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Interview with Adam Shankman, Director of "A Walk to Remember"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

Al Thompson, director Adam Shankman, and Shane West on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures' "A Walk to Remember."

 More of this Feature

• Mandy Moore (Jamie)
• Shane West (Landon)
• Interviews from the Premiere
• Photographs from the Premiere
• Gallery of Publicity Stills

 Related Resources

• Romantic Movies for Teenagers
• Upcoming Releases
• Romantic Movie Reviews
• Top Picks - Recently Released Romantic DVDs
 From Other Guides

• Action/Adventure News, Interviews, and Reviews
• Dramatic Movie Reviews and News
 Elsewhere on the Web

• Official "A Walk to Remember" Website


Having just watched “Not Another Teen Movie” a month ago or so, I'm wondering if we can ever get beyond the “ponytail equals ugly” equation?
The ponytail doesn't actually equal ugly. I saw the ponytail for her because as the daughter of a minister, she walks really quietly and shuffles - because I said you'd walk around the parsonage and the church like that. And, religious girls pull back their hair. That's real for that character. Unfortunately, “Not Another Teen Movie” came out and hit us on some really tough levels. I saw the trailer and I just put my head in my hands because there are so many things that have do with… that touch our movie, that really bother me, but I understood why they were. I mean, my sister produced “She's All That” and I choreographed “She's All That” - to this day I will always laugh at the idea of those three little hairs they put between Rachel's eyebrows and the fact that the first time they show her walking towards the guys, and they say, “Yeah, pick her,” she's wearing skintight pants that show how hot her body is. I was like, “Who picked those pants? Those are like insane!”

Hell or high water, I was never going to put glasses on Mandy. To me, the problem with casting Mandy is that she's so glamorous - even in her youth - so we had to play her down a bit and there's no way to play her down, without that brown hair. I could have gone black maybe, but that's exotic. Her brown hair in the movie has no highlights or streaks in it; it is just a flat brown. The ponytail? We pull it down every once in awhile, we put it up in barrettes every once in awhile. That was totally not an intentional thing but you know, “Teen Movie…”

It's not just that spoof, though. It was true before they identified it. All these movies have “ugly” girls with ponytails.
Yeah but all the ugly girls turn into sluts for the boys, and in my movie, she didn't (laughing).

Talking about playing down the glamorous looks of somebody, what about Daryl Hannah?
Let me tell you about it. Whatever happened with whatever work she'd had done, prior to the movie, had just been done so it hadn't settled. She looks unbelievable right now. She looks exactly how she looked in “Splash” right now. I think my great sadness is that whatever happened, happened right before… There was a bad collagen injection in her upper lip and that was really, really bad and it just stayed and there was nothing we could do. In the wedding scene - which was the last scene she shot - her lip is normal again. You can actually see physically, there are only one or two shots of her, but her mouth's back to normal. About the brown hair? Something that we didn't know was that she was simultaneously shooting a movie in Bulgaria that was a thriller and her hair was pink. So she was flying back and forth. She actually had pink hair so she had brought several wigs with her. This was the closest one to Shane's hair color so, to make the mother look like son, we put this on her.

Do you think that might detract from the film?
I think that adults are going to have a bit of a problem with it. I don't think teenagers are even going to know who in the hell she is. I think it's sad and I think it's reality, and we knew it the second that wig sat on her head and we all were like, “What are our options? Pink?” That wasn't going to happen. Here's what I will say, “If people are cheap enough to go after Daryl's wig, then let that be.” I feel like that was something that I personally know would never have been my choice, but it was an alternative that we were left with. In every production there are necessities. This was not an expensive movie; this was a very low-budget movie.

What sort of figure do you put as a budget on this?
Under $10 (million). The movie looks pretty gorgeous for a movie under $10 million. We were on a 35-day shooting schedule, which we did in 34. We all worked our hinnies off, considering there were five movies being shot in Wilmington, North Carolina at the exact same time. It's a town of 75, 000 where suddenly every restaurant you went into had people from “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Domestic Disturbance” and us, and a Showtime show. It was a crazy time in North Carolina because remember, these were all pre-strike movies. So that's what was going on in the business and this is definitely, in my mind, a very pre-strike movie.

What does that mean?
Well, for example, maybe we would have waited for Daryl's hair to change back, or Daryl's lips to go down, or whatever it was. The movie had to be shot because we came in two days before what would have been the strike. Do you know what I mean? We had no choice but to shoot in the time period that we had. But it was a really fun challenge, and it was a great time. We had the most fun making this movie. I loved filming “The Wedding Planner,” but this was a blast.

How hard is it to sell sentiment to cynical teenagers?
You'd be surprised how not cynical teenagers are. I was a little blown away when we were testing this movie. Tests are not an indicator of how much money you are going to make, but they are good barometers of what your demographic and audience reaction is. We were in the high 90s with teenagers. We were in the high 70s with teenage boys - which is surreal. I thought boys were just going to roll their eyes but you know what kept them? The car. That damned car, they loved the car. I was so pleased with myself for picking that car. That, and the fact that Shane West is like a real guy. He never turns into a little pussy for her. He never gets wimpy on us for her. He just starts to change. The sentimental element for teenagers - what they felt - the movie actually says to teenagers that you are about more than getting laid before college. You are about more than drinking beer and looking at tits. You are about more than bong hits. That ended up being something that our cards reflected with huge exclamation points. They just did not feel spoken down to. That was something that was very apparent in the cards. What the mass audience is going to say, I have no idea. All I can do is tell you what the teens that I know who have seen it, have experienced.

It's a nice message for girls that they don't have to be ultra-glam. They don't have to turn from an ugly duckling into a swan.
I don't remember any other movie where the guy changes for the not-glam girl. Guys have their arcs in all these films, where they feel bad because they've made the girl turn into a slut and they shouldn't have. But they always do. The girl doesn't change in this movie. It's really interesting because in the book, and in the story, this is Shane's character's journey but audiences are attaching to Mandy because they love the fact that she sticks to her guns.

What are the differences between the book and the film?
The differences are the period - it's set in the '50s in the book. Teen audiences would be alienated by '50s music, period, end of story. We'll lose them. It would be like “Liberty Heights” and there's no teen audience for “Liberty Heights.” It's a great movie, or a good movie, or a bad movie, whatever you think of it, but it's not sellable to teenagers because of that. I needed the music element to help us with the selling of the movie, because in the end, as meaningful as it is, it's still a can of hairspray and we've got to sell it. It's just a bare-bones reality. I work in a business and I try and tell decent stories, and I try to entertain people, but this is still a business. I have bosses and I'd like a long-term position in my business. Regardless of that, the '50s are different. The Landon character is more of a Jimmy Stewart kind of a character in the book. He's much more kind of a normal, sweet, almost student office style (character). His family is together; he's upper-middle class in the book. I knew for dramatic effect that we needed a much more “Rebel Without a Cause” kind of vibe going on. We needed a little sexiness too, because there's nothing sexy in the book. That lent a bent of sexiness to the film.

She also seems a little less sick in the movie.
Oh my God, in the wedding in the book, she literally crawls down the aisle. You can't shoot that, people would have laughed us off the screen. It would have been embarrassing. You can't have Mandy Moore clutching the pews as she is shuffling down the aisle. In the book, it's beautiful and it tugs your heartstrings because that's the "walk to remember" - she will not go down. She has a nurse wheeling her down the aisle in the book, it would never have flown in the movie. Visually it would have been too ridiculous. There's that, and also her character feels sort of born again in the book. In the book, she's so religious that she has this strange light shining out of her and her eyes. You know what I mean? And they talk a lot about her frizzy hair. It's very, very, very intense how religious she is in the book.

She's pretty religious in the movie.
She's religious in the movie but if I didn't show that one shot of the Bible, you'd have never felt that. But that is her character and that was my homage to the book. There's that one scene where she holds it in her hand and that's it. The rest of it is she sort of says, “I believe in stuff but that's my thing.” She never says the words Jesus Christ, that's not there. It's not a Christian movie, I just have a Christian character in my movie.

How did Nicholas Sparks react to it?
He loved it. He's a businessman and he understood. He loved how we handled all the stuff, that we updated it without sucking the life out of the story. Thematically, I am totally true to the themes in the book. He really appreciated that we were so careful about not removing those themes. It would have been really easy to take a lot of the religion out of the movie. It would have been really easy to do a lot of things that were much more pandering to teenagers, to common teen movies.

Then you would have faded into every other teen film.
That's what I felt like and whether I get creamed or whether people love it, I did what I felt like was the right thing to do. No filmmaker alive who would be being honest to you if they said they loved every part of their movie. There were decisions that were made during the final cutting that I wish had gone a different way, but nothing that really, really makes me want to rip my intestines out. Nothing like that. Not like Tony Kaye in “American History X.” I'm proud of the movie that I made for this audience and I feel like they're getting it.

With Shane, you knew what you were getting. With Mandy, you really just had to have blind faith.
Honestly, I just looked at her. I thought she looked like how I wanted her to be and when I heard “I Want To Be With You,” I thought her voice sounds like how I want her to be. I put music into the movie for Mandy. To me, the music in the movie was the way to sugarcoat some kind of tough themes. I thought that without the music, the movie would seem a little heavy. I'll probably get criticized because maybe critics may latch onto it as commercial. Listen, it ain't “Crossroads.” I am not trying to push…

There's that little glamorous moment when she's onstage in a dress after wearing a sweater and looking like a meek, little thing. Will the audience be pulled in and interested seeing the change?
Absolutely. That's the moment when the movie changes anyway. To me, that's the moment when the movie gets truly interesting. There was definitely a decision to put all that orchestration under that because originally, it was just the piano underneath her singing. Then I started going, “He's falling in love with her. Let's get some strings in there, maybe a cello, maybe a hundred pieces," which is what it turned out to be. I just think it's very rewarding for an audience, especially if you are going to put something of that length in. Believe me, the studio fought with me on keeping the song in its entirety there. But I said, “The kids are going to like this. You do not cast Mandy in this movie and not give them this.”

She sings beautifully, too.
She does, and it's so moving and so simple. She's not throwing her hair around, she's just standing.

She looks and sings the part. When did you finally decide on her?
Three auditions later. I made her read three times. She'd read and I'd say, “Go home and think about this.” She went home and thought about it, and she came in and read again. Then I said, “Okay, I want you to read with Shane.” She read with Shane. They got cast at the exact same time. I wasn't casting him without casting her, and I wasn't casting her without casting him.

What are you working on next?
A Steve Martin/Queen Latifah movie. A big balls-to-the-walls, screwball buddy comedy with both of them completely in their wheelhouse. I'm going to be sitting back going, “Action,” and just letting them do their thing. It's going to be really, really fun. I think Eugene Levy is doing it, too. I think I have 10 locations total in the whole movie. I don't have to worry about delicate romantic relationships. I was an actor, and I continue to be like an actor where I don't want to keep playing the same part over again. It's funny because after “The Wedding Planner,” I got a lot of romantic comedy scripts. I'm getting a lot of dramatic scripts, and I've already told everybody no more teen stuff right now. Each movie for the next few are going to be different than the last. I'm a guy who is just going to keep working and trying to keep getting better at what I do. As a choreographer - I was a choreographer who worked a lot for about 12 years - and of that 12 years, I thought about the last five I was doing pretty good work. I think it's going to take me awhile to where I want to start feeling my art is getting strong.

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