“The Edge Of Seventeen is a story of a girl trying to find connection and contact with anything and anyone. The most satisfying thing is watching her realize that it’s been there all along.”
Creating a film about growing up in our digital age took a writer who could poignantly capture the voice of this generation. From writer/first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge Of Seventeen is a coming-of-age comedy with a refreshingly authentic voice.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) are inseparable best friends attempting to navigate high school together… until Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and Krista begin dating. With her view of the world rocked, Nadine is forced to see the people in her life – including her well-meaning but distracted mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and unlikely mentor and History teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) – with fresh eyes and new appreciation that people—and life—are more complicated than she thought.
Fremon Craig was inspired to pen The Edge Of Seventeen by the authentic teen films of her youth, a type of film not often found in today’s marketplace.
“I’ve always been intrigued by periods of rapid emotional growth and self-examination, when situations change around us, forcing us to step into new roles and re-determine who we are and how we feel about ourselves. I started this project in an effort to try to capture this particular age and generation as truthfully as I could and with a respect for the complexity and messiness of it all. Passing from youth to adulthood is intense and terrifying and beautiful, and in many ways the experience of anyone, any age, shedding their old self and becoming new. I wanted to explore that.”
Fremon Craig’s spec script about a girl and her best friend in high school came to the attention of legendary Oscar and EmmyAward-winning producer James L. Brooks at Gracie Films.
“Kelly had a first draft and when we first talked – just as she was leaving the office – she turned around and she said ‘No one will ever work harder than I do.’ And that did it,’” laughs Brooks.
“Our time together had been just a surface meeting until that moment. I took it as somebody telling their core truth.” “Honestly, I wasn’t captivated by that first draft,” admits Brooks.
“It was good work. But when Kelly said that, then we went to work. She went away for a big chunk of time. I’m a big believer in research. She’d bring back interview tapes and we’d look at it and it would inspire us.” “The first time I read the script, I thought this is special,” remembers longtime Brooks collaborator and Gracie Films producer Julie Ansell.
“The characters were so full and so funny. We spent almost four years working on it, which is our process. This is what we like to do. We look for character-driven comedies and drama. We like to find a person with a voice, with something to say, and then help the writer fine-tune it. This is an amazing piece of writing”
“The thing that’s so great about Jim is he is so committed to capturing something honestly,” comments Fremon Craig. “Part of why we have such a good relationship is we both go nuts over getting the details right. Jim is always pursuing the truth. When we started this process, we took a journalistic approach. Are we saying something real? I really tried to figure out what was going on emotionally today, and how technology is affecting relationships. But interestingly, I found so much of the core things were exactly the same as my own coming-of-age experience.”
“Kelly came back with a second draft and it was oceans away. I have never thought it possible that there could be that great a difference between a first and second draft because in that second draft, there was a voice, there was somebody who saw the world differently,” says Brooks.
“With every movie there is a constituency and that constituency knows whether or not you are telling the truth. There were people who talked differently and yet revealed themselves to be familiar people as they talked differently. The dialogue was brilliant, the story came together and it was daring and fresh. I was flap-jawed. From that point, Kelly was an extremely talented woman taking the express train to her destiny.”
“Kelly was amazing during the whole development process,” agrees Ansell. “She threw herself into it. She got into the pain and everything she found elevated the script from a very funny, sweet script into something that really hit you honestly. Kelly captures the voice of these kids, and got the emotions that I remember feeling back in high school, when there’s inherently so much drama and so much that you learn about yourself. You have to go through the pain of finding out who you are, to come out the other end as a stronger person.”
“You are paying very righteous dues when you do research,” adds Brooks. “The third time you hear something you think it’s generally true. But also, meeting those kids, seeing those faces in your head… it creates something in you that wants to serve their truth. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in creating characters that linger.”
“In my opinion, she wrote literature,” Brooks furthers. “A voice is an unusual thing in Hollywood, and for somebody to come along with an individual voice and get their movie made is a big deal. When there’s a distinctive voice in a script, and it doesn’t happen that often, it’s great to show up. At 3:00 in the morning on a cold set, you have to know why you’re there.”
Brooks describes the story succinctly. “After reading the first draft, there were some people who wanted to title the film Besties, and that first draft focused on a friendship between two girls. But now it’s about a lot more than that. The friendship is still the catalyst for a lot of action, and the story is mainly about this central character Nadine, but there are a couple of people in this movie with secrets, which adds great tension.”
Nadine and Krista are inseparable friends… until Nadine discovers Krista has quietly begun dating Nadine’s older brother Darian.
“Nadine’s a girl who has always been on the outside, but she’s had her one anchor, her best friend Krista,” Ansell describes. “But it’s that time to start growing and moving on and Krista’s started to do that. Nadine comes to realize that a lot of what she thought about the people in her life is actually not true. She begins to see life through eyes other than her own. By the end of the movie, she starts to understand that people and life are more complicated.”
Gracie Films’ reputation for acclaimed and thoughtful material as well as their track record for mentoring fresh filmmakers made it the perfect home for Fremon Craig and her screenplay. “I don’t do this very often and when I do, the motivation is always the same… a writer with a real voice, and that writer will always play a continuing role with the movie. That’s all we do with our little group,” says Brooks.
“The first writer we worked with was Cameron Crowe for a picture called Say Anything, and he ended up directing that project. With Wes Anderson on Bottle Rocket, we knew he was going to direct going in, and with Kelly we knew it going in. We knew this would be her film to direct.”
As with any first-time director, there were concerns.
“Kelly is an Orange County girl, just a delightful human being and there was a moment when we worried whether she’d be too nice for the job,” laughs Brooks. “But she’s a force of nature. I don’t think she knew it was going to come to her like that. It’s a passion project and something went off inside her. Two days in, we knew she was born for the job, which has been great to see.”
Co-Producer Amy Brooks adds, “One of Kelly’s strengths is that she’s always open, always learning and she can’t get her fill. Even when filming, Kelly never stopped the research process. Kelly brings rawness and laughter, and I feel so lucky that I get to go to work and sit next to Kelly every day. She allows you to be yourself. That’s what the cast feels and I know that’s what the whole crew feels.”
The dialogue in the movie is particularly raw, especially from the main character Nadine.
“We might be the only R-rated movie that cheered when we were told that we could be an R. Not because we wanted to be a shocking R, but because to be an R meant letting everybody let it rip and be themselves. It wasn’t like we’re gunning for a certain rating, it was just about being real,” says Amy Brooks. “It is rated R for reality. The film had to have the cadence and the heart and rhythm of how people really talk to each other. That was so important to Kelly. If you spend two seconds with Kelly, you see she goes for the truth all the time.” “Plus every five pages there’s a twist,” adds Amy Brooks. “When you started to think you’d figured out what this movie was about, there was a surprise. The story is familiar and comforting, like you want a movie to be, but full of surprises.”
The film has themes that will resonate with all audiences. “When times seem really down, you learn from it and go through it and become stronger,” adds Ansell.
“It’s about how friendship can wax and wane and change. People change, a mother and daughter can come to understand each other a little bit more. Audiences will feel an affection for Nadine and what she’s gone through in learning to understand herself, and come out ultimately feeling like this character’s going to be okay.”
Amy Brooks adds, “Kelly really captured the comedy and sadness in how a family falls apart and comes together and falls apart and comes together while they’re grieving. She also captured that teacher that calls you out, that you hold onto for the rest of your life because that teacher got you as you…saw you and celebrated that. I hope everyone feels ‘I got this movie in a personal way and it’s mine. This movie was for me.’ But this movie is for all of us.”
“I hope that people watch this film and think ‘I know that person, I am that person, I’ve been there, and I’ve felt that’,” comments Fremon Craig. “I hope people see themselves reflected in it. That was my own experience writing it.”
“This movie fits into that genre of the classic John Hughes films and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but also I feel like this is breaking the mold,” says Jenner. “I haven’t read a movie that’s about coming into your own and finding yourself that has perfect balance between comedy and drama, but this makes you laugh and cry like you’re a baby.” “You feel like you watched someone go through something, and really struggle to get there, but get there at the end,” says Richardson. “The lesson is no matter how hard and intense something seems in the moment, you’re going to get through it, learn from it, and end up being stronger.”
“When people come out of this movie, I really want them to know they can make it through. I wish more people had told me that high school will end,” says Calvert. “You’ll get out. There is life beyond. If I could speak to anyone struggling in high school, I would tell them that it ends. Life gets more interesting as you age. You do not want to peak in high school.”
“Growing up watching movies, they’ve always given me hope that no matter how bad problems get, you can solve them if you have the will to,” shares Szeto. “I hope this film draws attention to how fragile we all are and how, as human beings, our greatest asset is to be empathetic, which can also be our greatest downfall. Sometimes we overreact and it’s okay to admit that.”
Steinfeld sums up, “The Edge Of Seventeen is a story of a girl trying to find connection and contact with anything and anyone. The most satisfying thing is watching her realize that it’s been there all along.”