FROM RUMOR TO REALITY
Principal photography on Easy A began on June 9, 2009 in the town of Ojai, California. Located to the north of Los Angeles in a small valley, Ojai's most prominent appearance in motion pictures was as the mythical 'Shangri-La' in Frank Capra's production of Lost Horizon. Many years later, the city's picturesque intimacy proved an important visual element to the overall feeling director Gluck sought to convey.
"What I wanted to do with this movie was put everything in perspective from a small town," says Gluck. "This is a movie how hard it is to be a girl in high school. When you're a girl having trouble in high school, you can't escape it. The only thing smaller is if you also can't escape a small town. If you're walking down the street, all the problems you have in school are outside of the school as well. The teacher you had trouble with, the kid who's making fun of you…they're all right in your face. I wanted to find a small town that Olive could not lose herself in. We were lucky enough to be able to shoot in Ojai, which has exactly the feel I was looking for, and it also happens to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world."
As well as being able to offer the small town feel that the filmmakers were looking for, Ojai also boasted the perfect primary location: Nordhoff High School. The longstanding high school - with an open-air campus that takes advantage of the region's warm weather -- changed to Ojai North High School for the purposes of filming.
"It was very interesting," offers Gluck, "because I'm originally from New York, and I initially thought high school scenes had to have hallways, because that's where everyone meets, but in most California schools there are no hallways. All doors open to the outside. The congregational areas are all outside. At one point it was tough to get my bearings on it, but once you kind of embrace that that's the way they live out here, it all became a character. The kids would come out from one class and see each other as they walk across the campus to their next classroom. We shot there for two and a half weeks, and it becomes a big part of the movie because that's their whole world during the day, and the town is their world at night."
In addition to lending the physical facilities, which were available because of summer vacation, the school was beneficial in providing immeasurable resources that helped with the film's authenticity. Plus, many of Nordhoff High's students chose to spend their vacation back at the school, serving as extras. For a key scene in the film, the school gymnasium was filled with not only students as attendees, but also the school band, cheerleaders and basketball players all played a part.
In the course of one shooting day, three separate scenes were filmed in the gymnasium to show the different incarnations of the school mascot over the course of time. In the first scene, Penn Badgley was covered in blue face and body paint for his appearance as the "Blue Devil." Badgley was then cleaned up for the next scene where, due to pressure from the school's religious youth group, the mascot has been changed from the devil into a more conservative, less-threatening woodchuck. The actor was put into the bulky character costume, where he proceeded to run through the gym revving up the crowd. The third, and certainly most ambitious scene of the shooting day serves as one of the key moments in the film, as Olive makes a very dramatic and unexpected announcement to the gathered crowd.
Badgley found himself back in blue paint, and in the woodchuck costume at the same time, as Emma Stone performed a song and dance number before addressing the student body. "It's already sort of a miserable feeling having the body paint on that's clogging your pores and feels claustrophobic, and then to have the woodchuck costume on top of that," says the actor. "I was shirtless in the scene, so the seams were rubbing against the skin. It was really hot in the costume, and production had to turn the air conditioning off for the scene. There was a lot of sweating, and in each take I'd have to run around, throw things into the crowd, yell and scream, have the costume ripped off, and then pick Emma up and join in the dance. It was a long, arduous process."
Although no one doubted her talents prior to the filming of the gym number, Emma Stone surpassed everyone's already high expectations. "It's very clear that Emma is an amazing actress," says Will Gluck, "but she's very modest and humble, so you don't know just how talented she is. Before we filmed the scene in the gym, she had to work with a choreographer and record the track. I didn't know how good she was going to do it. I went to her first choreography rehearsal and she was stunning, after which she tells me, 'I took twelve years of dance.' And then she went into a room and recorded the song, and I was amazed. 'Oh yeah, I took voice for ten years too.'"
Choreographer Jennifer Hamilton says the key to a scene like the gym number is "bringing comedy to it, bringing fun to it and letting the actors bring a little bit of what they do to it as well." As for what audiences can expect, she says, "Hopefully, they'll be surprised and blown away at Emma's talent, first of all. Because, she's a great, great dancer, and she can move so well."
For the actress, the physical demands of the scene were no problem, but she was acutely aware of having to do it for a live, on-set audience. "It was a little embarrassing because I felt like I was back in high school, dancing in a burlesque costume and fishnets in front of five hundred of my peers," says Stone. Even though she had pre-recorded the song she would be performing to, Stone requested that the playback audio not be in her own voice. "I'm not one of those people who can't watch the playback of the scenes and see my own performance," she explains, "but in this instance, with everything I had to do, and as embarrassing as I felt it was, I needed one thing I could feel more comfortable with, and that was if the song was not my own voice. It would have been just too overwhelming with my voice pouring out of the speakers."
Another voice notwithstanding, those in attendance could not have been more impressed with Stone's show stopping performance that day. "She is incredible," remarks veteran actor Malcolm McDowell, who portrays the no-nonsense high school principal. "I'm supposed to be frowning and really pissed off about what's happening in the scene, but when I was off-camera, I actually found myself in the crowd, whistling, standing up and cheering because she did such a great job."
Despite the intricacies and physicality of the dance number in the gymnasium, Stone points to another, more intimate scene as her most demanding. Agreeing to help her popularity-challenged friend Brandon, the two youths attend a party where they pretend to have sex as a group of teens listen outside the bedroom door. In the privacy of the room - but well aware of their unseen eavesdroppers -- the two jump up and down on the bed, making noises, saying outrageous things, and pounding haphazardly on the walls.
"It felt like we did a million takes of that scene," recalls Stone. "After a while I felt like I was hyperventilating, and my lungs were closing up. I had an asthma attack for the first time since I was six. It's the second day of shooting, and at one point they had to bring me an oxygen tank, and I felt like an idiot. It just pointed out what terrible shape I'm in. With all the jumping up and down and yelling and screaming and banging, I was bruised. My hands were swollen at the end of the night."
Happily for all, the actress recovered quickly to forge ahead with her first starring role, which required her to be featured in almost every scene in the film. Her preparation for the shoot was simple. "I usually have a breakdown about three weeks before a project starts, and somewhere in my panic, I tell myself how unprepared I am," explains Stone. "Because of the incredible amount of dialogue that the character has, I realized that the only thing I could really do to feel prepared was to read the script, tirelessly, a thousand times."
Whether she actually did reach a thousand times or not, Emma did read the script out loud with a friend twice a day for six weeks prior to the start of production. "When I showed up in Ojai, it was a great comfort that I knew what I was saying and didn't have to be struggling and trying to get the words in my head," recalls Stone. "The thing about Olive is that it all flows within her so naturally and unintentionally, that I needed to have all dialogue totally memorized to feel like I knew her like the back of my hand, as if I knew everything she was saying."
While Stone was working on nailing down the part of Olive, director Will Gluck was facing his own challenge in directing Easy A: time. "It's a little movie, but we're shooting it to feel like a big film with a lot of different locations and big pieces, but we've had to shoot it very quickly," says Gluck. "Whereas other movies might shoot two scenes a day, we shoot maybe four, five or six. The other thing is that Ojai is very hot. Most days of shooting, the temperature hit either near or over 100 degrees, and it's hard to be funny when you're really, really hot. In one day, we shot six scenes, going from location to location in the extreme heat. And after a while, it takes a toll on you. That being said, these are such amazing actors that you would never know what they're going through. I basically tried to stay out of their way as much as I possibly could, because they knew what they were doing."
The director's praise for his cast was equally matched by their admiration of him. "Will is fantastic," offers Stanley Tucci. "He thinks on his feet, works very quickly and he's spontaneous. There's serious, but there's not reverence, and that's exactly the way I like to work. You shoot fast and stick to the script unless you can come up with something better. And if you can, then that's what you use."
Adds Thomas Haden Church, "He is ceaselessly searching for a smarter beat, a subtler beat, a funnier moment. He's constantly sharpening moments, whether they be emotional or comedic. He makes them feel real, and at the same time, as piercingly entertaining as they can be."
"As many jokes as I make about Will Gluck," admits Emma Stone, "he has been amazing. He's funny and smart and comes up with great additions every time we do a scene. He has also been really understanding of my major freakouts about playing Olive, but most importantly he understands Olive so well, and that has been a huge gift. I can't imagine any other director for this."
In the end, everyone came away from the production of Easy A believing the film would be accepted as an intelligent, touching, funny and entertaining addition to the pantheon of memorable coming-of-age comedies. "It's a very accessible story," says Thomas Haden Church. "I don't think there's anyone that didn't go through the rigors and struggles and jaundiced kind of repercussions of high school."
"When I think of iconic high school movies, I can't think of one that takes the rumor idea as the core common experience and has a story evolve and revolve around that," says producer Zanne Devine. "The craziness of it, the silliness of it, the pain of it, the sort of horrible truth of the environment of high school and the potency of the rumor. I hope this movie takes its place on the shelf of iconic themes from high school movies and owns that one."
When the subject comes up of what people will get out of the film, Gluck says he knows the answer. "Hopefully, it's a very funny movie that you can relate to if you're a boy or girl or man or woman," he says. "Because either you're a parent of one of these kids, or the teacher of one of them, or just one of those kids who's trying to find out where they fit in, you'll identify with these characters, and enjoy spending the time with them."