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Ghost Canyon

Catherine Hardwicke (Director - 'Thirteen') Catherine Hardwicke (Director - 'Thirteen')
’Thirteen the Hard Way’

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a good 13-year-old. She behaves well, and her mother (Holly Hunter) loves her. But as she continues through adolescence, things get more complicated. She meets Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the script), a popular and pretty girl, and tries to befriend her, though her dorky attire gets in the way of socializing with the beautiful people. Eventually, Tracy's desire to fit in — by experimenting with sex, drugs, and petty crimes — leads her down a wild road and causes tension at home.

The film outlined above is the freshly-released ’Thirteen’ and the directorial debut of Catherine Hardwicke. Co-written with the now-fifteen year-old Nikki Reed (‘Evie’), the already-award winning film provides a provocative portrait of what teens today are thinking, doing, feeling, and going through. Together, both Catherine and Nikki (long time friends) forged a fast and furious, unblinking picture of the cliches and clashes, hidden dangers and secret rituals, dashed hopes and unrelenting dreams of two American girls looking to make their way in a new world for which few maps exist.

Chatting recently with the first-time Director herself, Catherine Hardwicke I first wondered if this movie had also been reminiscent of her own childhood?! ”Well,” she gently laughs,”I grew up in a little tiny hick town in South Texas, but it was wild there too! Make-out parties and drugs coming across the border! At the age of eleven we could go over the border to Mexico and go into any bar and buy any drinks or drugs that we wanted! It was worse in some ways, but I was not in the in-crowd,” she laughs again. ”I was so trying to get into the in-crowd, but I was like the little girl with the Chihuahua on her shirt trying to claw my way in,” she again laughs. ”I can remember the worst day when two of the head girls, Mary-Ann and Rayleene were playing Ping-Pong and so I walked up to them and asked them if I could play with them. So, they said, much to my surprise, ‘Yeah, sure’ and handed me the paddle … and then they just walked away,” she bursts into laughter once again.

Did it get any better for you?! ”Oh yeah, becasue then I had my best friend, who was a cheerleader, and so I could then go to the make-out parties. But, I would end up sitting by the refreshment table talking to the parents anyway!”

Explain your relationship with your – at the time – fourteen year-old co-writer and star of the movie, Nikki Reed? ”I went out with her dad from the time she was five years-old until she was nine years-old and so I was kinda like a Step-Mom to her and her brother for those four years. And Nikki, she was this crazy, hilarious, super-creative kid and I liked hanging out with her more than my own friends because she’s kind of a remarkable person. I mean, I live on the Boardwalk in Venice and I would just take her outside and do Guerilla Theatre without telling her! I’d like walk up to a couple and go, ‘Hey you guys, you wanna buy a kid?!’ And Nikki would be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll wash your windows for you and stuff’! She’d just go right along with it and, well, anyway, you gotta love that. So then, her dad and I broke up and then I started going to her mom’s house, like Holly in the movie, and getting my hair cut! She cut hair from home and I really wanted to stay in Nikki’s life. And then I started noticing that she was changing and turning into this like supermodel, super-hotie and just sophisticated. And yet as angry as hell! And it would now take her two and a half hours to put on her make-up and do her hair in a professional, magazine fashion! It was then that I realized she was really boxed in and really had a narrow view of the world and so I just tried everything to make her daily life creative. So, we tried creative therapy and that led to some serious acting techniques which included some very serious stuff for an seventh grader, but she got it! So then I knew we had to write our own material as there were no good parts for her out there and so we had to create one! So, we began writing on this screenplay with an idea I’d had in my head and so I gave her books, other literature to read that I hoped would inspire her. But, then ‘Pride & Prejudice’ on the second page …” [It’s at this point that Catherine makes a sound with her mouth reminiscent of a raspberry mixed with a bull horn as she mimmicks a book hitting the floor!] ”But, I sat down with her and told her about my ideas for this screenplay and she was into that and so we started getting deeper into it. But the teen comedy that we thought we would write, well, she felt more comfortable talking about the heavy shit that she and her friends had been going through. And so I just started watching more of her and her buddies and her mom and so we just decided to write it up this way instead of something else.”

Weren’t you busy doing any other ‘Hollywood’ projects at this time though? ”Yeah, at the same time I was working as the Production Designer on ‘Laurel Canyon,’ so yeah, that wasn’t the only thing I was doing at that time!”

This is a most honest and harrowing look at female adolescence for sure, but did the possible aspects of an adolescent’s reverse psychology with regard the film’s negativity ever cross your mind? ”It really wasn’t meant to work one way or the other way, but to present a lot of things that are going wrong in the lives of a lot of girls. The people that work with teenagers know this stuff is happening so we can definitely pretend that this doesn’t happen. Or you can put it out there in a way that other kids can realize that they’re not the only ones going through this. I think most kids are smart enough to figure out things for themselves and don’t need somebody telling them don’t do this and don’t do that.”

Was there ever a different title for this movie? ”No, in fact the day after the six days it took to write the script there was no title and Nikki had to go back to eighth grade. And I felt like this script had some power or something, but I needed a name as I had to put a cover sheet on it. I had a neat picture of Nikki on my refrigerator and so I just scanned it in and put it on the cover sheet and then knew I had to have a title that fitted under the picture! And then I just went, well the obvious title is that it has to be ‘Thirteen.’ It just came to my head and then that word just became this icon. And it’s simple and it’s such a potent number in so many ways.”

Explain more about the way you filmed this movie and what editing technique you used afterwards ”My technique was always going to be having this continuous theme. I’m an architect and so I did a version of the house and then I would plan it all out from the outside scene of ‘I’m not your f**king slave,’ then go inside through to the bathroom [‘What do you want?’], come back in to the living room and then end up in the back room with ‘Where did all these clothes come from?’ I wanted it all to be continuous and I didn’t want it to be your single, my single, and then a two shot because that’s not the energy of a thirteen year-old. It was filmed in Super-16 and after that we did a digital intermediate which is a post-production process where you can start increasing the saturation of the film. Like, in the first scene it’s kinda dull, but then Evie comes into her life and suddenly she starts to get a lot of golden tones like some TV commercials. Then by the time we get to Hollywood Blvd. I’ve started cranking the colors up so that the colors are even more garish and gnarly, and then in the last act they’re draining away and they’re almost to black and white. And, at the very end there’s a little bit of color.”

Any Behind-The-Scenes secrets? ”OK, well you know that poster that says ‘Truth Is Beauty,’ well, that is a composite face and those are Nikki’s eyes! So, she’s the manipulator who’s always watching you at all times,” she laughs.

Where there other, perhaps harsher real life events that didn’t make it into the movie? ”Yeah, one thing that was gonna be in the movie was that some mothers were telling me that their six and seven year-old daughters were dressing up as Christina Augilera and Britney [Spears] and doing their sexy dances. And, they actually dress like that, but so many people are shocked about what these little kids are wearing to school and such, and so I was gonna have the little girl that comes to stay with the family do something like that. But after the first five minutes of auditioning these little girls I quickly realized that I couldn’t do that! And even though it’s real I realized that I couldn’t go there. But, it’s just scary.”

Have you a favorite scene from the movie? ”Well, for fun and for a beautiful scene, I love the sprinkler scene. We just had a big back light behind the drops and we did it in one take with just the one camera and it was just amazing that it came out that way.”

Tell me more about your new, forthcoming screenplay ”I’d actually written it before this and it was sold right at the exact same time and it’s kinda like a ‘Deliverance’ but with girls in too! There’s a little town just outside of LA and it is THE American gun culture and I and a couple of friends stumbled into it accidentally one weekend!”

They’ll be nobody tied to a tree and told to squeal like a pig in this one, will there?!”No, no pig squeals in this one,” she laughs sheepishly. ’It’s called ‘Bulldog Dance’ and it might be made at 20th Century Fox."

Finally, you recently took home, at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, the Director's Award … ”And I got a Silver Leopard from the Locarno Film Festival and the Moby Dick award for Screenwriting in Nantucket,” she politely interrupts and updates me at the same time! ”So, from now on I’m only accepting animals as awards,” she sarcastically jokes. "I’ve got a Leopard and a Whale so far,” she again laughs, this time for the final time.

Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk

'Thirteen' Movie Website

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