Cameron Deane Stewart and Justin Deeley in ‘Geography Club’/Image © Huffington Pictures
“I was dying to tell someone about Kevin Land,” Brent Hartinger writes in his 2003 young adult novel, Geography Club. “This makes me sound like a jerk, I know, but what can I say? The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wanted to dish the dirt on Kevin Land. I had no desire to spread it all over school. I just wanted to tell one single person – to say the news out loud so I’d know I wasn’t imagining things. The problem was, in order to tell anyone about Kevin, I first had to tell them about me.”
And so begins the first book of five books in Hartinger’s Russel Middlebrook series tracking the students of Goodkind High across their junior year, summer camp, a zombie movie shooting in their hometown, and finally college. Geography Club was rejected by thirty-eight publishers, but Young Adult royalty Judy Blume championed an early draft and the initial installment went into its third printing a couple weeks after hitting bookshelves in March 2003.
Anyone who’s nursed a painful crush in high school will relate, but the wrinkle here is the student crushing on Kevin Land – in Hartinger’s book the school’s star baseball player and in the new film version from brothers Gary and Edmund Entin the star football player – can only talk about it openly in Goodkind’s covert gay/straight alliance, or GSA, fronting as a hang for teenage geography enthusiasts because he’s also male, closeted, and the titular hero of this series.
“It’s true that our generation is coming to terms with not just sexual identity,” says Edmund, “but personal identity at a young age.” The twenty-seven-year-old adapted Hartinger’s book for the big screen. His twin brother, Gary, directs. Edmund is beaming in from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley where he and his brother live together in a rented house after a childhood in Pembroke Pines, Florida, romping around their “Gilbert & Sullivan-themed dining room” and washing cars to raise funds for their first video camera purchased at age nine.
“You go to a middle school and you see kids own themselves in a way that probably didn’t exist twenty years ago,” Edmund continues. “That’s why it was important for Gary and I to make a film that can reach an audience as malleable as thirteen because while some kids are comfortable, I still feel like there’s a whole host of kids at that age that aren’t. A film like this hopefully pushes them in that direction.”
Indeed, Edmund did go to middle schools, a “handful” of them, checking in on GSAs to bounce his script off the students there. “I was very specifically listening to these kids talk,” he says, “how they processed information and how that information came out of their mouths. I would quiz them pretty intently, like, ‘Hey, I have this idea, does this feel real to you?’”
That process continued even after the PG-13 film – a rating the brothers intended from the beginning – wrapped. “We’re always inviting criticism,” Edmund continues. “We did have a test screening for ‘Geography Club’ that went well, but there were notes that kids in the audience had and we listened to them. It’s important after you shoot the film, but what was a great experience for me as a screenwriter was to have that experience of going to the GSAs and putting your written work up against kids so you can change it before it’s even shot.”
It all begs the question: What were these identical twins like themselves in high school a mere decade ago: burnout, band geek, jock? “My brother and I had a very similar experience in high school,” Edmund replies. “We marched to the beat of our own drum. Was there a bit of bullying? Not any more or less than the average kid, but we really did not belong to one specific group.”
“We’re not jocks,” says the screenwriter a week away from locking picture on “Sins of Our Youth,” which tracks four boys terrorizing the Las Vegas suburbs shooting their parents’ assault rifles at decorative Christmas reindeer. “We were part of the drama program, but more of the theater work we did was outside of school and we always existed on the outside. We’re sort of film geeks and we had a group of friends who were also outliers so we were ambitious enough to form our own little clatch.”
“What drew me to this material,” the screenwriter who once played Ashley to his brother’s Mary-Kate in Darren Stein’s short “Color Me Olson” and does all his writing in local Burbank coffee shops continues, “was having that experience on the outside and seeing how all the individual groups exist outside of each other. I know that seems like a meta-concept, but that’s kind of what high school is. There really is no inside.”
“Most high school movies feel like that universe is so small,” Edmund concludes, “but my reality of high school was it was so vast because everyone exists within their own brands and outside of each other. There is no middle ground. That’s why I feel like the ‘Geography Club’ isn’t just a safe haven for LGBT students, but anyone that feels on the outside.”