Want another reminder of the fleeting passage of time? Friday, June 24, marks the premiere of the 100th Disney Channel Original Movie. (Yes, you're so, so old.)
In honor of the milestone—seriously, 100 is a huge deal—E! News wanted to get a better understanding of how the DCOM machine runs behind the scenes, so we spoke with Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio. The screenwriters behind two classic mid-'00s DCOMs—Read It and Weep and Go Figure—for some insights into just how these TV movies get made.
Here are their secrets:
Clifton and Rigazio were introduced to the DCOM world by one influential person: Sheri Singer, who produced Halloweentown and its sequels (and so much more).
"Go Figure was originally a spec script that we were trying to sell as a feature, and it was around the same time as that Ice Princess movie [with Michelle Trachtenberg and Kim Cattrall] so they ended up not buying it so we ended up turning it into a kids' movie. Instead of it being set in college, we set it at a boarding high school. That's when we met Sheri Singer, who did the Halloweentowns and was the queen of producing Disney Channel movies," Rigazio explains.
After Go Figure, she brought them the book on which they based Read It and Weep and the rest is history.
Writing for kids isn't too hard when you tap into your inner 15-year-old.
Says Rigazio, "We like everything to end at the prom. We find that's sort of—everything leads up to the big dance." Adds Clifton, "What could be more climactic at that age than hijinks at the prom?"
Of course, there are some things you need to keep in mind when writing for Disney, in particular.
"Standards and practices was so crazy—in the pivotal scene in Go Figure, we have this scene where our girl is racing from this hockey game to the figure skating championship," Clifton explains. "During the scene, the guy brings her dress and she changes in the back of the car. And their note was, 'Well, she's going to be wearing her seatbelt. How can she change into a dress if she's wearing her seatbelt?' We couldn't show these kids not in their seatbelt. That was one of the most bizarre."
The DCOM production timeframe is way faster than a traditional feature film.
But on Read It and Weep, everything was even more condensed. "That went faster than most, because Sheri Singer had a movie in production that went out of production and she bumped ours up really quickly so we had to get it moving quickly. You can have three months, but I think we did that in a couple of weeks from the time we wrote it to the time they were shooting," Clifton says. "Not two weeks, but it wasn't three months!"
Clifton and Rigazio, who also wrote the Kate Hudson movie Raising Hope, didn't know at the time what a legacy the DCOMs would have.
"We were just doing it for the jobs, you know? Making our living. Getting our health insurance," Clifton says. "Before we knew it, we looked back and we were like, ‘Oh my god, the kids who grew up liking it really like it.' I don't know if they had this master plan to do 100 movies. I think it caught everyone by storm."
Says Rigazio, "I think it felt at the time like the Disney Channel event movie. It felt like kids were looking forward to the movie of the week." Clifton agrees. "There was nothing else on TV for this age kid at that time that wasn't Barney or something like that," he adds. "We kind of scaled down feature ideas and made them for an hour and a half or two hours or whatever it was. I think that was kind of the niche that they were doing. They were like, ‘Hey, we've got to give these kids feature length material but with just a hint of Disney magic.'"
They didn't have any say in other aspects of the production, like casting.
"That's when the machine took over," Clifton says. "But they were always open to our input. We were at Sundance and we popped over to the hockey one, Go Figure. But as soon as we went there to visit, they thought it would be great to put us in a trailer and have us write, write, write. "
They're pleased with the work they did—and the fact that it's still a pop culture touchstone for many people.
"We were happy with our time there. We did two great things and still kids love them," Clifton says. "Actually, if you go to any party adults have never heard of it and then you say do you have any kids? Bring out your kids. And they say ‘Oh my God, we love that!'"
Just ask one of Rigazio's nephews. "One of my nephews would tell girls that his aunt wrote Read It and Weep and he was like, ‘That's how I picked them up!'" And yes, it worked. "It did," Rigazio confirms. "A little piece of their childhood."
They still see people tweeting about the movies—especially during Disney Channel's Memorial Day Weekend marathon.
"Read It and Weep is about this girl who loses her diary and then the whole school comes out to get her, but what happens is she creates this imaginary friend who is an imaginary portion of herself. Then they cast the Panabakers, real-life sisters, but it's literally this girl going through this horrible, horrible thing and she's talking to herself, but it's all fun and games and it's all kind of funny. But someone pointed out that ‘Oh my God, by the end you realize that Read It and Weep is a post-traumatic psychotic break!'"
Adds Rigazio, "I always thought of it as multiple personalities!"
They had a great DCOM experience.
All in all, "It was a fun place to be," Clifton says. "They did have the kids at heart. It was just a good, wholesome place to work."
Their latest feature film, Freak Show—directed by Trudie Styler—should begin hitting film festivals later this year.
"The interesting thing about Freak Show was that we did do those Disney high school movies and we were like, 'Oh my God, not another high school movie!' This one is set in high school and it's about a little boy who doesn't fit in and everyone bullies him, and they eventually put him in a coma—so it's kind of a black comedy," explains Clifton. "And then when he comes out of this coma, as opposed to being a victim he's going to hit the school with what they revere most and he runs for homecoming queen. It was kind of fun and interesting to go back to a high school movie where we got to be funny and have cursing. We hearkened back to our Disney roots."
Disney Channel's 100th original movie, the Adventures in Babysitting remake, airs Friday night at 8 p.m.