“Mean Girls” Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. Bring the Plastics Into the iPhone Age
The Plastics are back! Co-directed by Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. – the wife and husband team behind Hulu’s Quarter Life Poetry – the remake of Mean Girls (in theaters now) is a hilarious—and very pink—update for the social media age. Twenty years later, the core theme from screenwriter Tina Fey, who wrote the original film, the Broadway play, and this adaptation of the musical, is still very much intact.
“Tina’s message of young women, particularly in high school, raising each other up instead of tearing each other down is such an important message,” says Jayne. Bringing that to a new audience in a fun and entertaining way became a guiding light for the directors’ feature debut. “In our initial conversation [with Fey], we wanted to express the need for this to be surprising as a film. Even though it’s an adaptation of the original film and of the Broadway musical, it had to be its own thing.”
The key story remains unchanged, only populated by fresh faces with serious singing chops. Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) moves from Africa to suburban Illinois to attend North Shore High, where “It Girls” Regina George (Reneé Rapp), Gretchen (Bebe Wood), and Karen (Avantika) decide to make her one of their own. But don’t let the mostly music-free trailers fool you; the enjoyment of the film is the sing-able musical numbers, each choreographed and stylized in impressive fashion. Bringing the music together is returning composer Jeff Richmond, who completely “revamped the music” (lyrics by Nell Benjamin) from the Broadway show, adding new songs “What Ifs” and the Reneé Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion collab “Not My Fault.”
In creating the visuals, the directors shot the entire film on an iPhone and cut a feature-length version prior to filming. The approach allowed them to craft a propulsive storyboard while working out major kinks in advance of the short shooting schedule. A week of rehearsals provided the chemistry needed to pull off the demanding musical numbers on location. “We developed a plan based on a Justin Timberlake video that we had made called “Say Something” where we did this crazy one take but rehearsed it the day before,” says Perez Jr. “Technically, we knew we were able to do it and at least know what the challenges are going to be on the day.”
To transition from dialog to song, the directors plunged into fantastical environments with a subjective viewpoint. Color, aspect ratio, and composition all played to the emotional beats of the character (or characters) singing in the scene. Production designer Kelly McGehee, cinematographer Bill Kirstein, and Steadicam operator Ari Robbins (the latter of the two also worked on the Timberlake video) helped to chaperon the aesthetics.
“Our approach was to truly serve the feelings of the character and the feelings of the sequence,” says Jayne. Perez Jr. adds, “The rules were: what does it feel like and whose perspective are we in? From there, we took every cinematic tool available to answer those two questions.”
One challenge was crafting two visually opposite songs that take place during a Halloween party. It’s here Cady wears a spooky costume among a flock of girls showing skin. The song “Sexy,” performed by Karen, takes us on a tour of the party, but when Cady reveals she has a crush on Aaron (Christopher Briney) to Regina, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend, things take a turn for the worst with the song “Someone Gets Hurt” performed by Regina.
To make it happen, a New Jersey house was rented 30 days prior to filming to “obsess” over the details. “We only had three shooting days to get everything at the Halloween house, which included all of the scenes and two music videos,” says Perez Jr. “So we wanted to learn everything we could about this house. We would go over there with the core dancers and practice and shoot it with an iPhone. Then slowly start to build it.”
Visually, the directors thought of it as “two sides of the same coin.” “It’s two different kinds of sexy. There’s Karen sexy, which is a fun, innocent, tantalizing kind of girlish sexy. And then there’s Regina’s sexy, which is this dark, moody, seductive kind of sexy,” notes Jayne. “Because Regina is an apex predator, we kind of saw her as a bird of prey that wears feathers that can play with the wind, which we developed with Tom Broecker in the costume. She calls herself Ice Queen, so her costume should also be this kind of silver color that plays into the blues of the scene.”
Because of the limited schedule, the production design had to accommodate both moods, so things like walls had to be painted to support both distinct worlds. “There was the technical aspect of figuring out the space and what that language was, but there was the atmospheric perspective of being in this one location for two completely different songs and two completely different feelings. Our production designer, Kelly [McGehee] made magic happen, and she was just so into the meaning behind the color and the patterns and the details. Her team did such an amazing job decorating the place,” says Jayne.
For the directors, overcoming the obstacles was worth the risk. “Everything Art and I do, we do with intention, and we try to bring a little good message forward into the world through it,” mentions Jayne. “This gave us further validation that telling stories about young women thoughtfully does make an impact and does connect. Being able to rise up and honor the female experience in every way we could was really important to us.”
Featured image: Renee Rapp plays Regina George in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.