Desiree Staples is the executive producer, co-creator and a star of “It’s What She Would Have Wanted.” Below, she describes her very personal experience with the film.
For many of us, our first experience of loss is leaving our childhood home. And it never gets easy, no matter how old we are when it happens.
In 2019, my mom decided it was time to sell our house in Laguna Hills, California. It just so happened that around this time, we were looking for the perfect place to film “It’s What She Would Have Wanted,” a proof-of-concept short for an episodic series that I was starring in and producing about a group of women who must honor a pledge they made when they were kids.
And what better place to film than an actual home with the artifacts of a teenage girl who grew up in the ’90s?
Desiree Staples on ‘It’s What She Would Have Wanted’
“It’s What She Would Have Wanted” is filled with the complexities of adulthood – grief, loss, growing up. But at its core is the comforting nostalgia we feel when we spend time with old friends – filled with memories of blanket forts, pillow fights, and secret pact making.
The film opens with an ominous promise from the unseen Deb: “I, Debra Ashley Coleman, hereby swear, that in the event of the untimely death of Sam (Chris Lee), Julia (Kimia Behpoornia), Maggie (Marie Semla), Steph (Desiree Staples), or Camille (Lindsay Chambers), I will do everything in my power to destroy all evidence of any earthly secrets they may have had. I make this promise on my life. May we all be friends forever.”
Deb’s own untimely passing brings these friends together as they follow through on their decades-old commitment.
We filmed the entire short over the course of two and a half days — all in one location. The majority of the cast and crew even slept at the house during filming, which really transported me back to many an epic birthday slumber party. If there’s anything you need to know about me and my mom, it’s that we know how to throw a birthday bash!
By using my real house, we were able to use authentic childhood items and photos, which created an exciting production design experience. All the pictures of “childhood” Deb are actually of yours truly.
The ’90s Live in ‘It’s What She Would Have Wanted’
Creating Deb’s bedroom and preserving the authenticity of a childhood escape was the most extensive design task of the film and required many days of prep. We painted the room olive green before we shot. And our brilliantly talented production designer, Maren H. Jensen, had us find every single pink object in the house to give the room an innocent feel.
It turned out amazing, but my mother was not very pleased by our rearranging!
Apart from Deb’s bedroom, the shots in other parts of the house stayed true to its existing look. Our favorite location outside of the bedroom had to be the pool. In one scene, the girls burn Deb’s diary and the director, Nate Trinrud, was simultaneously directing the scene, in the pool in a wetsuit, and helping light the boogie board materials on fire in between takes. If that doesn’t scream independent filmmaking, I don’t know what does.
Part of the beauty of independent filmmaking is making the most of what you have on hand. If we had a bigger budget, we may have foregone filming at my old house altogether, but I am so glad we did because it brought so many authentic touches to the film that would have been impossible to manufacture.
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The house was already filled with mementos that screamed teenage girl growing up in the ’90s – beanie babies, horse figurines, worn-out notebooks. These touches added so much to the film and we hope gives the audience a sense of who Deb was and the girl her friends all loved. The house really became a character in and of itself.
For me and my mother personally, it’s an absolute joy to go back and watch the film because it serves as a little time capsule for us and our much-loved former home.
—Apoorva Gundeti contributed to this piece.
“It’s What She Would Have Wanted,” was written by Marie Semla, directed by Nate Trinrud (“School Spirits”), and executive produced and co-created by Desiree Staples. It was selected to be a part of the 2021 Tribeca Creator’s Market and has now joined the OMELETO platform (which has over three million subscribers). It is available to watch here