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Brian Nelson and Ellen Page Talk Candy


By Sara Michelle Fetters


Normally, question and answer periods featuring a movie’s creators or stars after a premier screening are pretty lame. Audience members usually ask the most banal questions imaginable, stupidly asking things as witty as, “Did it hurt to wear those shoes?” or, “Isn’t (insert costar here) the sexiest (male/female) alive?” Frankly, they are not worth talking about, and if anything worthwhile comes out of the conversation it’s usually because the person being subjected to the Q&A gets tired of answering idiotic queries and starts saying whatever the heck is on their mind.


Imagine my surprise, then, taking in such a session after Hard Candy, a Seattle produced psychological thriller from Paul Allen’s Vulcan corporation and discovering a Q&A actually worth listening to. Featuring producers Richard Hutton and Michael Caldwell, actress Ellen Page and writer Brian Nelson, this after-screening event from the folks putting on the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival was actually pretty good.


While all four got in the act (Page even commenting a bit about her upcoming work in X-Men 3), it was Nelson who really had the most of merit to say, so much so I decided to run his (and some of the other) responses as a column. And why not? Hard Candy is a movie worthy of discussion, its bruising, uncompromising nature sure to send people out of the theater scratching their heads and arguing about its merits (or lack there of) until the cows come home.


If you want to know more about the film and what it’s about, go read my review. If you’ve already seen it, don’t care about a few (major, you’ve been warned) spoilers or just like reading interview pieces, feel free to continue. Either way, I think you’ll agree, this is one after-movie Q&A worth taking the time to enjoy.


(Note: While I recorded the whole Q&A session, some of the questions were so badly formulated it made no sense to print them word for word here. While the answers are straight from the recording, in the spirit of full disclosure I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the questions themselves weren’t paraphrased on my part.)


Question: Where did the idea for this picture come from?


Brian Nelson: [Producer] David Higgins read about a case in Japan about a group of schoolgirls who would flirt with men online only to later ambush him as a team later on. They would beat him, take his money, things like that. He thought there was an idea there for a thriller, a teenage vigilante stalking online pedophiles. Once I got going on writing the script, everything kept falling into place until we finally go to the point we’re at here.


Q: How did you come to be involved in the project?


Ellen Page: Well, I was supposed to take some time off because I had just got done shooting a film in Europe for two months, I’d shaved my head, was ready to do all kinds of events, and then of course the script for Hard Candy was the first one I read. I couldn’t believe someone had written something so amazing. Was so refreshing to read a role about a teenage girl who is so intelligent and passionate. I mean, it was amazing.


Son, anyway, I ended up sending them this whole tape but I had a shaved head, so [the filmmakers] sort of all freaked out. Then, luckily, I ended up still being flown down to L.A. and I got the role. And then they could [costar] Patrick Wilson some how, but I don’t know that story.



Q: Was anything changed because of responses generated from audience test screenings?


BN: There were a few screening for marketing purposes, to figure out the best way to frame this film [for a potential audience]. But, we made this film through the generosity of Vulcan and through the support of our producers and the talent of our amazing director David Slade, who could take a girl looking through a glass cabinet and make it look like The Bourne Identity, and our wonderful crew and our wonderful cast. We made, I’m lucky to say as a writer, exactly the film we wanted to make, to the extent that where, on the set, Richard [Hutton] and other people would keep coming up to me and whispering in my ear, “Now don’t get spoiled.”


But, then, this is pretty much the script. There were a few lines we trimmed for time to keep the film tighter. We would revise a little bit to make the lines fit better in Patrick or Ellen’s mouths, but this is pretty much it and David, in particular, was a bulldog for the integrity of the script. When we took the film to Sundance [in 1995] we had a number of interested buyers and David, as well as everyone at Vulcan, made it very clear that this is the film, and if you buy it we think that’s wonderful but understand part of the agreement will be that this is the film. Not one frame will be cut. And, to their credit, Lionsgate who bought the film never even asked.


Q: Why make this as an independent film? Did this choice lead you to David Slade?


BN: While we were showing the script around [L.A.], getting people’s responses, it became very clear that we wanted to make this as independent film. If we had made it within the studio system we would be under exactly the same restraints as referred to in the last question. There would have been incredible pressure upon us to make everything neat, to have two page monologue about who was Donna Mauer and what was her relationship, if any, to [our 14-year-old protagonist] Haley.


So once we knew that we were going to make this as an indie film the next item was really to find the right director. David Higgins looked at quite a number of [director] reels, showed some of them to me, and David Slade’s work stood out for its incredible visual signature, for his ability to make color a character in everything that he shoots. There is nothing that he doesn’t know about a camera. He also had an incredibly piercing commitment to the story.


We would meet with directors and sometimes ask them what they thought this script needed, sometimes directors really want to take a script away from its source and really re-envision as their own. David understood how to envision something that would be true to what Higgins and I had originally intended and yet would also be his own without violating that. That was just an incredible.


Richard Hutton: From David [Slade’s] point of view, he was looking for his feature length film. He’d been offered all sorts of things (he’s a terrifically talented commercial and video director) and this just spoke to him and he got it right from the start. We were lucky to have him on this.


Q: You come from a theatrical background, did you ever think Hard Candy would be more at home on the stage?


BN: No, not really. I write plays, and when I write plays I tend to write scenes that I don’t think will make a movie. A play of mine that David Higgins read of mine that made him think of me in the first place was a play about a homeless man who is hired to be an art installation, by a performance artist who wants to turn him into living art. I am very fond of this play. It should not be a movie.


Having said that, I felt that during the writing process [on this] I worked it like a stage director. I thought about how we move from to room. In fact, Higgins and I had a backup plan that if we never interested anyone in this movie, if we could never find a director or get the financing, then we thought we could just max out our credit cards and find some actors that [we] know and we’ll just shoot it in David Higgins’ house. And, in fact, David Higgins has a rock garden in his house, and while it doesn’t have a safe with scary stuff inside it the script really was written to be shot inside his house if all else failed. I mean, I got up and walked around on his roof and made sure I could stage it exactly the way it is [in the script].


David Slade, when he thankfully took over, had a soundstage build a house there with walls that could move up and down and move the camera where ever he needed to. The interesting thing is that film was shot for just under a million dollars and we did it in eighteen-and-a-half days. Again, a huge testament to David [Slade] and his incredible crew he had worked with previously. It was also an incredible demand upon Patrick and Ellen who had to learn mammoth chunks of dialogue every day and, not only that, but grueling dialogue to the extent David [Slade] would sometimes be saying in the morning, “Thank you for coming back. Yesterday was really hard. Today is going to be really hard, too, so thank you.”


The advantage of the 18-day shoot was that it was only 18 days. Patrick would remark that this fact sometime got him through. He would come up and say, “That was a really hard scene but I know that by the end of the day I won’t have to do it again.” That’s as opposed to a studio film where you could be shooting the same scene for three weeks.



Q: Was the castration scene difficult?


EP: Not quite to the extent that you would think. Actually, for me, it was actually a very interesting process, or, dare I say it, fun, because I know that I’m just playing a massive, massive trick on this guy. That said, I actually did go over surgical procedures and had the information as to how someone would actually do this. The difficulties of it were actually relatively superficial. The fact that we basically shot it all in a day which is actually quite a lot, there are like 14 pages of dialogue during this scene. I mean, I would look at Patrick and think, “You’re the one getting your balls cut off but I’m the one having to stand here and talk about it.”


So, ultimately, it was just kind of like cheap… fun.


BN: I’d actually say one more thing about that scene. A great thing about Patrick’s work on this film is that it took a great amount of bravery to take this role in the first place. He was so game. Normally on a film shoot the stunt crew would work out trick ropes and trick knots [for a scene like this one]. In this sequence said to the crew, “Look, just tie me down, let’s just do it.” When you see his hands starting to turn purple in that scene, that’s actually not makeup there. He was incredibly daring and bold in that scene, earning incredible respect from all of us.


Q: Is justice done in this film?


BN: I’ll talk just a shade about that question but, really, it is something I would rather like to throw back at you. Yes, justice is a theme in this film. There are a number of themes in this film. About responsibility. About knowing whom you are and what you are capable of. Of knowing what you are not capable of. Under what circumstances would you face the truth about yourself.


But, yes, a part of that is about justice. You see a film like Death Wish, let’s say, where Charles Bronson take on a mission of vengeance and when he faces some difficulty towards the end he pretty much just [gives up] and goes to Chicago. Whereas, here, we really tried to look at the price of retribution and the fact that what Haley does is not facile. As much humor as there is in the script to ease the tension of it, what would it be like – and everyone has an idea of what they think should be done to certain people – but what would it be like to actually follow through on just that type of wish fulfillment?


Q: What was Haley’s background? What got her to where she is in the movie and made her a vigilante?


BN: I don’t actually care to elaborate on that question, actually, because part of the power of a character like Haley is that there are unanswered questions. It is incumbent on you [the viewer] to speculate about those. While I do have my own thoughts on Haley’s background in life I am actually quite intent on keeping them my own thoughts.


Q: What do you all have coming up next?


EP: I have another independent film coming out, the one I was bald for, made by Alison Murray called Mouth to Mouth. I’m also in this small, little film coming out at the end of May about mutants you might already know about.


BN: I have a couple of different projects. One, which has been in the pipeline at HBO with Wes Craven, is the true story of Michael Swango, who was a doctor who poisoned people, but he was a doctor so no one wanted to believe it was him.


The other, David Slade is the director on a project called Thirty Days of Night. He’s hard at work in pre-production on that and he’s asked me to do the production rewrite. It’s a vampire film set in Alaska. These are not Anne Rice vampires.


Movie Review: Hard Candy


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