Whip It!

Author Shauna Cross talks about her derby film

Most times, nine times out of 10 I'd say, if a book is optioned by a production company or a studio, a different writer will be brought in to adapt the book into the screenplay. Such wasn't the case with Whip It, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 26. The film was based off the book Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, who was actually a screenwriter who wrote the book based off her own experiences as a roller derby girl... which she quickly parlayed into a movie deal where she wrote the screenplay. Trust me, that's not something that happens every day, folks. I had the chance to speak with this unique writer about her roller derby days, the film and much more. Here's what she had to say.

Your book Derby Girl is based off your experiences in roller derby. I was curious why you didn't go the non-fiction route with the book instead of doing this fictional novel?

Shauna Cross: Probably because my own, complete, documentary experiences would be a little more boring. I always think its fun to be able to shade and tweak things to your point of view. There's also a great documentary about the revival of the sport, and I wanted more of just one girl's personal story versus a whole documentary that had already been done.

I read that you were basically shopping both the book and the movie around at the same time. How did that whole process work?

Shauna Cross: Yeah. I kind of accidentally went backwards. I started as a screenwriter, writing things here and there in Austin but nothing had been made yet. I just started this as a lark to write a book, just because I kind of had to get it off my chest. I wasn't sure it was going to be a movie or whatever so I just wrote the book for fun. The book sold pretty quickly and the movie sold immediately following that. The pitch sold so I ended up writing the book and the movie sort of simultaneously. It was quite an adventure. It was all derby, all the time.

It's interesting because you hear about people like John Irving with The Cider House Rules, it took him like 13 years to write the screenplay. I was curious of how the process of doing both the book and the movie went for you?

Shauna Cross: My whole thing is I became an accidental novelist. I was more of a frustrated screenwriter who went ass-backwards, basically. I fell off screenwriting and accidentally wrote a novel and the novel really pushed the screenwriting through. I think my secret was just to be a total jack-ass about it (Laughs). It was more like falling upwards. I highly recommend it.

Maybe I'll just start doing that then.

Shauna Cross: Unlike John Irving, I did not have a high-fallootin novelist pedigree career to protect. I was just shooting from the hip.

Did you find with the movie version that you were able to expand the world a lot more?

Shauna Cross: Yeah. I came from movies, and I always knew the cinematic three-act structure. That's always my taste, stories that move fast. The book is definitely more internal and her point of view and her voice. Once I started really working on the movie, it's really about building those characters around her, her teammates. You're writing parts that well-known actors are going to play, so you want to give them a lot to do. That was a new element of it that was really fun and really inspiring.

It must have been just a dream come true to see this cast assemble. You have so many amazing actors that came on board for this. What was it like when this cast started to come together and it started to become a movie?

Shauna Cross: It was surreal and it continues to be surreal. It's an amazing little family. I had always written the movie for Ellen (Page) because I had just seen Hard Candy and then in the meantime Juno happened so it was a weird, lucky thing. Even on top of that, once Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig and Drew decided to play a part, it was pretty special. Then there's Daniel Stern, Marcia Gay Harden, Andrew Wilson, the whole oddball, motley crew family that Drew put together, just got more exciting with every step. I think that's actually the hallmark of the film, the cast, because it's just a really great group. Sometimes you hear things about big casts, about how it worked on screen but a person might have been a jerk off screen, everyone was amazing. It was a good little family and it was the real deal.

I was actually at the event at the Doll Factory before the film came out.

Shauna Cross: Oh, cool.

They were talking about all the training that they had to go through for that. Were you hands-on with that, in the training?

Shauna Cross: Honestly, at that point, I kind of handed it off to some other girls in our league. I mean, really, I kind of had all the glory as the writer and I really pushed to get other girls in our league involved as much as possible. And honestly, I didn't want to be responsible for training everyone (Laughs). No, but we got Alex Cohen and Jennifer Barbee, who are L.A. Derby Dolls, they did most of the training and stunts and they were pretty great. Those girls definitely worked hard. Juliette was really funny because she totally lied when they were offering the part. She had no idea how to skate at all, so it was pretty funny.

I actually have some friends back home in Minnesota who are derby girls in a flat-track league and some of them came out here and played in a banked-track tournament and they said it was quite a different experience than the flat track.

Shauna Cross: Did they like it or were they overwhelmed?

I think it was a little bit of both, actually.

Shauna Cross: OK, cool! I love both banked and flat track. We did flat track before we built our track. We had a couple of opportunities to steal some time and skate on an old-school track. I thought I was going to die at first. I love both, but I love that banked track. You can go so fast and it hurts less to fall on that track, it's actually a softer fall. I know it makes a lot of noise, but it's softer than concrete. Concrete hurts. The track sort of bounces a little bit.

OK. Back home it's just concrete with painted lines, but the cool thing you have people just sitting right up against the lines.

Shauna Cross: Yeah, so when you fall you go flying into the audience. That part is great. I will say that I think that flat-track girls are a little bit tougher because falling on concrete hurts a lot more than falling on our track.

Since the movie came out, have you seen the film impact the L.A. derby crowds at all? Is there an increase since the film?

Shauna Cross: Well, L.A. is such a unique city because the community really supports the derby here, the flat-track league and our banked-track league. It always sells out but it's funny because our crowd has gotten a little more Hollywood hipsters, agent-types, so it's funny to see them in the mix at those things. I kind of feel like derby is cool enough without the movie. I think it's great that other people have discovered it or seen it, when they see the movie, they know what they're talking about. It's good for people to actually see it and the sport is so interesting that it's not fake, it's completely real and its set in this world of modern, aggressive girls with this complete camaraderie which is special for people to see.

Is there anything that you can say about If I Stay? I believe that is going into production soon.

Shauna Cross: Yeah. Dakota Fanning is attached and it's sometime this spring or summer. It's a really incredible story - how do I say it - it's an incredible girl's story that has a really intense, dramatic ending. I actually got to adapt someone else's book, this woman Gail Foreman, who wrote a really amazing story and that was a really fun adventure because I buddied up with her right away. It was interesting to adapt someone else's work, having done my own. I felt very empathetic and very protective about her work and I think having done my own, made me a better partner with her. It's been pretty good and hopefully we'll be shooting this year.

Well, I guess that's my time. Thanks so much for your time, Shauna.

Shauna Cross: OK. Thank you.

You can watch the fictional adventures of Ellen Page's Bliss Cavendar, based off the real adventures of Shauna Cross in Whip It when it hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on January 26.