the day we filmed it. I was a little worried about that because Penn Badgley's on 'Gossip Girl.' But I just wanted to do [dialogue] like how high schoolers would talk. How smart people talk.
Speaking of that '80s movie love, you have a montage of every woman's fantasy movie boyfriends from the '80s -- Jake Ryan, Ferris Bueller, etc. How did you and Bert understand so well the internal yearnings of female moviegoers reared on movies from that decade?
Bert knows the mind of a girl really well. He wrote Olive really well, he's got an amazing connection with this girl. My entire editorial staff is women, so they kind of keep me on the straight and narrow. But the funny thing about that was getting all of the actors' permission for those clips. It took about nine months; it was not easy.
You had to hunt them all down?
I put that [montage] in in post; I kept having Emma Stone come into the editing room to do more dialogue. But the way it works is that you have to get each actor's permission, and I won't tell you who but there was one hold out to the very, very end that said no and finally someone extremely high up in life made a phone call.
Tell me it wasn't Jake Ryan himself, Michael Schoeffling! And then please tell me you hunted him down to his furniture shop in the middle of nowhere.
No, he isn't even acting anymore. He lives in Pennsylvania.
I know! He does carpentry! I only know this because there's a whole legion of Sixteen Candles fans who would love to track him down.
He does carpentry, but no. I think he gave a standard 'whatever' to people. It wasn't him. But go to Pennsylvania! I'm sure he's there.
How much of the script did you rewrite from what Bert Royal had originally written?
Bert created the structure, he created the tone and a great story. The script evolved for two reasons; it evolved with every actor we cast, I re-crafted it to their voices. And the other thing is, the way I shoot is I'm by the camera and we just keep rolling and I say, try this, try that, try this again. The night before I constantly re-write the scenes, so the scenes we shot a lot of stuff would come out on the day.
This is only your second feature; how much do you find that folks define you by your first film, or think of you as the guy who made 'Fired Up?'
I think people are talking about the movie you just did. You could have a huge hit and then 10 failures and they'd be talking about your tenth failure. I do think that if you have a hit you have a little more rope, but I think they talk about your last movie. All I would ask of people is if you like 'Easy A,' go back and watch 'Fired Up!' and you'll see that the exact same
person made that movie.
You're currently filming 'Friends with Benefits.' What kind of film were you looking to make next?
There were a couple of actors I wanted to work with, so I wrote it for Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. I wanted to do more of an adult movie about sex, too, and about relationships. It's kind of a throwback to the old Hepburn and Tracy movies. It's as if they were making a movie in 2010. Having seen all the old movies, the characters know about the movies, too. I also got a great cast to support them. It's not just old films, but old stories. In life, everyone talks about old storylines and movies; "I know how this is going to end. This is going to end badly." But in movies, people are completely dense. They think they're the first boy to meet the first girl and wonder what's going to happen. So I tried to imbue our characters with a sense of history; "This is what happens in this situation; let's see how we deal with it." I think once you let the audience in on the secret that these characters know they're not the first persons in life going through this, there's a sigh of relief as opposed to, "Come on!"
That seems like a smart way to pre-empt that problem.
Whenever I get into a place that seems cloying or clichéd, I try to comment on it. In fact, with 'Friends with Benefits,' a scene I shot with Justin and Emma Stone, who actually does a part, she dumps him and keeps giving him clichés. "It's not you, it's me." And he responds to every one: "Of course it's me, we're going in different directions." Finally she just goes, "Well then, some other break-up cliché. I've got to get out of here." It's a situation we've all seen millions of times before and these characters know they're not the first people going through that. The film's more self-aware because the characters are self-aware.
Speaking of movie characters with real world insights, there's a line in 'Easy A' in which Thomas Haden Church lambasts the younger generation's tendency to over-share on Facebook. Did that come from you? What do you have against Facebook?
[Laughs] That's exactly out of my mouth to Thomas. I wrote that, I think, the night before. I think that's exactly what's happening, every thought is documented and we think they're legitimate. Not every one's a diamond.
Aha! I noticed you don't seem to have a Twitter account...
I do not Tweet, I do not Facebook, I do not even text. I email! As I tell my friends who text me, I'm not a 12-year-old girl. Even the actors who all text, I force them to email me. But it's the same thing, it's just that I have a BlackBerry.
So you are technologically up to speed.
Oh yeah, I love it all! It's just my last holdout.
As someone who's addicted to Twitter, I respectfully disagree.
I'm expecting a Tweet about this interview in one minute.
Done. It's already done.