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How A Story Spreads
The world of Easy A first arose out of a concept screenwriter Bert Royal had to fuse a timeless work of literature with a contemporary milieu.

"I had this idea to take three literary classics, set them at the same high school and make that world more modern,” says Royal, who chose Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter” -- about the public ordeal a 17th century Boston woman named Hester Prynne goes through over an act of adultery -- as the first of those classics. "I never intended it to be a strict adaptation of the book,” says Royal, "but to use thematic elements as an inspiration.”

"The major theme of the piece,” continues the writer, "is about puritanical values versus being yourself. Olive is an extremely liberal person and feels like people should be true to themselves, but unfortunately she's growing up in a society that condemns people for stepping out of the norm. Her goal is to loosen up the town a little bit, which she does, but not in the way she intended.”

The screenplay made its way to producer Zanne Devine, who, having just returned to Los Angeles from several rigorous months of location shooting on her production of Mardi Gras, was not particularly inclined to read anything. But a phone call from her assistant, who'd read only thirty or so pages and urged her to dive in immediately, proved tantalizingly persuasive. "I read it that night,” recalls Devine, who called her colleagues at Screen Gems the next morning. "I brought it over, they read it, and we bought it. Using "The Scarlet Letter” as source material, and his understanding of the deeper themes, Bert wrote a screenplay that was wonderfully suited to modern day high school, and demonstrates in a funny and meaningful way that these themes are as relevant today as they have been for centuries.”

Much like producer Devine, director Will Gluck had just wrapped a movie of his own, the Screen Gems production of Fired Up. Gluck was given the Easy A script by his colleagues at the studio, and was immediately wary. "I usually write and direct the material I do, and after finishing the last film, I never wanted to do another high school movie again,” recalls the director. "But when I read it, although it takes place in high school, it goes way beyond that. It's really about morality, how rumors get started, and about the importance people attach to how they are perceived by others. It very quickly leaves high school and becomes a story about the entire town. It's also a very funny movie with some very touching emotionally dramatic moments. It's far from being just a high school movie.

Gluck also responded to the female-centric nature of the screenplay. "It was great to see a script that's written from the girl's point of view,” adds Gluck. "Most films are about the lengths that the guys go through to get the girl. This is about a girl that doesn't want to be ‘gotten,' but still wants a boyfriend.”

What also struck a chord with everyone who read the script was the language of the characters. Royal made the conscious decision that Olive and her peers were going to talk like real teens, that he wouldn't shy away from dialogue that could earn the film an R rating. Although the writer was several years removed from his adolescent-aged creations, he had no shortage of examples to draw from in conveying their unique worldview.

"My mother was a teacher, so I got to spend a lot of time with kids after I had graduated and moved on from high school,” says Royal. "There was something about teen dialog and angst that was very unique to them. When I lived in New York, I would overhear kids on the subway. They were so overly dramatic about the tiniest things. But when you start really listening to it, and hearing what's underneath, you remember that when we're teenagers, we have this way of thinking that the world is going to end if anything goes wrong.”

"With most PG-13 comedies, I think that often times, they don't totally get the way the kids speak. Even hanging around the set and listening to some of the background actors, the language they use is far worse than what I put in the script. If you look at some of the great classics, like Heathers, 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, they were all R-rated. This was a script that I felt needed more realistic dialogue in terms of the story I was trying to tell.”

Of course, talk and action are two different things, and for Gluck, the fact that this was a movie about the hot-button topic of sex, but with no actual sex scenes, made the experience uniquely fun. "In a weird way, it's kind of conservative,” admits Gluck. "The lesson of this story is to wait, but sometimes you've got to take a crazy path to get to that answer. It's interesting how sexuality in America has become about what people think about it, and less about the actual act. This movie gets rid of the act, as there is no act whatsoever, and is about how people talk about it, and how you feel about yourself if you're perceived in that way.”

"The morality of this movie is actually a morality I think would be great for my eleven year-old daughter to understand,” says Zanne Devine, "which is a girl's empowerment about making decisions about her sexual behavior, and her choices about how her level of intimacy she's comfortable with in her life. Olive spends a lot of the movie reacting to what other people are projecting on her, not what really happened, and that morality is well within a PG-13 mindset, because the moral of the story and the ultimate lesson of the movie is one I think that any parent of a young girl or boy would want them to take away.”

Adds Royal, "Olive is the kind of person who doesn't need to have sex. She's mature enough in that way to wait it out and do it when she's ready, but her immaturity comes from the idea that she's lying about it, perpetuating the lie, and thinking that it's important in how others perceive her.”

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