”STOP!!!!!!” a voice screams. The stars of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Blake Lively — jump out of their lawn chairs and scatter from the otherwise idyllic outdoor set. It seems a bee has decided to circle these four actresses, who have convened in Vancouver for a wedding scene, the finale of this teen-friendship drama (due June 1). ”We cannot shoot until someone gets this bee away,” announces Tamblyn, the unofficial ringleader of the Sisterhood cast. A chorus of ”Yeah,” ”No way,” ”I’m not getting stung” chimes in. Director Ken Kwapis doesn’t bother to overrule this airtight union of girl power and enlists a crew member to shoo away the offending insect. A few giggles and shrieks later, Kwapis resumes shooting and the quartet in the gazebo starts playing the wedding processional.
If there’s one thing the Sisterhood team has learned, it’s to be grateful for the buzz however it comes. In a season where the swarms are destined for Star Wars: Episode III and Batman Begins, a movie based on Ann Brashares’ novel about four girlfriends who share one pair of magical jeans (they look good on everyone!) could easily get drowned out. Plus, there’s the cumbersome four-story-line plot (each 16-year-old spends the summer somewhere different, but they all stay in touch by shipping the jeans to one another), the marketing challenge that no boy on earth will want to see a movie whose title starts with the word Sisterhood, the lack of bankable stars, and the fact that despite the presence of a wedding, Sisterhood is no Princess Diaries or Freaky Friday fairy tale.
”We’re trying to take the girl genre to a whole other level,” says producer Debra Martin Chase. And Chase should know a thing or two about the growing genre, being the unofficial go-to producer for this market after mastering the book-to-screen adaptation with both Princess Diaries films and TV’s Cinderella and The Cheetah Girls.
But while the Princess and Cheetah books were successful girlie fantasies, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which came out on 9/11, was a publishing phenomenon never before seen with this audience. Brashares’ debut novel struck a Harry Potter-meets-Sex and the City tone and dealt with very un-teenybopper topics like what happens to you after your mother commits suicide, or how it feels to have a really lame, uninvolved father, or why losing your virginity can be a letdown. As it started climbing up best-seller lists — the original and two sequels have sold 3.5 million copies — Warner Bros. executive vice president Kevin McCormick bought the rights and immediately called Chase to enlist her help.
”I read the book that night and knew it had the potential to be something different,” says Chase. She hired Delia Ephron (Bewitched) to write the script — though Brashares was sent each draft for approval. ”I think everyone is afraid the writer is going to be possessive and crazed,” says Brashares. ”But I was more in the frame of mind of ‘I’m pregnant and I need to pay my own health insurance.’ This is definitely a boon.” And while some might have expected Chase to hire a woman to direct, she chose Kwapis (TV’s The Office, The Larry Sanders Show). ”I just had an instinct that I wanted a man,” she says. ”But a sensitive man.” Kwapis, 47, had no problem channeling his softer side. ”I really identified with each girl, odd as that sounds,” he says. ”A woman friend of mine said I must have been a teenage girl in a previous life.”