When writer-director Maggie Carey chose to set her coming-of-age sex comedy The To Do List in 1993 — the year she graduated from high school — she was so intimately familiar with that era that she didn't consider the fact that she was making a period movie. It wasn't until she sat down with the film's line producer, who is in charge of breaking down the script into a workable budget, that she began to understand what she'd gotten herself into.
"I have a lot of specifics in the movie, like the Ford Festiva," she says. "And the line producer was like, 'You don't understand. You can't just go get that car.'"
The decision to set the film 20 years ago — yes, 1993 was 20 years ago, let's all deal with it and move on — wasn't just borne out of Carey's own nostalgia for that time in her life, however. The film follows straight-laced high school valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) as she spends the summer after graduation in a crazed-yet-highly-organized quest for sexual experience before starting college in the fall. And it is much more plausible that an intelligent and resourceful 18-year-old girl would not know what, say, "motor boating" was in the pre-internet era. "It actually kind of fit the idea that she's slow to get information, as we all were in the '90s," says Carey.
But with a budget just under $2 million — a nearly impossible sum for a period movie — Carey and her production team also had to be quite resourceful to nail all the right details of the early 1990s. Especially since the film's setting — Carey's home state of Idaho — made pin-pointing the early 1990s a little trickier. "1993 in Idaho is more like 1988 in the rest of the country," says Carey. "We used my high school yearbook to really pick the looks. It really does look like 1988."
Here are nine examples of how Carey brought her film back to the time of Bill and Hillary Clinton and highly questionable fashion and hair.
1. Ford Festiva
2. Trapper Keeper
3. Swatch Phone
5. High-Waisted Jeans
6. Oversize Shirts
7. Loud and Colorful Men's Print Silk Shirts
8. Half-naked Scott Porter
You may think Scott Porter's constant shirtlessness as Brandy's lust object Rusty Waters would be completely unrelated to the film's period details. And you would be wrong.
"It’s absolutely related!" says Carey. "The movie’s from a female point of view. People have asked, like, 'It’s a rated-R comedy, but there’s no nudity?' And I was like, 'There clearly is!' Poor Scott Porter had to keep his shirt off for half the movie. To me, that was the equivalent of when you see the cheerleader in Sixteen Candles, and she’s showering, and the girls are wishing that they had a chest of any size. That was the first nudity I ever saw. And I was like, '[Scott Porter] is my nudity.' I guess it’s the female gaze. But poor Scott Porter. He was a trooper."