Rebecca Cutter
Story Editor For The Mentalist Talks Indie Film

By Karen Melgar

Besties.MoviePosterIndependent filmmaking is where filmmakers can take risks. Rebecca Cutter is fully aware of this in her debut feature Besties. The movie tells the story of a mousy girl, Sandy, who admires the older blonde, blue-eyed girl next door, Ashley. On a weekend when Sandy's father is away, Ashley babysits and has a party and things take a nasty turn when an old flame turns up to bother the girls who are alone at the house. I have to admit I was not expecting some of the twists that Besties took but they were a pleasant surprise. The crosscutting of genres that do not always go together is a bit of a risk but a task that Cutter does quite well. A coming-of-age flick with a lot of the scenarios that could happen to anyone and a thriller are not genres that immediately come to mind as having crossover possibilities. However, seeing the movie will change your mind about that. After all, if you think back, a lot of the uncomfortable parts of growing up felt like a suspense or thriller film at the time.

The haunting parts are the realistic setting and the girls who seem like they could be anyone on your block. Kudos must be given to Olivia Crocicchia who convincingly plays Sandy, and Madison Riley who portrays Ashley. They gave life to these characters in such a way that you might imagine they've lived lives like these in the past. The truth is that Besties takes a lot of winding emotional twists and for a coming-of-age film, has a lot of surprises. It was enjoyable to watch but also to think about for a bit after –to be grateful for how you grew up. Fortunately, I had a chance to speak with Rebecca. Here's the interview:

How did the concept for Besties come about?

I was working with an agent and I had a short film at Sundance that had a little boy in it and he [the agent] wanted me to do something with young people and there were different ideas back-and-forth. I was interested in exploring this idea of a young person who idolizes an older person and will do anything for them and that kind of developed into what is the event that is at the heart of that relationship. Then, over many years it developed into what it is.

I think you successfully mixed two genres that I wouldn't have thought really go together, the coming-of-age and the thriller/suspense genres.

Oh, yeah, that's definitely what I was going for, so I'm glad.

What about the coming-of-age genre is perfect for that mixture? Because I do think that while I never would have thought they go together, once I did see it, I thought 'yeah, they do go.'

Well, first of all, it's a huge wrinkle in the coming-of-age story because obviously it has a lot higher stakes than just teen angst. But I think it goes together because teenagers are really impulsive and they don't always make good decisions. You can see how they're drawn to violence sort of accidentally because of their age and lack of experience and knowledge. By virtue of being young and inexperienced and not having an adult’s perspective on the world, they make bad decisions and don't know how to handle a scary situation. Even both girls are sort of victims in their own way…and neither of them [handles] it the way an adult would handle it. The violent aspect is how a young person handles the situation rather than having the knowledge to call the police. still

How long did the shoot take?

We shot it really fast. It took about nineteen days originally and then a few more days a few months later. It took a long time after that to cut the movie together because I was working full time, so I was doing it nights and weekends. It took a while for it to actually be finished but the actual shooting was wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

And where did you shoot it?

It was all in LA. It was a very low budget movie so we were depending a lot on favors and free locations and crew members working for free. So, the inside of Sandy's house is actually at the stunt coordinator's house, an hour or so north of LA. The outside of Sandy's house was in the valley. Anywhere we could basically shoot for free is where we shot. My house is part of the inside, Ashley's room is my daughter's room; my room is another room in the house.

Rebecca Cutler Besties

It does seem that there are many lessons to be learned from the situation the girls put themselves in, do you think that's important in this type of movie, that the audience go away with something? 

I mean, I wasn't trying to teach a lesson, I don't think. I'm much more interested in people relating than learning. You know, older people can relate or remember that feeling of idolization when they were younger and not knowing their own place and looking up to someone else and thinking they have it all figured out. I'd much rather somebody feel like, “oh, that really feels real to me” than necessarily learning a lesson. Also, you are rooting for Sandy to have some kind of epiphany, so if there is a lesson, it's believing in yourself and not thinking that somebody else is better than you. 
You give a very open-ended final scene, is there in your mind a specific way that the girls' lives turn out and will you share it?[laughs] You'll have to wait for Besties 2, just kidding – the jail years. I don't imagine Ashley's going to jail. I mean, they are probably young enough and they were victims in their own right and it was self-defense. I think that she would get off but she is definitely going to get her punishment. What she was trying to avoid the whole time was any kind of scandal or anything that makes her look bad or anything that would upset the applecart of her life, which is really based on getting away from her mom, getting away from her life and getting in with these rich kids and her boyfriend Chad. And I think that is jeopardized at the end. That's why Chad's there and she finally breaks and yells at him and tells him to go away. It's the first time she's ever spoken up to him because her whole bread and butter is trying to be in with him and his gang. I think there are consequences, I don't think she's going to go to jail but you know, I haven't written that part yet, so I don't know. 
I know you also said you were working full time when you were working on Besties, was that in your role as story editor on The Mentalist
I was still an assistant, actually, on The Mentalist at that time. I was assistant to the creator of the show. And then the year after I did the movie, I did a freelance episode, that's just when they bring in someone who's not on the staff yet to write an episode, so I did that and it went really well so I got staffed the next year and I've been writing for them for two years now. 
The Mentalist
Can you tell me a little bit about writing for the show?
Oh, it's amazing. It's so great. Especially having directed an independent feature beforehand, I can really appreciate being on a big-budget network TV show, it's such a well-oiled machine compared to indie film. You need a location, you pay for it. It's not like beg, borrow, steal and it's so cool. Every week you write an episode and you see it get produced at this really high level and there's very cool people to work with and I love the creator Bruno Heller. He's really been like a mentor to me. So, it's been a really amazing experience; I really do like writing for television. 
What do you attribute the success of the program to? 

Well, definitely since the beginning, the appeal of the lead character Patrick Jane and the actor Simon Baker, they go together. He brings the character to life in a way that's just really appealing and he's sort of mysterious enough that I think audiences really want to spend time with him and see what he's going to do next. And the cases are really fun and there's all the pleasure of the procedural like the 'who did it?' and trying to figure that out but also the humor and the characters. That's what the show has always been about. Then this year with solving the 'Red John' case and jumping ahead two years and there's this whole new team, so I think the audience is intrigued, “what's this show? What's going to happen?” It peaks their interest in a good way so they want to know what's gonna happen next. 
What were some of your influences and how did you get your start in this industry? 

Well, I was always a writer. I always enjoyed creative writing, short stories. In college I took a lot of short story classes and I also did a lot of photography but I didn't ever put that together as the two sides of filmmaking. Then, after college I decided “I want to write professionally but I don't even know what that looks like,” and I kind of got the idea that writing plus photography is kind of what filmmaking is, so I started writing screenplays and then I applied to film school. I got into USC film school and then I moved out here [Los Angeles] and I went to Sundance with my thesis film and I got an agent, started working on the Besties script. That was the path.
I guess the inspiration, I mean, my mother was a therapist and I used to eavesdrop on her in the house with her patients. So, human emotion, human foibles, human pain – I feel like what I do is not so different from what my mother does, in that it's like mining the human condition for stories. Even though I'm not a therapist, I'm not helping people the way she is, but listening to people's stories and being fascinated by that, that was the basis for it. Growing up, specifically for Besties and not many people have heard of this movie but I love it so much, it's called Bully from Larry Clerk – he did Kids – It's this movie called Bully, it's based on a true story and I've read the book and the movie is very faithful to the reality. It's about these kids and there's this bully in their group and they basically kill him and it's just so well done. These kids are so not slick, it's not like the network TV version where they have a plan and they're covering it up well. They're dummies and they don't cover it up well at all and they have no planning and they clearly are not thinking well about the consequences. When I was writing Besties, I was thinking "how does a teenager react to covering up a crime?" so Bully was a great inspiration. Any time I wanted to make them too smart, I remembered, that's not realistic.
Rebecca also helped finance Michael Stabile's Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story, a documentary film about the life of filmmaker turned philanthropist, Chuck Holmes. The Mentalist is on its sixth season and airs every Sunday on CBS. Besties is available on Amazon here. You can watch the trailer here.


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