Interview: PROM writer Katie Wech
Late last week, I chatted with Katie Wech about her debut screenplay for Disney’s PROM, a charming film about a girl’s dedication to making her school’s prom the best night the student body has ever seen, and the students whose lives weave in and out in the weeks leading up to the big night.
Wech, a woman whose own prom experience mirrors the one of her protagonist Nova (they both fell for the well-meaning long-haired bad boy), shared why she chose prom as the backdrop for her story, why she loves writing empowered young women, and how she hopes the movie stays relevant for years to come.
Gwen: Why did you choose prom over any other school event?
Katie: I have my own story and my own experience from prom that I drew on, but the more I talked about it and asked people about it while I was generating the initial story idea, I realized that everyone has a story about their prom. Even people who didn’t go to their prom, their story became about what that did that night instead. It just became really interesting to me how out of all the nights during school that one night stays with us. You can ask someone in their 70s and they could probably tell you about their prom date as if it was the other day.
Prom was just this amazing experience of anticipation, dread, and hope that culminates in this one night that we all share together. It was structurally perfect for me. I just wanted to explore how universal prom is as a rite of passage and Joe Nussbaum put it the best way when he said every couple has their story. That became a theme that I wanted to work into every character.
Gwen: What did you want out of your characters?
Katie: I knew that was going to be the heart of making this an authentic, relevant movie. First of all I’ve just never been really good at “R” rated comedy, I’m just not that kind of writer. But I knew to earn credibility with a teenaged audience that is very sophisticated and exposed to a lot of material that isn’t “PG” I needed to build characters that they would really believe. And I think the key to that was just being as specific as possible about every single person, and give them traits totally unique to them.
Gwen: And you had a lot of characters to deal with…
Katie: Yes. At times it became very unwieldy.
Gwen: Were you ever concerned that a character’s story wouldn’t get told the way you hoped?
Katie: It’s funny you ask that, because Sean Bailey (producer, TRON: LEGACY) and I were marveling that the characters we started with were the ones we ended up with. It’s surprising that one or two of them didn’t get folded into each other, or somebody just fall away. But I have to give the actors a lot of credit that every storyline came out so strong in the final cut and what we hoped it would be on the page.
There are some roles that could have ended up on the cutting room floor, but because of the acting became some of the most delightful parts of the movie. Someone like Joe Adler just added something to Rolo that made him stick around and be memorable in that way you hope for. I would have thought some characters would end up on the chopping block, but we managed to preserve them all.
Gwen: What really struck me in PROM were the empowered young women you wrote…
Katie: This is a Disney movie, but it’s not a fairy tale. Not all the stories are happy endings, or at least not endings that you would have anticipated. I love that the prom queen goes by herself, I love the sophomore girl in this sort of existential dilemma who tortures a sophomore boy for a good portion of the movie and we still root for them to be together in the end. In teen movies the audience tends to make up its mind so quickly about who is the good guy and who the bad guy, but really it’s more ambivalent than that. I think the girls really carry so much of the emotional weight of the story, and it was a delight to broaden the perspective of the story through them.
Gwen: I saw a lot of TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU in PROM, what other movies influenced you?
Katie: Yeah, I hear that a lot since both films have an interweaving storylines. I graduated in the late 90s so I’m kind of a John Hughes girl. I always think of Duckie showing up at the dance in PRETTY IN PINK or Jack Ryan kissing Samantha Baker over the top of a birthday cake in SIXTEEN CANDLES, those are the movie moments I remember. I felt like I was seeing myself reflected on the screen and thinking I could do that. When I write, I write for the 17 year-old version of myself. But what I really want is to write something that feels as relevant to a 17 year-old today as those movies felt to me.
PROM opens nationwide Friday, April 29. Now grab you fanciest tiara or classiest bow tie and reminisce about your own prom.