Posted July 11, 2019 by Jeff in Flicks

Vanessa and Laura Marano Want to Start a Conversation

Saving Zoe
Saving Zoe

Vanessa Marano and Laura Marano collaborated on a film based on The New York Times best-selling author Alyson Noel’s award-winning young adult novel Saving Zoe, which is being released in theaters and to VOD on July 12. They serve as producers and star in the thriller that follows a teenager looking for the truth behind her sister’s murder “in a story that hopes to bring to light how prevalent sex crimes and trafficking are online.” The Maranos’ mother Ellen Marano optioned the novel more than a decade ago and subsequently recruited Jeffrey G. Hunt (Riverdale) to direct. They spoke about making the movie in this recent conference call.

Your mother optioned the rights to Saving Zoe ten years ago. What inspired that decision?

Laura: Our mom, my sister and I optioned the book 12 years ago, if you can believe it. It’s absolutely insane. It came from a point when we were frustrated with our acting careers. Our mom had the foresight to say, “Let’s take control of our careers and try to be in charge of our destinies.” She got a bunch of books with teen girls on the covers and got me to read them. I love reading and I read all of them. I liked a bunch of them, but Saving Zoe was just something special. We contacted the author and got the rights to it. Twelve years later, it’s coming out.

What do you like about Alyson Noel’s novel?

Vanessa: Obviously, it’s a tragic love story between two sisters. Being sisters, we related to the characters’ experiences. What it has that YA stories don’t usually delve into is the important message about the internet and the world we’re living in right now. That’s crazy because the book was written 12 years ago. It was dealing with MySpace and VHS tapes. The story of what happens to my character and the dark world she winds up unwittingly involved in is more relevant today than it was 12 years ago. That’s something we connected with back then and kept up as we going through with the film. We were seeing how the world was changing and we knew it was a story that needed to be told.

We felt really passionate about the story and we wanted to start a dialogue about teenagers being involved in things that they might not feel safe to discuss.

Vanessa Marano

Laura:I will, no pun intended, echo much of what she said. Echo and Zoe [don’t really have] the closest relationship, which is different than Vanessa and I. In fact, at that age, we started getting really close. It was a bit darker than many YA novels. It still has a Judy Blume aspect of coming from a teenage girl’s point of view. She’s starting high school but you have her sister’s murder. You get into the darker side of high school and adolescence. I was really attracted to it. It dove into a world that you might not associate with teenagers. It was hard to get it sold. Studios and production companies told us, “Teenagers don’t want this. They want lighter and happier stuff.” Being teenage girls, we said, “We kinda know what teenage girls want.” It was so scary for production companies at that point. Now, we live in a world where content for teenagers is a little darker.

Vanessa: What was also so great was getting to produce it with our mom, who was just as big of fan of the book. It got the mom “stamp of approval” as something we needed to talk about. She wanted mothers and daughters to experience it together to have those kind of conversations you might not have.

How involved were you with the script?

Vanessa: Very.

Laura: Basically, we got our director on board early. Here’s a man who’s a bit older and has kids. He read it thinking about his daughters the whole time. Vanessa had worked with him. He got the writers on board. They wrote it on spec and for almost two years, we workshopped the script with all of us not getting paid for our time. We wanted to make sure the script rang true to the story we were so passionate about.

What does Ken Jeong bring to his role?

Vanessa: Because we produced the film and were part of the process from its inception, we had control over it. Ken’s daughter takes acting class with my mom, so we know him. I said, “We’re making a movie, do you want to be in it?” He said, “Absolutely.” It was a family and friends affair from the time we optioned the book. Ken is amazing. He’s the kindest, most wonderful human being in the world. He was so excited to play a role that is a little darker. He was the family therapist. It was great. I didn’t work with him as an actor, but Laura did.

Laura: It was so interesting. I had worked with him on “Boombox,” which was a very different experience. He was hilarious and crazy funny. It’s a very different role. In one of the scenes, I had to be emotional and angry. I found it tough. I had to separate myself to get in that space and he was so giving. He does a great job in it. He takes it so seriously and comes off quite serious. He kills it.

Vanessa: It’s a role he never performs. We’re excited it’s our project that enabled him to stretch his wings and do something we believed he could do the entire time.

It’s a thriller, but it’s also a movie with a message. What do you hope people get out of the movie?

Laura: I think the more important thing when you have an issue is to tackle it in as realistic a way of possible. You don’t want to preachy or give a lesson. It’s something that happens and something that’s real. It does deal with online sexual exploitation. We showed our movie to survivors of online sexual exploitation, and we were petrified. We were so beyond excited that they not only related to it but got emotional with it.

At the end of the day, you have to make sure there is a heart to it. It’s an emotionally delicate core that you’re dealing with.

Laura Marano

Vanessa:It’s also about using whatever tools you have in your arsenal to talk about issues. We’re not lawyers. We’re storytellers. For us, it was, “Let’s use what we’re good at. Hopefully, that creates a bigger dialogue and conversation. It’s the only way we know how to do that. It’s through storytelling. It’s important that as our first time out of the gate as producers that we tell a story that we are passionate about and we want it to be well done and crafted. We want to be sure the people who have been our fans can go in and can watch something that affects them in some way.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].