Widgets Magazine

Directing with James Franco

Courtesy of Light at 11B

“How did I get here? I have no freaking idea.”

A wide-eyed Lacey Dorn ’11 laughs in disbelief. It’s opening night of “Metamorphosis: Junior Year”, the play adaptation of Betsy Franco’s quirky young adult novel and what Lacey has spent the last six months of her life documenting on film. James, her co-director and Betsy’s eldest son, flies in Monday to direct a shoot. You can imagine it’s difficult to collaborate in person when Lacey’s finishing up at Stanford and James is working towards his Ph.D. in English at Yale. What’s probably a bit harder to manage is when your co-director is also balancing a movie star career along with high-profile gigs like hosting the Oscars, making appearances on “General Hospital”, romancing Japanese body pillows on “30 Rock” and studying at practically every college your mom can name, like UCLA, Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn College and occasionally Warren Wilson College.

But how do you even get yourself there in the first place? How do you wrestle your way onto an already over-committed star’s radar?

Easy – you go to Telluride Film Festival.

courtesy of Light at 11B

James recently raked in the critical acclaim, not to mention an Oscar nomination for his starring role in “127 Hours”, the follow-up of “Slumdog Millionaire” for director Danny Boyle. The film premiered at Telluride last September, which Lacey attended along with her friend and Stanford Film Society head, Sam Pressman ’10, who worked the festival. After the movie’s Q&A, Lacey struck up a conversation with James and realized they had much in common.

“I share a lot of the same academic interests, especially with writing, and his parents met at Stanford. He grew up in Palo Alto,” Lacey said. “So we were talking about lots of stuff, and he was like, ‘You know what? My mom and I are doing a project in Palo Alto. Why don’t you help out?'”

Naturally, Lacey agreed. “It was totally serendipitous, and I got a call from his producer in the next month who was like, ‘Hey, want to help out?'”

Lacey’s role snowballed from there, going from helper, to co-producer and to co-director.

“So this has been a total whirlwind. They brought me on after things had just started, but no one really knew what was going on,” Lacey said. “We didn’t know what angle we wanted to take or how we wanted to approach it, but we did know that there’s this amazing creative process. There’s a community that has a lot of pressure on teens, where there’s been a lot of teen mental health problems despite the surface perfection. It’s Palo Alto — the Stanford Duck Syndrome definitely — it expands into Palo Alto and the high schoolers here for sure.”

The next step was to interview the teens involved and figure out which stories to follow.

“It’s a documentary, so you never know what’s going to happen, so a lot of it was just, in the beginning, me being here with a camera with a crew and just getting everything…learning who these teens are, what their stories are, what’s compelling,” Lacey said. “And then identifying teens whose stories will tell that and reflect themes of the book as they go through it.”

But getting to know the kids on the level Lacey did made it hard to see some of them cut in the audition process.

“It was hard to put up a barrier between being an aunt or something to them and being a documentary maker.”

The teens finish up with the play on March 12, and shooting will wrap shortly after. Production then moves down to Los Angeles for editing. Despite the distance, Lacey still plans on being a part of the editing process.

“This is my biggest priority right now, so I’m going to make it work,” Lacey said. “This will be put into film festivals. It’s an amazing thing for me to be working with James and the team…They’ve been great mentors for me as a young filmmaker. Really, I couldn’t have asked for any better of an opportunity.”