Josie and the Pussycats is a film for everybody who has ever played air guitar, ever practiced a Mick Jagger sneer or ever believed the words of a rock song were written just for them. It embraces the age-old dream that you just might morph from small-town loser to big-time rock star in the blink of an eye, especially in this wide-eyed world where trends change faster than the speed of light.
The characters of Josie, Melody and Val first sprang to life on the pages of an Archie comic book in 1963. The girls developed their moves with a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from 1970-1972, and now, by popular demand, Josie and the Pussycats have become living, breathing, twenty-first century heroines for a new generation of fans.
Chuck Grimes and Tony DeRosa-Grund, producing partners and principals in Riverdale Productions, Archie Comics' film and television arm, brought the idea for a live-action Josie and the Pussycats to Universal. Universal brought them on board to produce, along with film veteran Marc Platt.
Long-time writing partners, Kaplan and Elfont wrote the screenplay and directed the film as a team. Both had been eager to make a movie about a band. "We wanted it to be really music-driven, with original songs," said Elfont. "We also wanted the chance to tell a story that was different stylistically. "
The result is a film that has a refreshingly unique look, style and sound, just like the Pussycats portrayed by Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson. "We were extremely pleased that the film captured the heart and soul of the Pussycats in a truly original way that would not only endear it to fans of the comic books, but also to the public at large," said Archie's Michael Silberkleit.
The filmmakers agreed that the music had to represent the voice and energy of the girls. Today's Pussycats have an edge, and the songs had to match their garage band roots. The Josie team approached fabled music producer Kenneth Edmonds and his wife, film producer Tracey Edmonds. "We were thrilled to learn that Kenny and Tracey had loved the comic book and also loved the script," said Platt.
A unified vision developed rapidly. "There was no question going into this project that somehow we had to create and bring a high level of authenticity to the music," said Tracey Edmonds. "So in essence the major challenge was to engender originality while achieving believability with the girls. What resulted can be likened to sort of a female Blink 182. "
Kenneth Edmonds produced all the music with Dave Gibbs, who co-wrote many of the songs. Kaplan and Elfont collaborated with Gibbs, too, penning the Pussycats' punk-rock-prom-queen anthem, "Three Small Words" and four additional songs. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, Jane Weidlin of the Go-Go's and Adam Schlessinger of Fountains of Wayne also contributed to the soundtrack.
The music helped attract a hot young cast. "Everybody wants to be a rock star," Platt teased. "Rachael Leigh Cook came aboard first -- we had to start with Josie because she's the heart and soul of the film. Tara Reid was a natural choice for Melody because she and her character have that same love of life. " It took longer to discover the perfect Val, but Rosario Dawson had the job as soon as she met the filmmakers and her fellow Pussycats.
"We fell right into a groove," said Cook.
Before filming began on August 21, 2000 in Vancouver, the Pussycats had to learn to play their instruments. "These girls had to be a band -- they were going to play three songs on camera," said Elfont. "The first thing we did when we cast Rachael was take her to Guitar Center and buy her a guitar and an amp. Then we got her a teacher. We had everybody work on their own with their instruments, then brought them together for two weeks and turned them into a band. "
And a band they were. "All three of them really committed themselves. We wanted the movie to be authentic and it is," said Kaplan. "Rachael was playing until her fingers bled and Tara got so excited when she broke her first drum stick. When you see them playing on camera, they are playing the songs that you're hearing. "
The actresses all sing back-up, but Josie's vocals are actually delivered by Kay Hanley, lead singer for Letters to Cleo.
During their two-week 'band camp', Cook, Reid and Dawson practiced with the local band Powder. "They were really supportive and not judgmental of the girls, which was good because that first week of band camp was pretty difficult," said Elfont.
It was no place for prima donnas. "We drilled them every day," said Kaplan. "They brought their own instruments to rehearsal and packed their own gear and played the songs over and over and over again. "
Rosario Dawson, cast as bass-player Val, described the challenge. "When you're not really a musician, the instruments are foreign to you," she said. "They taught us to play without being too conscious of the instruments, so that we could sing at the same time - and make it look fun and effortless. "
Tracey Edmonds savored their transformation. "One of the most gratifying aspects of this project was witnessing the progressive confidence gained by the girls - they really started to feel like a band. "
As the film shoot progressed, the characters experienced many of the thrills of a band that's made it - photo shoots, music videos, magazine covers and the first pressing of their very own CD. But like a real band, the Pussycats also had problems - in this case, a sleazy manager in cahoots with a scheming record executive.
Cumming enjoyed the role of Posey's partner-in-crime. "I always said, 'Parker, you can be as big as you like, as long as you mean it. ' And that's my motto. Parker and I are the old people on this film. Can you believe it? But it's nice being around young girls chatting about boyfriends and school. It's very slumber party. "
A modern slumber party, though. "The movie takes place six months from now, whenever now is," explained Platt. "So it's a reality-based world, but heightened and stylized. It takes us to a place we've never been, be it Riverdale or the big city the girls find themselves in. "
It's a familiar place for eyes and ears accustomed to MTV. "The music, the production design and the cinematography all reflect the MTV world," said Tracey Edmonds.
The costumes play a huge role in the film's cutting edge look. "It's very fashion-forward," said Costume Designer Leesa Evans, "not just for the girls, but for Parker's and Alan's characters and the hundreds of extras. " Evans designed virtually all of the costumes, which included at least 50 costume changes for each of the three leads.
"I don't dress like this every day," said Cook. "But it's fun. "
Tara Reid agreed. "I've fallen in love with my costumes. Every day I'd get excited about going into my trailer to see what Leesa had come up with. Everything we wear is custom-made and it's sexy and fun. "
Josie and the Pussycats inherits a unique legacy from its comic book roots -- strong female characters who are loyal friends to each other. "There is nothing better than good girlfriends," said Dawson.
Even guys can relate. "There's something of these girls in all of us," said Platt. "If we make the right choices and speak from our hearts, we empower ourselves to achieve our goals, dreams and ambitions. That's a great theme and a great story for everyone. "
According to DeRosa-Grund, "The release of Josie and the Pussycats as a film is the first step Archie comics is taking in bringing its character groups, who have long been American icons, into the 21st century."
Kaplan summarized the evolution of Josie, Melody and Val from 1963 to 2001. "The original characters are wonderful - funny, charming and good role models," she said. "And now..... they rock!"