Posted on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 by Blake Harris
Teen Wolf – Wolf + Witch = How Did This Get Made?
Although dueling accounts exist with regards to the origin of Teen Witch, both versions credit their inspiration from the formula above (Teen Wolf – Wolf + Witch). Given its origin, one might expect that Teen Witch would feel dastardly derivative. But no matter how you feel about the movie—some absolutely, overwhelmingly adore it; while others view it as the quintessential ’80s bad movie—nobody can deny that Teen Witch feels unique unto itself. It has sincerity, it has heart. And it also has—unlike the original draft of the script—lots of music and dancing. How, exactly, did these ingredients enter the equation? And, one can’t help but wonder, does that explanation provide us with clues as to why this movie has aged the way it has?
Teen Witch Oral History
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies. This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Teen Witch edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
Synopsis: On her 16th birthday, lifelong loser Louise Miller (Robyn Lively) is bestowed with magical abilities, which she the high schooler then uses to try and get what she’s always wanted most of all: popularity.
Tagline: To Her, Trouble Comes Super-Naturally
- Dan Gauthier Actor (Brad)
- Alana H. Lambros Producer/Casting Director
- Robyn Lively Actress (Louise)
- Paul Mason President of Trans World Entertainment
- Robin Menken Screenwriter
- Dorian Walker Director
- Larry Weir Music Composer
Here’s what happened, as told by those who made it happen…
Alana H. Lambros: I didn’t have money for a location manager, so I dressed up like a teenager and I went to three high schools to try and find a place to shoot our film. I had this big ponytail, no makeup, tennis shoes, and I’ve got a denim shirt and big denim jacket. On my third high school—because I got so involved in looking at the locations—I ended up being the only “student” left roaming the halls after the bell. So the truant officer comes up to me and asks, “Why aren’t you in class?” I quickly turned around and ran out of the school and, if you can believe it, my day only got stranger after that.
CUT TO: One Year Earlier…
Part 1: Bewitched by a Teenage Witch
Robin Menken: Basically, in my era, if you were a woman and you didn’t have an alpha male protecting you, you had no chance. Let me give you an example of what it was like. Back in the early ’80s, I was writing scripts with Bruce Wagner and Jonathan Kaufman. I was the head writer on this team, but on our office sign my name was always last. I wanted my name first, which is a stupid little thing, but here’s the point: One day they call me and they said, “We fixed the sign.” So I show up at the office and it says: Robert Menken, Jonathan Kaufman, Bruce Wagner. Robert! So what’s what it was like in the ’80s for a woman in the town.
As difficult as things were for Robin “Robert” Menken, they soon got worse.
Robin Menken: I was run over by a car. And Bruce Wagner, who I’d written about nine movies with, we split up. He basically abandoned me. And when I got back into the world, I learned that he was sending out our scripts without my name on them. So I needed another writing partner. I came from Second City and I always wrote with a partner—I thought comedy gestated that way—and I knew Vernon [Zimmerman], so we decided to work together. We developed three stories, three treatments.
One of those three was a raunchy teen comedy called Teen Witch.
Robin Menken: The way we came up with it was very simple. We were looking at titles for recently successful movies and Teen Wolf had been around, so we said: We got it! We’re going to take Samantha from Bewitched and make that a teenage girl’s dilemma and show that love is stronger than magic. It was that simple. And then we just spun it out. So we went around pitching Teen Witch and two other storylines. And one of the places we went to was Trans World Entertainment.
Paul Mason: I was president of a company called Trans World Entertainment (TWE). The company was owned by an Israeli, Moshe Diamant, and Eduard Sarlui, from Latin America. We made about 10 films a year, all low budget, between $1-3 million in costs. Generally, a “reasonably” known star was attached for foreign sales.
Alana H. Lambros: That was the business plan: selling the ancillaries for foreign. And TWE had their own distribution at that time, so all they needed was a movie to go out seven days [in the theater] in order for the video release to work
Robin Menken: So anyway, my writing partner, Vernon, and I came up with three storylines and we went around pitching them. And one of the places we went was Trans World Entertainment, where we pitched these three movies. I was always against leaving written treatments or pitches behind, but Vernon wanted to go about it that way. So that’s what we did. We left a treatment with this company and about 11 months later they called us up and said, “We have a film we think you’d be perfect for.” And they brought us in and pitched us our own movie.
TWE’s Paul Mason credits a different source of inspiration.
Paul Mason: Teen Witch began one morning when Moshe walked into my office and said, “My daughter (who was about 12) says there is a Teen Wolf. So why isn’t there a Teen Witch?” I said to Moshe he should buy his daughter an expensive present because she made us all a lot of money. Teen Witch was a great title with a good, predictable story about a teenage girl who suddenly discovers she has witching powers.
Robin Menken: Eventually we won this in arbitration with the Writer’s Guild. But the point is we took the job because we needed the job and we didn’t tell them—at first—that we knew damn well they were pitching us our own treatment. And so then I started working on a script for Teen Witch.
Alana H. Lambros: I remember reading it and thinking: Oh my gosh, this could be so good. But the original script was so tacky, and it was a little bit off-color. It definitely wasn’t PG-13. Like the girls were in the shower and you kind of saw different areas of them undressing.
Dorian Walker: The big thing in the teen genre during the ’80s was grossness. You had to have the scene with, say, the lesbian coach. You had to have these elements that spin off that Porky’s mentality. So this script, which was written actually by a couple of pretty good writers—Robin Menken and a guy by the name of Vernon Zimmerman—had all those elements. And, at first glance, I just didn’t like it. I had no interest in doing a movie with the requisite lesbian coach jokes, you know. But, but, there were two things that led me to take a meeting and ultimately led me to directing Teen Witch. One was that the script and had heart and the other was a little more unusual than that…