BY MEREDITH MCKEE
Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, screenwriters of the HLS fairy tale “Legally Blonde,” say they have made a business out of being hip.
“There’s some sort of weird fusion of both our sensibilities put together that equates hip,” Smith said. “And it’s not really manufactured by us, it just sort of happens when we collaborate.”
But Lutz and Smith, who previously sold the script for “10 Things I Hate About You,” wanted their latest movie to be more than just a comedy.
“We definitely wanted to have a ‘Don’t let other people define you’ message,” Lutz told the RECORD.
Smith added: “We wanted to do a female empowerment movie, and I think it definitely comes across as that. And it’s very seductive and it’s fun and it’s candy-colored and gloss, but I think there’s a good message for girls, and women, and even boys.”
Lutz and Smith were brought onboard when producer Marc Platt asked them to turn a book by the same name into a screenplay.
Author Amanda Brown, an attorney, had written the book “Legally Blonde” after she graduated from Stanford Law School as an “anthropological study of the law school species.” Not surprisingly, Brown set the story at her alma mater, not HLS.
Working from Brown’s manuscript, Lutz and Smith concocted a version of the story for the big screen. After nervously pitching the proposed story line to the studio “suits,” Lutz and Smith were given approval to draft a script.
“We had come up with a fairly cohesive outline for it, but it was clear to Marc Platt, the producer, who went to law school – he’s also a lawyer – that he wanted us to be able to flavor this with the realities of law school,” Smith explained.
So Lutz and Smith went to Stanford Law School.
“We were there during orientation and the introductory period, so we got a lot of those ‘Your life is going to be hell – wink, wink’ speeches,” Smith said. “The problem was that we were there when, like, everyone’s bonding and getting to know each other. When we told them that we were screenwriters just doing research, they just dropped us like hot potatoes, because we weren’t really going to be of use to them.”
Lutz chimed in, mimicking a Stanford 1L: “You’re not going to be my new best friend? Buh-bye!”
The 2Ls and 3Ls, Lutz said, were more cooperative.
“They, like, needed the fresh blood,” she said. “They lived through the war of it, all the horror, so they had stories to tell us.”
From all of that “horror,” Lutz and Smith created some key scenes, such as the one early in the movie where Elle Woods is sitting in an A-group circle listening to her classmates introduce themselves. The students’ ridiculously complicated pedigrees satire what Lutz and Smith observed at Stanford.
“I think the law students at Stanford, most of them were degree junkies,” Lutz said. “Like, they had three or four under their belt, and they were there to get another one. Like, ‘Why get a job when we can go to law school and go to school for three more years?'”
Lutz and Smith also created the part of Professor Stromwell, played by The Practice’s Holland Taylor, from what they observed.
“There were a lot of woman professors at Stanford,” Lutz explained. “The dialects of the law professors were really good.”
Taylor’s role was modeled after the famous fictional character “Professor Kingsfield,” who struck terror in the hearts of HLS students in “The Paper Chase.” Taylor was perfect for the role, Lutz said, because “she has that hoity-toity accent.”
Only after the script was finished was the movie set at HLS.
“The director said, ‘Why don’t we got to Harvard so she’s even a bigger fish out of water?'” Lutz recalled. “We all thought that was a good idea. It made her more of a fish out of water to put her on the East Coast.”
Smith added: “Right, cause she’s, like, the sunny California girl so it seems like more of a culture shock for her and for all of the law students to see her there.”
Once the movie was set at HLS, Lutz and Smith said, there was a big push to film in Cambridge. But instead of spending the extra $5 million to move the film to Harvard, Lutz said, the director decided to bring Harvard to Los Angeles.
“Our production designer, Missy Stewart, actually had shot ‘Good Will Hunting’ [in Cambridge], so she was very detailed about having little yellow silk leaves tied in the trees to make it look like fall,” Smith said. “She did a lot of little things like that.”
After more than a few “likes” and “you knows,” one begins to wonder just how closely Lutz and Smith identified with the character of Elle Woods.
At James Madison University, Lutz was a blonde sorority girl who majored in marketing and minored in fashion merchandising.
“I took it as a minor ’cause I partied too much and needed to up my GPA,” she ex-plained.
Lutz later married her fraternity boyfriend and moved to California.
Smith, a California native, studied film at NYU and graduated from Occidental College. The team got started after Smith read one of Lutz’ scripts.
“Kirsten had quit her job and we decided to write a script ’cause we worked together so well,” Lutz said.
Since that first script, Lutz and Smith have been working together for five-and-a-half years. They got their start by selling “10 Things I Hate About You,” starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, and are now working on a project with Robert DeNiro. Smith and Lutz are also working with Marc Platt on another Reese Witherspoon movie, “Honey West.” Due to their busy schedule, Smith and Lutz will not be writing the sequel to “Legally Blonde.”
“MGM wants to rush the sequel into production, and they don’t want to wait for us to finish our other commitments,” Lutz said.
She continued, laughing: “So I’m sure they’ll come back to us and beg us to write it when they get a crappy script.”
Nor will Smith or Lutz enroll in law school anytime soon. From what they saw at Stanford, the duo said they were not impressed.
“Can I tell you how boring those classes were?” Lutz said. “Like, oh, my God! They’d take a break about halfway through and Kirsten and I would look at each other and just be, like, ‘We’re not going back in there.'”