Get in loser, we’re going to the movies. The Barbie boxes may be gone, but there’s another opportunity to parade all things pink and plastic. Two decades after Mean Girls became an integral part of the lexicon, Tina Fey’s cultural phenomenon is back in a vibrant screen adaptation of the Broadway musical. The cautionary tale about the queen bee’s of the high school hive sees its timeless message updated for the TikTok generation thanks to a cue from the musical adaptation of introducing social media to North Shore High.
Based on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 book Queen Bees and Wannabes, the 2004 original film, and the 2018 Broadway show, 2024’s Mean Girls brings the best of each iteration forward for a pitch perfect modern musical take. Tina Fey produces (alongside Lorne Michaels) and returns to write the screenplay as well as reprise her role of Ms. Norbury. Composer Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) and lyricist Nell Benjamin return to adapt the stage songs for the screen with a pop flair. Singer, songwriter, and actress Reneé Rapp also reprises her Broadway turn as Regina George and contributes two new songs for the film.
Only in theaters on January 12th from Paramount Pictures, Mean Girls is co-directed by husband-wife team Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. Jayne is the creator of Quarter Life Poetry, a project that began on Instagram and eventually led to a book, which in turn inspired bite-size segments that premiered at Sundance before being picked up as an FX limited series. Perez Jr. was hand-picked by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in 2015 for HBO’s “Project Greenlight” and is the director behind such music videos as Justin Timberlake’s “Say Something” and Finneas’ “What They’ll Say About Us”.
Jayne and Perez Jr. began their collaboration concept The Yes Bus as a commitment to truly listening to each other’s ideas while collaborating. It’s a philosophy that seeks deeper connection between collaborators and harvests the ideas that result. In a chat with Boxoffice Pro, Jayne and Perez Jr. dish on co-directing the quotable cult classic’s musical coda and bringing the burn book back to the big screen.
How did you ride the philosophy of The Yes Bus to North Shore High?
Samantha Jayne: Oh, I love that question!
Arturo Perez Jr.: Everywhere. We did it with everyone. We did The Yes Bus with each one of our collaborators.
Samantha Jayne: At the very beginning, Art and I created Camp Fetch, which was kind of like a Bible and document for ourselves.
Arturo Perez Jr.: A 200-page document [Laughs.]
Samantha Jayne: We really thought about every approach and everything we wanted to do. We got aligned with it ourselves and then it was a process of exploration, diving in, and feeling what’s right. It has to be in a safe space; you have to be able to say yes…
Arturo Perez Jr.: And listen. Listening is the most important part; fully listening. We all say we listen, but we don’t often fully one-hundred percent listen, and you can get a lot of good stuff there.
Samantha Jayne: Yeah, so we really did that process with each other and then once we had this document at a place where we were happy, we folded in our department heads and they got on The Yes Bus…
Arturo Perez Jr.: We got on their Yes Bus and then we all went on this ride together. I think it turned out okay. It works! [Laughs.]
Samantha Jayne: It was the efforts of a lot of really, incredibly talented, thoughtful people.
It’s few and far between when an audience organically claps at the end of the screening, you can feel the heart and soul in the film.
Samantha Jayne: Oh good!
Arturo Perez Jr.: Thank you so much, we tried so hard!
There’s a shot in the opening of the film that perfectly illustrates the importance of the big screen experience. It’s like stepping into Oz; it pulls the audience in. Last year, Gen Z demonstrated their desire for a theatrical event and you’ve made this film feel like an event. In collaborating with Tina Fey, you not only have the actor and the producer on set, but you also have the writer and the creator of this universe. What was your collaboration like?
Arturo Perez Jr.: She’s cool…
Samantha Jayne: Super cool. I’ve been a super fan since before I can remember. I think what really resonated with me about Mean Girls as a girl is that it felt like it wasn’t preaching down to high schoolers. It felt like it really understood what we were going through and it had that biting, naughty humor that she’s known for—that undercutting that’s so witty and smart. Mean Girls has been her baby for so long. That kind of humor needs to be in this version. Also, it’s about bringing in the feeling of the musical numbers and balancing the comedy with the earnestness of what these characters are going through. It was honestly a really humbling experience working with her and seeing how open and collaborative she was to our ideas, approaches, and adapting this [story] to today’s audience.
Arturo Perez Jr.: I think from our very first meeting, we were like, “This has to be surprising. This has to be surprising.” That was the goal. “How do we make this surprising?” That was the beginning of a three year journey.
What were some of the creative mountains that you scaled?
Arturo Perez Jr.: There’s so many.
Samantha Jayne: Oh yeah, there were mountain ranges.
Arturo Perez Jr.: A sign of a really good artist is being able to come back to the material and have a desire to make it even better, or different, and to geek out about it still. That’s really special. Both Jeff and Tina have done that. It’s awesome.
Samantha Jayne: “Revenge Party” was a beast. It’s an eight minute song. We love, love, love the Broadway version and there’s entire verses where they’re just listing things: cake and ice cream and parties. We’re like, “What do we do, in this space?” I think we realized that, essentially, this is a pitch that Janis and Damian put together to present to Cady. They just used all of their resources, the high school art department, to go do that on the weekend. That [concept] just seemed really, really fun to us and it came together from there. I think we really enjoyed working through the camera movements to keep that entire sequence dynamic and moving.
Arturo Perez Jr.: It’s a pitch, but it’s a pitch for one audience member and that is Cady. How do we make it as fun and colorful as possible, but it’s about killing Regina. [Laughs.]
Samantha Jayne: Which just goes so well with Tina Fey’s humor of like, “It’s great, but we’re gonna kill this bitch.” You know? It was a lot of fun.
There are some songs in the musical that aren’t in the film, but everything is so tight and the story keeps moving forward. Was Tina making those decisions in the screenplay? Or did you make those decisions together as a team?
Arturo Perez Jr.: It was a collaboration. The whole thing was evolving right up until the end. At some point we even dropped “Apex Predator” for some reason and then we were like, “What are we doing?” And we put it back…
Samantha Jayne: There were a lot of conversations…
Arturo Perez Jr.: About every song. Like “Stop”. Ugh.
Samantha Jayne: I know, we love [the song] “Stop” so much. It’s like you were saying, you have to keep the story moving; you have to do what’s essential to the story. Also, the music team did such a beautiful job updating the palette to be more pop and appeal to a wider audience than purely the Broadway show [would]. I think allowing for a bit of that openness and exploration allowed Reneé Rapp to work on a song as well.
Arturo Perez Jr.: Reneé killed it. She wrote two of the songs in this. She’s awesome. Her and Jeff, they did such a great job.
What was that like, working with Jeff and the music team to put in that pop flair?
Arturo Perez Jr.: I think, for us, it was essential that this movie felt like today, like now. It can’t be 10 years ago, it certainly can’t be 20 years ago, it has to be now. The music team, from the beginning, wanted to do that and Jeff wanted to do that. They went to work. I love it. It’s really great music and catchy as…
Samantha Jayne: Yeah, and it wasn’t a blanket thing. It was very specific to each character. Janis might be more raw, where Karen might be more disco and produced. It’s very character based, but they updated it in really smart and fresh ways. I constantly have the songs in my head all the time.
Arturo Perez Jr.: All the time.
How did you approach creating the musical sequences and finding creative ways to get in and out of them?
Arturo Perez Jr.: We thought about it forever.
Samantha Jayne: There was a lot of Yes Bus-ing…
Arturo Perez Jr.: A lot of Yes Bus-ing.
Samantha Jayne: We really had two rules for ourselves when we were talking about the music sequences; whose perspective are we in and what is the feeling? We didn’t want to do tricks for the sake of them. We wanted it to feel like it’s coming from a place that serves the story and serves the character. With everything we did, we answered those two questions and put every cinematic tool we had behind it.
I think we wanted to make this experience feel quite singular. Oftentimes, [the musical sequences] weren’t occurring in reality, they were occurring within the character’s inner reality. Being able to establish a grounded school and a grounded space, [allowed us] to pop out to these worlds and then come back, that was important to us too. We wanted it to feel accessible, so that kids would be like, “Oh, that’s my high school. Oh yeah, that’s what other kids in my school look like. This feels real to me.”
Arturo Perez Jr.: We didn’t want for [the characters] to all of a sudden be singing. We wanted it to be a surprising way in [to the song]. We really wanted the way into songs to be just as enjoyable as the songs themselves.
Do each of you have a favorite moviegoing memory or experience that has influenced your work?
Samantha Jayne: I remember seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess when I was young. It’s about this girl whose father died in war, and she’s essentially in an orphanage, living in an attic. She is living this really dismal existence, but her inner world is so rich. She dives inward and that world explodes outward. It feels so rich and real.
There is this feast scene, just because I love food, where she’s imagining with her friend that there’s sausages and all kinds of things. It felt so real. Then, when you go back to her reality, you realize just how rich the imagination can be and how influential it can be in your life. It’s one of those things that you can only explore through cinema, I think, to really understand the disparate nature of reality versus what’s going on in your mind. I think that’s always resonated with me, and I’ve tried to carry that throughout every story I’ve written or worked on.
Arturo Perez Jr.: I snuck into Good Will Hunting.
Samantha Jayne: You snuck in?!
Arturo Perez Jr.: I snuck in. That movie changed my life in a way. It’s awesome. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. It keeps going on and on and on.
Samantha Jayne: You know every word to Good Will Hunting though.
Arturo Perez Jr.: I know every word.
Samantha Jayne: I feel like we have finally seen our version of Mean Girls so many times…
Arturo Perez Jr: Yeah, because when you make a movie, you have to watch the movie a lot.
Samantha Jayne: At one point I turned to him and said, “I think you’ve finally seen this movie as many times as Good Will Hunting.”