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LOVE, SIMON

About The Production
THE BOOK

LOVE, SIMON was adapted from Becky Albertalli's young adult novel Simon vs The Homo Sapien's Agenda. Published in January 2012, the book won the William C. Morris Award for Best Young Adult Debut of the Year and was included in the National Book Award Longlist. Albertalli never imagined that her book would be published let alone become an award-winning bestseller and now a major motion picture: "I was a psychologist when I wrote the book," she says. "I was the mother of a one-year-old, now four-year-old. I was writing during his nap times. I had always wanted to write a book, and decided I would give it a try. I don't know where my idea for the plot came from, but the characters had been kicking around in my head for some time. I had this image of a messy-haired, gay kid in a hoodie, and that turned out to be Simon. I've worked a lot with kids who identify as LGBTQ or gender nonconforming, and they are unquestionably some of the bravest people I've ever met. As a psychologist, I'm painstakingly careful not to borrow my clients' stories for my fiction - but in a general sense, I'm very much inspired by all the teenagers I've been lucky enough to know and work with."

Producer Wyck Godfrey, and Marty Bowen, his partner at Temple Hill Entertainment, have become adept at recognizing literature that is ideal for screen adaptation. Having produced the phenomenally successful Twilight series and the adaptations of The Fault in Our Stars and The Longest Ride, they saw the big screen potential of Albertalli's story.

"We produce a lot of movies in the young adult space," says Godfrey. "Every time, you're trying to find something new and different and fresh that feels like it hasn't been done before. And fundamentally, we'd never seen a high school romantic comedy with a gay teenage lead. And so that was the thing with the book: we all read it and said, 'Oh my God, nobody's done this.' Nobody's just unabashedly openly made a movie about a kid that's going through the process that every gay individual goes through of figuring out their identity and when they should come out. And played it against this great, mysterious, evolving romance. With this anonymous guy online. And the book was hilarious. And the character of Simon was such a winning, lovable, kind of embraceable character that we thought it was worth developing."

THE FILM

In LOVE, SIMON sixteen-year-old and not openly gay Simon Spier starts a secret email flirtation with another closeted classmate. But when one of his emails falls into the wrong hands, Simon's secret is at risk of going public. He finds himself being blackmailed by Martin, his socially awkward, yet overtly confident classmate: Martin believes that with Simon's help, he could get a date with the beautiful Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp). And if Simon won't play wingman to Martin… well, his sexual identity might just become public knowledge. Worse, the privacy of 'Blue', the pen name of the boy he's been emailing, will be public too.

With his tight-knit group of friends branching out in new directions, his email correspondence with Blue growing more significant every day, and Martin's potential threat hanging over him, Simon starts to feels out of control. Now he has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out-without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or losing a shot at happiness with a guy whose real name he doesn't even know.

Producer Pouya Shahbazian was the first to board the project, "Becky Albertalli's book agent called me when he sold the book to Harper Collins. I read it and loved it and became involved at a very early stage."

"I think we're always looking for stories that are relatable," adds Temple Hill's Marty Bowen. "Even as adults, you're looking for things that remind you of your high school experience and feel authentic and relatable. And the journey of seeing somebody have to come to a realization that they need to truly be themselves by admitting their sexuality is a fairly universal thing today. And the way that was approached in the book is the way we approached it in the film, which is to treat it like your first kiss or the challenges of asking out the girl that you care about. Let's essentially treat coming out of the closet as a normal, everyday, high school decision, which it is for many people."

Conversations with Temple Hill, including with one of the film's producers, Isaac Klausner, reassured Albertalli that her beloved book was with the right team to usher it to the big screen.

"My initial conversations with them convinced me that they understood these characters and the story that they are trying to tell," confirms Albertalli. "They had a feel for the spirit of it. The name 'John Hughes' was thrown around a bit: the humor, and heart, of his films and striving for that balance. So I knew they wanted to make a film that would have been my favorite movie as a teenager!"

"As someone who grew up on the John Hughes films, that was sort of the touchstone for me," admits Godfrey. "When I pitched it to the studio, I said, 'It's kind of like Sixteen Candles but instead of Molly Ringwald it's a guy. And Jake Ryan's still Jake Ryan.' It was like taking that beloved movie and contextualizing it for them to understand what's going to make it different. For me it's John Hughes meets John Green. It's a great mix of kind of classic, really relatable high school characters set in a fun, buoyant, world - the sort of the thing that John Hughes did so well when I was growing up but resonant to today's teenage audience."

"I think if John Hughes had continued to make his high school series of films, that it was just a matter of time before he would have broken down those barriers and done a film like this," observes Marty Bowen. "So in a weird way this film is as much a part of the John Hughes legacy as it is anything else including Temple Hill."

Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger (This Is Us) and Isaac Aptaker signed on to adapt Albertalli's novel. Shahbazian says, "It's a dream scenario to have screenwriters write a first draft of a screenplay the way that Isaac and Elizabeth did for LOVE, SIMON. The script came in, and it was in fantastic shape from day one. They were busy writing for television, and we had to wait for them to become available but it was worth the wait."

Albertalli adds "They wrote a first draft and gave it to me and asked if I had any notes. I had read it and sobbed, and downloaded every single song they mentioned. And I thought: 'I'm supposed to give you notes?' The script was perfect."

The author was equally delighted when director Greg Berlanti was brought on to help develop the script: "Greg Berlanti is in charge of a lot of superhero shows on television. He is a literal superhero. He is absolutely brilliant. I was already a fan of his before he was on board. When I heard he might be interested, I lost it."

Shahbazian adds, "Greg Berlanti is the most thoughtful, considerate person I have ever met. He brings that humanity in directing this movie. He is telling a very personal story for himself, and as we developed the script with Greg, there were many times where he was able to draw upon his own experiences to really add a whole nuanced layer underneath what was already a very fun, brilliant and nuanced story."

"Greg is an unbelievable creative force," echoes Bowen. "And one of the defining characteristics about all of his work is the humanity of the characters. He just has a fundamental understanding of it. It is who he is, it's part of his DNA."

Writer Isaac Aptaker agrees, "Working with Greg Berlanti has been a total dream for my partner Elizabeth Berger and myself. He has this incredibly rare blend of being confident and wildly collaborative. This is also a very special story to him. The producers asked us to make a director wish-list. I have no idea if they ever looked at it or if it was just something to make us feel good, but Greg was at the top of that list."

"This has been a really significant and fun experience for me," acknowledges Berlanti. "I was a closeted gay high schooler, so it works on that level. It means a lot to me. But, I have also done a lot of high school projects over the years, and I have really wanted to do a high school movie that dealt with really iconic moments and themes regardless of sexuality. So when this one fell in my lap, and it had a gay point of view but was actually a movie about announcing yourself to the world, that anyone could relate to, I was really excited."

Albertalli got to spend quite a bit of time on set especially since the movie shot entirely in her hometown of Atlanta. Shahbazian says, "Becky Albertalli is not only an amazing person and fantastic writer, but she has been a big asset to have here in Atlanta during filming. She has been nothing but positive."

Berlanti adds, "I think everyone is always ready for a story well told. And, Isaac and Elizabeth and Becky all gave us that. This story should remind everybody, straight, gay, anyone, of who they were in high school and before they figured themselves out. What it is like to fall in love for the first time. What you do to protect that, what it is like to have great friendships, what it is like to have a family that gets a little bit too involved in your life sometimes."

Nick Robinson takes on the role of Simon Spier. The young star of Jurassic World and Everything, Everything was excited to be part of LOVE, SIMON. "This story has not been told before, in this way," suggests Robinson. "This movie has the potential to reach a lot of people and help them in a way that hasn't been done before. At its core it is a coming of age story, set in a high school. I feel like this telling was past due, and I wanted to be part of the team that helped tell it."

Shahbazian was thrilled to have Nick Robinson join the cast as Simon, "Nick is a brilliant young actor who has a tremendous future ahead of him. He has a huge presence. He captures all of the nuances. And, like Simon, Nick is a little bit of an introvert, and he plays the role beautifully. I believe it is a timeless character and Nick Robinson's done it incredible justice."

Robinson's views on the story, themes and characters mirrored those of the author, producers, and director: "LOVE, SIMON is a coming of age story about two high school kids that fall in love," he says.

Berlanti agrees: "To me, it's a coming of age story and in that sense, very traditional. But in another sense, there had not been a major studio film with a gay lead at the center of a coming of age movie. It has romance and comedy and all the stuff that fills up a young kid's life, but it is also told from the point of view of a kid who is in the closet, who is about to be outed by the class clown if he doesn't hook up his best friend with him."

"It is difficult for me to describe how perfectly Nick Robinson captures both his character and the turmoil he is experiencing," says Albertalli. "There is a line in the script that I wish I could claim from the book. Simon's mother says, 'For the last couple of years, it's been like you've been holding your breath. Like I could feel you holding your breath,' and I see that in the way that Nick is playing Simon."

"Even in the moments of joy with his friends there is a part of him that is holding back," continues Albertalli. "You see him grappling with it throughout. It is an undercurrent through the whole movie. I love Simon. He has been in my head for a long time. His vulnerability, his awkwardness. His joy. Nick just nails it."

LOVE, SIMON lives and breathes Simon's world. "The film is definitely centered around the character," acknowledges Robinson. "His voice and his point of view. His worldview. His comic sensibilities. I think that is what makes it unique for this genre. It is not on its surface a gay film. It's about a kid going through something, trying to find his place in the world which is hard enough. All of this is compounded by the fact that he is struggling with his sexuality. I also think that is where a lot of the comedy comes from because he can turn situations that might seem bleak to some and find the humor in them. That was something I found very appealing."

While Simon has an online flirtation, his lifelong friendship with one his best friends Leah, played by Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), becomes strained. "Leah is insecure and quite fragile herself," says Langford. "She is struggling with all of these people growing up around her and wants to hold on. She is especially jealous of Abby, the new girl in school who bulldozes her way into their lifelong friendships."

Abby is played by Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) and is the girl in high school that everyone wants to know. "I think Alex does a great job of being that, but also of being in the moment when Simon comes out to her," says Robinson.

Shipp says, "Abby is the hot girl in the school, which is awesome because I wasn't the hot girl in school! So this has been a really fun part to play. The core group is Simon, Leah, Abby and Simon's friend Nick (played by Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) and Simon and Abby are really close although Abby's relationship with Leah is a little tumultuous at the beginning. I think, primarily because there is an unrequited aspect to Leah's feelings for Simon."

The relationships between the four friends evolves throughout the film but the catalyst for all the changes begins when Simon sees a post on the secret high school social media site "Creek Secrets." The post is about a student who is gay and afraid to come out. It resonates with Simon so much that he has to reach out.

"It's significant to Simon," says Robinson, "because it represents a peer, a colleague who is going through the same thing and not only are they going to the same thing, but they go to the same school. What starts out as a curiosity quickly becomes something that is essential to his life."

As well as Simon's friends, we also meet his family, including his parents Emily and Jack, played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel.

Garner says, "This movie is about a number of things, including family. The family you are born in to and the family that you create for yourself with friends. Especially that precious group when you are in those teenage years and they mean everything to you. You think you know everything about them and they think they know everything about you. It's also about having the courage to really stand up for yourself and say what you need to say."

When Simon's secret is revealed it surprises his family, who are loving and accepting but still experience growing pains when they become aware of the news.

"Jack and Emily have a good marriage, good family and Simon kind of makes them see things aren't exactly what they thought they were," says Duhamel. "Emily is a psychologist and wants to analyze everything. Jack is a contractor who tends to make a joke out of everything. We have a great dynamic. Two perfect kids. They have a lot of love for each other, so they are ultimately able to walk this new path together."

Albertalli adds, "Simon has a really good family, including his sister Nora played by Talitha Bateman. They love each other and love their parents and know ultimately that they have each other's backs."

Rounding out the cast are Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. as Simon's friend Nick; Logan Miller as Martin the class clown, and Miles Heizer and Keiynan Lonsdale as Cal Price and Bram Greenfield, two of Simon's classmates.

Greg Berlanti adds, "I am incredibly proud of the cast we assembled. I think the younger members are the best of their generation and you will be seeing a lot from them in the next decade or two. If you remember a lot of the classic coming of age movies, high school movies, there were actors that we met when they were younger that we knew for generations. And, I think this cast has the same capacity."

FINDING YOUR TRUTH

"The movie is about family and love. But it is also about secrets," says Jennifer Garner. "It's about letting them out, being who you are and having the courage to really stand up for yourself and say what you need to say. And the movie deals with these themes and the theme of being yourself but in a fun and refreshing way. There is definitely some fun in the movie and it's not all drama."

One of the major themes of LOVE, SIMON is living your truth, learning to be and accepting yourself. As Greg Berlanti explains: "It is never too early to be who you are. There are a lot of kids who don't get to come out in high school and Simon is outed, pulled out, but he learns to accept who he is and live with his own truth and being himself."

The movie encourages the audience to be courageous and true to themselves.

"I hope people watching the movie and people reading the book will feel empowered to own their true self," says Becky Albertalli.

Nick Robinson agrees, "I think everyone had been through this at some point in their lives. Trying to find yourself and being the person that you were meant to be is very universal. I think everybody can relate to that."

Alexandra Shipp adds, "I think a lot of teenagers can relate to the struggle because I think that a lot of teenagers are struggling with finding themselves. They don't know who they are. They don't have an idea of who they want to be when they grow up. It's not just about sexuality. It's about who you really are. Not who you sleep with but who you really are on this planet."

THE MUSIC

Like many of the movies that inspired LOVE, SIMON music is an integral part of the film and the songs on the soundtrack were always going to be an important aspect of the production. To this end, the filmmakers appointed three-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Jack Antonoff as executive music producer of the soundtrack.

Antonoff is probably best known for his work as lead singer and songwriter of the band Bleachers and lead guitarist of the indie rock band fun. "When I met Greg Berlanti," he recalls, "he started showing me clips and I think they had temped in some of my music, which might have been the seed of me being asked to get involved. We started discussing his feelings on the film and he talked about this sort of modern John Hughes feeling, which meant a lot to me. Then I saw the film and it was beautiful. I absolutely loved it. I totally got it and the way it was both a good time and incredibly emotional all at once."

Although a few Antonoff songs have appeared in films before, the songwriter had never created music specifically for a film: "It was new for me and the only reason I felt okay about doing it is because I really felt got it. It really spoke to me. The first time I saw the film, the Bleachers song, "Wild Heart," played at the end and as soon as I saw that, I thought I could back up from there. I, thought, 'Okay, that works'. And I didn't write that for the film. But it sits in so perfectly, so I know which pieces of that I could take and make new work."

The final soundtrack contains 13 songs, including classic tracks from The Jackson 5 and Whitney Houston, as well as several Bleachers songs and new material from Antonoff - including the single "Alfie's Song (Not So Typical Love Song)" performed by Bleachers.

"To me, that song is the feeling of LOVE, SIMON - both extremely upbeat and extremely emotional all at once," says Antonoff. "It's a song you could put it on in a car with your friends or at a party but then the lyrics sneak in these moments that are very emotional. And that's what the film did for me."

SETTING

LOVE, SIMON filmed in the greater Atlanta area. Albertalli, a Georgia and Atlanta native, set her novel in her hometown. And, that is precisely where the filmmakers wanted to film it.

As Executive Producer Timothy M. Bourne explains, "Simon was a book authored by a local, and so for once a movie I am shooting in Atlanta is actually set in Atlanta! Greg wanted to make sure we were true to the story and true to the economics of each character. We shot at a very large high school set in an urban environment. We actually shot at three different high schools. We are set in the south, so you have to have a scene at a Waffle House. It's just part of life and the landscape here."

"Temple Hill made four movies in Atlanta last year," adds Marty Bowen. "And it's a wonderful place to shoot. It's got great facilities. The Mayor's office is supportive of film. Everybody embraces it whereas in other cities, even though there's a rebate, there's a lot of people that don't like the 'interlopers' coming in. But Atlanta has been a pleasure that way. The fact that the movie belonged there is almost secondary. But it was a beautiful marriage of opportunity and creative necessity."

While shooting in Atlanta, the filmmakers wanted to utilize as many local and unique businesses as they could. Dancing Goats Coffee is one local business that is beginning to branch out. "We also tried to show some of the local artists," says Bourne. "There is an Atlanta graffiti artist who has 'Pray for Atlanta' posters and stickers across the city, so we incorporated those but Dancing Goats was part of that spice, that flavor of Atlanta that we wanted to incorporate into the film."

For the film's climactic carnival scene, the filmmakers recreated a carnival at Norcross' Lillian Webb. "We picked the park in Norcross for a number of reasons," explains Bourne. "It had a nice square around it that had a fountain incorporated inside of it, and it could accommodate carnival rides.".

COSTUMES

Director Greg Berlanti chose Eric Daman to design the costumes for LOVE, SIMON.

"Greg is a joy to work with" says Daman. "I have worked with hundreds of directors between features and television and I feel like he is one of my favorites. He is so generous and honest. He directs with a smile."

Costume design is an integral element in storytelling. "Costume design can be big or can be very subtle and nuanced like we are doing with Simon's character," says Daman. He begins more light-hearted, he wears lighter colors and lighter tones. When he begins to fall in love they colors are even lighter. But when Martin starts to blackmail him, the colors become more ominous and dark, almost melancholy.

"For the character of Leah, we have her in turtlenecks throughout the movie. When everything comes to a head, we have her in a black turtleneck. A darker more confrontational look."

In the novel, Simon has a love for hoodies. Daman wanted to be true to the character but also give him a little bit more. "Simon has almost 50 changes of wardrobe. I couldn't just create this character with a zipped up hooded sweatshirt. In our first meeting Greg was in total agreement. We wanted to punctuate and kind of play around with the hooded sweatshirt and what that means and what scenes they would be in," explains Daman.

Abby is new to Atlanta and needed a little extra flair. "Abby has a very distinctive style. More urban. A New York feel. A little more athletic, a little more branded and a little more oversized," says Daman.

Daman let his creative juices flow when he designed for Martin. "I don't have favorites, but it was a lot of fun to design for Martin. I kind of riffed off 1975 SNL. We ended up dressing him in 70's shirts over punk t-shirts and layered that with cardigans. There is a chaos to Martin's world."

LAST WORDS

"At the end of the day," observes Kathryn Langford, "This is a big studio making a pro-LGBTQ film and that's just very cool, you know?"

Adds director Greg Berlanti: "It wasn't a story that I felt already existed. It reflects my own high school experience yet still feels like it's for everybody, you know? Where the central point of view was something that rang close to home, but what the film had to say was something that everyone could relate to."

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