Struggling to find your rightful place in society, and finding acceptance among your family, friends and peers, is often a difficult process for many people, particularly those in the arts who want their work to be appreciated and valued. Finding that true, desired recognition can be even more challenging after the loss of a loved one. Not only is that struggle to find approval prevalent for Hayley, the struggling musician in the new independent thriller ‘Plush,’ which is now available on DVD and VOD, but also talented writer-director-producer Catherine Hardwicke. The filmmaker once again proved that she should be accepted as a scribe and helmer after her career-building movies, ‘Thirteen’ and ‘Twilight,’ with ‘Plush.’
‘Plush’ follows rising rock star Hayley (Emily Browning) after she loses her band mate and brother to a drug overdose. She finds herself in a downward spiral, as the new album from her band Plush is received as a critical and commercial disaster. But Hayley finds new hope and friendship in Enzo (Xavier Samuel), the replacement guitarist who inspires her to reach new creative heights. But soon their collaboration crosses the line and Hayley, who is married with two children, retreats from Enzo’s advances. As Hayley slowly discovers Enzo’s dark and troubled history, she realizes she may have let a madman into her home and that her mistake may cost the lives of people closest to her.
Hardwicke generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Plush’ over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how as a director, she finds it helpful to write and collaborate on a script, as you have to know why you put every scene in the story, and what it means and how it ties into a character’s history; how the cast, including Browning, Samuel, Thomas Dekker, and Cam Gigandet, all perfectly understood and portrayed their characters’ emotions and motivations; and as a producer, she used many of her own belongings in the film, which helped in creating the authenticity of the story.
Question (Q): You co-wrote the script for ‘Plush’ with Arty Nelson. How did you come to work with Arty on the screenplay, and what was your overall working collaboration and relationship like?
Catherine Hardwicke (CH): It was a good one. Arty comes from working as a journalist in pop culture and all these cool magazines. I had met him when we worked on an interesting project together for television. We haven’t gotten that project off the ground yet, but hopefully it will take off soon.
Then I got the inspiration and beginning idea for this one, and had written out a little treatment. I shared it with Arty, and he said, “Yeah, I could get into that and work with you on it.” So we would meet and go through the characters together and act out the scenes, and write stuff. Of course, we would be sending pages back and forth, and emailing. We also worked on it together in person, and acted out the pages in all the fun ways you do.
He’s very funny. He has two kids, so all the family stuff is something he’s really good at, and brought a lot to the husband part. It’s fun to write as male-female collaborators; you get a great perspective that way.
Q: Before writing ‘Plush,’ you also penned the screenplay for the 2003 drama, ‘Thirteen.’ How did scribing ‘Thirteen’ compare to writing ‘Plush,’ and were there any lessons you learned from your first film that you brought to this one?
CH: Yeah, that’s a cool thing-I’m actually standing in the same room right now where Nikki (Reed) and I wrote ‘Thirteen.’ It was about 10, maybe 11 years ago now, when we started writing it. She was 13 at the time, so she was very alive and vivacious and wild. Her passions and interests were flying all over. I’d be sitting at the computer, saying “Okay Nikki, we have to concentrate.”
Then she’d get a phone call and burst into tears, saying “That guy’s an asshole!” then in the next second, a piece of music would come on, and she’d just start dancing, and the tears would be gone. I was like, “Wow, that’s what this movie’s really about. That’s what we want to capture.” We wanted to get the rollercoaster of emotions of this girl at that age.
So we started acting out almost every scene. Nikki and I would bring them to life. We would yell at each other and ask, “What would you do?,” as though I was her mom or friend. It was very lively, and I felt like in that case, it was a good part of the process. You can’t do that the whole time, but it’s good to bring those scenes to life. I enjoy acting them out and bringing them off the page, even as you’re writing.
Q: Besides co-writing the scripts for ‘Plush’ and ‘Thirteen,’ you also directed both films. Do you find it easier to helm a movie you also wrote the screenplay for?
CH: Yes, definitely, because it’s very much in your bones and blood. You know every aspect of the film. I feel like most directors, even if we didn’t write the script, like every single one of my other projects that I don’t have a writing credit on, I could show you how many patches I did on the script. I had a zillion pages of notes, and I talked to the writer, until we got it to where we wanted it to be.
Usually the director is very involved in the script. You have to be, as you have to know what everything is about. If an actor turns to me, like Holly Hunter did on ‘Thirteen,’ which is the first movie I directed, and asks me a question, like “Why is this scene even here?,” I had to know in my heart and bones. I had to articulate to her what the scene was about, and why it was needed.
It’s the same thing with every aspect of ‘Plush;’ you have to know why you put that scene there, what it means and how it ties into a character’s story and her feelings about her husband and her obsession with her art and her brother.
Q: How does writing and directing more original scripts like ‘Plush’ and ‘Thirteen’ compare and contrast to making films like ‘Twilight,’ where audiences are already familiar with the story?
CH: It’s very interesting, because you want to find the truth in somebody else’s creation. In the case of ‘Twilight,’ (author) Stephenie (Meyer) had this beautiful series of novels that many people knew in their bones. But I still had to find a way to translate that to cinema. If you look at the original ‘Twilight’ book, we made many changes for the film.
For example, there was this big, important scene of how long Edward’s been 17 and a vampire. In the novel, it was written in the car, but that’s a static place to film. You can only get three or four shots in a car. I thought it was an exhilarating scene, so I moved it out to the forest. We used a crane to try to give you that dizzy feeling.
Also, the scene in the treetops isn’t in the book at all. That’s where they’re flying through the trees, and you feel the thrill of being madly in love with someone. While the scene wasn’t in the book, that feeling was in it.
But we still had to do a lot to bring a well-known book like that to the screen. How do you translate it, and make people feel it viscerally, and not just in their head, when they read a book?
Q: ‘Plush’ features a diverse cast, including Emily Browning, Thomas Dekker, Xavier Samuel and Cam Gigandet, who you previously worked with on ‘Twilight.’ What was the casting process like for the film?
CH: Well, that was great. Of course, I worked with Cam on ‘Twilight,’ and I also worked with him again after ‘Plush,’ on the pilot for ‘Reckless,’ which is going into series for CBS right now. He’s a really wonderful guy, and he loves finding new parts and stretching himself.
Once I saw Cam was interested (for ‘Plush’), I was like, “Great! He’ll be wonderful!” You’ll love him, as it will be a heartbreak for this woman, who’s torn between two men and aspects of her life. She’s trying to have it all-this creative, artistic, musical life, and a family. So Cam was great.
Emily I had met, as ‘Twilight’ fans originally wanted her to be Bella Swan. That was on all the blogs and everything. So I met Emily to see if she wanted to do it. But she was coming off a tough experience on a movie, and didn’t want to commit, because she didn’t know if she wanted to be in another film at that time.
So we couldn’t have her in ‘Twilight,’ but I loved her when I met her. She’s special and brave, and it turns out she’s also a fantastic singer. I had no idea that’s her singing. Her voice is haunting and compelling and beautiful.
So she fit this character, and she was able to understand and appreciate it. She’s so fearless in what she’ll do with the sexuality, so she was great.
Thomas Dekker is a wildcat and amazing. He’s also an incredible singer, and he is this character. He has a perfect pitch and this wide range of musical expertise and style.
I didn’t know Xavier so well, but he did have that small part in the third ‘Twilight’ (‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’). He’s very good, but when he came in, he seemed too straight to me. I told his agent that I liked him, but he doesn’t seem like a rocker.
So that weekend, he took a bunch of photos with his friend, and put eyeliner on and took out a guitar. He took this very intense, deep, emotional photograph and sent it to me, and I was completely blown away. There was so much character in the photograph that I thought, “I better reconsider this guy. He’s amazing.” (laughs)
Q: Speaking of the fact that the film focuses on music and Haley’s rise as a rock star, what was the process of creating the music for the film overall?
CH: That was really fun, because I love collaborating with other artists. It turns out that Nick Launay, who was the music mastermind of the film, is a music producer who has worked on the last several albums for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Recently he has also worked with Band of Skulls and Empire of the Sun, and even guys like Eric Clapton. He’s super talented, and has this super genius musical brain.
He’s always been interested in films, but he’s never been a composer for a film. This was an opportunity for him to be a composer and the creator of all the music. So he reached out to all of his friends and different up-and-coming songwriters around the world. They sent in ideas and demos for songs, and he picked the ones he thought were the most appropriate, and he ended up producing them.
Of course, Emily, Xavier and Thomas all sing on their songs. Several other songwriters came to the set while we were shooting, and they become inspired. They then wrote original songs for the film. It was so great; there’s so much creativity out there. People got inspired and wrote all these fun songs.
Q: Besides writing and directing the film, you also served as a producer for ‘Plush.’ Did working as a producer influence the way you helmed the film overall, especially since it was shot independently?
CH: Well, when you do a low-budget movie like this, you have my car and Emily’s car in the movie. (laughs) Half the clothes she wears are my clothes. All my furniture is in the studio. I guess that’s part of producing; you bring every element that you can, whether its physical objects or ways to pull a project together, and get people to be excited about it. It is challenging to do these movies, but we love it.
‘Thirteen’ was also a low-budget film. Every single actor, even Jeremy Sisto, wore some of my clothes in that movie. (laughs) It’s wild, and you do whatever you can to make it work.
Q: ‘Plush’ is set to be released on DVD and On Demand. Are you a fan and supporter of watching and releasing films on VOD, and do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films overall?
CH: Definitely. I personally try to go to the theater at least once or twice a week, if I can. But I see 10 or 20 other movies or television shows during the week. Every morning, I do my exercise to a movie, or I watch one at night. I would say most people probably consume a lot more content and films on DVD. But I love that I can be immersed in films in my own home, or on a plane, or wherever. I think we have to embrace it and love it and accept it, and be excited that we have this technology.