How Did This Get Made: Teen Witch [An Oral History]

teen witch

Part 2: Let’s Make a Musical!

Dorian Walker: For whatever reason, this script just literally sang out to me as I was reading it. So I went back and made notes and in the course of the script I found right off the bat about nine places where I thought music could go in there and elevate the core story, and so armed with that I took the meeting with Trans World Entertainment. After we got through the formalities of chitchat, they asked, “So, what do you think about our script?” And I said, “Well, you know, I didn’t really care that much about the script. I thought it had a nice storyline, but it had a lot of unnecessary elements.” Like what? By this point in my career, I had turned down enough things and I had adjusted to the notion of being quasi-broke pretty well and so I didn’t really have anything to lose by sharing what my feelings were. So I mentioned a few of the unnecessary elements—like the lesbian coach, for example—and when I finished speaking, they didn’t seem happy. To them, it was like: Then why are we having this meeting? “But,” I said, “I see something in this script that I find appealing.” And so, after I just told them that their script sucked, I said, “Well, I see this as a musical. As a teen musical.” And there was a silence. And then there was a longer silence.

Although Walker’s words didn’t quite resonate with anyone in the room, his vision perfectly coincided with that of another TWE producer: Alana Lambros, who just so happened to be halfway across the world at that time.  

Alana H. Lambros: I was in Monte Carlo on vacation. And ever since joining TWE, I kept saying that I wanted to do a musical. So finally this project came up and I got a phone call saying, “Alana, forget your trip. Come back to Hollywood, because I think we got the movie that you can produce.” So I came back and Moshe, he gives me the script. I wanted to do a quick rewrite and he said, “Okay, you got the weekend.” So I took it and I literally tore pages out. Just ripping pages out, I probably took out about 15 pages and I put in blank pages that said “Musical Number.” And then Monday morning, I came back to Moshe and said “Okay, I got it.” He looks at the script and says, “What are all these blank pages? I paid for a full script!” I said that’s where the musical numbers will be. He said, “Okay, you can do this as a musical. But I don’t understand this music business, so instead a 30-day shoot, you only have 25 days.” And I said, “No problem.” And then he said, “You know, I have a million and a half in the budget for this project, but for you it’s only $1.25 million.” So I said: no problem. Then I turned and I went out the door and I went: How in the heck am I going to do this?

Dorian Walker: I didn’t hear from them for several weeks, and then I got a call from Alana Lambros. She called me and said, “I’d like to talk to you more about this idea you have about turning this thing into a musical.” Sure, so I shared some of my ideas: I see bubblegum rock ‘n’ roll here. I see this kind of stuff here, and so on.

Alana H. Lambros: I think Paul Mason was brilliant in choosing Dorian to direct because he knew he could shoot quickly and he didn’t have an ego in looking for that “perfect shot,” because we couldn’t afford it. We had to do everything in 2-3 takes. Dorian was a great choice.

Dorian Walker

Dorian Walker: Alana and I hit it off. And, unbeknownst to me, I find out two things: One, Alana was a former dancer and she loved music. And number two: Because she was musically inclined, she had relationships with music people in Hollywood. And she had, at that point, a relationship with a pair of brothers called the Weir Brothers.

Alana H. Lambros: I hadn’t actually met them yet. But I always would meet with agents and say, “Gee, do you have anything exciting?” And there was an agency called APA and I met with the agent Larry Master. He said, “I have a great recording group: the Weir Brothers.” He gave me a cassette and I probably got that at the end of the summer. I had it for a long time. I loved the sound, but I wasn’t on Teen Witch yet, so I didn’t know what to do with it. In my office, I always had an “idea shelf” where I would keep scripts, pictures of talent, or even magazine clippings—things I wanted to draw inspiration from. So the Weir Brothers cassette, I kept there. And then when we started on Teen Witch, I just knew that I already had the perfect music for this film: The Weirz!

Larry Weir: I grew up in a very musical family. My mom was a classical pianist and, at one time in the early ’80s, the nine of us kids were in a band together. We toured all over military bases from Camp Pendleton to Naval Training Center to Twentynine Palms. We used to travel in a big, giant converted truck and we did this for years. I was the lead guitar player. I was the Elvis. Then my sister right under, Maria, she was the bass player. Then right under Maria was Tom, he was the drummer and he’s now a record producer and runs a studio called Studio City Sound in the L.A. area. Estelle, my other sister, played keyboards and did vocals; she’s Tom’s assistant at Studio City Sound. Pixie (Christine), played trombone and flute and did vocals. And Cathy played trumpet and vocals. And then Teresa, another sister, played saxophone and vocals. And my sister Joanie was the conga player. And then Michael Damian (who would go on to simply use “Michael Damian” as his stage name) was the vibe and trombone player.

Not only was Michael Damian the vibe and trombone player, but (years later) he would lead Larry Weir to Teen Witch

Larry Weir: Eventually, I became more of a producer/manager and my little brother, Michael Damian, became one of the stars of The Young and the Restless. I remember one day he came home and said, “They want me to start playing these original songs on the piano.” And I go okay, “Let me teach you some.” So I started giving him my songs that I was working on and teaching him stuff. Later on, my brother was signed to APA and every Monday I’d go in there and they’d pitch me stuff that he could never do. Because he was on a soap opera almost four days a week. But one day, one of the agents goes, “I know this lady who wants to talk to you about doing music for a movie. Why don’t you go down and meet with her?” Yeah, I can do that. So I went down to Trans World Entertainment and met with Alana Lambros, who was putting together this Teen Witch movie. She started explaining the story to me and I was so intrigued. I got so inspired that as she was telling me the story, I actually started writing some of the songs in my head. I think I wrote “Popular Girl” during our discussion.

Dorian Walker: So Alana sent me this tape of their music and it was like: My gosh, this would fit right there and this would fit right there. Yeah! This is perfect! These guys were dead-on.

Alana H. Lambros: When I hear something or see something, I just know it’s right. I have a nose, that’s all I can say.

Dorian Walker: We were excited to be given this opportunity. Here was a story that we were going to put together and they gave me, as long as I worked within the budget, basically carte blanche. I proceeded forward and hired my own cinematographer. I brought in my own dance guy, Bob Banas, who’d been a dancer in West Side Story. And the casting process was interesting. Originally, at that time, there was a pretty young, well-known singer by the name of Debbie Gibson. And I felt, and Alana felt, that she would be a good choice for this.

Alana H. Lambros: We were thinking of that. She was definitely a name that came up. Debbie Gibson was quite popular and TWE wanted name value. We even went to a hotel and actually met with her.

Dorian Walker: And there were negotiations, but those talks kind of fell into some challenges.

Alana H. Lambros: But it didn’t matter anyway, because the actress we cast was perfect. I remember the day when Robyn Lively’s 8×10 came to my office and I saw her face. Immediately, I said this is it. She’s the girl.

Dorian Walker: Robyn ended up doing a really nice job for us.

Robyn Lively: I was 15 at the time and it was the lead in a movie, so I was really excited when I got cast. I remember Alana was there and she wanted to know if I could dance, but I’m not much of a dancer—as you can tell in the movie—but that didn’t stop me. I just went for it and had a great time.

Alana H. Lambros: And Robyn’s mother was really sweet. She came to my house because I couldn’t even afford a hair dresser in preproduction until the very end, so her mom came to the house and said, “We’ll put the extensions in her hair.” And I said, “I’m sorry, I have no money for extensions.” And I remember Robyn’s mom saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it.”

ellen-degeneres

Dorian Walker: So everything was coming together, though ironically, the only casting that TWE disagreed with was for one of the teachers that we wanted to cast: Ellen DeGeneres. I had seen her at some comedy clubs, we had a reading with her, I said I’d like to cast her, but this one the one place where Moshe stepped in and said no. But I couldn’t complain because we got almost everything we wanted. We had a little comedy in the movie, we had a little music and we had a very ambitious shooting schedule.

Alana H. Lambros: I got the green light in October [1988], and we planned to start shooting the day after Thanksgiving. So there wasn’t a moment to spare!

Continue Reading Teen Witch Oral History >>

Cool Posts From Around the Web: