Two Generations of Bad Girls: Wild Child is Born
Screenwriter Lucy Dahl based her script for Wild Child on two quite different eras in her life. As a girl, she attended boarding school in England, and as an adult, she lived in Los Angeles and became the mother of teenage daughters. As she observed the behavior of her children and their school friends, she grew fascinated by their culture...and the similarities of young women across generations.
When imagining Wild Child, Dahl drew from a difficult time in her life about which she is not so proud. She relates, “I wrote the screenplay based on my antics when I was at school. I did actually set my school on fire, and I was expelled. I did have a real Mrs. Kingsley [the headmistress], and she was lovely.”
Her mentor’s feelings toward Dahl changed the day she learned what happened. Notes the screenwriter: “She was just so disappointed when she found out that I had done it. I called my Dad the day afterwards—because we didn’t get caught right away—and I said, ‘Someone set fire to the school last night!’ My Dad called Mrs. Kingsley and said, ‘There’s a maniac in your school! You’ve got to find her and get her out.’ He was a bit embarrassed when he found out it was me.”
Lucy was not the only Dahl in her family who was prone to acting up and upon whom the characters of Poppy and her clique were based. As she recalls, “I wrote it when I had teenage daughters in L.A. Girls at that age can be so horrible to each other. I’ve seen it and been the mean girl myself, and when you get older you just think, ‘Girls, girls, girls...don’t do it!’” Naturally, with all difficulty, there was humor to be found.
Working Title Films’ Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner responded to the coming-of-age tale and dark humor in Dahl’s script. Offers Bevan, “Wild Child is a fun and fresh departure for us, being the first film we have made specifically for teenage girls. We were drawn by Lucy’s sparky screenplay and the opportunity to show off the talents of a new emerging group of young actresses, led by Emma Roberts.”
Bevan and Fellner asked producer Diana Phillips to work alongside them for the film. As an American living in London and the mother of three daughters, Phillips had a solid understanding of the issues young girls faced as they grew up...and what it felt like to be a fish out of water.
Based on his longstanding relationship with Working Title, prolific editor Nick Moore was brought on to the project as a first-time director. This was the next logical step for the man who had edited a string of commercial and critical hits—including Notting Hill (starring another famous Roberts), About a Boy, Love Actually and Nanny McPhee—for the studio.
As Phillips suggests, Moore’s reputation as an established romantic comedy editor made him a natural fit to helm his own film. “Nick brings so much to the film from his perspective as an editor. His reputation as an amazing editor, much deserved, really does show up in his plans and preparations for the shooting.”
With its comedy, heart and universal themes of growing up and loss, Wild Child’s script struck a chord for Moore. He also saw in Dahl’s work an opportunity to create a film that would appeal to both American and British filmgoers, as well as audiences across the globe.
The filmmaker liked the throughline of teenagers coming to terms with the people they are becoming. He especially enjoyed Poppy’s arc of growing closer to her father again after her mother’s death devastated their family. “There’s a good moral story in there,” Moore provides. “Poppy wasn’t bad; she was a bit lost and needed to find herself.” He admits, however, “I also like to be cheered up by movies; it’s important to send people away feeling positive. If you’re crying a little and then a joke comes along, the joke’s all the better. Or if you’re laughing and then there’s an emotional bit, it feels sweeter.”
With the script set and the director chosen, the filmmakers would begin the search for a spoiled Malibu princess and a band of girls brought in to her life to, alternately, tempt and save her.