*Director Allison Anders (“Ring of Fire”) is truly a pioneer of the American independent film scene, so it was an honor to sit down with the filmmaker during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to discuss her remake of director Garry Marshall’s 1988 smash drama “Beaches.” The original movie starred Bette Milder as CC Bloom and Barbara Hershey as Hilary.
Nikole Beckwith penned the script for the remake, which follows two youngsters who meet on the Venice Boardwalk, and embark on a lifelong friendship that’s ripe with challenges. Idina Menzel takes on the role of CC Bloom, an aspiring singer trying to make it in Los Angeles until she is discovered by a director who gives CC her first big shot. Hillary is played by Nia Long, the daughter of a prominent civil rights lawyer who struggles to find her own destiny. Their friendship—even with its ups and downs—sustains them for decades.
Anders, whose film credits include “Gas Food Lodging,” “Mi Vida Loca” and “Grace of My Heart,” revealed that she hadn’t viewed Marshall’s “Beaches” until last year, which left her “amazed” by how “messy and complicated the friendship was, and enduring like all of our good friendships.”
When asked what she says to folks who believe remakes should only be made of movies that aren’t very good, Anders said, “I don’t think that that’s true because I actually think you can take a great movie and remake it if you’ve got something to enhance with it.”
She continued: “I do think there’s something to updating movies, because this century has been so…and the post mid-century onward has been loaded with so much. For one thing you get diversity. Which is how we all live — look at us right here in this room, so, let’s update that. Let’s give the black girl a complicated, messy life. Let her be the rich girl and have to deal with that. Challenge this stuff. Let the white girl be poor and have the crazy mother. Let’s change it up a bit. That’s how I grew up, (laughs)…the white girl with the crazy mother.
Check out the rest of our Q&A with Allison Anders below.
Describe your approach to recreating this classic for a new generation, and why did you want to take on this project?
AA: Well, when I was approached about it, and I read Nikole’s script, and I saw the original cause I hadn’t seen the original before, and (it) really moved me. Then Nikole’s script was so interesting because while Garry’s film is a classic and it works so brilliantly, and of course the actors are so beautiful and I stole things from him all over the place, but Nikole’s script is kind of…I don’t quite know how to explain it, but I felt like I was inside the female characters in a way that maybe Garry could not be.
Maybe it wasn’t because of his gender. Maybe because it was 1988 and there was just a way that we could be a little bit more raw with it while keeping it everything that he had there. So I feel like that was interesting to me, to keep what’s riveting about his version of ‘Beaches’ and then let’s push a little further. Let’s just hit an edge with it in a way that we can do now. And we can do it for a variety of reasons. We can do it because of how the world’s changed. We can do it with having an African-American as Hillary, which I loved, and the idea that we never explained why she’s wealthy. I love that.
Did you have Nia an Idina in mind for these roles? You wanted an interracial friendship?
AA: Lifetime was committed to that from the start. So when I came on they said this is what we’re going to do. They already had Idina attached and they hadn’t cast Hillary yet, and those two girls know each other and had a friendly relationship. They didn’t know each other real well but they had a warmth with each other, and I had worked with Nia before. I had already directed her before and we had a good time.
Could you talk a little bit about your approach to working with Nia and Idina.
AA: It was amazing because I tend to do a bit of improve. I like that because that’s the way I started out. I started out in the 80’s with very new actors, or sometimes people who hadn’t acted before, and I inevitably cast musicians who have not acted before, or gang members. So I always have to be open to like…you can’t force words that don’t work. I’m always open to playing with that on set. Having said that, I always have to keep an open mind about where it’s going to go later so this improve doesn’t bite me on the ass later in editing. I have to be careful with that. With these two girls, they just had such a grasp of these characters that they knew when they could make a change — and sometimes it was taking dialogue out. They had the room to be able to try something else than what was on the page, and then maybe we came back to what was already on the page.
Can you talk about the visuals? What kinda mood or story did you want to tell with the color palette of the film?
AA: Having the DP in sync with the production designer and the costume designer…everyone was sort of empowered to be storytellers. One thing I’ve learned is that when that happens, I learned this on ‘Murder in the First,’ a show that I did three seasons of, and it’s just like, every department regards themselves as a storyteller, and it made the storytelling better. So that happened on this, where it’s like, let’s all be empowered to tell the story, and that we’re all telling the same story together. Another thing with the visual style was that, what I loved with the DP John Brawley’s work is that he had this ability to capture characters very close against a really intense landscape. I really felt that I needed that for the beach and just different things, or how he composed his characters together. So we worked a lot on that stuff
Are there certain qualities in women that you enjoy exploring through your work?
AA: Absolutely. And there’s things that I wish I did more, which I’m just kinda hearing from my students. Like, one student right now said she wants to write about phobias. And another male student said he wanted to write about anxiety. I was like, see… I don’t put enough of this sh*t in my work. So I’m not like, stealing it, but….
You’re getting inspired.
AA: I’m getting inspired, yes. So I think in ‘Beaches,’ in the original, it’s so shocking when the transgression happens. When Hillary walks off with the guy that CC’s interested in. It was shocking to me watching last year for the first time. I think that things like that are great, cause the friendship endures. Now, maybe it won’t endure but when you see people f*ck each other over in this kind of selfish, clueless way, I think it’s real fascinating. I don’t think we see people making stupid mistakes enough, especially women. I think we’re afraid of saying we’re stupid to do these things. But we tell each other that. We go, ‘Why can’t you see that this is not the love for you?’ Or just, ‘Stop already.’
Speaking of being a teacher, many aspiring filmmakers and creators wonder if film school is even necessary in this digital upload/download age we live in now.
AA: I was just telling my writing students…I was having this conversation with both, I teach a history of American Independence and I’m teaching an autobiographic screening writing class, So I told them yesterday that I think it’s really important to get theory. I teach at a school where some of the greatest, I teach at UC Santa Barbara, and some of the greatest film theorists in the world are my colleagues. For me, theory taught me how to create meaning with the tools of cinema. So I said, not to knock anybody else, but I remember doing an interview in the late 90’s, somebody says, ‘Such and such director said you just get a Hi8 camera and just go make it.’ I was like, well, where do you get the theory if you don’t go to film school? You’re not going to get that in your manual for the camera. That’s what creates meaning and I find that that texture is important.
Lastly, you are a true indie film pioneer. What’s your strategy to surviving in Hollywood?
AA: TV… (laughs) The problem is, these movies have become so difficult to make, but you’re not always wanting to…not eveything’s a series. So it’s been hard to write stuff and it’s tough to get a series made. It’s really tough. I’ve developed two different series with AMC. It gets so far and then it doesn’t happen, and it’s for reasons that are so beyond your control. Whereas in movies, you can kind of negotiate in a way that you can’t with TV cause TV has it’s own things they have to answer to. But not everything’s a series. I’m writing a movie now. I hope I get to make it. It’s a love story, so we’ll see. It’s hard, but thank God that there’s TV to work, and there’s really good TV work now. I did a show called ‘Riverdale’ up in Vancouver that’s really fascinating cause it’s Archie’s comic characters in this sort of Twin Peaks world, and that was something that didn’t originate with me. I got the script and was booked and there I went.
At the time of this interview, we asked Allison Anders if Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler had seen her “Beaches” remake, to which she replied, “I don’t know, but I know Bette was very supportive. She had tweeted that she was very happy that Idina was doing CC.”
Did you catch the “Beaches” remake? Was it everything you hoped it would be? Sound off in the comments below.
If you missed Lifetime’s “Beaches” premiere Saturday night, catch the encore TONIGHT (01-22-17) at 8/7c.