"Make it hot!" That was the repeated phrase used while filming The Summer I Turned Pretty's debutante scene. And they did, indeed, make it hot.
It's easy to miss the mark when adapting a novel for the screen, but Summer I Turned Pretty hit every mark with that coming-of-age debutante ball scene, which sees Conrad (Christopher Briney) step up and twirl Belly (Lola Tung) around the dance floor in Jeremiah's (Gavin Casalegno) absence. From the perfect dress that calls back to earlier episodes to the particular choices behind the music and hair, see how everything came together to form a "magical moment."
Peter Taylor/Prime Video 'The Summer I Turned Pretty'
There were many moving parts when it came to filming the climax of the finale, but the idea for the scene itself started at the very beginning. When creator Jenny Han started turning her popular YA novel into a script she knew she wanted a "physical manifestation of a coming-of-age."
Han tells EW, "So many cultures do that in so many different ways so I thought it would be a great visual aid to show her growing up. I always knew I wanted it to culminate in this moment."
The dress was, of course, a major part of that "visual aid" and found very early on. "I always have very specific ideas in my mind about costumes and hair. I knew I wanted her to have both a Sabrina moment - which is a callback to the second episode where she goes on her drive-in date with Cam and they're watching Sabrina - and also a callback to Romeo & Juliet. Her hair is super specific to Juliet's hair in the 1960's version," says Han.
Also established early on in the process was the decision that Taylor Swift's "The Way I Loved You" HAD to be playing in the background of the "coming together" scene.
"That was one of the scenes I was very specific about and how I wanted it to go," explains Han. "When I was pitching it to Prime Video, I would play the song. I was like 'Slowly he gets up. You hear the dun, dun.' I knew exactly how I wanted it from the very beginning. That was the one song where I was like 'That's the one we HAVE to get for the show.' It was very important to me cause I knew how I wanted to edit it too. When I was pitching [the script] to everyone I intentionally played the song and that moment because I wanted to inception it so that everyone had that moment scored to that specific song. That was my mastermind moment. To make sure people got really attached to it way before we started feeling."
Peter Taylor/Prime Video Christopher Briney and Lola Tung on 'The Summer I Turned Pretty'
Turns out, the song had been at the front of Han's mind for more than a decade. "As a matter a fact when I was writing the book, 13 years ago or whatever, I was listening to that song and it was just the perfect song for the moment," she says.
The music was important of course, but not everyone was a Swiftie in the beginning of shooting. Christopher Briney tells EW, "There were a few takes where Jenny had the sound department play it over the speakers which was pretty cool, but the first couple times I was like 'Okay guys. Okay.' But by the end I was about it!"
Getting the rights to the song may have been vital to the scene but it wasn't the most important part. "The most important part was the emotions of it. This is a show where we're rarely in close up but I really wanted to see both of their faces so you could read those emotions and feel for her - just that release and also joy when he approaches," says Han. "I wanted Chris [Briney] to almost feel like he couldn't stop himself. Almost like he was compelled to go towards her and help. I felt like it should have been a return to his true self."
"I just wanted to capture that feeling of butterflies, that feeling of goosebumps, and that feeling of electricity that you have, that is so in your tummy," explains director Erica Dunton. That's why Dunton switches over to slow-mo as Conrad and Belly meet on the dance floor to portray "that element of the world stopping."
"I told both of them they could look right down the lenses which is a number one sin for an actor," Dunton continues. "It's the way that Conrad looks at Belly. The way that Conrad looks at Belly throughout the whole season is he 'sees' her and that's what melts you. I wanted him to look at me as though I'm her and I wanted Belly to look at me the way she looks at Conrad."
Peter Taylor/Prime Video Lola Tung and Christopher Briney in 'The Summer I Turned Pretty'
Dunton wasn't the only one who wanted the audience to feel that emotion. Lola Tung explains to EW that when she first read the script, the one line that stood out to her was Laurel (Jackie Chung) saying, "For Belly, Conrad is the sun and when the sun comes up the stars disappear." And that directly influenced the way she played the scene.
"I remember reading that line and thinking 'Ugh. That's so sweet and so magical so I'm excited to bring this to life.'" Tung says that line was in the back of her head while filming, "especially because it's her mom that says it - someone who knows her so well."
Once the emotions were locked in, focus shifted to the physical steps of the dance itself. Choreographer Alex Zyrianov says "it was inspiring to have the words [leading up to the scene] give extra meaning to the dance." The dance was simply an extension of what Conrad and Belly were feeling for each other in that moment.
"The concept of acting and dancing [was my biggest challenge]," Briney admits. "I know there are some people in this world that do it really well and that's their job, but that's not me. I never really danced ever and by the time we got there we had rehearsed it so much that I was able to know what to do next, but it was definitely scary to think about."
Peter Taylor/Prime Video
Tung says her biggest challenge was a little different. "Knowing it was going to be a huge important magical scene where we get to see these two characters finally have this really special moment, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get that," she says. "I mean you're so much closer to the camera so you can see all the smaller things like the looks and the little smiles and reactions to each other. It's much more intimate. At least it was a lot of fun."
At times the duo may have been having a little too much fun. "They were so happy they were nailing it and they were smiling. But what all the big smiles didn't give you was the hotness that they feel for each other. They were suppose to be hot, not happy," says Dunton. "I basically told them not to break eye contact, to get as close to each other without kissing but closer than everyone else, and no smiling was allowed period."
With these three rules Briney and Tung were able to take the scene from fun and flirty to hot and steamy, but there were still moments of levity on set. Notably, Tung turned 19 during the filming of that particular episode.
Peter Taylor/Prime Video
"It was Lola's birthday so I had two surprise cakes for her," Han says. "[During filming], she thought we were going to do one more take of the waltz, but then it changed to 'Happy Birthday' so I could come out with the cakes and she blew out the candles. It was just really sweet to see her have her own coming-of-age moment at the tail end of filming her first show and wearing this beautiful dress and turning out a beautiful performance. To me it was very meta."
Dunton adds, "I wore a ball gown for her birthday, but what was funny was the kids didn't notice I was wearing a ball gown until halfway through the day. And then they were like 'Oh my god. You're in a ball gown.' I was like 'Yeah guys. I've been in it all day!' Everyone was just so focused they didn't even notice."
Tung's birthday celebration aside, what really took the cake was the final scene shot for season 1. "I will say the last thing we were filming ever from that season was the reaction to Jeremiah and Steven's [Sean Kaufman] escort dance and we were all clapping, smiling, and laughing," says Tung. "Watching them do their dance for the last time together and getting to have this beautiful moment of celebration will stay with me forever."
The Summer I Turned Pretty cast and crew celebrated the end of season one in a big way, but the journey isn't over quite yet. With filming on the second season officially wrapped, we expect to see our favorite Cousins residents return for even more drama (and hopefully, dancing).
Watch the full scene below.
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