Categories Articles & Interviews

Hilary and Molly Smith on Producing Something Borrowed and What Makes a Good Chick Flick

The forthcoming romantic comedy Something Borrowed, based on Emily Giffin’s bestselling novel, has more at stake than just living up to the expectations of book’s devoted fan base. It’s also the long-awaited first completed effort by the producing team at 2S Films — an upstart shingle co-founded by a certain double-Oscar winner you may have heard of. No pressure!

Hilary Swank and her producing partner Molly Smith launched 2S in 2007, soon acquiring properties like Something Borrowed and French Women Don’t Get Fat (another chick-lit smash) for development alongside Swank’s own acting work. Borrowed was the first to emerge for the screen, enlisting Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson for the story of best friends Rachel and Darcy, whose relationship is thrown into tumult when Rachel drunkenly sleeps with Darcy’s fiance. An affair ensues, further complicating matters. (The film opens nationwide May 6.)

According to Swank and Smith, this isn’t your average lilting romcom — which is precisely the quality, they say, that attracted them to the material (as well as Giffin’s sequel, Something Blue) and helps guide their creative decisions going forward. They spoke to Movieline about their process, their interests, what romantic comedy needs now, and what’s good and bad about the phrase “chick flick.”

How did you two meet and decide to go into business together?
SMITH: We’ve actually known each other for 13 years. I used to get her coffee on set. P.S. I Love You was actually the first film I creatively produced; obviously, Hilary starred in that film. And we just bonded so much over movies and the stories we wanted to tell, the types of movies we loved, our sensibility and our work ethic. We have a lot of very similar personality trait, and it just works. We partnered about three and a half years ago.

SWANK: Molly pretty much summed it up. Our taste in material… Being in a partnership like this is like a marriage. You don’t want to ride somebody to do their side of things. We both bring our own separate strengths to the company, which really complement each other. But like she said, we have the same work ethic, which is really one of the most important things. We don’t take no for an answer until we’ve hit every single roadblock. And again, our taste in material is very much the same. And that’s key.

Can you be a little more specific regarding those tastes? What are you both looking for?
SMITH: We just like stories that move you emotionally. Whether that’s to laugh or cry or both — which I think is a great combo. It’s not so much genre-specific. The characters need to be grounded and emotional and have a lot of heart. That can be a smart thriller, it can be in a really powerful period drama. We’re open. But it’s really about, “What is the story we’re trying to tell?” What we loved about Something Borrowed is that Emily Giffin writes these real, flawed characters and puts you in these sorts of moral-dilemma stories. We thought it as a great story to tell about friendship.

Hilary, for folks who might not be familiar with the distinction between producer and executive producer — your duties on Something Borrowed vs. Conviction, for example — how would you describe it?
SWANK: I would say that everything I’ve executive produced has come to me already developed, usually with a director on board. I just help to get it green-lit by getting the financing or getting the cast or, from there on, the music or editing that comes later. Actually being a hands-on producer means you’re developing it from the very beginning, whether it means adapting it from the book — where you go and find a writer — or just finding the original material. And you’re shepherding it through to the end. Every single choice, you’re making. You’re hiring that writer. You’re hiring that director. So it’s a little bit more involved.

Actors have always produced, but you’re seeing a lot more actresses get involved over the last five or six years. But it’s often connected to films they’re developing for themselves. Where does something like Something Borrowed fit on this spectrum?
SWANK: We’ve always said from the very beginning that the things we produce aren’t necessarily going to be vehicles for me to star in. That’s not why we started the production company. There are so many stories that I want to be a part of telling, and I can’t do that just as an actor. We just want to find those stories, and if it fits for me, great. If it doesn’t, great.

The two of you optioned the bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat as well as the Something Borrowed books. Whatever happened to that adaptation?
SWANK: Still working on it!

SMITH: Still working on it. We’re hoping it’s one of our very near-future projects. The screenplay is still in development. But we love that project, and we love the message of it. So we’re working on the script.

How is that book going to work as a movie?
SWANK: Well, it’s kind of a diet and lifestyle book. But we bought it as a pitch from a writer named Heather Hach, who had basically written a story around the rules of this diet and lifestyle way. And she did it in a very smart and clever way. It’s basically about a girl who ends up working for Veuve Clicquot Champagne and ends up having to go to France and learn the French way of life and these sort of secrets to why French women don’t get fat. It’s a really great message about learning how to slow down and savor and enjoy life. And we think that’s a really timely theme; we’re excited to tell that story.

Romantic comedies these days do well commercially, but they’re generally considered empty calories. But they haven’t always. Is this just a matter of grumpy critics or snobs today, or does the genre need a shot in the arm?
SMITH: My opinion is that there hasn’t been a good one in years, and we hope that we’re changing that come May 6. I think what it is is that, like any genre, it can feel tired. It can feel like you’ve seen the exact same formula 10 times, it’s just a different couple popped into it. That’s what we loved about Something Borrowed. We’re trying to do something original in a genre that can feel tired. This is definitely not a formulaic movie — you’re not going to know how it’s going to end within a matter of 10 minutes. I think this movie has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s a sort of moral dilemma or real character dramedy than a light, fluffy, formulaic romantic comedy. So we were excited to do something a little bit different in the general.

How does the sequel for this work? Something Blue?
SMITH: Something Blue follows Darcy’s character, really, in the aftermath. This one’s more Rachel’s story — Rachel’s really coming into her own. The sequel follows Darcy really coming into her own in the aftermath. She ends up going to London.

SWANK: Kate [Hudson] is really excited about it. She really hopes we can get that to the screen.

That’s mostly what I was getting at: Is Something Blue necessarily dependent on how Something Borrowed does next month, or is that getting made anyway?
SMITH: Obviously we’re hopeful that this movie is a success so it makes sense to make the sequel, and we’re developing the sequel with high hopes to do so. But we want to make ure that people fall in love with this movie first so they’re invested enough to go into the sequel.

A lot of people bristle at the term “chick flick.” What are each of your takes on that phrase, particularly as it might apply to your films?
SWANK: I think it depends on what people’s definition of what a chick flick is. Ultimately, any movie that is just shiny and glossy with a bow tied around it, to me, is a little boring. But I think films that are more complex… I mean, this is based on Emily Giffin’s book. She writes books and stories that women love, but to me they’re more complex and they have a little bit of heart and they’re based in something more interested in reality. To me, if you use that as the definition of it, then it doesn’t have a negative connotation.

SMITH: Well, there’s “chick flick,” and there’s “chick lit.” I do think there’s a lighter connotation to that, and it feels like a movie that guys are sort of dragged to. So that’s negative. But I always get proud when guys come up to us and say, “Wow, I really liked that!” I’d say this is more of a date movie than a chick flick, because really, it’s about a group of friends in their 30s, and the complications of what happens when you’re trying to figure out where your life is going. That’s what I love about this. And it just happens to be two females at the front and center of it. Their friendship is the central storyline. But I don’t think of this as the more clichéd “chick flick” that people might think it is.

What’s next for 2S? Where do you see yourselves five years down the line, or 10 years down the line?
SWANK: Good question.

SMITH: We’re hoping that we’ve made a slate of projects that, again, feel fresh and have a common theme of a lot of heart. Terms of Endearment is Hilary’s and my favorite movie, and to tell a sort of story like that… If you think about it, it’s just a mother/daughter story, but it’s one of the most brilliant films. We hope we can make classic films. Especially in this genre — I think the hope with romantic comedies is to make ones that last, that people will be talking about 10 years from now, like When Harry Met Sally or something like that. We definitely have a diverse slate in development. A lot of it’s female driven, but not all of it. And we’re excited for it. We’re excited to keep trying to challenge ourselves and tell fresh stories.

Hilary, do you envision yourself going more into producing in that time?
SWANK: I like to do both. I’m hoping that opportunity will arise in both areas. I love to act, and I’m really enjoying producing. Like I said, there’s not going to be a way for me to tell all the stories I want to tell by just acting.