Katie Silberman likes to describe herself as a Molly sun under an Amy moon with a Jared rising, “but little elements of all of them,” she adds.
The Booksmart screenwriter is calling me from her apartment in Santa Monica, where she is staring at a Jane Eyre poster she stole from Amy’s room, just above the fictional teen feminist’s desk. It now hangs above her own desk in an homage to a film — and an experience — that she calls truly special. These teen characters are so much a part of her that she now talks about them like astrology, which to any Millennial is to say that they are ingrained in her very soul.
But Booksmart is more than a modern teen classic, a tale of two precocious overachievers (played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who try and cram four year’s worth of teenage debauchery into one unforgettable night. It’s a touching, frequently hilarious story of female friendship and, essentially, a breakup movie rolled into one. But it’s also what happens when you let women tell the kinds of stories they want to tell. Helmed by actor Olivia Wilde — her directorial debut — Booksmart boasts four credited writers, a handful of producers (including Silberman), a production designer, an editor, a post-production supervisor, and a sound mixer that all have one thing in common: they’re women. “There was something special about designing a teenage girl’s bedroom with someone who had been a teenage girl in a bedroom,” Silberman says.
Below, Silberman talks about how Booksmart honors the teen movies of the past while carving out a unique space of its own, what the actors brought to their roles, and why the film’s most outrageous scene is so essential.
MTV News: I’m curious, what were you like in high school?
Katie Silberman: In so many ways this is a very autobiographical story for me. I would say in high school I was probably closest to a Molly in that I really prioritized school and wasn’t super social. I didn’t really experiment or try or have the kind of wild fun that I think high schoolers should have. And I had convinced myself it’s because I was focusing on school and I was focusing on the future and I was making the responsible choice. Then when I got to college I realized that everyone that I thought had chosen to have fun instead of focusing on their future were just as smart — if not much smarter than me — and doing much better than me in all those ways. It wasn’t responsibility that was stopping me from doing all those things, it was fear and insecurity.
Writer Katie Silberman, actor Austin Crute, director Olivia Wilde, and actor Noah Galvin on the set of Booksmart
MTV News: So much has been said about the authenticity of the film, and that even extends to their rooms. I feel like you would learn so much about Molly just by looking at what’s in their room.
Silberman: Totally. There was a shorthand about the way girls live in their spaces and it’s so layered. I mean, there were so many elements of Molly and Amy’s room that no one will ever see in the movie, but that Katie Byron, our production designer, layered and created and gave such a great texture to. There are all the different posters and frames and awards between the two rooms, and notes between them. And little knickknacks! Molly loved Harry Potter. There’s like a tiny little Snitch hiding in her room somewhere that you should see if you can find next time. It’s so cool.
MTV News: This is definitely a film for the Harry Potter generation.
Silberman: I’m 32, so I kind of grew up with the books at the perfect ages. When Harry was 10, I was 11, and when Harry was 18, I was 20. So I got to grow up with him in a way. It’s become this qualifier in terms of making young people identify those qualities about themselves. Like, am I a Hufflepuff? I’m pretty thoughtful, but I also like academics. Maybe I’m a Ravenclaw. There’s a shorthand too that we understand, like you’re being a little Slytherin right now and I need you to take a step back. I’m also thrilled when someone is a self proclaimed, very proud Slytherin. Noah Galvin, who plays George, is like out-loud Slytherin all day. I love it. He owns it.
MTV News: I love that Molly gets turned on by the fact that Nick correctly identifies her as half Slytherin, half Ravenclaw.
Silberman: We added that after we started shooting because Beanie and I are both such rabid fans. It was really fun when we realized that the thing that would arouse Molly most in the world is someone correctly identifying her house and also that that’s the thing that really for the first time makes her take a second, rethink how she’s been talking and feeling about Nick, that if Nick could recognize that he’s a much different person than she thought.
MTV News: When Molly and Amy arrive at the party, they’re nervous that no one wants them there when in reality everyone is like, “We’ve been waiting for you! We’re happy that you’re here.” I thought that was a really lovely way to subvert so many stereotypes.
Silberman: That’s so meaningful that you noticed that scene because that was kind of one of the most important scenes to us when Olivia