Hard candy: Darren Stein re-visits his cult 90’s flick ‘Jawbreaker’

Despite its lack of fame ‘Jawbreaker’ is a perfect example of what teen cinema looked like in the late-90s. It was dark, smart, tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, colorful (but not glossy!) and iconic. Much like ‘Scream’ and ‘Buffy’ did several years before, ‘Jawbreaker’ blended pop cultural references, post-modernism and dark humor into one hell of a ‘Heathers’-meets-‘Carrie’ mix, which to these days does not look dated thanks to Stein’s ability to create timeless style. The movie told a story of three of the most popular high school girls, whose prank on their forth friend turned deadly, when the Birthday girl choked on a jawbreaker.

Although not very large, Darren’s filmography has a lot of tasty offerings. There’s a cute 1997’s feel-good dramedy ‘Sparkler’. There’s an incredibly brave documentary ‘Put the camera on me’ (2003) on Stein’s childhood homemade movies. There’s a short ‘Color Me Olsen’ (2007) – a Hollywood satire that continues exploring ‘Jawbreaker’s idea of evil side of the bright lights. Next stop for Darren is a comeback to teen cinema – his future project is called ‘G.B.F.’.  And judging by the script’s excerpts Darren showed me, it’s going to be a good blend of both 90s rebelliousness and 00s glamour.

But when I sat down to chat with Darren in a sunny LA café back in September 2010, ‘G.B.F.’ wasn’t in the cards yet. While the plan to bring ‘Jawbreaker’ back to life as a musical was full-on (several concert versions were held to promote the project during the course of the last couple of years). Considering Darren’s involvement with the musical as a screenwriter and my eternal love for his movie, it’s quite natural that our discussion was mainly focused on the story of a murderous high school clique. Over a couple of healthy LA sandwiches ever-energetic Darren revealed lots of ‘Jawbreaker’ secrets: from on-set dramas to sequel ides, from the movie’s disappointing box office to ‘Mean Girls’ ripping-off ‘Jawbreaker’, from Natalie Portman to Marilyn Manson.

Enjoy this geek-pleasing discussion of one of the most criminally overlooked movies of the 90s which is finally receiving more attention with the musical version on the horizon. And please note that the interview was taken back in September 2010, so some of Darren’s projects and plans (such as ‘Coven’) have either been shifted or put on hold. Though ‘Jawbreaker’ is still here and still looks great. In the words of ‘Satan on heels’ herself, miss Courtney Shayne: ‘Deal with it’.



How did the idea of ‘Jawbreaker’ musical come to you? It’s been 11 years after movie’s release.

I got a call from the producer from New York, who asked if I was interested in doing a musical version of ‘Jawbreaker’. I said ‘Of cause!’ It’s a whole trend now of movies being re-made into musicals. But I think that ‘Jawbreaker’ would do well in this field, ‘cause it’s already so heightened and so colorful – it just makes sense. So I was excited. He introduced me to composer and lyricist in New York, two young guys. They wanted me to write the book (it’s like the script for musical). I was like ‘I don’t know, I don’t have any experience with musicals’. Originally I was supposed to be a producer of the show and then I realized that the way you’re making money on musicals is if you’re one of the writers. So they convinced me that I can do it. I did it, it went well and now we’re in the process of finding a right theatre for it.

How did the concert version go?

It went great. We had a concert with three girls from ‘Wicked’, one of them is from ‘Nine to Five’. It was a great performance. I feel like ‘Jawbreaker’ back when it came out was considered very edge, but now it’s a little bit more mainstream. It’s perfect time to re-introduce it to the culture.

So you think that attention to the musical is going to draw attention back to the movie?

Ah, hopefully.

Did you ever think of making a sequel to ‘Jawbreaker’?

Uh, yeah. People wanted to do it. I think Rose still wants to do it.

Then you should do it! Wouldn’t it be the best thing ever?!

But I don’t really feel like making it. Girls are all older now. They all had great careers: Julie Benz is all over LA on the billboards. I’m sure they would all do it [‘Jawbreaker 2’]. Julie said she’s do it if Rose would.

I thought the studio never wanted to do a sequel, though.

Well, what they usually do with movies like ‘Jawbreaker’, is a straight-to-video sequel. Like ‘Cruel Intentions 2’. And it wouldn’t work for ‘Jawbreaker’. But if the stars are lined and if there’s great idea, all the girls want to do it. But right now I’m not feeling it.

Did you ever thought on what the story would look like?

At one point we talked about doing a ‘women in prison’ movie. With Rose being a queen bitch behind bars. You know, like…

Lady GaGa’s ‘Telephone’!


So she was indeed taken to prison after the prom?

Right, right. In the musical the final number is in the prison. So the cool thing is that the musical is taking it a step further.

What did you think about ‘Mean Girls’?

‘Mean Girls’ is a great movie, it’s funny, it’s a different genre, it’s a comedy, it’s not dark. I was a little bit bitter, because it was a big success in a theatre, it made hundred million dollars, it launched Tina Fey’s career and stuff. But I also thought it was cool, because imitation is the highest form of flattery. Tina had clearly watched ‘Jawbreaker’. I’ve never met her, but watching the movie I could tell for sure she saw ‘Jawbreaker’. The shots, plot points, the colors… But it was very fun and it’s a comedy. ‘Jawbreaker’ was funny, too, but in a dark way.

It was clever funny. This is why I think it never did well in a commercial sense.

It did well on video and on cable. To this day it’s always on cable. I can turn on FX, HBO and it’s always on… It was cool. It was definitely a moment in time. Right now I’m doing a new thing: there are four girls I’ve met. Very hot LA-sorta girls. One of them is a personal chef to Billy Corgan from ‘The Smashing Pumpkins’, the other one is a very hot blonde from ‘Project Runway’, the third one is an actress and the forth one is an absinthe fairy from a trendy downtown LA bar. Beautiful hot edgy girls. They’re friends, but they’re also in the coven. They’re all into witchcraft.


They’re not bad people, they’re spiritual. It’s sort of a new form of spirituality. So I’ve been meeting these girls once a week for four month. I want to develop a show about them. I want it to be a reality-hybrid, where there are actual girls, but it’s also narrative, like ‘The Hills’. But it’s also sophisticated, edgy and with complex characters. ‘Cause I think that most of the reality shows are pretty dumb and have the same themes all the time: fame, botox, glamour. My show is gonna have the same format, but it’s gonna be complex women, improvement, very fascinating form of spirituality. That’s my next project, it’s called ‘Coven’. Think ‘Sex in the City’ meets ‘The Craft’.

Amazing. I loved ‘The Craft’. There were so many cool movies in the ‘90s. Or maybe it’s just because I was a kid at the time, and you know how the movies you watch when you’re a teenager always have a huge impact on your tastes…

See, the 90s for you is what the 80s were for me. When I was a kid I was subscribed to ‘Fangoria’ magazine, loved ‘Alien’, ‘Rocky Horror’, I was very into that. I loved ‘The Hunger’ with David Bowie.

But you never did a straight-face horror movie yet.

I’ve written them… I believe that making a film is hard enough, so when it happens, it’s meant to happen. Right now it’s time for the ‘Coven’. It’s not a feature film, it’s a TV series. I do want to make money now, but also to make this piece of art that people will actually see. Like ‘All About Evil’ [the movie Stein have recently produced] is great, but it’s always going to be that cult movie that not a lot of people are going to see.

Back to ‘Jawbreaker’. What is the brightest memory from the set?

Whole film was so much fun to make. It was shot in LA for 3,5 million dollars with a short schedule – only 5 weeks. We were shooting in 4 different schools to make up our perfect school. One school for the cafeteria, one for the gym for the prom, one for the exterior shots, one for the hallways and classrooms. We wanted to have everything visually interesting.

Sure, visually it’s amazing, such a candy.

Oh, yeah, we wanted movie to look like candy, with the colors of jawbreaker.

By the way what’s with ‘Cruel Intentions 2’ using ‘Jawbreaker’ score?

Isn’t that weird?! I was at the party with Roger Kumble, the guy who did ‘Cruel Intentions’ and ‘Cruel Intentions 2’, and he goes: ‘We used some music from your movie in ours’. I thought he meant just one song, not the whole score!

Do you think remake of ‘Jawbreaker’ is possible?

It’s a bit silly. They talked about doing ‘Heathers 2’. I think ‘Heathers’ and ‘Jawbreaker’ are such classics, you don’t really want to touch them.

Well, if it’s done in a ‘Halloween: 20 years later’ way, with the main star coming back and with a great story, then it could be great.

Yeah. But let’s see what happens with the musical. If it’s successful, then ‘Jawbreaker’ could be remade as a musical movie. That would be very cool.

Does anybody from the movie sing?

Rose sings, she’s good. Did you see ‘Grindhouse’?

Yeah, loved it. At least the idea was amazing. I adore Tarantino’s later stuff.

‘Kill Bill’s amazing. ‘Pulp Fiction’ is brilliant.

So what’s the brightest ‘Jawbreaker’ memory, we kinda skipped that…

[Long pause] It was very funny shooting Rose getting all the corsages pelted to her. ‘Cause she’s sorta floating, she was carried with the camera. It was shot in slow motion and the kids were standing very close to Rose. I was so concerned. We removed all the needles from the corsages, I thought what if someone wants to get revenge on Rose and kept the needle in, what if she gets hurt. But it went fine. Though it was terrifying: she made this high-pitch frequency scream, like a cat being strangled, it was just bizarre. It was also fun having three girls on the set, because I think when you’re making a movie about bitches, when they’re backstage, they’re all in their fucking outfits, they’re kind of in characters. And it kinda becomes a way to communicate, it’s very fun to watch them.

I’d love to see that. Too bad there’s no ‘making-of’ feature on the DVD.

I actually have 6 or 7 hours of footage of behind-the-scenes stuff. I might release it at some point. They’re talking about doing a Blu-Ray release [In 2011 Darren put several on-set clips to YouTube].

It would be great to see. ‘Jawbreaker’ had a huge influence on my writing. I even ripped-off ‘Jawbreaker’ for one of the books I wrote and then had a character named after you in  ‘Deception’s cost 3: Bitch’s instinct’.

Um, I love it. So when you were a little boy growing up in Russia and you watched ‘Jawbreaker’, did you think that’s how American schools were?



Was your school like this?

No, I went to the boy school.

Was there a clique of bitchy boys?

No. For me it was like watching John Hughes’ movies, ‘Heathers’. I was growing up in the 80s, during the ‘Valley girl’ moment in time with the whole spoiled bitchy valley girls overdressed and spending money on their parents’ credit cards. It’s the same now, but it began in the 80s and Frank Zappa wrote a song called ‘Valley Girls. And the language Daniel Waters created for ‘Heathers’ was born out of valley girls’ language.

‘How very’…

Yeah. Like ‘I gotta motor’, it’s a completely new language.

And you did your own language for ‘Jawbreaker’, too.

Yes and people quote me back. Thomas Dekker came to my house once, I knew him through a friend, and he told me he’s a huge ‘Jawbreaker’ fan. And he knew every word from the film!

What were you basing ‘Jawbreaker’ script on, if it wasn’t coming from your own school experience?

When I wrote ‘Jawbreaker’, I tried to do a horror movie. And I was doing some research to understand what horror was about. I realized: horror is when something in real life goes wrong. I thought of these girls who kidnapped their friend for the Birthday for fun, that’s an American prank. I thought: what can they do to their friend to accidentally kill her? What would girls use for kidnapping, what would be a girl’s version of ball gag? Jawbreaker. So it all grew very organically from an impulse of horror. This is why I think the movie still resonates, ‘cause under all the bright colors and funny stuff it’s very dark. The very first shot of the movie is very disturbing, people get freaked out. It’s not like your typical girly movie.

Was the marketing for the movie appropriate?

In America they used the bright colors – it wasn’t the right thing to do. But there was a poster, I think in Russia or somewhere, that features a shot of Rose screaming at the prom.

It’s on Russian VHS cover.

To me that represents the film better.

Were you trying to make it as realistic as possible?

I wanted to make it timeless. For it to be like ‘Grease’ or ‘Heathers’ or ‘Rock’n’Roll High School’. I wanted it to have iconic mythic feeling. If you watch the movie now the fashion is so timeless, while if you watch ‘Heathers’ it’s too 80s. It feels dates. But then again ‘Heathers’ is a much older movie.

Did you keep in mind who you would like to cast in the movie while writing the script?

No, no, no.

How did the casting process look like? I read that originally Rachael Leigh Cook was supposed to be in the film.

Yeah, we almost casted her for Rebecca Gayheart’s role. And then we got her in the room with Rose and Julie Benz and she just didn’t get it. She didn’t have the right tone. So we got rid of her and got Rebecca, who’s got a great larger-than-life face. And it was a first movie for Judy Greer.

Do you keep in touch with the actors?

Yeah, we’re all friends. And oh, Carol Kane, who played Miss. Sherwood is going be in the musical.

You also had a lot of great cameos in the movie – Pam Grier, Marilyn Manson…

Marilyn was dating Rose at the time. So I told Rose I’d like to have Manson in my movie and she said: ‘I’ll talk to him’. He said ‘Yes’ and he was fabulous.

Did his fans like the movie?

Yeah, his fans are the same demographic: Goths, gays…

Was Manson involved with movie’s soundtrack?

No. But there’s The Scorpions song on it.

The main theme – ‘Yoo Hoo’ by Imperial Teen is fantastic, too.


That was an iconic moment of the movie. We had to have a perfect song for it. And music supervisor got the Imperial Teen record before it came out and said it was perfect for us. We were gonna do The Go-Go’s ‘Are Lips Are Sealed’, covered by Fun Boy Three.

I also loved Shampoo’s ‘Don’t Call Me’.

And ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ by The Cars – it plays when the girls pop the trunk open, it’s not on the soundtrack though, it was too expensive.


And The Donnas were also in the movie.

They were brand new at the time, they were so young. I’ve read an article about them in ‘LA Weekly’ and they were perfect – sorta like a personification of ‘Heathers’. That was a ‘Heathers’ reference.

And they were also on ‘Mean Girls’ soundtrack, did you know that?

No, I didn’t. Oh my God, it’s so weird. They’re also very The Runaways.

Talking about music, I read on your Facebook that you just saw Lady GaGa’s concert.

I felt like a 14 year old kid again. It was like seeing ‘Kiss’. I was posting from the concert to Facebook…

Oh! I actually commented on this, saying it’s surreal how the director of my favorite movie went to my favorite singer’s concert.

Yeah, it was you! [laughs]. That made my day, it was so cool. You know what’s good about you? You go after what you want. When somebody’s contacting me on Facebook and I can tell their passion is genuine, I can’t say no. That’s the reason why you make movies. Like how my movie in some way made you wanna be a journalist – that’s amazing.

Is there any particular story from ‘Jawbreaker’ you’d like to share? Something you never mentioned.

I feel that because of the characters all the girls were constantly trying to outdo each other. Judy Greer felt very insecure on set, when she was Fern. And then when she was Violet she got more attention. The psychology of how that worked was very funny.

And you casted girls who looked older than high-school students on purpose?

Oh, yeah. And I… I shouldn’t say it, it’s all gossiping, but anyway. When the girls are carrying a body up the stairs, Rose was like ‘I can’t do it, ‘cause my back hurts, so I’ll just pretend’. So Rose’s in the middle, but she doesn’t really carry her. Julie and Rebecca were doing all the carrying.

Were the girls fighting each other?

All the time. It’s the nature of ‘Jawbreaker’, so it makes sense to talk about behind-the-scenes fights. You know what was also funny? Rebecca’s new boyfriend Eric Dane (he’s on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’) never saw ‘Jawbreaker’, but he recently did and loved it.

Darren shows me a photo album with the photos from the set.

Here’s my brother, who was an extra in the cafeteria scene. Here’s Brett Ratner [the director of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’], he was Rebecca’s boyfriend at the time. All the girls wore fake shoes that made them look taller. Pam Grier was only on set for a week or something. For Courtney studio wanted either Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet or Rose McGowan. I was writing the script for 2 years, it takes time to get it right. I don’t think there were any scenes we cut out. But in one of drafts there was a ghost that came back and at the end of the movie it pulls Courtney in the pool and kills her, it was a completely different movie. No murders, but the tone was way darker. The musical is actually darker too. Original cast knows about the musical and they’re excited about it. Most of the reviews for ‘Jawbreaker’ were terrible and the score on IMDb is like 4,5. But I think that’s what makes it a true cult movie.

Me and Darren in LA in summer 2011 (note the ‘Conan the Barbarian’ poster in the back with Rose McGowan)

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Posted on by Mikey Moscow in Articles, Cinema

2 Responses to Hard candy: Darren Stein re-visits his cult 90’s flick ‘Jawbreaker’

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