Director Adam Salky and screenwriter David Brind dared to be different in their first feature-length film, the appropriately titled Dare.
The two men, who met in Columbia University’s graduate film program, tell a story in the film that in theory is cliché — it centers around three teenagers during their last semester of high school — but in execution is both unique and unexpected.
A 2009 Sundance Film Festival selection, this indie drama is based on a short film of the same name, which Salky and Brind worked together on in 2004 to fulfill a first-year requirement at Columbia.
Although the short included a similar storyline and similar characters, its minimal length did not allow for the realistic complexity that the filmmakers wanted to include in a feature-length version.
“[The short] really left you with that feeling of what happens next,” Salky said. “Plus, our collaboration was so enjoyable that we decided to keep working together and turn it into a feature.”
Brind, who began writing the script for the feature-length version immediately after filming the short, said he knew he wanted to extend the film before anyone had seen it. It was his intrigue with the movie’s seemingly typical good girl, Alexa (Emmy Rossum), who was only a peripheral character in the short, that ultimately motivated him.
“We only see a small glimmer of her,” Brind said. “She’s an aspiring actress; she’s clearly a perfectionist. I really wanted to investigate her and see what was underneath all that, so that was my way into the feature.”
But recreating a short film as a feature comes with its challenges.
The short focused around what became a single scene in the feature film: an intimate encounter between the high school bad boy, Johnny (Zach Gilford), and Ben (Ashley Springer), the closeted gay student who constantly feels like an outsider. The challenge for Brind was making this scene, which already existed as a short, into something bigger — something different.
“How do I stay true to what was there, what people liked about it, while also fleshing it out, expanding it and telling the story I want to tell about high school kids playing with the archetypes we’ve seen before?” Brind said he asked himself while writing the script.
In order to achieve this transition into psychological complexity, Brind chose to split the feature film into three parts, each focusing on the film’s sequential events from a different main character’s perspective.
“We are fools if we think everyone perceives us exactly how we think of ourselves and so I really wanted to reflect that in this structure, where we could very personally get into each person’s heads for a period of time and then move on,” Brind said.
As the perspective changes with the progression of the film’s story line, the visuals also change. Salky explains that this is meant to depict the characters’ transition from stereotypical high school personas into adulthood, when they can be anyone they want.
“The way I chose to go about doing this was to have the film begin in a very bright, sort of cotton candy-colored high school world that might feel to some audience members like a high school movie that they’ve seen before,” Salky said. “As the movie goes on it gets darker and much more shadowed and much more realistic.”
According to the filmmakers, portraying the lives of high school seniors realistically was one of the most important goals of the film. From this dedication to a reality often masked in high school movies came a series of sex scenes that Salky worked hard to execute effectively in the film.
“One of the things David and I set out to do was to tell a story that had these first fumbling sexual experiences and that told it like it is,” Salky said. “People want to see these things realistically done and they don’t want to see them shied away from.”
Some of the characters are based on specific people from Brind’s life and both filmmakers have experienced many of the emotions that the characters are faced with in the film. Their ability and desire to delve into the high school world in such a realistic way was only natural.
“Adolescence is such a passionate, informative time, and so to have an opportunity to tell a story as a first feature in that world is very lucky,” Salky said.
Although Salky put hours of work into the film every week for four years, he was never certain it was going to be made into a movie.
“Every day you get up with the belief that this is the story you need to tell and the voice that you want heard and you just believe that somehow that’s going to happen,” Salky said.
For Salky and Brind, it did happen — mainly because they took risks, which is precisely what the filmmakers want viewers to get out of Dare: the idea that we must do something we are afraid of in order to discover who we really are.