Although the film is a work of fiction, many of the film's elements came from the life of its writer and director, James Merendino. Merendino recalls that, "back in 1985, I was living in Salt Lake City, and at fourteen I was already different, already bizarre. I was bored and I was very much an outsider. I was a Catholic in a Mormon state, I was the geeky guy in the cafeteria who was always getting his arse kicked. I began listening to punk music because it appealed to me, and becoming a punk gave me the identity I was looking for. It was natural."
Despite Merendino's own experience with the punk scene, he avoided using it as subject matter for a film until 1996. As Merendino's remembers, "I attended a concert in San Francisco and (heavy metal band) 'Rage Against the Machine' were onstage and while they aren't a punk band, they had the same rhetoric, the same kind of lyrics dealing with anti-establishment themes and anger against the system. I looked out over about 75,000 kids, probably between the ages of fourteen and twenty, who were in the middle of a huge slam pit. I remember thinking, 'My God, nothing has changed. It's all about the same aggression, the same type of youth angst and anxiety we all go through."
Merendino finished the script in July of 1997 and was determined to make it before snow fell that year. This presented producer Sam Maydew with quite a challenge to finance, cast and complete pre-production before November.
Maydew took the script to Michael Peyser and Peter Ward at 'blue tulip productions.' Peyser and Jan De Bont had formed 'blue tulip' in order to focus their energies on cultivating emerging talented writers and directors. Utilizing resources available to them as established filmmakers, 'blue tulip' gives newcomers opportunities unlikely to to come from more conventional sources. "When I read the first page, it instantly intrigued me," says De Bont. "Stevo is the type of character that I think, as an audience, we can identify with because his whole rebelliousness is something that we all go through. He has the guts, in a town which for the rest of the people is pretty boring, to dare to be somebody and that gives him positive constructive energy to later really be somebody. I thought it could really be a fun and attractive movie."
One of the greatest challenges in the production was finding the right actor for the role of Stevo. Due to his screen time and narration, "We couldn't move foreword until we found exactly the right person," says Peyser. "Lillard has an energy that spins off of him, and I think that is the audience's perception of him, both onscreen and off."
Upon meeting Merendino, Lillard signed on for the part. Says Lillard, "I think (Merendino) is very gifted and very illuminating in the way he thinks. He challenges me and I loved the fact that he gave me the opportunity to come in to work."
During the shoot, the filmmakers repeatedly found themselves faced with the challenge of organizing a tight, disciplined filming around an inherently chaotic subject. For the punk concert scene, the filmmakers, working together with a local radio station, offered tickets to a concert for anyone who came dressed as a punk. The filmmakers got an overwhelming response and the cast of extras that the needed, but their actors were more concerned with partying than collaborating in the filmmaking process. As actor Jason Segel recalls, "I was supposed to push through the crowd and jump on stage, but these local guys were tough. During the first take, I was getting punched in the stomach and spit on. To get through I had to push through, but these guys just didn't care. They were there to mosh."
As much as Merendino sought to get the feel of the punk movement across, he also wanted to get the look just right. In terms of the colors he used, he explains, "The colors are in the form of an arc, starting off cold, progressing to warm, then getting cold again. The traditional way of portraying a nostalgia piece is to use sepia tones. To me, the past feels cold and the world is a cold place. I also used a lot of strong colors in the movie. The punk movement was about color. They colored their hair, put make up on their faces and used a lot of ugly colors like florescent green and puke yellow."
For production designer Charlotte Malmlof, Salt Lake City was a wonderful resource. She found the city rich in thrift shops, and she had a riot recreating such sets as Stevo's loft and the punk club.
Costume designer Fiora had a similar good time putting together the fashions for the cast. She began her career designing punk clothes and enjoyed returning to her roots for the film. The actors, daunted at first, grew to enjoy their outlandish outfits during the filming. Explains actress Annabeth Gish, "It gave me a real understanding of people who express themselves vibrantly with their external body. I felt so different in the clothes and the wigs, but I was still the same person inside. There are those of us who pretty much follow the rules of fashion and make up, and there are those of us who use it for expression and artistry. I remember when I came back after playing Trish, I had some holiday parties to go to and I found that I was actually doing the Fiora thing, creating my own look. After playing this character I felt freer in my own personality just to be."
Fiora did not, however, set out to bring the pink look back into style. Her main concern was to look at from a distance, with affection and humor. Explains Fiora, "I was very much aware of the period throughout the piece, but there was so much in the 80's that is visually unappealing to me now. I took a lot of the style from the work I was doing at the time. The tackiness was still appealing to me, but I was much more interested in gently mocking it than replicating it."
Merendino shares her stance on his view of the scene. He states, "I always observed it with humor. The punks weren't really filled with hate. It seemed to me that the whole idea was to do anything to be absurd or shocking. To look, in a way, post-apocalyptic, because during this period there was the constant threat of nuclear war. Their parents were always talking about how the world could be destroyed. There was no hope, no future."
That theme of hope is what brings the film to its final realization, with Stevo's acceptance of the fact that he lives in a world where hope is, in fact, possible. As Merendino explains, "Stevo realizes that there is a future and that his movement is the same as all other movements, that it is a cycle. He now can be who he is and bring that into his adult life. By Looking for flaws and inconsistencies in the system, he can create a new status quo. Ultimately, a new youth rebellion will come and question those changes into a better society."