Exclusive Interview: ‘Whip It’ Screenwriter Dishes Some Details

Whip It ain’t just a song by Devo. And it ain’t just an entertaining thing to do to your best friend’s bare ass.

Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s forthcoming directorial debut, due to start production in March. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a girl who finds her identity through the power of roller derby, based on Shauna Cross’ novel, Derby Girl.

Cross generously agreed to an e-mail interview with your humble Reject, and what follows is a slew of inside dirt on what promises to be one of the most memorable films of ’08.

FSR: When did you find out Drew Barrymore was interested in adapting Derby Girl?

SC: I started playing roller derby at the infancy of the revival (there were only four leagues when I started).

I never expected to write about it. But every time I met with my friend Kiwi Smith to discuss writing, I would end up telling her all the latest, hilarious derby stories and she kept saying “You have to write about this. You have to!”

So, finally I tried writing it as a young adult novel (which seemed less risky), which quickly sold in the form of Derby Girl. Meanwhile, the derby phenomenon started to grow and I learned there were a couple of competing roller derby film projects in Hollywood.

So, with Kiwi as a producer, I developed a pitch for Derby Girl, which became Whip It. Flower Films got it right away and now it’s being made by Mandate Pictures (Stranger Than Fiction, Juno). Flower Films (Drew Barrymore and her partner Nancy Juvonen) is producing with Barry Mendel and Kiwi Smith. Mandate is the studio/financier. And they rule.

Funny thing is, I ended up writing the book and the screenplay simultaneously.

It wasn’t until after I turned in the script that Drew really fell in love with the idea of directing it. And I’m so glad she did because I think she will do a really lovely job. She’s got that whole smiley-sweet persona, but she’s one smart cookie with a lot of soul and great creative instincts.

Why was the title changed to Whip It?

A book by a first-time writer is a hard thing to market, so the title has to sum it up fast, hence Derby Girl.

But movies have trailers and posters and all kinds of marketing around them, so a mysterious title can work better. So, Derby Girl became Whip It because, as any derby girl worth her Reidells knows, the whip is a signature move in roller derby.

I wish they had the same title, but alas, it’s out of my hands.

To what extent, if any, is the story autobiographical?

Like my lead character, Bliss, I grew up just outside Austin and was a
pretty precocious teen, full of sarcasm and wit and hijinks (as were my friends, most of whom were older). But I was also really sensitive, hiding that vulnerability with humor.

And, of course, I play roller derby. But if I had found it when I was 16, I would have done it in a heartbeat — even if I had to lie about my age (like Bliss does).

My mom did not push me into beauty pageants, but I grew up with those girls and it always fascinated/creeped me out.

The juxtaposition of the beauty pageant world and the roller derby world was really fascinating to me because they both represent two extreme ideas of femininity.

One is about perfectly coifed physical perfection, but when you look closer, it’s actually kind of brutal, I think. While the other is anarchy and bruises, and yet, it’s the most female-empowering thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s like plastic sexy versus real sexy.

Who do you hope will go see Whip It?

Um, I’d settle for all the people who saw Transformers. That’d rock my socks off.

Honestly, I don’t even think about it. I just get chills thinking how no one has really captured the sport on film with multi-cameras and great editing. It’s gonna be sick, yo.

Any word on casting for the movie?

Rumor is the lead could be played by an actress whose name rhymes with “Shmellen Shmage.” (Translates to: Ellen Page?)

But what do I know? I’m just the writer.

Do you know how involved you will be during the actual production of the film?

So far, it’s been really collaborative (a dream experience), but I’m a WGA writer, which means I’m on strike right now.

Has the WGA strike affected the production?

Not yet, but it could if it continues until June, when the actors are likely to join the writers striking. Then the whole town will shut down. It’s kind of a crazy touch-and-go time in Hollywood right now.

Do have anything else you’re working on that you want to plug :-) ?

I have a rebel cheerleader movie at Disney called Shake It Up.

And I’m writing a script for an indie called Reason Pictures about (true story) a group of strippers in San Francisco who formed a union. Sexy, hilarious and political.

I guess my thing is funny, smart rebel girls. Though I’d love to eventually write about dudes, since I grew up with all brothers.

J.L. Sosa is a freelance writer, photographer and horror filmmaker. He's burdened with an irrational fear of spiders and clowns. He loves (in descending order of magnitude) his girlfriend, his pets and spinach.

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