‘Legally Blonde’ screenwriter Kirsten Smith, nostalgic for the Northwest, sets new movie in Seattleby Yasmeen Wafai
Before the pandemic had people wishing for any semblance of life pre-quarantine, scratching an itch for nostalgia was as simple as buying an ice cream bar you used to get from the convenience store when you were a kid or watching your favorite old TV show. For screenwriter and author Kirsten Smith (“10 Things I Hate About You,” “Legally Blonde”), nostalgia is a part of who she is and the stories she writes, no matter the state of the world.
“I’m deeply nostalgic,” she said. “I’m nostalgic for yesterday. I’m nostalgic for two months ago.”
Smith, who currently lives in Los Angeles but is a former Washington state resident, still likes to be called by her childhood nickname, Kiwi, as it feels more memorable to her than Kirsten and reminds her of her teenage years, she said.
The locations she chooses for her stories is also a way she exercises her love for the past. “10 Things” was filmed in Tacoma and Seattle; her latest release, the Netflix show “Trinkets,” based on her 2014 novel of the same name, takes place in Portland. And an upcoming film she’s working on is set in Seattle. Sure, she loves the Pacific Northwest for its moodiness and punk-rock spirit. But “I’m probably also [nostalgic], let’s be real,” she said, laughing. “From my own childhood.”
Growing up as an only child on a sailboat in Southern California, with not a lot of other kids around and no TV, Smith found herself reading a lot of books. Her parents encouraged her to write her own stories and that led to a love of writing.
It was while she was a student at Chimacum High School in Chimacum, Jefferson County, that she was encouraged by one of her teachers to pursue writing seriously.
“She gave me the confidence from that early age, particularity to write poetry,” she said. “Writing just became my thing.”
However, Smith also loved movies. She worked at video stores in Port Ludlow and Port Townsend, and in her first year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, she decided to try and merge her passions for writing and movies.
Some of her movies — including “10 Things” and “Legally Blonde,” written with her writing partner Karen McCullah — have become fan favorites. The latter, in particular, has gone on to have an impressive legacy nearly 20 years later. Lines like “What, like it’s hard?” and “Bend and snap!” have become iconic. In 2007, a musical based on the film debuted on Broadway and, recently, scenes from the film were re-created in singer Ariana Grande’s music video for her critically acclaimed song “Thank U, Next.”
“That felt really good. I loved that,” Smith said of the video. “… It’s like, wow! This movie is having something to say to younger generations and it’s lasting and still seems relevant. That keeps my motor going for creating new things that can be watched 20 years from now.”
The fact that her movies have endured through time is something she finds “profoundly moving and really inspiring.” She and McCullah don’t have kids, Smith said, so their movies are like their babies.
“When I was growing up, all my role models were strong feminist women,” Smith said. “The fact that we can create things that impact young women the way that I was impacted when I was a girl watching movies or videos makes me feel really connected to a generation I otherwise wouldn’t naturally be connected to unless I had kids or something. I’m getting a little teared up thinking about it!”
Smith said she thinks that circle of women empowering each other is why she’s drawn to telling teenage stories. The feeling of being able to give back, protect, inspire and encourage the young casts she works with feels good.
She got to do just that with Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer, the writing team she co-created the “Trinkets” series with.
“[They] loved the book and had a great take on it and a lot of great ideas for it, Smith said. “I got to kind of be their big sister, mentor and chaperone as they wrote the pilot and as we created the whole story line for seasons one and two.”
The second and final season of the show, which follows a group of friends in a shoplifters anonymous group, premiered last month.
As for the aforementioned upcoming film set in Seattle, she plans to team up with Netflix again soon for a romantic comedy in the vein of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” where a funny female protagonist, currently slated to be played by Aubrey Plaza, gets caught in a bit of a lie in her pursuit of love. The movie is in development and Smith said she hopes they can begin filming sometime next year.
“Fingers crossed, since everything is always in flux,” she said. “But that’s the dream.”