Moving Pictures

Kimberly Peirce, director of the indie hit Boys Don't Cry, focuses her powers on Carrie.

by Paul Hond Published Fall 2013
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Moore and Moretz in “Carrie”. / © 2012 MGM Pictures Inc. and Screen Gems, Inc. / Michael Gibson“I know, I know,” Peirce said, “but there must be a way dramatically that this character can both want to be with women and dress like a boy. Because I do.”

Jacker said, “That’s the truth. That’s still not one dramatic need.”

Peirce understood. She had to find the one need that encompassed Brandon’s behavior. As she sat down to write the script, it came to her that what Brandon really craved was love and acceptance. Dressing as a man and being with women weren’t Brandon’s needs; they were the means to satisfy his need.

I’ve always been an insider and an outsider. I liked being an outsider because being an outsider helped me be inside myself.

Peirce made Boys as a twenty-minute film for her graduate thesis project. It was a troubled venture. Her producer left in the middle of it, and his replacement stole Peirce’s money and racked up car-rental bills and parking tickets. Peirce was desperate. Her life savings were gone and she had no producer. She did end up with gorgeous dailies, but didn’t have the final scene where Brandon dies.

Worse, her dailies — her raw, unedited footage — were still at DuArt, a postproduction facility on West 55th Street. Peirce couldn’t afford to get them out.

It was then, in 1994, that she was introduced to Christine Vachon.

Soon to found Killer Films, Vachon was the hottest indie producer in town. She’d made Rose Troche’s Go Fish and Todd Haynes’s Poison, with Haynes’s Safe and Larry Clark’s Kids set for release. Vachon, too, yearned to tell the Brandon Teena story. Through art-world friends, she had caught wind of Peirce’s project.

The producer invited the film student to her East Village office. Peirce was thrilled. It was a huge opportunity. But she had nothing to show. No short film, no feature.

She went to see Vachon anyway, thinking, “I’ve gotta get my goddamned dailies out of DuArt. Who’s gonna pay for that?”

At Killer Films, Peirce and Vachon sat down to talk. Peirce told Vachon about her own passion for the story. She said that though she had made a short, which was all she could afford, she’d realized while shooting it that it was meant to be a feature. Would Vachon like to see the dailies so she could know what she, Peirce, was up to?

Vachon was game. She sprang the dailies from DuArt and looked them over.

“Christine thought they were good,” Peirce recalls. “But she agreed with me: why would we pay to finish this as a short if we can make it as a feature?”

Five years later, they did.

Boys Don’t Cry went on to win dozens of awards from film-festival juries and critics’ societies, and earned Peirce a reputation so assured and enduring that, a dozen years later, as MGM discussed the resurrection of Carrie, the president of the studio’s film division, Jon Glickman, remembered Peirce and Boys Don’t Cry.

“Stephen King was incredibly sophisticated and ahead of his time, projecting what female power was going to do,” Peirce says of King’s 1974 novel, published a year after tennis player Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in their “Battle of the Sexes” and two years after the advent of Ms. magazine. “Both De Palma and King were looking ahead to what happens when women have power. I’m making this movie after women have power, so what does that look like?”

Peirce has argued for the book’s feminist aspects — the channeling of the fear of women’s power, the centrality of the female characters — but it’s clear that her Carrie will speak in ways that its predecessors did not and could not.

And so, curious, eager, and a little nervous, we take our seats and silence our phones. What will this Carrie be like? How will audiences respond? What will it all mean for Peirce?

The lights go down. We are in the dark, as we have been for months, for years, waiting for the return of the girl with the hidden powers.

“If you start out with a secret,” Peirce says, talking about dramatic structure, “then obviously, over the course of the movie, that secret will be exposed. That exposure is generally the crisis point. What I’m finding in my movies is that after the second-act crisis, the third-act turn is, ‘How do you deal with the fact that your secret has been exposed?’

“That’s the new life for the character.”

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