A conversation with screenwriter Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith will probably involve a lot of laughter. Her effervescent personality makes it clear why this woman has …
A conversation with screenwriter Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith will probably involve a lot of laughter. Her effervescent personality makes it clear why this woman has been able to make the leap from small-town Washington to the heart of Los Angeles.
She’s got hustle, and a lot of it.
Just 27 years old when she and Karen McCullah sent out a spec script for “10 Things I Hate About You,” which was swooped up by Disney (and filmed in Tacoma), two years later, in 2001, her adaption of Amanda Brown’s memoir “Legally Blonde” found its way to the screen, sending Smith on an unexpected trajectory as a screenwriter.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said, that her film has been chosen as one of the outdoor screenings for this year’s film festival in Port Townsend. For her, it feels like coming full circle, to her Washington roots.
She lived on sailboat without power from the ages of 2 to 6 in California, before her parents moved to Port Ludlow. Smith is an only child, and she gave several of her former Chimacum teachers fond accolades for their positive encouragement to her as a student writer.
She cracked herself up, saying that “every red-blooded American girl wrote poetry in high school,” but she experienced a real a turning point after attending one of Centrum’s creative writing programs. At age 19, while attending Occidental College in California, her first poem was accepted for publication. She went on to publish over 40 separate poems, winning prestigious, competitive residencies at Breadloaf Writer’s Conference and MacDowell Colony.
All too soon, however, she realized she’d need to augment her poet’s income. She decided to follow a love of movies, attending NYU’s film program. She snagged an internship at CineTel Films, and ironically, her first-ever film credit was given for a poem she’d contributed to a script.
Smith continues to have what she jokingly refers to as an “open marriage” with writing partner McCullah.
The night they met, they scribbled out ideas for a screenplay on soggy bar napkins. It didn’t go anywhere, but they did.
“We’re really proud of that fact that we have a 25-year writing partner relationship,” she said.
To keep things fresh, they often split off to follow their own particular interests, always coming back to together in their “trademark magic.”
Of making it in Hollywood, Smith was frank.
“It just takes a lot hustle, a lot of sharing with other people,” she said.
Often, a feeling of “We’re not going to rest until this is in the right hands,” pervaded her work.
“You had to have the balls,” she added, to make things happen.
Elle, the lead character in “Legally Blonde,” does just that, proving that a woman can be feminine and “girly” and whip-smart.
Smith’s sense of feminism comes from her mother, a woman she describes as “really strong and super smart [who] doesn’t take no for an answer, and a really feminist father.”
Smith said “He empowered the women he worked with,” including herself and her mother.
Tired of hearing so many stories that lacked female leads, Smith was driven to put women in the spotlight.
Partnerships with McCullah and female actors are the most rewarding part of her job, Smith added.
“I’ve personally found so much reward in working with actors,” especially women, she said.
While on the set of “House Bunny,” a film about a rejected Playboy bunny who becomes a sorority house mom, Smith bonded with Anna Faris, the star of the film, around shared Washington roots.
But before “House Bunny” had made its way to production, it was really a trio of underdog women, including herself, pitching a movie about three underdog women, she added.
“We were hellbent on getting it done,” she said.
That tenacity seems as natural a fit to Smith as pink heels are to Elle, played by Reese Witherspoon, in “Legally Blonde.”
Even 20 years later, while society has changed, the main message of the film remains relevant, and beloved, according to Smith, because of Witherspoon’s “extraordinary performance.”
In a followup email, Smith wrote, “I love that it shows you can believe in yourself but still have great compassion and generosity toward others. And in the past few years more than ever, that integrity really matters. Also Elle’s optimism and positivity even in the face of dismissal and rejection is something that makes her so sheroic. "
When she received the news that her film was going to show, “I was frickin’ delighted,” she said.
Smith is flying out from California for the event, and will be judging an Elle and Bruiser look-alike contest the eve of the film’s showing. (Her own recently adopted Chihuahua, whom she admits looks like Elle’s dog, Brusier, from the film, will be holding down the fort at home this time.)
The film shows outside on Taylor Street at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, following the costume contest.