“Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2” – Brandy McDonnell Interviews The Filmmakers (Exclusive)

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NEW YORK – From even a passing glance at the credits of the new film “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,“ it becomes apparent that the themes of women coming together and supporting one other weren’t just played out in front of the cameras.

Not only did the sequel to the 2005 sleeper hit reunite four talented female stars, the production also boasted a woman director, screenwriter, editor, composer, production designer, costume designer and several female producers. Plus, the sequel, like its predecessor, is based on the bestselling “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” book series by Ann Brashares.

“We really had the girl power on this movie, not intentionally per se. I think it’s wonderful, and I think it helps, and I think it’s a great thing,” says producer Kira Davis. “But obviously, when the audience members are going to buy their tickets, they don’t buy them based on that and they don’t know about that.”

The woman-dominated production and the themes that have made the “Sisterhood” stories resonate were the focus of a discussion with Davis, Brashares and director Sanaa Hamri.

Hamri, having taken over for Ken Kwapis who directed the first “Sisterhood,” says the filmmakers didn’t give the number of women on set much thought. “We don’t think about those things. For example, our composer, Rachel Portman–I just love her music. If she was a guy, I would love his music. I mean, it’s really about the art,” Hamri said. “Like my editor, Melissa Kent, I love her work, but it’s not based–to me–on a gender.”

When it came to choosing Portman, who became the first woman composer in history to win an Academy Award with 1996’s “Emma,” Hamri says she made it a point to base the decision solely on music.

“I made sure that I didn’t know who the composer was when Melissa would play me the music, and I started gravitating toward Rachel Portman’s music every time,” Hamri comments. “She has this classic feel that’s vibrant and dynamic. And she’s very collaborative so I just felt that she would be such the perfect fit for this movie.“

“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” centers on four disparate lifelong friends. The first film followed them as teenagers spending their first summer apart. They kept in touch by mailing around a pair of jeans that magically fit all four perfectly, despite their different body types.

The sequel picks up three years later, as they are finishing their first year of college: sensitive writer Carmen (America Ferrera) at Yale, sarcastic film student Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) at New York University, assured soccer star Bridget (Blake Lively) at Brown, and shy artist Lena (Alexis Bledel) at Rhode Island School of Design.

Their friendship is again put to the test of weathering a summer apart, as each one deals with issues of family, romance and her own future.

According to Davis, the first “Sisterhood”movie made about $40 million–not exactly a blockbuster take–but the franchise’s large and loyal following made a sequel possible.

“It had a life after the theatrical (release); it was a beautiful film which we all were extremely proud of having made,” Davis says “But if you go by the actual business side of things, I think nine times out of 10 there wouldn’t have been a sequel from that movie. But my fellow producers and–I guess–the following of the movie, really felt these characters really had to live on–on the screen.”

The strong bond among the four friends gives the “Sisterhood” stories their relevance, according to Brashares.

“There is this relationship between these girls and it’s unconditional, and I think it’s the kind of relationship that we all long for. It enables them to kind of go off in the world and challenge themselves and find out new things and then kind of come back to their little hub and share it again,” Brashares comments. “It’s not a competitive friendship; there’s no backbiting. And that was part of my inspiration for this. It’s not that they don’t have problems, they don’t have conflicts because they do. But there’s such a kind of a reservoir of love and trust between them, and I think that that’s something that people in the books and the movies have really responded to.”

In an era when many movies and TV shows depict women’s relationships as fraught with envy, bitterness and rivalry, Davis points out that the supportive nature of the “Sisterhood” resonates with readers and moviegoers.

“At this day and time in our society when girls are under so much pressure to look a certain way, I think competition is really rampant. And I think in the very first movie one of the things that we tried to portray with the jeans fitting all the girls is that really it’s not the outside of you that matters, it’s the inside of you that matters. And we felt like that resonated with audiences who were seeing it,” says Davis. “Hopefully in this next film, you see the girls have gone their individual ways–they’ve taken their own paths and they’re not the same as each other. And I think it’s nice because that still bonds them in some ways. Their differences still bond them.”

But bringing the stories of the women and their friendship–which Hamri defines as a fifth lead character in the movie–wasn’t easy. The filmmakers had to balance each woman’s intellectual, familial and romantic issues, and give the storylines satisfying resolutions without locking the 19-year-old characters into a set life path.

Plus, they faced the task of arranging filming around the schedules of four busy actresses: Ferrera of “Ugly Betty,” Lively of “Gossip Girl,” Tamblyn of “Joan of Arcadia” and the upcoming TV show “The Unusuals” and Bledel of “Gilmore Girls” and the upcoming film “The Post Grad Survival Guide.”

The sequel is based on pieces of the second, third and fourth novels in Brashares’ series, and the filmmakers worked hard to preserve the core of the character’s stories.

“It was very collaborative. We would sit–like 10 of us around a table–and really go through each storyline and each character’s development,” Hamri says. “The dynamic was a very artistic and creative one.”

“Sisterhood 2″opened on Wednesday, Aug. 6, and its five-day total was $19.7 million, nearly half of the first movie’s take over its entire theatrical run. Those numbers aren’t exactly blockbuster, either, but the movie seems poised to become a sleeper hit like its predecessor, especially if it can reach beyond its target audience of younger women.

The director, producer and author say they hope the movie will not only satisfy fans of the book series but draw a wider audience.

“When the first movie came out, a lot of people had the perception that it was a chick flick, or a teen movie, or different sorts of genres. And we all knew what we had: It was a very special and well-done, beautiful movie. And I think that word got out, and I really believe that older women came and were surprised. And we had wonderful word of mouth on it,” Davis says. “So we did indeed try to invite women of all ages, as we will do with this one, to come and enjoy it and participate. This has certainly been the summer of women’s films, and I think we have seen that women can drive the box office as much as sort of the male-dominant films. So we’re very proud of it and hoping to have the same success or more with this one.”

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.

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