Production Notes – “Mean Girls”

New Line Cinema
Published: 2004

About The Production
As exemplified in her wickedly funny and often acerbic writing style. “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey has long been fascinated by social dynamics and ——thought that the phenomenon of Girl World nastiness bore further investigation. To that end, she got in touch with Rosalind Wiseman, co-founder of the Empower Program, a nonprofit organization that works to empower girls and boys and stop adolescent violence. Wiseman’s book Oueen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques. Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence impressed Fey with its insight into how girls navigate through the cliques and hierarchies of adolescence, and she was convinced that the material could provide the spark for a very funny and very topical movie.

“I think that girls are ingenious in how they find ways to sabotage one another in these invisible, unseen, hurtful ways.” says Fey. “What struck me most were the anecdotes of the girls that were interviewed for the book. Rosalind, rightfully, takes them very seriously, but in my opinion, they’re also very funny. I mean the way girls mess with each other is so clever and intricate, and probably very instinctive.”

“SNL” creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels loved Fey’s idea to turn the book into a film. “This is very rich subject matter, and very relevant at the moment. I knew that Tina would have a smart take on it,” says Michaels, who has been launching the theatrical debuts of “SNL” cast members since 1986. “She’s somebody who considers what she does very carefully, and I had every confidence it her ability to spin this book into a great film.”

While adapting a book to a screenplay can be complex at best, the task was made that much more difficult because Fey was turning nonfiction into fiction. Using the concepts and anecdotes in Wiseman’s book as a springboard, and pulling material from interviews with teenage girls and her own experiences in high school, Fey created a very funny screenplay that drew topnotch talent, including director Mark Waters.

Hot off the success of “Freaky Friday,” one of last summer’s biggest hit comedies, Waters says Fey’s script is one of the best he’s read in years.

“Lt was witty and funny and full of humor yet still had a kind of humanity to it that you could connect to,” Waters recalls It wasn’t your average cookie-cutter high school script. Tina has created a universe of tieshed out characters that you really care about, and the minute I read her screenplay I knew I had to do it.”

With Waters on board, the filmmakers set out to find the right actress to play the pivotal lead role of Cady, a critical choice made easy once Lindsay Lohan, one of the most talented young actresses working in Hollywood today, agreed to bring the character to life.

Having worked with Waters on “Freaky Friday,” Lohan embraced the chance to be a part of the film, not only because of its director but also because of the script’s humor, style and characters.

“I think Tina did a great job of getting into girls’ heads,” says the 17-year-old actress, whose 1998 feature film debut in “The Parent Trap” drew rave reviews, as did her more recent “Freaky Friday” performance. “The script is very realistic, very true to high school and the rivalry that goes on there.”

Lohan points out that all kids — both boys and girls — go through a lot of phases until they find themselves, and the environment in school doesn’t help. “In Cady’s case, she gets caught between the Mathlete World, where being a good student is what it’s all about, and the Plastic World, where being liked is the most important thing. I think every girl going to high school now, who will go or who already went can relate to this. I know I certainly do.”

Waters agrees completely with Lohan’s description of Cady’s predicament, adding that the actress truly nailed the character.

“Having been brought up in isolated circumstances abroad, Cady has no conception of what it means to live in modern-day culture,” Waters observes. “Then she gets plunked down in the middle of this crazy petri dish of a Midwestern public high school and is ‘adopted’ by various groups who try to make her their own. It’s hard on her, and she ends up finding a real ‘dark side’ of herself that she never knew existed.”

Waters adds that Lohan is perfect for the role because it calls for a strong actress with a strong personality. “Audiences have to believe that Cady is capable of going from this innocent girl to one capable of true meanness, then back to a girl with real humanity,” says Waters. “Lindsay handled it beautifully. In the beginning, when she’s supposed to be sort of passive, she’s still so alive that audiences never stop believing she’s a formidable contender.”

To play the role of Regina George, Queen Bee of North Shore High’s three-girl clique, The Plastics, filmmakers cast Rachel McAdams, who was last seen on the big screen as a lead star in “The Hot Chick.” Never affiliating herself with any one specific group when she went to high school, McAdams says she had a great time camping it up as the Queen Bee of all Queen Bees.

“Regina is absolutely in a league of her own at the very top, at the very pinnacle of popularity at her school,” observes McAdams. “In essence, she and her friends practically run the school, since they dictate what’s cool and what’s not, the style of clothing everyone should wear and how people should behave.”

McAdams also points out that, as Queen Bee, Regina completely understands the notion that it’s good to keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.

“Regina is definitely smart, and she knows the second she meets Cady that her domain could be threatened,” McAdams observes. “She recognizes that Cady is pretty enough and smart enough to be very popular. and she realizes that if Cady becomes high school savvy enough, she has the potential to throw Regina right off her throne. So she immediately takes Cady under her wing to keep an eye on her.”

On-screen McAdams exudes just the right blend of sugar-sweet charm and menacing intimidation to be totally believable as Regina; however in real life she anything but resembles her character. Director Mark Waters definitely noticed the dissimilarities between the character and the young actress.

“I think it’s true that you have to cast a nice girl to play a mean girl, just like you have to cast a smart person to play a dumb person,” says Waters. “Rachel is this incredibly hardworking, really terrific girl who can be totally evil on camera, but is actually incredibly nice in person. Which is lucky for all us,” he adds with a grin. “If she was anything like Regina in real life it would be a nightmare.”

The filmmakers searched long and hard to find the right actors to play the roles of Janis, Damian, Gretchen, Karen and Aaron, all of whom help Cady as she navigates the ups and downs of her first year of high school. Casting a wide net, they auditioned young actors and actresses between the ages of 15 and 25 in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Chicago.

Portraying Gretchen and Karen, Regina’s sidekicks, best friends and devoted followers are Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried. Together the three make up The Plastics, the most feared, revered and ultra-fashionable clique at North Shore.

Chabert. who plays Gretchen Weiners, maintains that her character is “only mean by association” and, because she has a tendency to spill everyone’s secrets, it gets her into a lot of trouble. “She’s incredibly wealthy because her father is the inventor of Toaster Strudel, and she loves people to know that,” laughs Chabert. “She’s also incredibly insecure, constantly having anxiety attacks that Regina is going to kick her out of The Plastics, and fearful that she’ll lose her status. Therefore, she’s terrified of Regina, but at the same time idolizes her. She just knows that one day she’s going to cross the line and wear the wrong color or something and cap — she’ll be kicked out and washed up.”

Having spent her high school years playing the role of Claudia on the hit television series “Party of Five,” Chabert was tutored in a trailer on a studio lot, so she understands Cady’s dilemma of missing out on a normal high school experience. “That’s not to say that I couldn’t grasp my own character’s experience,” Chabert points out. “In fact, the script is so vividly written that all the characters just jumped off the page.

Newcomer Amanda Seyfried says she was thrilled when she was cast as one of The Plastics and that she didn’t mind being cast as the “dumb” one of the group. “Karen may be clueless,” observes Seyfried, “but she’s also fun-loving and energetic.”

While The Plastics are the creme de la creme of the North Shore girls, Aaron Samuels, all-round-nice-guy, hunk du jour and the object of Cady’s first high school crush, not to mention Regina’s ex-boyfriend, is definitely the big man on campus. Jonathan Bennett. who portrays Aaron, admits that the character is not unlike the guy he was in high school.

“Aaron is a pretty cool. laid-back kind of guy,” says Bennett. “Even though he’s good at sports and decent in math, he’s not a jock or a mathlete: he’s just kind of everybody’s friend. I understand Aaron perfectly, having not wanted to align myself with any one group either, so it was easy to step into his shoes.”

Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese play art freaks and witty social outcasts, Janis and Damian. Seeing Cady as a possible kindred spirit, the two adopt her as their own. becoming Cady’s first new friends at North Shore and, ultimately, partners in her plan to dethrone Regina George.

“There’s people like Janis and Damian in every high school,” explains Caplan. “Viewed as outsiders, they accept the label because they know they’re smarter than everybody else in the school. They can see the stupidity of all the backstabbing, and know that in four years they can get on with their lives.”

Franzese echoes Caplan’s sentiments: “Damian and Janis come together as a pair because Damian and Janis are the two kids in school who really get it. They get that high school isn’t the be-all and end-all of their lives, and they’ve figured out that they don’t have to rely on status to take themselves to the next step.”

Holding their own against this formidable young cast are veteran comedy actors and current or former “Saturday Night Live” repertory players Tina Fey as Cady’s math teacher, Ms. Norbury, Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall, Amy Poehler as Mrs. George and Ana Gasteyer as Cady’s mother. Betsy Heron. Neil Flynn of “Scrubs” fame plays Cady’s father, Chip.

An “SNL” repertory cast member since 2002, Amy Poehler portrays Regina’s super-hip mom to the hilt—and beyond. So proud of her Queen Bee daughter, Mrs. George wants to be Regina, to the point of becoming a wannabe herself.

“I just let this character rip!” exclaims Poehler. “She’s an ‘SNL’ skit rolled into one, and Tina couldn’t have provided me with better material.”

As for Tim Meadows. he thinks what makes the movie so good is an amazing script. “I think the dialogue and the language in the movie is probably different from other teen comedies in that it really captures the way kids talk today. Tina didn’t sugarcoat a thing. These girls are really mean, and all I can say,” he adds with a laugh, “is I’m sure glad I’m not a teenage boy anymore!”

Inside The World Of “Mean Girls”
Just getting through high school without having one’s feelings stung is a major accomplishment. Some outsiders like Janis and Damian don’t care if they fit in, wearing their anti-clique clothing with pride and asserting their anti-establishment attitude with a vengeance.

But as Rosalind Wiseman points out in her book, Oueen Bees and Wannabes (excerpts of which appear below), and as Tina Fey illustrates in her film “Mean Girls,” some teenagers fall into cliques and become part of the Queen Bee’s court whether they want to or not.

“We need to give girls credit for the sophistication of their social structures,” Wiseman writes. “Our best politicians and diplomats couldn’t do better than a teen girl does in understanding the social intrigue and political landscape that lead to power.”

To be sure, the Girl World hierarchy is sophisticated and complex, and if the following guide doesn’t give you the hives as you try to Imagine high school life today, just image living it!

The Oueen Bee: A combination of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and Barbie, she is a mixture of charisma, force, money, looks, strong will and manipulation. She reigns supreme, can silence other girls and boys with a look, and her popularity is based on fear and control. Nice? Not!

The Sidekick: A combination of willing servant and humble handmaid, the sidekick does everything the Queen Bee tells her to do. Though she considers the Queen Bee her best friend, the manipulative monarch looks down on her subject, who idolizes her nonetheless. Think sycophant!

The Banker: A combination of con artist and stool pigeon, the banker lures girls in, gathers their trust and gets them to divulge information about themselves, which she then banks like own benefit. She’s almost as powerful as the Queen Bee in her manipulative abilities, and her casual droppings of gossip only strengthen her status as the girl in the know. Be careful of the banker’s wake.. .it’s full of innocent casualties who had the misfortune of trusting her.

The Wannabe: She aims to please the Queen Bee and will do anything to get in her good graces. But she tries too hard — a big no-no in Girl World — and is often merely seen as pathetic. Even as the Queen Bee gets her to do her dirty work — like passing a note to someone that will surely destroy that someone’s world (at least for the day) — the calculating Queen only pretends to take the wannabe under her wing until the dirty deed is done. After all, she’s nobody!

The Target: Worse than the wannabe, the target is the victim set up by the Queen Bee and the popular clique — set up to be humiliated, made fun of or excluded. Usually someone who once challenged the Bee and her bee-otcbv bunch, the target is at the bottom of the totem pole, kicked down there often simply because she tried to climb up.

The Torn Bystander: Constantly in conflict because she knows the Queen Bee is wrong, but won’t stand up to her — why, she wouldn’t want to become a target! — the torn bystander usually feels damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. As she desperately tries to accommodate align herself with what she really wants. And just what is it that she really wants? The poor torn bystander is too ripped apart to know.

The Floater: Self-confident, full of self-esteem and one of the few girls who doesn’t base her self-worth on what others think. Aligning herself with no single clique, the floater is comfortable and welcome in almost all groups —and those that don’t accept her, she wouldn’t have wanted to associate with anyway. Willing to actually stand up to the Queen Bee if backed into a corner, the floater does have power, but not the same impact or influence as the Queen Bee because the floater is interested in friendship not idol worship. She is truly the silver lining in the dark cloud hanging over Girl World.

Fashion To Die For
Fashion is a big part of teenage life and careful attention was paid to the wardrobe in the film. Costume designer Mary Jane Fort was in charge of making certain that the costumes reflect each character’s personal style and feelings while exemplifying what is up-to-the-minute in high school culture.

With more than 40 different costume changes for Cady and more than 30 for each of the three Plastics, Fort acknowledges that keeping each girl looking different and fresh was, at times, a challenge. However, because in the script The Plastics have made up their own rules for dressing and acting — for instance, on Wednesdays they only wear pink — Fort was able to take things a step beyond the normal fashion statement.

“I was able to do fun stuff with them, dress them in the latest trends and really punch it up fashion-wise,” explains Fort. “Everything they wear is shinier, more sparkly and prettier than what anyone else wears. They’re trendy and they’re rich and they can afford what they see in the fashion magazines, so I really got to go all-out.”

According to Fort, Cady and The Plastics may be the fashion trendsetters in the film, but the other characters also make their own fashion statements. “As creative as Regina is with her wardrobe, Janis is equally creative. The two just have totally different viewpoints of what one should look like,” observes Fort. “While Regina is on the cutting edge of the latest trends, Janis creates trends of her own — she cuts her clothes up, pins them together, wraps them around, and basically becomes the fashion-minded Regina of the artsy world.”

As individualistic as each clique’s fashion is, one sad fact remains: No matter what group a high school girl falls into, at one time or another, she may find it “fashionable” to be mean.

About The Music
“Mean Girls” features an eclectic array of musical artists and diverse songs, ranging from the hip new singing sensation Katy Rose, and her hit song “Overdrive,” to Grammy nominee Blondie, and her classic rock song “One Way Or Another.”

Touted by Blender as “undisputedly the real deal,” and by Spin as a rock ingenue who “throws a better teenage riot than Liz Phair at her Avril-est,” Rose recently burst onto the music scene with her critically acclaimed debut album Because I Can. Now the provocative singer/song-writer has also turned her hit single “Overdrive” into a popular video that features scenes from “Mean Girls” and is currently in rotation on MTV’s “TRL” as well as other music video programs.

In addition, the electronica/hip-hop rock band Boomkat, led by singer/songwriter Taryn Manning, sings a remake of Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds.” Manning, who writes the music for Boomkat along with her brother Kellin, is no stranger to composing songs for films. Recently, her song “The Reckoning” was featured in Paramount’s hit film “The Italian Job,” and Manning not only appeared in Eminem’s “8 Mile,” but also her song “Wastin’ My Time” is featured on the “8 Mile” soundtrack.

With a musical score composed by Rolfe Kent, known for his music in films that range from Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt” to Mark Waters’ “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls” features 19 songs and a diverse list of artists. Calling out a sampling of the amazing music featured in the film, the list includes The Donnas’ remix of Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself,” Grammy nominee Missy Elliott’s “Bomb Intro/Pass That Dutch” and Grammy winner PINK’s “God is a DJ.” Also, featured is 2001 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” a huge hit in the 70s that not only won the artist two Grammy Awards but also made her (along with Billy Preston) the first performing singer/songwriter to be featured on “Saturday Night Live.”

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