The premise of the science fiction-comedy Snatchers sounds like an urban legend you'd hear whispered conspiratorially across the cafeteria table. "Did you hear about the girl who got pregnant with an alien baby? Yeah, her boyfriend caught some weird parasite on vacation, and she woke up the next day like nine-months pregnant. And that's not even the craziest part!" Luckily for Sara (Mary Nepi), she's got her childhood bestie Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse) by her side. Together they tackle not only this paranormal pregnancy but also the issue of what to do when you've accidentally birthed an apocalyptic extraterrestrial into your sleepy small town.
Ahead of Snatchers' world premiere at the SXSW film festival, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down writers/directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman to discover how this freaky — and freaking hilarious — coming-of-age comedy was conceived. Turns out their inspiration was pretty close to home. "Well, Benji's sister actually got pregnant with an alien," Cedars joked. "So, the story practically wrote itself."
Kidding aside, Cedars clarified, "The two of us and [Snatcher's third co-writer] Scott Yacyshyn, we all are younger brothers to older sisters. And they all had their own, uniquely tumultuous high school experience, I think as any high schoolers do. That was basically our insight into the characters [of Sara and Hayley]."
Kleiman concurred, saying, "We all started realizing how formative a time in our lives it was when our sisters were going through this. Because it was such an intense experience for them that it even trickled down into our lives and affected our adolescence and growing up."
"[Snatchers] was our first big passion project when we were starting to write," Cedars explained. "And it was the script we had taught ourselves how to write a movie on." As the project evolved from a spec script to a short film to a web series to a feature-length film, some things were cut, like a plotline about federal agents chasing down the AWOL alien Men In Black-style. "When we ultimately turned it into a movie," Cedars recalled, "We realized that the story really succeeded a lot more without that subplot when it was really about just the girls." But focusing on the girls led to another, much tougher cut.
"In the original script, there was a little brother character that teamed up with the girls and like went around with them to help kill the alien," Cedars said. "Then one of our producers was like 'I hate this character!' And we were like, 'That's us!' (Chuckles.) But she was totally right, and so we took it out and the story was a lot stronger without it."
So they didn't just have to kill their darlings — as the old writing maxim goes — they had to kill themselves! But Cedars and Kleiman agree that working as a writing team makes those hard choices a bit easier.
"It helps to have multiple people," Cedars said. "Because everyone individually has their own darlings and then the group can murder them together. So, it's a lot less painful. You get to put some of the guilt on the murder on the group. It makes it easier to do." Sort of like in the movie, how if you have to chase down and kill your evil alien spawn, it's best to have a friend to help? Cedars laughed. "Right! Snatchers is a sick metaphor for writing a script."
Through the years of development on Snatchers, it was crucial to the guys that they got the voices of their heroines right. Despite good intentions, this led to some comically bad ideas. Cedars recounted a time years back when he lived down the street from a school. "The script has been a long time in the making," he recalls. "There was a point where I felt like I really wanted to get an accurate read of the ways that teenage girls are speaking, today. So, I called up the school and was like, 'Hi, I'm a screenwriter writing a movie, I was wondering if I could, like, come and, you know, kind of observe the way the kids are talking.' They were like, 'Absolutely not, creep!' And I was like, 'Yep, that is exactly the correct answer!'"
They laugh about it now, then credited the women in their lives for giving crucial feedback. "We tried to be aware that our empathy can only take us so far," Cedars said. "Whenever we would have a question with it, 'Does this ring true at least to the female experience?' We would call our sisters or my then-girlfriend-now-wife, we would say, 'Would it be crazy if you're talking to your friend, would you say this?' And they either be like, 'Yeah, that sounds about right,' or they'd be like, 'Yeaaah, I would never say that.' And it was great [help] and a learning experience for us, too."
Finally, through all the years, and drafts, darling-killing, and sister-questioning, Snatchers was born, a bouncy, bonkers teen-comedy with a lot of heart, some great scares, a wily killer-alien, and thoughtful insight into what it means to be a teen girl.
Snatchers made its world premiere at SXSW on March 10.