Sex & Death 101 with Daniel Waters

What is the Movie About

Daniel Waters: Reduced to its basic plot, you might think I'm making a cheeseball porno: Man gets mysteriously e-mailed a list of 101 names–every woman he's had sex with and every woman that he ever will have sex with, in hronological order no less. What I love about this simple premise is that the more one thinks about it, the less cheesy and the more bizarrely profound it seems. I mean, go past the fantasy element of never having to worry about will she or won't she and other questions arise. Is sexuality the same without the thrill of pursuit What if someone you hate is on the list What if someone you love is NOT on the list What if you come face to face with the lastname on the list

How Did You Come Up With the Premise

DW: I'm as much a filmgoer as a filmmaker. I wrote Heathers out of a need to see a high school film that was a satiric attack on the cozy pieties found in the usual teen movie. “Sex & Death 101” came out of a craving for a sex farce for people who've actually had sex.

Back in the day, there were books like Portnoy's Complaint and films like Carnal Knowledge, Shampoo and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice–not creepy cult hits, but popular works that the whole country talked about. It's no fair that they stopped making these movies five minutes after I lost my virginity!

The hunger came first and the idea flowed naturally from there. I'm surprised no one else has come up with this plotdoesn't everyone have the moment early-on, when they meet someone exciting, interesting, and vaguely unattainable Boy, it'd sure save a lot of pain, suffering, and money if you knew how it was all going to turn out. Once I had this hook, I thrived on the burst of complications that came out of it, milking it for everything, except incest and sheep.

Reunion with Heathers Muse Winona Ryder

DW: It's kind of funny how little either one of us has changed, and that sometimes scares the people around us. Two Peter Pans on the set can be kind of spooky, but Winona and I still click on the same idiosyncratic, improperly socialized wavelength. I'm so proud that she seems to be the last of the classic eccentric movie-stars. She hung out with Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others. Lindsay Lohan would probably just throw up in their laps, but Winona has that old-time mojo. Going to her house is like Sunset Boulevard directed by John Hughes.

The character of Death Nell ended up being the perfect harness of Winona's strange energy. During shooting, Winona was worried she wasn't being femme-fatale-y enough, “Sex & Death 101,” just like in “Heathers,” it's her wobbly, real, and luminous humanity that makes a dark and twisted character someone we love despite ourselves.

Casting

DW: I could not have made this movie without Simon Baker, although I didn't completely appreciate that fact until after the movie was finished. It was very important that the character getting this list was not a goofy, giggling geek immaturely ejaculating over the promise of boobies, but it was equally important Roderick Blank not be the sleek, sleazy ladies man getting an over-the-top comeuppance. Simon walked this razor's edge with warmth and intelligence. Also, his being gorgeous and all really had a way of relaxing the dear women who found themselves on the set of a sex farce.

My casting director Andrea Stone and I worked hard, but the script was the boss. The thing I openly hate and secretly love about my writing is that it filters out the nonbelievers pretty quickly. People who can't handle my tonal shifts and would-be highbrow vulgarity run for the hills, leaving behind the people who get my Bunuel-meets-Caddyshack sensibility. The former group is much bigger than the latter, but the latter's a lot more fun to work with.

When I saw the hilarious Patton Oswalt at a festival screening of Michael Haneke's Cache, I knew he was the man for me. Leslie Bibb, Julie Bowen, and dear-God-is-that-Natalie-from-The-Facts-of-Life Mindy Cohn can out-bawdy anyone without losing their sharp intelligence, I realize I need my cast to be the same mixture of tones as my scripts.

Directing Delicate Scenes

DW: Rule number one, cast Australians. Simon and Sophie Monk, who plays the devilish centerfold Cynthia Rose, were just two of the Australians in the cast and they made it easy for poor me. Apparently in Australia, taking off your clothes is as traumatic as washing the dishes. Sophie was more worried about her air hockey skills.
If American Geeks only knew-close down those celebrity nudity websites and play it cool for at least five years or so, then American actresses might loosen up. European actresses never lament about sexuality, because they're not surrounded by geeks with video capture technology.

I kept a very relaxed and studiously unserious set, but even I was a little shocked when Winona insisted on rehearsing her love scene topless, who was I to protest Unfortunately we were using two cameras so the set was not as closed as it should have been (Am I imagining two boom operators). Winona was classically undisturbed, making Mrs. Roper-like cracks about how she hadn't been on a date for 11 months. Laughing at the wit of a beautiful, charming, and unclothed actress, while maintaining eye contact is something they don't teach you on Project Greenlight. I thought I was going to have to pass out neck braces to the crew.

Secod Time as a Director

DW: Being a director is the sexy choice, but who am I trying to kid I'm someone who writes his own e-mails by hand. I'm the kind of guy, to whom homeless guys and strippers instantly shout out Hey writer guy, give me some money! On this film, I figured out a way to make directing a continuation of the writing process, instead of shot lists, I made shot essays where I went into a great detail about all the good spiritual and creative crap behind each shot. There's something unseemly about reducing my work to give me an over-the-shoulder.

With writing, you can do it at 5 in the morning or at 11 at night with a lot of random naps in between, bring in a hundred other people and I gotta deal with a lot of regimentation(hello, meal penalties!). Tying everything back around, being a filmgoer as much as a filmmaker, I take great care of what needs to get up there on the screen. A lot of writers becoming-directors like to say directing is easy, leaving everything up to the D.P. and the A.D. These people usually don't get to direct another one.