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Kimberly Peirce, director of the indie hit Guys don't Scream She concentrates her strength on Carrie .

By Paul Hond |fall 2013

On the set of Carrie, from left: Peirce, Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. Photo: © 2012 MGM PICTURES INC. AND SCREEN GEMS, INC. / MICHAEL GIBSON

Ssix weeks before the October 2013 release Carrie , Kim Peirce ’96SOA is locked in an editing room in Los Angeles. The sad final notes of the blockbuster season and the first tingling of the Oscar era are in the air when the studios trot their winning ponies. The boss of the studio went in and out. Telephones ring, reporters want to know how the director of a dark, personal, lifelike film likes it Boys don't cry came to remake a quirky horror masterpiece.

Peirce gets it. She also loves the 1976 Carrie , directed by Hitchcock visionary Brian De Palma ’62CC. Call it awesome. De Palma is a friend and has given his blessing. Peirce does not frame her film as a remake, but as a new retelling of the Stephen King story, whose elements of an outsider, a confused family life, a small town, bullying and retribution pulled a rope in her.

When the studio approached her in 2011, she was still skeptical.

I just didn't trust him, she says. I thought, 'Oh, it's a remake. Hollywood does a lot of remakes. ”Peirce doesn't mind remakes - she loves both the 1932, for example Scar face , directed by Howard Hawks, and De Palmas 1983 Miami Speckled White Tuxedo Edition. But in general, she felt that the studio system lacked the imagination and inspiration to do justice to the process.

I thought: 'You want to do this because there is money in it.'

That motive at least made sense. Peirce had bigger questions.

The thing was, she'd made two films and neither seemed terribly relevant to him Carrie . Boys don't cry (1999), for which Hilary Swank won the Academy Award for Best Actress, told the real story of Brandon Teena, a twenty-year-old transgender person from Lincoln, Nebraska, who moves to a nearby town to live as a man. Brandon chases Lana, a working girl; They fall in love. Brandon also befriends Lana's pals John and Tom, two roadhouse burnouts that make this cute, slim, weirdly appealing guy shine. When the men learn the truth about Brandon's anatomy, they are furious and humiliated; They beat, rape, and murder Brandon after Brandon filed a police report against them.

Peirce's second film, Stop-Loss (2008) was inspired by her brother's military service and expanded her studies of violence and rural machism. The story begins with an electrifying Tikrit street battle (filmed in Morocco) before embarking on a fraternal drama in the States about a group of returning soldiers, one of whom, Brandon King, after being welcomed as a hero in his Texan city, is ordered back to Iraq. Believing this stop-loss policy is unfair, Brandon makes the dire decision to go AWOL.

None of it sounded like a pulpy goth about a bullied schoolgirl with paranormal abilities.

Why do you want I to do it? Peirce asked the executives.

Her answer surprised her. Because of Boys don't cry .

Peirce was stunned. Then she read King's book.

Peirce read Carrie three times during a trip to Turkey with her fiancé. King's novel was a juicy little truffle. Reading about the lonely teenage outsider with a strong secret lit a lightbulb Pop! over Peirce's head.

Although Carrie White and Brandon Teena couldn't be more different (Brandon: attractive, bold, cunning, ruthless; Carrie: shy, awkward, sheltered, fearful), Peirce fell in love with the pimped-up girl from Chamberlain, Maine. In Carrie, as in Brandon, she saw a deep need for love and acceptance. The pain of being normal. To dwell .

Both characters possessed cryptic powers. Brandon was able to seduce girls with charms unknown to his rowdy male colleagues. Carrie could move objects with her mind - a skill that blooms with her late menstruation. With the period comes power, says Peirce. This is straight from King.

in the Boys , Brandon is partially exposed by a tampon sleeve that he tucked under his bed. In King's book, Carrie gets her first time in the high school shower (a scene created by De Palma's slow-motion, soft-focus lyric, and Psycho Tension), which leads the other girls to mock them and toss tampons at them.

Both Brandon and Carrie are streaked with blood and mystery. Both risk everything for a chance at happiness. Both gain a brief boost before their peers betray them.

I love a tragic structure, says Peirce. I love that everyone is responsible for the explosion that happens in the end. Everyone is part of the trigger point.

IIf you want to start at the beginning, says Peirce, you have to start with Carrie's mother Margaret, who is afraid of this thing that is coming out of her, feels like she has to kill it, then realizes it's a baby and then falls in love with this baby and struggles with her terror and love all her life.

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Here Peirce nods to King's book, which records Carrie's howling birth in Margaret's bed: blood-soaked sheets, a butcher's knife, a cut umbilical cord and a baby on the chest - a scene that did not appear in De Palma's film.

Every figure follows its basic need, says Peirce. Margaret's job is to protect her child; Carries is to get love and acceptance and find a way to be normal. How wonderful that they both have such strong, conflicting needs and that's what drives the film from start to finish.

Sixteen-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title role, with Julianne Moore as the religiously ardent Margaret. In Moretz, Peirce had a Beverly Hills raised, full-lipped, precocious actress who sported the movie star je ne sais quoi (If you've got that quality, the camera just falls in love with you, says Peirce. You see her face?, See to how an emotion plays with it - it doesn't have to do anything), a child star who worked with Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton and who sought to destroy Peirce's un-Carrie-esque confidence.

We have to create a space for you where you don't have all the things that you have had since you were five, Peirce told the teenager. Success, money, trust, love, support. Carrie doesn't have these things. We need to transform you as a character from a cocky kid to a broken young woman.

To this end, Peirce took Moretz to homeless shelters.

That was sensitive. I didn't want to use people who are less fortunate than us, says Peirce. So I suggested to Chloë that she owed it to herself and others to see beyond our lives. She was open. She was wonderful. We went to shelters and worked with some girls and women who were very generous and spoke to us about their troubled times. I said to Chloë, 'Try to go beyond just listening and feeling . '

For three months they focused on getting Moretz to internalize adversity and rebellion. When Moretz finally teamed up with Moore (who is a master, Peirce says she just is) on the set, the director saw the fulfillment of that work. In the relationship with Julianne and under Julianne's guidance, I have seen Chlo grow as an actress.

Moore und Moretz in „Carrie“. Foto: © 2012 MGM PICTURES INC. UND SCREEN GEMS, INC. / MICHAEL GIBSON

Moore, a four-time Oscar nominee, had concerns of her own.

Julianne was concerned that people wouldn't love her character, says Peirce. And I said, 'What do you mean? Margaret is great. Everyone will love Margaret. '

We worked to make Julianne love this complicated woman through her love for Carrie. Margaret and Carrie's love for one another is at the heart of this film. But there is a tragic inevitability, because Margaret fears that the child is evil, fears that her powers might come out. Margaret is in a moral battle: she feels like she should kill Carrie, but she loves Carrie. So what should she do?

Peirce, well versed in Aristotle poetics (Core Undergraduate Reading at the University of Chicago) and the lessons of their film teachers, is a demon for dramatic conflict.

Carrie is bullied at school, bullied at home. She discovers that she has a secret power that might make her happy, make her normal. So she researches it. When her mother finds out about it, she tells Carrie that it is the work of the devil. She's trying to stop the power. But Carrie desperately wants to have something of her own, desperately to be a whole person. She tries to be everything she always wanted to be. 'I can have powers' and I can go to prom. I can be normal. '

But we all know she can't.

BBecause it's a Kimberly Peirce movie, the horror builds on the truth in the acting and relationships, says Lee Percy. Carrie 's editor. Originally trained as an actor at Juilliard, Percy has edited more than forty feature films, including three with Oscar-winning performances: William Hurt in Kiss the spider woman , Jeremy Irons in Reversal of fate , and Hilary Swank in Boys don't cry .

For Percy, the heart of the film is the mother-daughter relationship.

I think Kim would say it's the love story, he says. The relationship between Carrie and Margaret in Kim's film is much more emotional, much more connected, much more aware of what holds them together than in the film De Palma, which is a great classic. Brian has his specialties and Kim has hers.

Peirce was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, working class in 1967. Her mother was fifteen. Her father was seventeen. Peirce remembers her parents as larger than life - her mother beautiful, seductive, adventurous, her father a charismatic hell-lifter raised to fuck, drink, and fight. It wasn't long before they all blew up the city.

Her father, a builder, went to Florida. Her mother went to New York. Peirce hopped around between relatives, lost in cartoons on Saturday morning. I also got a tape recorder.

When she was five, she moved to New York to live with her mother, who got a job as a waitress at the Plaza Hotel.

This arrangement did not last long. Peirce lived with her father in Miami.

Her father started his own contract company. In the late 1970s, Miami received staggering injections of drug money from the Medellin Cartel. Construction cranes shot up like weeds.

Her mother stayed in Europe and lived with sheikhs in Morocco. Both parents drove in the patchouli of my decades of excess.

In Florida, Peirce learned to fish, swim, dive and play tennis. She was a sparkling tomboy who read DC Comics and science fiction fantasy books like read A fold in time who loved drawing and animation with her Super 8 camera.

Sometimes her father became abusive. He had been beaten as a child, hardened the Harrisburg way, and he repeated that pattern with Peirce.

His life went fast. Money. Women. What Peirce didn't know was that he was floating cocaine in and out of the Bahamas on seaplanes.

When Peirce was ten years old, her mother returned from overseas and ended up in Puerto Rico. Peirce lived with her for a year.

She would ask her mother questions. Where did you live? What did you do? How did you make money Who did you screw Why did you come back to get me What do you want? She wanted chronology, wanted to understand how one thing led to another.

Her mother also brought a complicated stepfather into Peirce's life. This situation, says Peirce, got a lot about physical and sexual abuse in Boys don't cry .

One day, when the time is right, she says, she will tell her own story in the film. Until then, she will tell it through others.

BBefore Carrie, before Brandon, there was Pauline.

I was totally in love with this story, says Peirce, who burns with the passion of a distant mother for her characters. She doesn't just love them; she is in the Love with them.

Pauline Cushman, an actress born in New Orleans in 1833, was one eighth African American, a fact she kept secret for the sake of survival. During the Civil War, Cushman became a Union spy, posing as a southern white man to gain access to the Confederate battle plans.

It was a damn good story, and Peirce wanted it to be her thesis project. She had been drawn to Columbia Film School for its focus on storytelling. Columbia meant that you were going to write, write, write and take acting classes and acting classes and acting classes. Peirce worked with theater director Lenore DeKoven and actress Carlin Glynn for three years. I loved it, she says. I wasn't good at acting, but I was good at class, at reading the lyrics and understanding what the actors were going through and what they needed from me. I was glad the program got me to write, work with actors, and use other media besides film because it allowed me to do more work, make more mistakes, and learn more.

In their first year, 1992, the students made videos. Peirce knew that she had recorded her family in different media, that the format was not the important thing. And yet. Video .

Look, we all scolded each other about it, she says. We ran around the Upper West Side in the terrible heat of New York City with those ridiculously huge video cameras. We'd all picked Columbia and thought, 'Aah, that's bloody awful, these cameras suck.' We shot those crazy videos and then went back to those old, bulky processing machines that had something called 'timecode' that no one did from them we had been able to find out. You were up until six in the morning doing linear editing, you were editing your whole project, and then all of a sudden you 'broke the code' and lost everything, and then it's time for class and you 'I said, ' It was great and it's gone. ”It was crazy.

But it became so clear to me - and this is said with great love for film - that it was all about telling the story. I saw that no matter how technically weak the visuals were, whether they were done on Super 8, Hi8, PixelVision or whatever, if the story was good, it worked.

Peirce brought the story of Pauline Cushman to her writing teacher, the playwright Corinne Jacker.

Jacker thought about it and said, I think you have a problem.

What is it? said Peirce.

Cushman dresses up as a man to get a job, Jacker said. I think you want to write about someone who disguises himself as a man because he is like that.

The insight sank. Jacker said the story wouldn't work as a movie because Cushman's motivation didn't come from an internal location.

That put Peirce down. She no longer had a story. No graduation film.

At the time, Peirce was living in the lesbian ghetto of Manhattan's East Village, home to artists, anarchists, squatters, drug dealers, academics, activists - an oasis of queerness that was much more interesting to me than the pure white male world in Uptown. For money, she worked at night in a law firm in Midtown.

One evening Peirce was at the law office.

During a coffee break, a colleague, Hoang Duong ’94SOA, came to see her.

Hey, said Duong. You should read this. He gave it to her Village voice .

It was an article by Donna Minkowitz about the case of a young Nebraska woman named Teena Brandon who lived up to her name, passed for a man, and won the hearts of the prettiest girls in town. The story of Brandon's life and death, told from a lesbian perspective, shook Peirce.

From the moment I read this article, it was, she says. Brandon was my kid.

THe's a super powered girl. It can stomp its foot and leave a crack in the earth. She can pick up a car. She can make the furniture float.

Peirce talks about Carrie in post-production as she wields her own earth-shaking power. With big budget digital technology, Peirce can not only bring about the little mischief caused by Carrie's capricious tensing of her telekinetic muscles (if there's a super power suitable for girls, it's telekinesis: emotions become physical) but the massive destruction of the City by the full discharge of their youthful anger. (De Palma, shot in 1976, had confined the ruined prom queen's revenge mainly to the school gym.)

It was great fun figuring out how to use visual effects to better tell the story, says Peirce. As a writer, not only could I write on the page, write with the actors, and write on set, but now I was able to write throughout the post as I refined the action and story with the visual effects. The question is always: who is Carrie, what does she want and how would she use her power?

IN THEith the Pauline Cushman story on the shelf, Peirce fixed her new obsession. I was in love with Brandon, she says. It was amazing to me that this female person lived as a boy, loved other women, and had the courage to live like this, especially in the Midwest.

Peirce brought the idea of ​​Brandon Teena to Corinne Jacker. Peirce had many wonderful film teachers - director Miloš Forman; Screenwriter Paul Schrader, a name well known to a score reader like Peirce (Paul taught us that it takes ten years to tell your own story, and even then you should try to transform it into a cover for it find how he's done it taxi driver ); Serbian director Emir Kusturica; and Ralph Rosenblum, editor of Annie Hall to name a few - but it was Jacker, her graduate advisor, whom she had to convince.

Peirce had reason to be optimistic. Here was a story about someone who wanted to dress like a man and go out with girls because that was that person .

Jacker resisted again.

Now that person has two needs, she said, and that doesn't work. You need a need. Does she want to be a man or does she want to be a lesbian?

Well, I don't know, said Peirce. She seems to want to be a man or to dress like a man and she seems to want to be with women; She seems to want both, and I'm not sure which came first or which is more important. I don't think it's an either / or. I think this person needs both.

Kim, you can't just follow the truth. You have to create the drama.

I know, I know, said Peirce, but there has to be some dramatic way that this character can both be with women and dress like a boy Because I do.

Jacker said: That's the truth. That is still not a dramatic need.

Peirce understood. She had to find the only need that encompassed Brandon's behavior. As she sat down to write the script, it occurred to her that Brandon really wanted love and acceptance. Dressing as a man and being with women were not Brandon's needs; they were the means to satisfy his need.

Peirce made Boys as a twenty-minute film for her thesis project. It was a difficult undertaking. Their producer walked in the middle, and his replacement stole Peirce's money and collected car bills and parking tickets. Peirce was desperate. Her savings were gone and she didn't have a producer. She had beautiful newspapers, but not the last scene in which Brandon dies.

Worse, their daily newspapers - their raw, unedited footage - were still in DuArt, a post-production facility on West 55th Street. Peirce couldn't afford to take them out.

In 1994 she met Christine Vachon.

Vachon soon started Killer Films and was the hottest indie producer in town. She made Rose Troche's Go fish and Todd Haynes Gift , with Haynes For sure and Larry Clarks children set for release. Vachon, too, longed to tell the story of Brandon Teena. She had heard about Peirce's project through friends in the art world.

The producer invited the film student to her East Village office. Peirce was delighted. It was a huge opportunity. But she had nothing to show. No short film, no feature.

She went to Vachon anyway and thought, I have to get my damn newspapers from DuArt. Who should pay for that?

At Killer Films, Peirce and Vachon sat down to chat. Peirce told Vachon of her own passion for history. She said that while she had made a short film, which was what she could afford, she realized during the filming that it was a feature. Would Vachon like to see the newspapers so she knew what she, Peirce, was up to?

Hilary Swank (right) and Chloë Sevigny in 'Boys Don't Cry'. Photo: © BUREAU L.A. COLLECTION / SYGMA / CORBIS

Vachon was game. She picked up the DuArt newspapers and looked at them.

Christine liked her, recalls Peirce. But she agreed with me: why should we pay to end this as a short film when we can make it as a feature?

Five years later they did.

Boys don't cry won dozens of awards from film festival juries and critics' associations, and earned Peirce such a secure and enduring reputation that MGM was about the resurrection of a dozen years later Carrie , the president of the studio's film division, Jon Glickman, remembered Peirce and Boys don't cry .

STephen King was incredibly cunning and ahead of his time, projecting what female power would do, says Peirce of King's 1974 novel, one year after tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in her battle of the sexes and two years after the advent of MS. Magazine. Both De Palma and King anticipated what would happen when women were in power. I'm doing this movie after women have power, so what does that look like?

Peirce has argued for the feminist aspects of the book - the channeling of fear of women's power, the centrality of female characters - but it is clear that they are Carrie will speak in ways his predecessors neither said nor could.

And so we take our seats, curious, eager and a little nervous, and silence our phones. What is the Carrie be like How will the audience react? What will all of this mean for Peirce?

The lights go out. We have been groping in the dark as we have for months, for years, waiting for the girl with the hidden powers to return.

If you start with a secret, says Peirce, and talks about the dramatic structure, then that secret is obviously revealed as the film progresses. This exposure is generally the point of crisis. What I find in my films is that after the crisis in the second act, the third act is, 'How do you deal with your secret being revealed?'

This is the new life for the character.

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