From director Jon M. Chu, Jem and the Holograms is the origin story of small-town girl Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) who is catapulted from underground video sensation to the global superstar Jem, and she and her band of sisters begin a journey that they’ll never forget. With the same underlying messages of female empowerment, honesty and integrity that made the ’80s animated series so beloved, the cool fashion and great music are also part of the package with these pop-culture icons.
At the film’s press day, actresses Aubrey Peeples (“Jerrica Benton”/”Jem”), Stefanie Scott (“Kimber”), Aurora Perrineau (“Shana”) and Hayley Kiyoko (“Aja”), along with producers Jason Blum, Scooter Braun and Hasbro’s Stephen Davis, as well as director Jon M. Chu, talked about having first pitched this film 11 years ago, the story’s evolution, getting the blessing of those who originated these characters, casting these roles, necessary changes, the themes and messages of the movie, putting together the music, and why this could only be the beginning for these characters on the big screen. We’ve compiled a list of 27 things that you should know about Jem and the Holograms, and those responsible for making the movie.
Director Jon M. Chu originally pitched the film to Hasbro and Universal 11 years ago, but it was a very different version that never got made. It was just the live-action version of the animated series, and it didn’t add anything new to what was already there. Now, this is the Batman Begins version of Jem and the Holograms. It’s a first step of getting audiences into the world.
- Hasbro Studios producer Stephen Davis said they have a long-standing relationship with Chu and had been talking about various projects they could work on, when his love for Jem and the Holograms came up in conversation. And then, five or six years later, they heard from producer Jason Blum about doing a low-budget movie with the property, which Chu responded to.
- According to Blum, Blumhouse Productions is not looking to make higher budget movies. However, he is interested in what else can be done with a low budget, like taking an IP and making what would typically be a $30 million studio movie and using a low budget. That’s why he was so interested in doing something with Jem.
- As far as all of the producers are concerned, Chu was the right person to helm the film because of his passion for the project. Chu even wrote the script on spec, for an intellectual property that he didn’t control. He wanted to show them how good the film could be, which definitely won them over.
Producer Scooter Braun first worked with Chu on the Justin Bieber documentary, Never Say Never, but wasn’t originally going to hire him for the job. He got on the phone with Chu and said that there was a high likelihood that he wouldn’t get the job. Braun said, “[I told Jon], ‘They want you to do this because you’re the dance guy, and they think this is a concert film. But I’m not trying to make a concert film, I’m trying to tell a story.’ To Jon’s credit, he said to me, ‘You know, it’s funny you say that. I’m not the dance guy. I’m just a filmmaker who was given dance, and I did it to the best of my ability. Now, I’m not as the dance guy. But I make movies and tell stories, and that’s what I want to do.’ At the end of that phone call, I said, ‘We’re making this movie together.’ And he’s become one of my best friends. Jon is a very young guy, and I think he’s going to be around a long time, making a lot of really great movies. And beyond the fact that he’s so talented, he’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet. I think that’s why everyone who works with him has such a positive experience.”
- It was really important to Chu to get the blessings of those responsible for the characters and the original animated series, and he said they’ve been warm and appreciative. He showed them the movie about a month ago, and they were crying and gave him a big hug. Christy [Marx], Samantha [Newark] and Britta [Phillips] have all been the best he could have ever asked for. Marx did tell him that she hoped he’d focus more on the sisterhood of the girls, instead of keeping them apart from each other, so he built the story around that idea.
Jem is a character that you can care about, root for and be fearful for, and they just wanted to make a great movie that makes audiences laugh, cry and move their feet. They are paying homage to the original while also letting some things go. So, whether you know everything about Jem or nothing about Jem, the movie works.
- For casting these roles, they saw a lot of actresses, but when it came to Jem, they really wanted someone who could sing and understood music. Aubrey Peeples loves analog things, and she loves polaroids and old music and has an old guitar that she plays, and yet she is a very modern girl who is honest. They were drawn to her, but didn’t find her until the very last moment. They were going to shut down the movie, if they didn’t find the right Jerrica, but when they found Peeples, they knew she was what they were looking for. This is the story of Jerrica and how she becomes Jem, and her identity as a girl trying to deal with this stuff, so finding the right actress was crucial.
- When talking about her audition process, Aubrey Peeples said, “It was under wraps what the project was. It was originally called #Famous and then Pink Moon because they didn’t want people to know that they were doing Jem We all auditioned probably five or six times each. The first time I met with Jon [M. Chu], I thought I blew it because I thought it was so bad. My car broke down on the way there, and then I parked in a no parking zone and they had to move my car for me. I was really sweaty because I was running from trying to find a parking meter. I think what ended up happening was that Jon was like, ‘Oh, she’s quirky, just like the character,’ but I’m just very disorganized and messy. It was a very long process, but very collaborative.”
Chu told Braun that Peeples was cast as Jem, before he’d actually let the actress know, which led to a funny moment between them. Said Braun, “I FaceTimed Aubrey, but what [Jon] didn’t tell me was to congratulate her [the next day], after he’d had time to tell her. So, I FaceTimed with her and said, ‘Hey, I just want to say congratulations. Way to go! I’m so happy for you!’ And she went, ‘Happy about what? Oh, my god, I got the part!’ She got really excited. And I said, ‘Stop! When Jon calls you, you have to be a really good actress.’ To her credit, she didn’t tell Jon until two weeks later, after she pretended that she was excited, all over again.”
- The girls had chemistry reads and all bonded right away. Everything looks so genuine because they really did love each other. They had two weeks of rehearsal before filming began, so they spent long hours together, bonding with each other.
- When it came to preparing for their roles, they studied the animated series constantly. Said Peeples, “I think the most important thing about this is that we really did want to pay complete homage to the series while updating it. That’s something we had to be very careful and respectful of, so I kept that in mind.”
- Peeples talked about being a bit nervous with the changes that were made to modernize the story. “The nerves come in because we have changed a lot. There probably is going to be some hate, but if we tried to replicated the series exactly, we would never have done it justice because it’s already so amazing, and that would probably cause more hate. I hope people respect that we’re trying to bring new people into the Jem world. That’s what it did for us. We didn’t know what Jem was, but now we’re in it and we love the whole Jem subculture. Hopefully, we’ll do that for kids today.”
Chu said that he really wanted to deal with identity, and what we put out to the rest of the world versus who we are behind the scenes. And as they saw more and more people doing YouTube videos, they asked people to send what they thought about Jem, if she were a real person. They didn’t plan it all out. They decided to see what they got, and how it would affect the story. They wanted to use a Greek chorus of the internet to tell their story of this girl going through it.
- Peeples said that Jerrica/Jem is very different from her. “I do think that she’s very much a character. I don’t feel like we have a lot of similarities, except for the fact that I don’t know how to use the internet either. It is challenging when you play someone so different from you, but that’s what I prefer, as an actor, because that’s what you can really sink your teeth into.”
- In approaching the music, they had to figure out who these characters were, first and foremost, and how they would best communicate their sound. Chu went to producer Braun for his well of music writers, told him what they needed out of each song, and asked for options, without a genre or template to follow. They got tons of submissions and had to pick what felt the most right.
- Braun had three weeks to make sure the film was cast, and then to get the girls in the studio, so he had to have all of the songs put together. They went out to all of their writers and to all of their friends, to pull in the best songs for the script, that extended the girl power that’s represented in the film, and that spoke to the sisterhood of the characters. They gave the writers, many of whom were fans of the animated show, each snippets of the script to see where their song would fit in the movie, and they got some great stuff back.
Braun wanted to use the show’s original theme song, but it was too complicated to be able to do so. He even wanted to have Diplo redo the theme song, but the business side of things made it impossible. He hopes to be able to work it out, if there’s a sequel.
- To play the famous group, the actresses had very little time to get comfortable with their character’s instruments. Aurora Perrineau said she had about two weeks to learn some songs on the drums. Stefanie Scott learned the kitar and can now play some Jem songs on it. Peeples has played guitar for a few years now, so she didn’t have to learn the instrument itself, but did have very little time to learn how to play the songs.
- For the live performance of “Youngblood,” Scott said that real Jem fans came from all over the world to be there. They sent out a Tweet and told people to meet them at the venue, and a few hundred people showed up for a concert, while they performed from 6 pm until 6 am. And that was the first time they showed their character looks to the Jem fans.
- When it comes to their own personal musical style, Peeples is a blues/jazz/rock singer that doesn’t normally sing pop. Scott loves anything live, especially acoustic and indie music. Hayley Kiyoko does pop alternative music, and even has a song in the movie. Perrineau is not a musician or singer, at all.
They decided to change the gender of Eric Raymond to Erica when Juliette Lewis expressed interest in the role. Said Chu, “It was always a man playing that role, but when she came in, she’s so great that how could we not make it into a woman. We took that leap of faith that the audience would go with us for that fun.”
- Peeples admitted that the young cast was all a bit starstruck upon meeting and working with co-star Juliette Lewis. “She has been my role model for such a long time. I was so embarrassing when I first met her. I was like, ‘Oh, my god, we’re going to be best friends!’ But, she’s so cool.”
- It’s been deleted from the movie, but Chu wanted a real music executive to get into a fight with Eric, so he called Braun to come down to the set and do it. Braun needed some convincing, but ended up doing the scene.
- The actresses said that they don’t feel the same pressures because they’re not as famous as their counterpart characters. They think about the job and doing it because they love it, but not about the fame that might come with it. Fame and fortune don’t make you happy, but family and friendship do, and that’s something that they can relate to.
- Peeples hopes that audiences are affected by the message of the film. “I think one of the main messages from the series and from our film is about self-empowerment and self-expression, and trying to filter out all the noise of worrying what people think about you and just being yourself. It sounds cheeseball, but I think that’s a good message for anyone, at any age or from any generation. You always need to be reminded of that.”
- If there’s a sequel, Peeples believes there will be a lot more storylines from the series added into it. This movie is focused on their rise to fame, but if there’s another one, you’ll probably see The Misfits, some backstory about their dad, and maybe even their mom.
Jem and the Holograms opens in theaters on October 23rd. Click here to watch some clips from the film.