On Friday, October 4th, the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) honored Olivia Wilde with the directorial debut award for the coming of age comedy Booksmart. At 8:00 pm, the multi-generational audience assembled in the red velvet rows of the San Rafael Film Center. The lights dimmed and the first 10 minutes of Booksmart played. The witty dialogue insinuated consistent laughter from the film veterans above the age of 60 to the aspiring adolescent filmmakers. Following the preview, Zoe Elton, MVFF Director of Programming, lead a discussion with Wilde on breaking minority barriers in the film industry and directing a successful screenplay.
Wilde was inspired to tell the story of a generation younger than her own, but that she could empathize with and relate to. Past “generational anthem[s]” – like SuperBad and Napoleon Dynamite – often failed to highlight young women’s high school identities as much as young men’s. Growing up, Wilde saw no “example of a woman on the screen not defined by a man.” In spotting a niche, Booksmart was green-lit.
Booksmart became “a homage” to the movies that first inspired her to do film in the first place. They were the films that celebrated the anti-hero, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Clueless. Wilde aimed to debunk the fallacies young women face. One being, “if you successfully transform your personality, someone may love you.” She made a tremendous effort to reflect the feminism you see on screen, behind the screen as well. Half of the set crew members and ALL of the writers and directors were women.
In taking questions from the crowd, Wilde explained the weight of landing the perfect movie pitch to the production company. She advises to “pitch the movie you want to make, not one you can.” She reminisces her own Booksmart pitch where she claimed, “I’m going to make the Training Day of high school movies. Still not sure what that means… but it worked.” Ultimately, the energy of the pitch is pivotal as it illustrates the momentum behind the project.
She also advised to “infuse the characters with your own experience” and using the script only as a blueprint. In many cases, the story morphs as “actors are going to tell you who the characters are” since “they turn it into a human being.”
In response to a question about what she would advise her own high school self, she suggested a paradox. On one hand, “slow down and be patient… with the side of yourself that’s still evolving.” She also explains, “don’t wait to believe in yourself or take yourself seriously.” She witnessed and experienced the adolescent desire for adulthood, that can often shield the person from living in the moment and embracing their current age.
In answering one of the Reel Stories attendees, Wilde encourages, “don’t underestimate the perspective of your youth and the power it gives you.”
Women need to start “linking as opposed to competing,” Olivia Wilde discloses. She closes out her talk with hope of a new generation of female directors. Seeing as she wrapped up production of a short film in New York City that morning, she is certainly spearheading the fight for female representation on screen and behind the scenes: “We [women] were primed for it, ready for it, now we’re done waiting for it.”