Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith on ‘Trinkets’ and the Road from YA Novel to Netflix

     June 25, 2019

trinkets-kirsten-smith-interviewBased on the young adult novel from Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith (the screenwriter of 10 Things I Hate About You, Legally Blonde and The House Bunny, with her co-writer Karen McCullah), the Netflix/Awesomeness TV series Trinkets follows three teenage girls – Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand), Moe (Kiana Madeira) and Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell) – from the same high school who cross paths in the same mandated Shoplifter’s Anonymous meeting. On the surface, these young women couldn’t be more different, but as they get to know each other, their family issues and life drama brings them together and helps them to find strength in an unlikely friendship.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Kirsten Smith (who is also an executive producer on the series) talked about how Trinkets evolved from a heist movie to a young adult novel to a TV series at Netflix, the three characters at the center of the story, casting those roles, reuniting with 10 Things I Hate About You star Larisa Oleynik, how she hopes the story inspires viewers, and how writing about teenagers has changed, over the years. She also talked about the animated Spice Girls movie that she’ll be writing with her writing partner Karen McCullah, the status of Legally Blonde 3, and whether she’d like to explore more long-form storytelling.

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Image via Netflix

Collider: You’ve previously talked about how this grew out of a desire to write a movie about a group of girls who meet in Shoplifters Anonymous and decide to plan a heist. Did you ever actually finish a script version of that movie, before then deciding that it was better suited for a book?

KIRSTEN “KIWI” SMITH: I did not. I did the classic thing of writing a first act, and then proceeding to lose steam a little bit because it involved an actual heist plot, which is not fully my forte. So, when the opportunity came up to write it as a novel and make it more driven by the characters and the nuances of their relationship, and the plot twist coming from their relationship, it seemed much more accomplishable.

How far into writing the book did you realize that it wasn’t really a heist story and that the relationship aspect between the characters was the thing that you really needed and wanted to focus on?

SMITH: It was pretty immediate. I pitched it to Little Brown, who published my first YA novel. I pitched it as concept, and they really responded to it being more of a character YA novel, as opposed to a high-octane YA novel. But I always had it in my mind that maybe there could be some heist element. Maybe I got them to the place of meeting in Shoplifters Anonymous, a third of the way, and then I realized, “Okay, if they’re gonna do something crazy, it has to happen now.” It just felt much more cozy and familiar to have the characters lead the way with their relationship than it did for me to stop and map out a huge heist plot, so I stayed in my “wheelhouse” and pushed forward with telling their stories from their points of view, and didn’t get into them robbing a bank. I love a heist movie. It’s one of my favorites, but they’re hard to crack. You have to have a puzzle brain, and it’s a little harder for me. It’s funny because I wrote a heist comic book with my fiancé, and he’s really good at the puzzle pieces of a heist. I can do it when I’m partnered with someone, who’s got a heist brain. I was lightly into shoplifting, and I would see an armored car pull up outside of some place and be like, “What would happen, if I wanted to try to steal an armored car? Well, I would need two friends who could distract, and then we could team up and do it together.” But, that’s about as far as I got.

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Image via Netflix

How close did the three characters at the center of the story stay? Did they evolve quite a bit, or did you always know who those three characters were?

SMITH: They came when I was looking at it as a YA novel. I did always wanted to have them be teenage girls because there’s something so powerful and intense about seeing a group of teenage girls walking down the street with total confidence. It can be a really powerful and intimidating thing. Whereas, if you’re a teenage girl by yourself, you don’t exude that kind of power. So, I loved the idea that the story would always be led by teenage girls. And then, once I started writing the book, I drilled down more on, “Okay, if it’s gonna be about three girls, who are the three most different girls that I could imagine?,” and I came up with Tabitha, Elodie and Moe.

This went from a movie idea, to a book, to a TV show. Why do you think the story works better with more hours to tell it, and how close did the series stay to the book?

SMITH: We pulled a lot from the book. The tone of the book is there, with the friendship/love story of the book and the characters. We added a few new characters into the mix, and we left a couple behind that are still there, if we need them and we’re lucky enough to do a Season 2. We made some slight adjustments, but it felt like this book, in particular, lends itself to a TV show because it was really about the ongoing friendship and growth of these three characters, where we could take them, what trouble they could get into, whether they’d be able to solve their addiction, how they would work through their addiction, and how their friendship would keep changing their lives. It felt like it had a lot more legs as a book than it did as a movie. When I was thinking about it as a movie, my brain just went back to, “Okay, what’s the heist?” But as a show, it was just like, “Okay, we can live with these characters.” What you want in a great show is to fall in love with the characters and get to grow with them.

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Image via Netflix

The end of the season definitely leaves you feeling like there’s more of the story that could be told. Do you know what Season 2 would look like? ave you thought about how their stories would continue?

SMITH: Oh, yeah, we have many, many, many ideas. We have lots of ideas, so I really hope we get the opportunity. I’m brimming with plans and scenes and ideas.

When you wrote the book, did you envision what these characters would be like? Is what we see now anything like what you had imagined?

SMITH: Their essences are exactly like I imagined them. I relate deeply to each one, so it was almost like I saw them from the inside out, instead of from the outside. So, I was pretty open with casting, but I knew what I wanted their essences to be, if that doesn’t sound too silly. I knew Elodie would have an awkward and earnest outsider essence, and Moe would have a really forceful snark with a heart of gold, and Tabitha having this unapproachable duality, where she’s also quite vulnerable. I feel like all three actors are just magnificent in capturing those qualities.

What did you most enjoy, not just about watching what Brianna Hildebrand, Kiana Madeira and Quintessa Swindell brought to their roles, but about watching their dynamic together?

SMITH: They just had an instant connection. They were just immediately fun. When we went up there (to Portland, Oregon) for the start of production, the three of them were just bonded. I got to walk down the street with them, after an initial party, and I started lightly crying, just because I was like, “I’m walking down the street with Tabitha, Moe, and Elodie.” It was so surreal. And then, I had a moment with Larisa Oleynik, who played Shawn, the Shoplifters Anonymous leader, and she played Bianca in 10 Things I Hate About You. I’ve known her for 20 years, and I was like, “Larisa, let’s ride with the girls back to the hotel.” Larisa was just like, “Okay, Kiwi.” I thought this cross-pollination of a teen star from a different generation with new teenage actors felt really exciting to be a part of, so we all squished in the car. Kiana had a music playlist ready that she was blasting. A lot of that inspired later scenes, just that feeling of driving around with the cool girls that you want to be friends with.

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Image via Netflix

How did Larisa Oleynik come to be involved with this? Did you just immediately think of her for that role?

SMITH: Yeah, I did. She was kind enough to audition, and she was fantastic. She’s such a wonderful actor, and her energy is amazing, so I just said, “Please, will you do this?” And she said, “Yes.” I thought it would be really cool to have a little bit of a torch pass.

What do you hope young people take from watching this series and seeing these characters? How do you hope this story speaks to them?

SMITH: I hope that it inspires people to look beyond the surface of other people who are seemingly really different from them, and get to potentially understand and befriend someone who might be on the opposite end of whatever political and socio-economic spectrum that they’re on and forge a bond.

It seems like the teen experience has evolved quite a bit, since you’ve started writing about it. Does writing the teen experience now feel different from when you started writing about the teen experience, at the beginning of your career?

SMITH: Yes, it does. We were more irreverent and more clueless about the world. Post the internet, our eyes are open wide to the feelings of other people. The word “retard” was used a joke word. People would say, “That’s retarded.” And now, it’s like, “What were we thinking?! That’s so hurtful.” So, there’s a lot of learning and awareness that goes on. I’m in a constant state of learning, when it comes to writing about teenagers. I feel like they can teach me a lot.

It was recently announced that you and Karen McCullah would be writing an animated Spice Girls film, which is insane. How did that come about?

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Image via Netflix

SMITH: Oh, my god, yeah. That came about through Paramount Animation. They said that they had gotten the rights to it, and they asked us if we would write it. I think the Spice Girls, themselves, were really drawn to our past films. I think they had really connected to Legally Blonde, specifically, so it was a pretty instant kismet process. I feel so excited about it because we all came of age, at the same time. The idea of bringing girl power to this animated world is really cool.

How big of a fan of the Spice Girls are you, and how does it affect and influence the writing, when you’re writing something for a known entity?

SMITH: Honestly, it makes it easier because their voices are so distinct. I’m such a fan of not only their music, but their rebellious spirit, how they just came in and kicked down doors, and how the rollercoaster of their friendship is really real. We got to seem them perform recently, and they’re fantastic. The idea that you can go on this life journey and find this sisterhood that you didn’t even know existed, is really cool. They would talk about their relationship as being a lot like sisters, and I feel that way about Karen, my writing partner. I feel like we’re sisters who are bonded by our work. I feel that way about Trinkets, too. You find these sisters that you didn’t know that you wanted or needed, and then they end up impacting you forever. Groups of girls are my sweet spot.

It’s been a year since Reese Witherspoon announced that there would be Legally Blonde 3, and you and Karen were in talks to return to that. Where are things with that? Are you still working on that?

SMITH: It’s in development.

Is that something that you still hope will happen?

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Image via Netflix

SMITH: Oh, my gosh, yes. Of course, I do. And I’m not alone in hoping that it will happen. I feel like people are pretty excited.

After the experience that you had with Trinkets, are you looking to do more television? Would you like to explore more long-form storytelling?

SMITH: I really would. I like the process of creating something, like a book, and then using that as a jumping off point. I’ve been exploring the world of comic books, and I’m keen to transfer a graphic novel to a TV show. I would probably stay in more of the 8 to 10 episode half-hour range, that’s more of a dramedy. I felt like that was a nice, compact way to tell a story. As a viewer, I really like watching a half-hour show. I also like the 8 to 10 episode structure because it feels a bit more like a long movie to me, and movies are my first love, so that’s the place that I wanna stay. I also wanna keep writing movies, and it’s hard to do that and do a 20 episode or 13 episode show. You don’t want to get into dreaded burnout.

Trinkets is available to stream on Netflix now.

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