Director, Gurinder Chadha and her co-writer, Paul Mayeda Berges answerquestions at a preview screening of the energetic teen movie, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging at Curzon Mayfair Cinema in London. Kylie Boltin was there.
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17 Sep 2008 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2012 - 3:30 AM

Gurinder Chadha is a pinup-director for the English zeitgeist. Her first feature, Bhaji on the Beach (1993) captured the first wave of British-Asian cinema and Bend it Like Beckham (2002) cemented her as the director to entertain the nation so much so that the executives at Paramount left her alone on her most recent feature, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging a teen film inspired by John Hughes nostalgia evoking, Sixteen Candles.

Gurinder Chadha: As soon as I read the novels, I thought I get this – it’s great. Here’s an opportunity to make a Brit teen flick, a really good genre movie. We went back to Paramount and said we could do this but not with this script, it doesn’t work at all. The books are good and we can embellish the books with my own stories of growing up and being at school here. The fact is that the books are diaries is a difficult thing to adapt into a screenplay so we brought a whole plot to it, an arc with Georgia, and the studio was very pleased with that.

The script is based on the first two novels – there are 9. Paul and I read the first two books and independently went through and ticked all the things we liked, all the things we thought would work in a screenplay and all the things we could develop further. We do our own notes, and then we put the books away and discuss what we are left with. Then we take all the good things that we liked, that we thought were funny or character building and then Paul, in this case, sat down and did all the hard work in putting all the notes to paper in the first draft.

Paul Mayeda Berges: We’re lucky that we’ve been writing together for a while and we have similar sensibilities and likes and we usually find the same things funny. What’s great about the books is that the voices are very strong and the characters are great, they really jump off the page but it’s all in Georgia’s head — it’s all in her diary. Louise (Rennison) has written them so that she never early ages. They don’t really have beginning, middle and end – of course with a film you need to give it some kind of arc, a shape. So we pulled out things we really loved about the characters and voice and tried to give it shape.

Gurinder Chadha: One of the toughest things was that we had to make Georgia grow up. After the ninth book Georgia still hasn’t reached the maturity level that she does at the end of the movie so you can see how the diary just perpetuates.

That’s the great thing about films that are born out of books, is that the director has to have their own vision and they have to make their film – not the author’s version. I definitely wanted to play with the genre of a teen movie but I also wanted to take it to another place. We looked at Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) we looked at Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) we looked at Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984) and I think Sixteen Candles was the best out of all of them and I really like Molly Ringwald in that and I wanted Georgia to do that wonderful facial stuff that Molly Ringwald does and also it’s very sweet. But I think that even though we wanted to make a Brit-teen flick, I think it still moves into the genre of a quirky British entertainment movie. So I think we start off in that genre, we go somewhere else and then we come back for the big prom scene at the end. So I think it is a British version of that but it also plays with that genre.

I think the casting of Georgia was critical. When we started casting, February-March last year I brought Georgia Groome in first because of London to Brighton and I knew she was the right kind of age – she was about 14 at that point. She came in and I very much expecting to deal with it, to be the part and my job would be done. But what came in was a very timid young girl who was quite mousy and not very confident with her body or with her look. I was judging these girls about how I would feel if a sixteen-year old boy kissed them. How would that look? Georgia (Groome) was too young. So she left and then there was a myriad of girls that I saw. And some were still 14 but looked like they were 26 and others were still really, really innocent. It just shows that at that age there’s a huge difference.

We saw a lot of girls – and I couldn’t get that sense of innocence. When Georgia gets kissed for the first time in the pool that is the first time she’s kissed. You want it to be alright but at the same time you still want her to be a little girl who doesn’t quite know the world she’s entering – that the one kiss has changed her forever. I was looking for that innocent quality but at the same time I wanted her to be ready to be kissed by a boy. So it was all quite complex. Anyone who had a boyfriend was already very knowing in the way they wore their hair, for example, they didn’t have that innocent look but in other cases the girls just looked too innocent.

We saw lots of girls and then nothing happened. I was pregnant at the time and I went off and had maternity leave, in May and in June had the twins, and then July was sort of lost in the oblivion of twin-world and then August I thought I’d better get my act together if I’m going to shoot this movie so we started casting again in August and the first thing I said was let’s get back the people who should be doing this. And I got Georgia Groome back. From March to August suddenly this girl came back in transformed. She’d done her hair and she was wearing a little vest and a little skirt and she has blossomed and grown in those few months. She was much more confident and more buoyant and giggled in all the right places when it came to doing the scenes with the boys and just was the part. So that’s how we got Georgia so I was absolutely thrilled.

When it came to making the film – there were scenes that she completely got. And there were scenes where I wanted her to be a bit more womanly which she struggled with a bit. Particularly when she does the voiceover at the end, there was a bit, which I’ve cut out, which she walks to the mirror and looks at herself and she’s now become the more mature Georgia which doesn’t need a nose-job or blond hair or whatever. We shot that towards the end of the shoot she became very girlish again. It was obvious that I was wanting her to be more mature than she actually was at that point. Then I said I want you to do it like Angelina Jolie would do it and then she had a fit of giggles – we couldn’t do anything for half an hour. And then she took that in, because she’s a great actress but interestingly her instincts were to do it like a gawky teenager.

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Angus, Things and Perfect Snogging — a fun and surprisingly innocent teen-film that sparkles. One to moisten the eyes of most of you, I’m sure — is on wide release from September 18.

- Kylie Boltin