Breaking the Ice

Many of us take the Robert Frost approach to reminiscing, wherein we recall important choices and sigh wistfully over roads not taken. Hadley Davis C’93 transformed her nostalgic musings into a screenplay, which, somewhat to her astonishment, is now a major film starring Kim Cattrall, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Joan Cusack. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, Ice Princess tells the story of a brainy teenager’s aspiration to enter the figure-skating championship circuit.

Ice Princess was in many ways a personal story,” says Davis. “Like the film’s [main character] Casey, I grew up near a pond in New England where I skated on winter afternoons. My passion, however, was not skating but ballet.”

The girls Davis knew from the Boston Ballet became the prototypes for the three competitive “ice princesses” featured in the movie. She also based Cattrall’s and Cusack’s characters on the mothers she met during her childhood ballet experiences. Then there was the movie’s central conflict, in which Casey’s mother (Cusack) expects her to enroll at Harvard and challenges her figure-skating dream.

“My parents, like Joan Cusack’s character, wanted me to attend a top-notch college rather than dance, and at times forbade me from performing on a school night,” Davis recalls. “I eventually gave up dancing seriously and attended Penn. I do not have regrets but occasionally have ‘what if’ pangs. Ice Princess is the answer to my fantasy of ‘What if I had gone after my sugar-plum fairy dream.’”

While the choice between ballet and college was clear-cut, once Davis arrived at Penn she realized that the possibilities for her future were both boundless and a little hazy.

“I was an English major at Penn and in my senior year began wondering what I was qualified to do when I graduated,” she recalls. “I somehow learned that people exist in the movie business who work in development. [They] read books to determine whether marketable movies might be made from them. So I thought, ‘Aha, I’m qualified to read!’”

She called Warner Bros. in New York and landed an internship in its story department, and with that experience under her belt she became a freelance script reader, analyzing books, scripts, and theater productions for film potential. Eventually she began working at Wind Dancer Production Group, a production company associated with Disney.

While there, Davis came up with the idea to write a guidebook “about how to get your foot in the door in the movie business,” as she puts it. Doubleday bought her proposal, and the book, Development Girl, became her jumping-off point into the world of television. Together with her friend Bonnie Schneider C’91, she submitted a TV pilot idea to ABC that revolved around a “D-Girl,” as young women in development are called.

“Nothing ever became of the pilot, but Bonnie and I began writing together and landed a job on Dawson’s Creek,” she recalls. “We then spent two seasons writing for Spin City.”  In the spring of 2002, Schneider became pregnant and Spin City was cancelled. At that point Davis decided to try her hand at an old ambition: screenwriting, which she had reluctantly abandoned because of the risk factor.

That summer, Davis took a chance and wrote a screenplay aimed at the “tween” audience. Though it didn’t sell, it did lead to a meeting with Disney executive Karen Glass C’84 W’84, who asked Davis to rewrite a script about a female hockey player who becomes a figure skater. Soon after finishing that, Davis pitched a new movie to Disney, one “loosely inspired” by her own story, and submitted the first draft to the studio in October of 2003. To make the script believable, she read every figure skater’s autobiography she could find, watched hours of television footage, and attended local figure-skating competitions, where she spoke with coaches, judges, skaters, and the skaters’ mothers.

“I wanted the movie to feel and sound authentic,” explains Davis. “I wanted to describe the choreography accurately in my stage directions and I wanted the ‘ice princesses’ to use real skater-speak, [such as] ‘I flutzed my lutz and doubled my triple.’”

Because Casey uses her knowledge of physics to excel at skating maneuvers, Davis also had to learn how different techniques are performed. “I had to learn to differentiate the moves—such as the difference between a camel and a blur spin and a layback—and I had to understand how each is executed. What toe-pick the skater takes off from, what edge of the blade she lands on, et cetera.”

Davis’s screenplay was approved and went into production in the spring of 2004 in Toronto. Even now, she “still can’t believe” that her screenplay has been turned into a major movie.

“I knew from my time in working in development that the chances of my movie or any movie getting made are slim-to-none,” she points out. “Many more movies are developed than made each year. Truth be told, I had been ecstatic just to be writing the screenplay. I never even dreamed of seeing Ice Princess come to life. Walking onto the Ice Princess set and into that skating rink for the first time was something like walking into my imagination. It was really, truly magical—and a bit surreal.”

Davis’s family and friends were also in disbelief at first.  “I don’t think it registered that I had a real movie coming out until [they] started to see the trailer and posters at Christmastime.”

While Ice Princess was a breakthrough for Davis in many ways, it had a special impact on her perceptions of creative control. “When I worked in television, I wrote dialogue for characters I did not create and didn’t always relate to,” she points out. “Screenwriting gives me the chance to create my own stories and characters and therefore lets me put myself into my writing.”

Currently, Davis is working on a script based on the DC comic book Zatanna for Warner Bros. and Di Novi Pictures with her producer, Alison Greenspan C’94. And as her career blossoms, Davis reports that she has exciting developments at home as well: her eight-month-old son keeps her “pretty busy” in her time off.

—Chelsea Tanimura C’06


©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/03/05


Design “Groundswell”: Beauty in Brownfields
A Change of Heart. Framingham study’s legacy
Ice Princess-screenwriter Hadley Davis
Becky Young retrospective
Greil Marcus on “Resistance”
Briefly Noted
Arts Calendar

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