“We have with us tonight a true writer,” said Rocky Friedman, owner of the Rose Theatre, to a packed Starlight Room audience. “I know this because she gave me some of her bio to read. When she …
“We have with us tonight a true writer,” said Rocky Friedman, owner of the Rose Theatre, to a packed Starlight Room audience. “I know this because she gave me some of her bio to read. When she got here, she completely edited it.”
The guest of the night Friedman was referring to was Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, a Chimacum High School graduate and successful screenwriter, who has made a mark on the film industry with a platter of notable comedies.
The film screened for the occasion was her second feature, “Legally Blonde,” which she co-wrote with her writing partner Karen McCullah.
The screening was attended by her high school friends and parents, Katie and Mel Smith, of Port Ludlow, all of whom were jovial and excited to celebrate one of Smith’s works.
Friedman posed a few questions about “Blonde,” with the the eager audience asking about the third upcoming installment in the series. In vague terms and “yes” or “no” answers, Smith asked the audience to keep lips sealed.
Smith explained how she became involved with writing “Legally Blonde,” as it was based on the Amanda Brown novel. Smith said her and McCullah got their hands on the source material of the same name, through several producers, who asked if they could adapt it with a pitch of a “Clueless” meets “The Paper Chase.”
They read the novel and decided they could turn it into a movie, which was eventually sold to MGM for production. Smith recalled their pitch meetings, where the writing duo wore pink outfits just like the character of Elle Woods.
“It felt like a real blessing. It was the perfect bones of a story and great concept,” she said to the Starlight Room audience.
Actress Reese Witherspoon came on the project once the screenplay received its final punctuation mark, only after a producer suggested singer Britney Spears could lead the film, garnering laughs from the Starlight Room audience. Witherspoon did not have to audition as she was coming off the heels of 1999’s “Election,” earning her a Golden Globe nomination.
She gave notes for a bit of rewriting to sharpen up the script before heading into filming.
With a wide array of comedy films, which have been embraced by third- and fourth-wave feminists, “Legally Blonde” is one Smith admires for its stance in culture. One of the points proving prophetic in more recent times in Hollywood was a parallel with the Me Too movement. At a point in the film, a male character who has authority over Witherspoon’s career pushed for sexual favors, a story repeated in headlines during the past several years.
Smith said the inspiration for this third- act plot point was from hers and McCullah’s experience in the industry in their formative years.
“It was a good story turn, and certainly never something we thought of as a political statement or social statement,” she explained. “I’m excited to see that it’s no longer something that happens and we just move on with it.”
One of the most beloved scenes from “Legally Blonde” was when Witherspoon’s Woods teaches her manicurist Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) the “bend and snap” to woe a potential mate. This came from the need of a “second-act set piece.”
With many scenarios thrown out, such as the salon getting robbed or another crime element, nothing stuck.
Smith then suggested a move Elle could teach Paulette, which was pitched to the producer and stuck. Smith was happy to demonstrate how she envisioned the seminal move on the outside of Rose Theatre, with a giggle after every time.
To bring the scene to life, Toni Basil, known for her 1981 hit “Mickey,” was brought on as a choreographer. Smith was brought to Basil’s dance studio to teach the dancers who would play the salon staff and clients, including Witherspoon and Coolidge, how to do the “bend and snap.”
She also recalled when they made Elle’s admission video to get into Harvard Law School, Smith took pride in the “I object” retort to a cat call after telling the camera she is “comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life.”
How it started
Smith met her writing partner, McCullah, when she was working at a low-budget production company after college when she was sent one of her scripts. Impressed with one of McCullah’s works, she asked if they could meet. In a restaurant, the pair started on a script that same night on cocktail napkins. Now, years later, Smith and McCullah try to write a screenplay once per year. Smith and McCullah did not have their hands in the second of the series, “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde,” but will return to write “Legally Blonde 3.” She said it took more than three meetings during six years to finally get the third movie off the ground.
Sue Phillips, Smith’s high school English teacher, was a formative personality throughout Smith’s early years, giving her encouragement for her writing in every class Smith took from her.
Smith started out as a poet in high school and college, getting published in literary journals. Film became a passion when Smith frequented Port Ludlow Video from ages 10 to 18, poring over any movie she could rent from the rental service.
“I was a movie addict,” she said, adding she would work at the store during summers and the local library.
Friedman and Smith’s relationship spans back to when he was a maître d’ at a Port Townsend restaurant before buying and re-opening the theater. Since then, The Rose has held special screenings for Smith’s films, including “Legally Blonde’ and “Ella Enchanted” upon release.
Her “She’s the Man” screening was also paired with her first young adult novel, “Geography of Girlhood” in 2006, which was largely inspired by growing up in Chimacum, Port Ludlow and Port Townsend.
“It’s cool to have a body of work that spans from 1999 to 2008 … different generations have their own favorite,” Smith said.
As a working writer, Smith has had her hands in many projects, beginning with her first feature-length movie, “10 Things I Hate About You,” in 1999. Though “Blonde” was screened on the night of Aug. 17 at the Starlight, “10 Things” was the film organizers were looking to screen the same night, but due to difficulties obtaining a print, organizers went with her second project.
“10 Things” holds a special place in Smith’s heart as it was her first venture in the industry, as well as its ties to the Pacific Northwest, having been filmed in Tacoma.
When asked what other films she takes pride in, Smith pointed to 2006’s “She’s the Man” since she has noticed in recent years it has gained a following from college students and the younger generation.
Smith’s writing career in feature movies also includes 2004’s “Ella Enchanted,” 2008’s “The House Bunny,” and 2009’s “The Ugly Truth.” She was also an executive producer of “Whip It” and “The Ugly Truth,” and directed the 2008 short “The Spleenectomy.”
“The House Bunny” will have its 10-year anniversary this year, which also has stuck with her as one of her favorite films to be a part of due to her collaboration with star Anna Faris, another Puget Sound local.
She has written two books, “The Geography of Girlhood” and “Trinkets,” the latter of which will become a Netflix series set in Portland.
She has also written a comic book series with her fiance, Kurt Lustgarten, titled “Misfit City,” which will also be turned into a live-action series.
They describe the project as a female “Goonies” with a “Stranger Things” feel.
Another comic book project is “Smooth Criminals,” which Smith and Lustgarten are writing with Leisha Riddel.
Smith now has her hands in a new movie in the works with “Legally Blonde” director Robert Luketic for a film named “TMI,” as well as working on the screenplay with McCullah for “Legally Blonde 3,” which is slated for a 2020 release.