Rachel Lee Goldenberg talks about creating her own 80s musical love letter with Valley Girl

I am grew up in the 80s so whenever a new film or television show is being released that takes place during that time, I am always eager to check it out. When I first heard about a musical adaptation of Valley Girl, I was intrigued because I loved the original and I love musicals. I remember watching the original many times growing up and while it wasn’t exactly a huge hit back in 1983, it has since went on to become a cult classic with a killer soundtrack too boot.

Even before having the opportunity to speak with Rachel Lee Goldenberg, I could tell that she was a big fan of the original film. As I was watching the film, I could see her love of the original film, as well as the 80s, shine through in every single scene. With a modern-day twist, Goldenberg has successfully reinvented Valley Girl for a whole new generation to enjoy. Goldenberg doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but rather make enough changes to the source material for the film to exist on its own. She paid homage to a beloved cult classic by turning it into a musical love letter that stands on its own and even in some ways surpasses the original.

A few days after getting to view the film, I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Goldenberg and pick her brain about multiple aspects of the film from the casting to releasing a film during the Coronavirus. We spoke for about 20 minutes and had a blast talking about all aspects of the filmmaking process including how she felt about remaking a cult classic.

Scott Menzel: Hi Rachel, Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about the film. I really loved it. I didn’t want to start this on a sour note but I know that you dealt with so many delays with the film, and then you were going to finally have a theatrical release but because of the Coronavirus it is now being released straight to VOD. I mean after watching the film myself, I am so bummed that I didn’t get to experience it on the big screen. So, my first question is what was that like to get that news after all the hard work you put into making this film.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: I mean, it’s not my favorite thing to have happen to me but I will say that it’s been such a strange journey. And then with COVID happening and realizing that the movie’s going to find its way during this strange time, and maybe that’s going to work out. However, my main focus was really making the movie, and then I sort of put my hands up and waited. I have been excited for people to get to experience it though. So in a way, it sort of feels like: “Maybe this will end up being the best thing, and there’s not much I can do about it anyway.” So I’m just happy with the movie, and I’m thrilled people are finally going to get a chance to see it.

Scott Menzel: I’m happy that people will get a chance to see it too. I think this movie will find its own cult following, just like the original, because I do believe and I told Jessica and Josh this, that I really do believe that this movie is just as good, if not slightly better, than the original.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I would never even hope to beat the original because it just holds such a special place in my and in so many people’s hearts. It feels like the nice thing about this film is because it is a musical and because we’ve reframed it in modern-day, it’s really a re-imagining. So it feels, at least to me, not so much like a clean remake but as a love letter to the original and its own entity, in many ways.

Scott Menzel: Oh, 100%. It feels like an homage to the original and a love letter to the ’80s. And I had a blast. In the time of COVID, this movie made me happy. It made me feel great and that’s something that I needed during this time. I hope more people have a similar reaction when they watch this movie.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Oh, that’s so nice to hear. Yeah, that certainly is a dream. It feels like the film has the chance to be even more of a positive thing in people’s lives than it would have been otherwise.

Scott Menzel: I agree. You mentioned how much you love the original, so, as a director, when you got offered project that was a reimagining of a beloved film in pop culture, did you have any reservations about making this film?

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: I think it is all about the way that it was presented. Because it’s a musical with a modern-day framing, it feels like its own thing. And I’m excited that, because the original exists, I get to make an ’80s musical of this classic story. I’m extremely thankful and a fan of the original, but it didn’t feel to me like it was stepping on toes. It felt more like a way to celebrate the original film. And it’s been exciting that it’s been part of the re-release of the movie in digital format. When I was making the movie, I wanted to have some copies around so people could watch it but because it wasn’t available digitally, I had to bid for them on eBay to get them.

So I’m hoping that it’s seen as a celebration and certainly not as trying to replace or compete. And having the original Valley Girls as part of this feels like part of that permission to me and it is meaningful to have their cameos but beyond their stamp of approval, they really embraced the project and were thrilled about it. They were excited to bring our story to a new audience and hoped that the original might find a new, younger audience.

Scott Menzel: I love the fact that you were able to get those cameos in there because it just served as this nice reward for those like yourself and myself, grew up watching that movie. And you’re kind of like, “Oh, my God! It’s them.” And I also love the fact that you got Alicia Silverstone, an icon in the ’90s, to be in the film. I thought that was brilliant casting.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Thank you. She was definitely our dream choice for that role. And it’s a combination of the nostalgia factor, but also her warmth and performance which is exactly what you want for that role too.

Scott Menzel: So I want to ask you about the wonderful artisans’ team that you worked with on this film. I love the choreography of the dance and musical numbers. I know Mandy Moore was involved with that. And then can you talk a little bit about the costumes and who designed them?

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Yes, I would love to brag about those talented people that I had a chance to work with. So, Mandy Moore was our first choice for a choreographer. I was a huge fan of La La Land, and that opening number sucked me right in, and I couldn’t wait to work to her. And we had so much fun putting together the look for this movie and the feel of the choreography. We talked a lot about wanting it to feel like the ’80s without feeling like an ’80s joke. We talked about tailoring each number to have its own sort of emotion and feel. For example, the Valley kids are generally dancing in bigger groups and in sync, and the Hollywood punk kids are never dancing in sync, and it’s less traditional choreography and more about movement and sort of being more wild and free. And we pulled a ton of video and music video references and watched moshing videos and pulled all these things together and sort of got to create each song and have each song have sort of its own tone and its own musical voice.

And then for Maya Lieberman our costume designer, it was sort of a similar idea of wanting to have everything be period-accurate, but have it sort of resonating and feel curated, not just feel generic ’80s, but feel like each character had their own thing going and making sure that in 1983, a lot of people still had their clothes. Their parents still had their clothes from 1979. And making sure that it felt layered and deep and having a color scheme for different people in the Valley versus Hollywood. And Maya did an excellent job finding original clothes, so many of those jeans were the 1983 Lee’s jeans or the Reeboks. She contacted all the companies and tried to get their old stock that they still have of the period-specific clothes. So that was one of the most fun parts, especially for Julie since her passion is clothes and designing and fashion. Having a real arc for her character where she starts out in sort of a designed version of the Valley and then starts incorporating elements of punk into that and ends up in sort of her own Val-punk mashup… Maya and I worked really closely in designing that arc, and I love every one of her outfit.

And the last thing I’ll say is the punk outfits were something that Maya and I were both really excited about, and finding things for Mae Whitman’s character and for Josh Whitehouse’s character that feels as lived-in and sort of irreverent as the punks in The Decline of Western Civilization that we watched. Oh, and Josh Whitehouse, he designed some of his shirts. We’d give him his shirts, and he would just doodle on them for hours, and then we’d put them on him. And you just had to have sort of that authenticity and that layered feeling to everything.

Scott Menzel: You can tell a lot of time and effort went into those things in this film. Last week, I talked to Jessica and Josh, and I was just telling them that you can just tell the energy and the passion from everyone involved was just there. And I feel like that’s so rare to see in a movie like this. 

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Yeah, I mean, every single crew member that we brought onto the team like the cinematographer, Adam Silver,  and the production designer, Theresa Guleserian came on with really specific visions and a ton of passion, and we worked together to create the mood for the film. And everyone went so deep to get that patina and to find the right tone and to really transport people into not just the ’80s, but into our version of the ’80s and our different world. And I’m so proud of the team and happy with the final results.

Scott Menzel: Like I said, I’m someone who grew up watching musicals. I used to live in New Jersey. I went into the city regularly to go see shows when you could actually get tickets for cheap. There was that period after 9/11 when you would be able to go into the city and see a show for $35 or $40. And I saw so many shows back then, so I became such a musical fan. And I love the way that they make me feel, I love the attention to detail that is in them, and I know that this is a really great movie musical. 

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Thank you. I mean, the amount of curation that musicals allow is one of the things that that drew me to the project. There’s so many avenues of storytelling with the music, with the dance, with the costume. And within this period, every location is going to be hyper-designed and all of the avenues of storytelling that you’re allowed through that medium is what was exciting for me. You get to really dig in deep.

Scott Menzel: Of course, I have to ask you about casting because it must have been a challenge not only of finding the right actors for the roles, but also them being able to actually sing and handle that part of the performance. Also, was Jessica always the first choice? I don’t understand how the hell she’s not making $10 or $20 million a movie at this point because she just owns a screen no matter what movie she’s in.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: I couldn’t agree with you more. She came in to me through the traditional process. I saw so many women for that role and audition after audition, and there was actually a sort of magical moment, those moments that are rare in casting, where part of their audition was to sing a few bars of “Melt With You.” And I had just seen so many girls, and they were all great, but the song started to feel a little perfunctory. It started to feel like: “Okay, she can sing, she can’t sing. She can sing, she can’t sing.”

And then Jessica came in, and she could sing, but it didn’t even matter because I was just paying attention to her. She lit up the room with her energy. Her eyes and her face just opened up in this way that no one else had done. It was like my heart leapt, and it had this feeling that is just rare to have those moments in casting rooms, where it’s like, “Oh, that should be in the movie. We need to get that girl on screen.” So she did many other wonderful things in the audition, but that was the moment for me that I couldn’t get out of my head.

And then Josh was the exact same thing. I mean, we must’ve seen hundreds of Randys, and Nic Cage is big shoes to fill, and not that anyone was supposed to do a Nic Cage impression, but what I loved so much about his performance is just how sort of raw and oddball and wild it feels. And so I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have too cleaned-up or a Disney-fied, Prince Charming type. I wanted sort of the weird, oddball, creative guy, and Josh sent in a self-tape, and he actually videotaped… He made a music video of himself singing Bad Reputation with all these different camera angles and video effects in his home recording studio, and it felt so indicative to me of that character. And like I said, he designed his own shirts for the movie.

He’s really such a creative person. He’s an incredibly prolific painter and just artist and songwriter, and he would always be making things on set and sort of had that innate creativity and just the strangeness that I really love about him. And I love his performance, but I love his performance not because it feels like a classic leading man, but because he really made it his own and found the quirkiness in a way that I think really works for the film.

But the both of them together are just electrifying on screen. Their chemistry was instantaneous, and they’re just so charming together. They were incredibly generous actors, and I’m so lucky that they got along as well as they did. And so we actually had a lot of fun pretending that they were falling in love.

Scott Menzel: They are so great together. Their chemistry was spot on. So of course we can’t go through this interview without getting a couple of little ’80s questions in. So everyone always asks, “What’s your favorite ’80s movie?” as their first question but I’m going to ask who is your favorite character from the ’80s?

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to have a good answer to this question. I am going to have to pass. Picking favorites is so hard in anything, and I don’t want to have it live forever in my not-favorite 80s character.

Scott Menzel: All right. How about a favorite song from the ’80s?

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Yes, I have a few but “Just Like Heaven” is probably the one that I can go back to the most.

Scott Menzel: Awesome, great choice. And then just for yucks, how about a couple of your favorite ’80s films.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg:  Well, let’s see… Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a great one. That’s one that I referenced for this a few times. The Decline of Western Civilization was a required viewing for my cast and crew, actually. For all the punks, for all the designers, and for the punk kids, that was one. You are not wrong to ask me these types of questions I should know this but let’s stick with those.

Scott Menzel: (laughs) If you were on the phone with BuzzFeed, they would have had you create a whole list of 80s movies.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: Ugh, I know. Yeah. The first 10 movies Rachel can list even if they’re not her favorites.

Scott Menzel: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what BuzzFeed would do on every single movie. Ah, lists. I’ll let you go in a second, but I’ve watched a lot of your stuff, like A Deadly Adoption and some of your Funny or Die sketches. What was your journey like in this industry? I’m always curious about what people’s journeys was like in this industry.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: I actually started out before Funny Or Die. I actually started out working at this company called The Asylum. It’s sort of a Roger Corman-esque themed movie house. And so when I was 23, I started directing really low-budget features for them, a wide variety of genres, so everything from a Christian musical to a steampunk sci-fi action movie. And I spent maybe four or five years working for them, making a bunch of movies and having a lot of fun. But also, trying to make incredibly ambitious projects on $200,000 budget is no easy task. And so when I had sort of made a number of movies with them, I started working at Funny Or Die, and then A Deadly Adoption became the sort of perfect marriage of those two parts of my career. And from there, I started working in television and wanting to get back to features and looking for my first studio feature, and Valley Girl was the first one that came along and stole my heart. So here we are.

Scott Menzel: That’s crazy but a good story though. You kind of started off making obscure cult films but climbed your way up in the industry. I’m really happy for you with this film. I hope it opens some more doors so you can direct other projects because you have the skills. You were able to handle all these big elements of this film. And I mean, directing a musical is not easy. I know a lot of people who were either in musicals or worked on them. They’re challenging, and the fact that you were able to pull this off, which I know also had to be with a smaller budget than most of these other movies… Kudos to you.

Rachel Lee Goldenberg: I do have to credit The Asylum for teaching me to work on a shoestring. And so even though Valley Girl  had a much larger budget than all of those, it had a really small budget for a studio musical. But I got the right team around me, and we figured out how to get it done.

Scott Menzel: I would totally agree with that. Okay, well, I’ll let you go. I’m didn’t mean to take up so much of your time today. 

Rachel Lee Goldenberg:  No, thank you. I’m so glad you loved the movie, and I so appreciate you writing about it. I’m happy to get it out in the world. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Valley Girl is now available to rent or purchase on various VOD platforms such as Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, and Fandango Now. 

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott "Movie Man" Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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