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BEASTLY

About The Production
A Story of ‘Beast Meets Girl'

There are few settings where society's fascination with looks is more pronounced than high school. This was the thinking of screenwriter/director Daniel Barnz when first approached about a modern teen romance based on the classic "Beauty and the Beast” tale. It was early 2008 and CBS Films had just acquired the film rights to Alex Flinn's young adult novel Beastly. The book follows a shallow, popular seventeen year old who, via a curse from a classmate, is physically transformed with a new, unattractive exterior befitting his ugly interior. The only way to break the spell – find someone to love him in his new state. Flinn had found a way to re-invent an age-old love story for a new generation. Barnz appreciated how the themes worked perfectly with the high school experience.

"In high school, everybody feels cursed in some way,” notes Barnz. "There are always those feelings of being different and not fitting in. Ultimately those differences make you a stronger, better person.”

Lead character Kyle Kingson turns outcast as result of a particularly harsh attack on goth classmate, Kendra. With witchlike powers, she decides to teach Kyle a lesson – a lesson that drives him to leave school and go into hiding. On his subsequent quest for love, Kyle is forced to face his demons.

Producer Susan Cartsonis (No Reservations, Aquamarine,What Women Want) instantly responded to the story's universally relatable themes. "Everybody wants to believe they're capable of change,” says Cartsonis. "Also, there's an overriding message in the story about the challenge not to judge people at first glance, to look deeper than surface level.”

Beastly is the 6th published book from young adult author Alex Flinn. Aside from her desire to put a new slant on a well-known myth, Flinn was interested in the notion of second chances. "The idea that something you do in an instant can affect your entire life intrigued me, especially as it relates to teens who usually don't consider the consequences of their actions.”

The story's catalyst is Kyle's transformation to ‘beast' but at its core is the romance between Hunter (Kyle's ‘beast' alter ego) and his former classmate, Lindy. Hunter pursues Lindy (initially) out of necessity. But for Lindy it's a case of a girl secretly pining for the unattainable hot guy at school – here, the girl gets him but doesn't actually know it. Cartsonis likes that this version offers a balance between both female and male points of view - a unique element for a story usually told only from the female perspective. "Kyle has to learn what it really takes to woo a woman,” explains Cartsonis. "And Lindy is a bit of an ‘every girl' who can't help but see the good in even the jerkiest of guys - only here it actually pays off.”

A Director Who Looks Beneath The Surface

The studio tapped Daniel Barnz to write and direct Beastly after seeing his film Phoebe in Wonderland at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. His feature length film debut, Phoebe follows a young girl who uses her imagination, and a school production of "Alice in Wonderland,” to escape the rule-driven world around her. As Beastly executive producer Roz Weisberg recounts, "Daniel demonstrated that he could handle the delicate balance that comes with a story grounded in reality but also encompassing fantastical elements.”

Cartsonis and Weisberg sat down with Barnz following the festival and were immediately taken by his ideas for the script. "Beastly could easily move into the comic book genre or turn really soft and feel really young if not given the proper approach,” comments Cartsonis. "Daniel understood that, though we were setting out to make a film for young tween and teen females, we needed a sophisticated script – one that didn't talk down to the audience, rather allowed the audience to rise up to it.”

As he sat down to work on the script, Barnz found himself re-visiting his own high school experiences and researching those of the new generation. "I have never felt as strongly about things as I did in high school. I loved stepping back into that period and re-experiencing all that passion, agony and excitement.”

The Imagined World of Beastly

As the project moved toward pre-production, Barnz created a director's statement, a ‘mood book,' CD and DVD of film clips to inspire his vision of the film. Sharing these creations with every department on the production was invaluable for Barnz and his team. "After giving these materials out, I called everyone together for a weekend retreat where we talked generally about the film's themes and then applied our abstract ideas to the actual scenes. This prep work gets everyone creatively invested and inspired.”

Production Designer Rusty Smith was greatly inspired by the two-day retreat. As he notes, "Basically, the sky was the limit. We spoke about personal things and things that were representative to us in the material. From those initial forty-eight hours, we developed a common language and a way of talking to each other that was different from almost anything I've ever done.”

Costume Designer Suttirat Larlarb, who worked on the critically acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire, agrees that the weekend process was productive and insightful: "We all talked about our wish list for the film and how we would want it to look if there were none of the usual physical, logical and strategic constraints that often come with actually having to make a film. Once we had our ideals down on paper, we could then find ways to translate those within the production's structure.”

It was Director of Photography Mandy Walker's task to help realize many of the visual ideas for the film. "This is a film about looks as well as the act of looking – and learning how to look past false surfaces,” says Barnz. Mandy and the other designers really embraced the opportunities inherent in that concept.”

For Larlarb, designing costumes for Beastly was a process she enjoyed but it was not quite as straightforward a process as one might expect. She explains, "The challenge is having all of these very beautiful looking actors and then a message about inner beauty that must ultimately contend with their outer beauty. The costumes could easily have been working against one of the inherent messages of the film, which is that it doesn't really matter what you're wearing, it's who you are on the inside that counts. Striking the right balance between a wardrobe that is appealing to the audience and a salt-of-the-earth message -which is both the central theme of this film and the antithesis of fine designer clothing -was a real challenge.”

The filmmakers were also greatly concerned with lighting and tone. "I shot various tests of film stocks, lighting, filters and lab techniques with make-up, props, paint colors and wardrobe, etc.,” Walker lists, "until Daniel was happy we had the right elements coming together to achieve our envisioned result. The photography needed to follow the story and echo its romance.”

Cartsonis agrees, particularly as it relates to color: "We talked about colors a lot in pre-production. We thought about ways that color tone could change from the beginning to the end of the movie. Everybody, from the costume and production designers to the cinematographer, talked about how colors could help tell the story visually.”

As far as character is concerned, Barnz elaborates, "The visual arc of this film begins with a guy who claims to see the world as it really is, but who is in

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