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10 Qs: Filmmaker Darren Stein

Darren Stein

Not every filmmaker can own camp quite like Darren Stein. The director behind the 1999 teen cult classic, Jawbreaker, has built his career around using subversive undertones to create bitingly funny films — like the Rose McGowan comedy or last year’s G.B.F.

His latest project is Lifetime’s final installment of the Dollanganger series, Seeds of Yesterday, which he adapted from V.C. Andrews’ controversial books. Not wanting to miss out on what he calls “a zeitgeist-y moment” for Lifetime, Stein jumped at the chance to write the screenplay.

Ahead of Sunday’s premiere, the filmmaker answered Out’s 10 most burning questions about Lifetime, Jawbreaker, and what’s next for the cult-classic 15 years later.

Out: You mentioned that you had the choice between If There Be Thorns and Seeds of Yesterday. Why did you want to write the final installment?

Darren Stein: At that point, all the rules are off. I feel like it’s the most bat-shit crazy of all the four books: One brother becomes paraplegic, the slutty little sister is trying to seduce her older brother, and Bart is like this American Psycho character being haunted by his great-grandfather and making everyone’s life hell, and they’re all under one roof, so there’s that hot house effect. I like that it ends in a tragic, melancholy way as well.

Were you a fan of the books growing up?

I was actually a big fan of the ‘80s Flowers in the Attic movie. I loved Louise Fletcher. It was such a guilty pleasure as a kid. It definitely hit a nerve for me—it was a really creepy movie. I was introduced to the books through that movie. But I then read them and I really enjoyed If There Be Thorns.

Between the ‘80s version and Lifetime, which of the films is campier?

I’m a child of the ‘80s, and for me the ‘80s will always win. There’s something a bit more unhinged when you don’t have the restrictions of a “Made for TV Movie.” The ‘80s Flowers was made by New World Pictures, and they made a lot cult films, like Heathers.

Lifetime made Flowers in a stylized way that was really exciting. I feel like Petals in the Wind took it to the campy place it wanted to be.

James Maslow

James Maslow in the Lifetime films

Is writing a Lifetime movie a badge of honor in some way?

I totally wear it as a badge of honor, I do. I think Lifetime movies are so fun. They’re trashy and they own it. Now that Lifetime is owning its brand, they’re getting really good, taking really interesting risks.

When Jawbreaker turned 15 years old last year did you have a special moment with it?

Yeah, we had a cool midnight screening of the movie at the Nuart [in Los Angeles]. That was a lot of fun because I hadn’t seen it projected on 35mm in so many years. It was great because kids came in costumes. There’s just so much love for that movie… We’re working on the musical version of it and so it’s taking on a new iteration for the stage. And there’s another film I’m developing from a YA novel that’s very much inspired by Jawbreaker that involves a kidnapping a member of a boyband. Hopefully, I’ll be making another dark comedy with crazy fangirls.

Were you able to still enjoy it, watching the film 15 years later?

Yeah, for me it’s more like opening a scrapbook. It’s like good memories, like nostalgia. The cool thing is I’m still friends with Rose [McGowan], Rebecca [Gayheart], and Julie [Benz]. There’s just good feelings about that history. I’m talking to Rose right now about a new project that I might be working on with her. It was great to be able to cast Rebecca in G.B.F.

The joy I get is seeing the audience’s reaction to it. The great thing about teen movies is that every year there’s a new batch of teenagers that discover all the teen movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s.   

The hallway scene with Rose, Julie, and Rebecca is so iconic. Is it crazy to think you own “defined” the entrance in a way?

It’s great to see that it gets referenced. I’ll never forget when I first read the screenplay for G.B.F., I was like, ‘Oh my god, there are so many slow-motion walks I’ve ever read. Am I really going to do that again?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah of course I am because the gay kid that saw Jawbreaker and dreamed of being in that walk is actually a character in this movie who gets to join the walk.’

So you’re still working on a musical version of Jawbreaker. What’s the status of that project?

We were supposed to premiere in November in Seattle, but it has been pushed because we have to figure out the rights with the studio. The rights that we had were more for a Broadway production, and now we are talking about doing a club tour… It’s a bummer.

Why did you decide to switch formats?

We cut it down from two acts to one, which is what I always thought it should be. It wants to be a fun experience. I don’t think every musical merits two acts. Also, Mean Girls is a Broadway show, Clueless is a Broadway show—well, that was never made. But I feel like Jawbreaker is more Off-Broadway or some kind of new way to experience theater. Instead of doing off-Broadway, we decided to find venues that rock bands play or big club spaces and have it be more experiential.  

Seeds of Yesterday premieres on Sunday, April 12 on Lifetime.

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