Warning: If you have not seen Hard Candy, important information, plot twists and the ending are revealed in the notes that will spoil your viewing.
From concept to script
Producer David Higgins first conceived the idea for Hard Candy from a news story.
Higgins and Brian Nelson collaborated on the script of Hard candy to find just the right balance for the two characters of Hayley and Jeff.
"The initial idea came from an article I saw in a news story about young girls in Japan who were starting internet relationships with older men; when the older man would cone over the girl would have several friends waiting and they would beat him up and mug him. I thought what an interesting take on who the predator is and who the prey is," says producer David Higgins.
"Then I thought it'd be cool if it were just one girl doing that, one girl going after guys who were preying on other girls on the internet."
Higgins called Brian Nelson and pitched the idea to him. When Nelson paused and told Higgins that he will call him back, Higgins thought that he blew it.
Nelson called him the next day and told him that he is in and that Higgins had a great idea.
"You hear a lot ideas from producers all the time so I always need to say,' Let me think about that', because my writer's process is a little bit more dilatory," says Nelson.
Higgins knew that he wanted a playwright to write the screenplay.
"If you lock two people in a room for ninety pages you need someone who can write character, not just plot. There's no car chases, there's nothing to fall back on except character."
Higgins read a previous play by Nelson that he liked.
"We'd been looking for a long time to find something to work together and that was a good find," says Higgins.
"It's funny because I think I responded to it for reasons I didn't really even understand at the time," says Nelson. "Quite some time earlier, I'd written a play about this guy who breaks down in the desert and this woman mechanic arrives allegedly to help him, but instead she methodically takes his car apart and then takes him apart, and teaches him this lesson about 'here's what happens if you let yourself get helpless."
"On some level, I think there were seeds of that still running through my brain and that was applicable to this," says Nelson.
"After I'd written it, time and time again, I'd see something or hear of something and think, 'Oh, that was an influence on me." Things I hadn't even realised at the time, things from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' to that Abel Ferrara film, MS. 45. And I think Hayley is somewhere in the continuum between the two - there are times when she's the whip-smart image of Buffy and then times where she's got that indicative darkness that you see in MS. 45."
"In my mind it was always Hayley's story because she's the one who always popped into my mind first: I'd never seen a 14-year-old vigilante do-gooder," says Higgins. "In a very simplistic way - and I even pitched her this way to Brian - she's a little 14-year-old Hannibal Lecter. She was always the more interesting character because I'd never seen a version of her on screen before."
"Whereas Jeff, as much as I like him, I've seen versions of him before," says Higgins. "But Hayley feels completely fresh. I love her. Even though Brian and I plotted this out, and I'd read draft after draft, when Brian finally handed her to me with dialogue she blew me away. Even though I knew who she was meant to be, I never saw her coming as fully realised as she was on the final page."
Nelson believes that Hayley and Jeff need each other. "Hayley can't be Hayley if she doesn't have Jeff and Jeff comes to realise who he is through Hayley, so my feeling is that it is both of their stories."
"When you think about great, two character pieces (Sleuth for example), the characters need to be woven into each other," Nelson continues. "And that is something that I was really please about how Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page work. It was so great to see them bounce off each other, and whisper little things to each other about what they can do to help each other out - because on some level, even though they're in this little dance of death, that's what's going on with their characters as well. Hayley and Jeff need each other; they are helping each other - although not necessarily to the ways either had planned."
"I love them as characters," says Nelson. "I have daughters and I like having - I won't say a role model because Hayley's not really a role model - but kick ass female characters out there."
"One thing we tried hard to do is not give the audience a pat ending," says Higgins. "We didn't want to wrap up why Hayley does what she does. We felt audiences should decide. Let them decide if people got the justice they deserved or if it went too far. I'd love to have the audience argue about it when they leave the theatre. Should more have happened? Should less have happened? I hope they walk away with what a fantastic little creature Hayley is and what a fantastic story that was."
"I hope that audience argue too," says Nelson. "This is not intended to be something that just leaves you with a flat polemic message: 'yes, child pornography is bad.' Off course that's true and it is part of the story, but that's not what people should ultimately be leaving and thinking about."
"If you take vengeance, what happens to you?" Nelson continues. "We all have fantasies about what we would like to do to murderers and paedophiles but if we actually do those things what kind of person do we become? To what extent is Hayley the protagonist and to what extent is she the antagonist? It's been interesting as people have read the script, men in particular, and they'll say it made them start thinking about their own behaviour. To that extent it's a provocative film."
"You can take the story on its most simplistic level, which is that a bad guy got what was coming to them. Or you can take it on a more complex level and ask who really gets punished?" says Higgins.
"That's the really interesting question to me," says Nelson. ""Who really gets punished? It was an interesting moment in the evolution of the script. Originally, we had Hayley being more proud of herself and her actions. Now, Hayley is still partly proud, but also worn and tortured as well. All the emotions of the world play over her face. Bringing that level of nuance to the material is what Ellen, Patrick and director David Slade have all been so great about."
Brian's agent flipped over the finished script, which went the traditional route to studios as a writing sample, as well as to mini-majors as a project for them to finance.
"They all asked us for the complete package," says Higgins.
Word got out that they were looking for directors and they were sent a lot of reels from agents and managers.
"David Slade's was the first that really jumped out at me -his style, his visual sense," says Higgins.
Although Hard Candy is technically David Slade's feature film debut, he came to the film from nearly a decade of directing for commercials and music videos.
"Slade was the first director I met who immediately spoke about character, the story, the script," Higgins continues. "All his notes were right on; he didn't want to compromise the same things we didn't want to compromise. Everyone else would only speak about the visuals, how they'd shoot it. Slade was the only one to focus on the characters. He came around to the visuals, because that's what he does and he's better at it than probably 95% of people in the world, but that wasn't his initial focus. It was all about character."
"And part of the process was protecting our baby," says Higgins. "We wanted someone who would fight the same battle as we would to keep the film the way we wanted it. On low budgets, you're always fighting the fight not to change things. Some of my favourite scenes are scenes others would probably have wanted to change.
"Among the things I have written, as disturbing as it is, this is one of the smoothest writing projects I've ever had," Nelson concludes.
Hard Candy was shot on Kodak 200 T 35 mm film over 18 days in California, with the same crew The film was edited in London by world renowned commercials-editor Art Jones and colour graded by Jean Clement Soret (28 Days Later).
Director's Statement: David Slade on Hard Candy
Nicholas Roeg's early work made me want to make films. I was always interested in relationships between characters that leave you harrowed. The Hard Candy script was the closest thing to a Nic Roeg film I'd read in America.
Brian's script showed a world where you had to question values and prejudices. A 14-year-old girl puts you in the untenable position of identifying with a suspected paedophile. Halfway through the film, you despise this girl. Now you have a dilemma -you're not supposed to have sympathy for a paedophile.
Brian's work was more about character, and the best writing I'd seen from all the scripts I'd been offered.
When I read it, I did so straight through; I didn't put it down. It made me question myself. It was an emotional reaction, completely visceral. I thought to myself, 'no one's going to make this film'.
There are two kinds of directors: one who believes the film serves them and one who believes they serve the film. The work we do will last longer than we will. Therefore, I believe we owe that work a great responsibility.
Hard Candy was a great emotional; challenge, but I believed I could serve the film. Next I had to convince David Higgins, and once that worked out I asked Brian to stay on the project throughout production, through rehearsals and often on set whenever I wanted to change dialogue. I have great respect for Brian's writing and we were always on the same page.
This is a very stylistic film that was shot on a ridiculous schedule. I came to the production very technically well prepared, with a crew who knew me (he always works with cinematographer Jo Willems, gaffer Walter Bithell and first assistant director Barry Wasserman) It allowed me to move at lightning speed as we worked in a sort of shorthand. Due to that technical ability, I was able to work at the speed of my own thought process without compromising the visual sense of the film.
It's a very controlled film, as are the characters. We worked out a very precise visual language for the film, and we specifically constructed the set to allow for specific shots.
What my technical experience didn't teach me, however, was about human dynamics.
There's 18 days and that's it, there's no time to get into an argument, there's no time to disagree and spend hours discussing a scene, there's no time to think ahead once day one begins because by the time the thought has come into your head it's been replaced by the reality of the day's issues and you are on day two.
The film was held together by preparation and goodwill, and the reality of that preparation came down to the team's experience. We wrapped on schedule and went into overtime I think three times.
We went through a months of pre-production as we tried to find the right actors.
It was my job to protect the script, and we had to have just the right person for these roles.
I was so happy to get Patrick Wilson as Jeff.
It's one thing to read these scenes on the page but to go through the physicality and the emotional aftermath of committing the acts to celluloid, I was drained at the end of each day, god knows how Patrick dealt with it. His intuition was spot on, his physical performance was staggering, those purple hands as he is bound for hours on end - none of that was make up.
So many actors loved the part but couldn't play a role this dark at this stage of their careers. Patrick was perfect. And while we tried to shoot in sequence that put us in the unfortunate position of knocking him though hell in sequence. For three days we beat the crap out of him - we hanged him, we castrated him, we tasered him in a bath in wet clothes often working where it was safe with a live taser!
Ellen is amazing as Haley. In script form, I had moral issues with Haley but I rationalised forgiveness due to her age and hormones. Then I saw Hayley in the edit room and equally loved and hated her! Ellen's performance did that to me; changed my perspective of the story and, to a degree, of Hayley's; she made it so much more personal and three-dimensional.
Again Ellen's intuition was equally precise often finding those movie beats that seem ok on the page, but play out either redundant or awkward and eliminating them one at a time leaving a performance that was always fresh, always questioning.
Some of the audience may feel as I did in the editing room, my position shifts occasionally when I rewatch, while some may flat-out despise Hayley. Others may be jubilant and never doubt Jeff's guilt. Every human being will react differently to this; sometimes based on gender sure but also based on background. Some will not like the film as it interrupts the thought process most people live with.
Believing the story is a different issue, but sympathy with a character against type is difficult. Men will question themselves and how they view pornography. It's different, viscerally, once they're on the table with Jeff.
No doubt this is a provocative story. Certainly, men will be crossing their legs at a certain point - my editor and I were always having to take breaks, our teeth clenched, trying to shake it off!
I'm only qualified to speak as a man, but I think this film will also make them question how they view their ability to commit violence.
I think that if a film can ask just one question like that, then it's doing something vaguely important.
Patrick Wilson on Jeff
In Hard Candy, he plays the challenging role of a 32-year-old photographer who has affection for teenage girls and becomes entangled with 14-year-old Haley.
"From their opening scene, one can already see that the unconventional pairing of this 32-year-old man and 14-year-old girl, is full of suggestion and erotic tension," says Wilson.
"This is not a relationship that can be easily condoned or easily understood; it's not meant to be. As the story progresses, you see how their relationship grows, but more importantly, you begin to see who these people are as individuals. What the film doesn't do is outright define who's the good character and who's the bad character. Obviously, one is the predator and one is the prey, but part of the excitement for me as an actor, is how often these roles switch. This film is not going to go the way you think it's going to go."
"You always feel you need to classify movies; although this is a very serious film, with some comedic moments to alleviate the drama, you cannot put it into a single category." Wilson continues.
"The basic plot is clear; a guy meets a girl on the internet. Who the guy really is and who the girl is and who's telling the truth and who's not; this part is not so clear and that's a good thing. The story unfolds with one unexpected turn after another."
"Jeff is a photographer; he loves beautiful things and by the very nature of his profession, has access to them. To me, Jeff is smart, almost cunning, and if he makes risqué choices, he's wise enough to know the importance of good cover up. His cunning is vital to the story, but portraying him, I wanted to show an even more important side: his vulnerability. A good person doing bad things is tougher to condemn than a bad person doing bad things. I don't ever want to play someone as "the bad guy"; that's too easy. What I want the audience to feel toward Jeff is a kind of empathy. You don't have to agree or accept, but maybe you can see why he does what he does."
"Without getting into sordid politics, a 32-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl have very little in common; this kind of relationship shouldn't happen. What drew me to this seemingly sinister story was a chance to make a dark character more than one-dimensional."
"There just aren't many movies with just two characters talking for 107 minutes straight. And they aren't just talking about the weather, either. The topic, the language, the intensity - it was all there and I went through lots of physical, emotional strain. But it's exciting too. As an actor, you read the script once and say to yourself, 'I'm going to have a lot to chew on here'."
"Roles built around sensuality and sexual conflict are about animal instincts, and anything geared around that is exciting to play. You don't want to be flippant about it, but we are sexual beings. Jeff is definitely a sexual being; what was challenging and interesting for me was to explore how his sexuality became distorted and took over him."
"When I read the script for the first time, I read it as an audience member and I was so surprised by the twists. This film succeeds in capturing a very creepy realism. Something that people want to turn away from, but are compelled to watch, because on some level they can relate, disturbing as it is."
"The film takes two seemingly regular people and turns them inside out. Edgy, eerie and intense, the film shows us what darkness we are all capable of, what kind of darkness lies within all of us."
"I've never done a film like this. Maybe it's that we shot it so quickly, or that it felt so intimate. I sat across from my screen partner (Ellen Page) every day and there were no helicopters and gunshots going on around me; no special effects; just us. Yet, each scene was a surprise; there was danger, mystery, fear and desire. Every scene becomes so important. A character doesn't know where the scene is headed, so the actor has to stay surprised. What Jeff goes through in the film is a complete shock and as an actor, that's what I have to do - expect the unexpected. The thriller aspect of the story will undoubtedly captivate the audience; I hope the inner life of each character is just as captivating. You don't have to like Jeff, you don't have to like Haley - but at the end of the day you should care what happens to them. Then we've done our job."
Ellen Page on Hayley
At the age of 17, Halifax-born Ellen page has established a name for herself as one of the busiest actors in film and television in Canada. "I got the script a while ago and when I first got it, I remember reading it and becoming completely engrossed; it as a race to the finish. I was tired when I was done. So you kind of know right then it's something you'd like to do. And the character was amazing. You don't usually come across a 14-year-old girl written so well - she had so many layers. She was passionate. I was excited to get into her head," says Page.
"The story always comes back to passion for me. Hayley's just tired of things happening in the world, and she's taking it into her own hands because everyone else turns a blind eye to the way teenage girls can be looked at in a sexual manner. I think she's just sick of that. That's what she's trying to get across in the story. And after that it's a simple battle of who's right, who's wrong. Who crosses a line? Who's good, who's evil? Who knows?"
"Often, when you first read the script, there's always going to be a voice in your head. It's good to come and start rehearsing and start speaking, and moving like her and getting into her wardrobe. That helps a lot. It's nice yo get into her emotional aspects ahead of time, but the physical; aspects are really helpful as well." "It's just about figuring out where she's coming from and getting connected to that; finding parts of her that are similar to me though there's not much shared experience here. You just have to find it in you."
"At the end of the day, I shook off part of her and did bring a little of her home. Elements slip home, and you keep elements when the shoot is done for a long time. She's such an amazing character to play, I doubt I'll ever forget about her." "Describing the story is hard. I'd say it's about a young girl who meets an older man on the internet and they decide to meet up, and when they do - things happen."
"I think it's both their stories. It's also Donna's (the missing girl discussed in the film) story. It's like everyone is a victim and everyone is also persecutor and perpetrator. It is compromise and life-death decisions and passion all at certain points. There are so many elements that are the same that the characters go through at different times."
"I wouldn't want anyone to take the film literally, but it's really beautiful, the divine and confidence this character has, how she takes it in her hands and moves forward with it. Of course, she crosses the line. The whole concept of good versus bad is askew in this film. And I hope people's minds will get twisted with it." "Brian (the writer) was great creating it, and director David Slade is also great at creating these moments where you both love and hate the characters. I hope it makes people aware of some of the concerns about teenage girl."