Co-writer Dan Studney speaks to Nostalgia Is the New Black about the ’90s movie.
With over 100 Disney Channel Original Movies made since 1997, it’s easy to forget some of the earlier ones, pre-High School Musical. However, one that should definitely not fall through the cracks of millennials’ minds is the DCOM Genius, which turns 20 today (August 21).
The story of a child genius in college who starts leading a double, ~cooler~ life to impress a girl he likes is both heartwarming and inspiring (it even got 7-year-old me interested in “inventing” things for a hot second). Protagonist Charlie Boyle (played by Jurassic Park III‘s Trevor Morgan) was definitely the young Sheldon Cooper of the ’90s, except he had much better people skills.
In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, I hopped on the phone with one of the movie’s writers, Dan Studney, to talk about bringing the film from script to screen.
My biggest question is how a DCOM even gets made. With many films, screenwriters pitch their own ideas to companies, but for Dan and his writing partner at the time, Jim Lincoln, this was the opposite of that. Because they were already part of the Disney family, writing for and producing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, the network approached the duo about working on an already-existing script.
John Rieck penned the original draft of Genius, and Dan and Jim came on and reworked it, changing up the plot and adding characters. For the latter, Dan shared how his friend from college, a mathematical genius named Paul O’Donnell, went by the nickname “Odie.”
For the fake fans who don’t remember, one of Charlie’s best friends is named Odie (played by Patrick Thomas), which is how that character got his name. Dan admitted, “I can’t remember if that character was there under a different name, but that was one thing that came from us [Jim and me].” Another thing that came from them was the funny skeleton scene, where Charlie rigged a skeleton in science class to “dance” behind the teacher’s back during a lecture.
Dan thought he and Jim may have also come up with the concept of Claire (played by future Shameless star, Emmy Rossum) reminiscing on her late mother’s figure skating career. It is a sweet scene of Claire comparing her mother competing to that of a ballerina in a snowglobe.
Because Charlie is a genius and working with an eccentric scientist named Dr. Krickstein (played by the voice of Roger Rabbit, Charles Fleischer), a lot of their dialogue involves science-y… things. In order to make what they were saying believable, Dan had to do some serious research about particle physics and gravitons.
Joking how he’s a Hollywood writer, not a physicist, Dan read tons of books on particle physics, including Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Though he was good at chemistry in school and liked science, he confessed he only understood about 3 percent of Hawking’s famous book.
While Dan and Jim rewrote a lot of John Reick’s draft, Dan shared how several of their scenes never made the final cut. After Mike (played by Murdoch Mysteries’ Yannick Bisson) tells Charlie he needs help passing science so he can continue to play college hockey, there was originally supposed to be a sequence showing Charlie using unique methods to help Mike and the rest of the Northern Lights hockey team understand the material.
“Charlie taught all the guys about physics by using them on the ice,” Dan said, later adding how Charlie also helped the team learn about science using pizza and pizza toppings. Unfortunately, the scenes were never filmed, most likely due to budget and scheduling.
Because Dan wasn’t on set, he didn’t meet star Trevor Morgan until the film’s big premiere at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in California. Disney Channel hosted “PremEars in the Park,” which was an all-day event, filled with picnics, bounce houses, games, and culminated in the premiere of Genius on a giant screen.
Guests could pose with life-size cardboard cutouts of the characters from the movie. There were thousands of people at this event. Disney Channel may host red carpet premieres now, but this sounds way better.
“They had Disney performers performing on stage for the pre-show. It was fun,” Dan said. “It was a really big event.” Seriously, can Disney Channel go back to premiering their original movies like this? Seeing these photos is like finding a lost city buried beneath the ground for 2,000 years. Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but it goes to show just how much Disney Channel was willing to go above and beyond for its projects. It feels like unearthing a time capsule because something this extravagant will probably never happen with the DCOMs of today. And that’s a shame.
Though there was never any talk about making a sequel to Genius or expanding its universe, Dan still shared what he thought happened with the characters, and it’s the fan-fiction I didn’t know I needed.
“Charlie and Claire clearly get married and have children. I guess their marriage almost breaks up because what happens is Krickstein gets glossed over for the Nobel Prize, and it becomes Charlie’s white whale to get Krickstein that Nobel Prize. ‘You’re doing it at the expense of your own children, Charlie!’ They start fighting. Krickstein’s like, ‘Charlie, it’s not important to me. Don’t worry about it, go save your marriage!’ And then I guess somehow Bear and Mike and those guys and Odie all came up to go help Krickstein get the Nobel Prize, so then Charlie can get back to his family. [laughs]”
If Disney Channel is looking for more ideas for future DCOMs, they really need to look no further. After all, Charlie and Dr. Krickstein did defy gravity before Wicked made it cool.
Featured Image: Disney Channel