WHATEVER began to come together when writer/director Susan Skoog showed her screenplay to friend and former VH-1 colleague Ellin Baumel, who immediately committed to co-produce with Skoog. By summer, the ambition to make the film was being tested by its cost and production needs. Skoog's friend Michelle Yahn (director of the Cinewoman Film Series in L.A.) suggested her hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia as possible "cheat" location, and producer/director Kevin Segalla joined to create a strong and capable production team.
Once the core team was assembled, the filmmakers found that an overwhelming number of people were responding to the script and offering to help. Crew, film vendors, creative personnel, and just plain citizens - from 47-year old men to 18-year old girls - were all extraordinarily generous and helped to make the film a reality - joined by their common nostalgia of that age and the authentic echo of youthful struggle in the script.
Says Baumel, "I loved the language of the script, and its incredible balance. I think most women can identify with the character of Anna. That age is an unheaval and it's traumatic. But she maintains a shred of self-awareness that's the difference between survival and oblivion. And we all knew someone like Brenda. But Susan gives her humanity. She doesn't fall into the trap of making her either the happy, enthusiastic tramp or a hard, unsympathetic character. Susan's script truly taps into that feeling everyone has when they are about to leave high school and face the daunting task of becoming an adult. It's not simply a woman's story. Her male characters are equally developed and honestly portrayed. It's a universal theme."
"Anna and Brenda create the situations they find themselves in, and ultimately pay the consequences. They may not quite be women, but these girls are responsible for the situations they fall into. That, to me, is the true cross-over into adulthood, regardless of your gender. Also, there's some element of Anna and Zak in alot of people who see the film, whether you share the exact same experiences as those characters. There's a fantasy of living through the film. A vicarious living of danger missed. And witnessing the consequences. One falls and one moves forward. Sony [Pictures Classics] responded in that fashion. They recognized that element."
The script for WHATEVER reached across gender lines to attract a creative team including Emmy Award-winning Editor Sandy Guthrie, Casting Director Adrienne Stern (GIRLSTOWN), and Directors of Photography Michael Barrow (HEAVY, CAUGHT) and Michael Mayers (SPANKING THE MONKEY). The production continued to flourish with practical support from suppliers, including WRS Film Lab, Xeno Lights of New York City and Kodak.
The film's music is not simply a design meant to establish the time period. It captures a timeless coming-of-age habit to marry every experience with a soundtrack. In WHATEVER, scenes, characters and situations play out against a musical backdrop that includes Roxy's Music's "Love Is the Drug", Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and Aimee Mann's "I Should Have Known," among others.
"I actually scripted a lot of the music used in the film from the first draft", confesses Skoog. "It's a constant from generation to generation. The first time you fell in love. The first time you kissed. The first time you had sex. One always remembers what song was playing, and that music is forever united with that experience or that person. I also used music during the production as a director's tool. Sometimes I played the music I wanted behind a particular scene for the cinematographer to pace his shot. Other times, I played it for the actors to communicate the emotional life of a scene. Songs can have an emotional essence that exceeds verbal description."
Casting WHATEVER seems to have followed a kismet as immediate as the film's music. Chad Morgan originally read for the character of Anna, and flew to New York for further auditions to secure a role in a script she treasured. During the New York sessions, casting director Adrienne Stern suggested that Weil read Anna against Morgan as Brenda.
"Liza nailed it perfectly," says Skoog. "Both of them [Weil and Morgan] are brilliant, but the distinction between Anna and Brenda is identical to the different styles and strengths of Liza and Chad. Liza had perfect chemistry with every actor that auditioned. And Anna ultimately strikes a symbolic note with everyone around her. The chaos and trauma she invites are simply a scream. A silent scream of her frustration in not being sure how to put things right. You can see that scream welling up behind Liza's eyes. But Brenda has been damaged by relationships, and a bit of herself has disappeared because of that. While she's more reckless than Anna, all her experiences are muted by that part she's locked away. Chad is able to express that without words."
WHATEVER was shot in West Virginia over five weeks in September and October 1996. Called the "Friendly City" by civic boosters, the Wheeling community extended themselves in every conceivable way.
Says Skoog, "The shoot went exceptionally well. Parts were difficult of course because, as a low-budget independent film, we never had enough money but we had wonderful people working on the movie. I was very flattered by how many people came onto the project because they agreed that it was an important story to tell. Our Production Designer (Dina Goldman) gave up a big-budget film to do WHATEVER for virtually no money, because she felt that this story hadn't been told on film -- what it's really like. A girl's experience of those years; realistically-told and not sugar-coated. There were so many of us that felt passionately about the film, so that making it was a really rewarding experience."