The Wild Reason Why 'Mean Girls' Had to Cut the Burn Book's Masturbation Joke
"Trang Pak is a grotsky little byotch." "Dawn Schweitzer is a fat virgin" "Muckleroy takes medication for the boil on his back side." "Damian Leigh, too gay to function."
The poetic dissbombs that fill the Burn Book -- the anti-Bible wielded by Cady (Lindsey Lohan), Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and her Plastics in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls -- are awful and legendary. But when director Mark Waters first set out to construct the insult tome, he only had the harsh words. Revealing the making-of story to Thrillist, Waters says Tina Fey's script simply said "Karen takes a scrapbook of a shelf." That meant constructing a hyper-specific, yet universally high school prop out of the ferocious personality Fey had carved out on the page. Not easy, but clearly not impossible.
"It had to be pink -- the obvious color choice for Regina," Waters says. The other idea that immediately sprung to mind was that the Burn Book had to look like a yearbook so that it could sit covertly on the shelf, eluding parental detection. Then came filling the book with words, images, and designs that would evoke that would take bullying to a new, but cheerful level. Waters remembers his prop master's design breakthrough: "He said, 'Let's make it look like those kidnapping videos.'"
What followed was a series of off-the-cuff photography sessions that could be combined with the Burn Book's creepy pages to create something that could earn the name "Burn Book." Cary White, the production designer on Mean Girls, says he learned everything he knows about teenage girls from photographing the bedroom of Jamie Lee Curtis's daughter, who he and Waters met on the set of Freaky Friday, their previous movie. Wall photos became an inspiration for what wound up in the book. "The faces in the book… there were all these extras, some in featured roles, and you do a photo session with those folks, not professional -- the right camera, and sometimes terrible light."
The Burn Book was the rare movie prop completed well before the actual shoot of the movie, as it needed to be passed around by the main characters and eventually torn to shreds. But the creation of the book is only half the story. After filming had wrapped, Waters ran into another problem: the Plastics' words burned too hard. One insult riled up the MPAA, the film ratings board that decides what kind of lewd content tips a movie into PG, PG-13, and R territory. If this particular insult wasn't removed, the teen comedy would never see the light of day.
"One of the best jokes in the movie was in the book," Waters admits, "It said, 'Amber D'Alessio masturbated with a frozen hot dog.' Later on when it's revealed, she says, 'Masturbated with a hot dog? That was one time!'" The ratings board wouldn't let us use that. So we changed it to 'made love to a frozen hot dog.'"
Unfortunately, the processed meat line-swap still earned Mean Girls an R rating. So Waters used special effects trickery to change it a second time: "Made out with a frozen hot dog." The MPAA argued that it was the "frozen" part that was still a problem. "So then it became 'made out with a hot dog.' Not as funny."
The Burn Book battle helped Waters win another, perhaps more important battle against the censors. Originally the MPAA wanted to cut the use of the word "vagina" during the "Lady Problems" assembly scene. That did not sit well with the director.
"We wrote treatises about how it was sexist and body shaming," he says. "Somehow we couldn't say this but Will Ferrell could have an erect penis in Anchorman. They let us keep that joke but we had to sacrifice Amber D'Alessio's hot dog."