Interview: Young Filmmaker Emily Hagins On Combining Comedy And Carnage For 'My Sucky Teen Romance'
Are youthful energy and raw passion key ingredients for a successful aspiring filmmaker? If you’re Austin based Emily Hagins, the youngest moviemaker in America, they are almost a way of life. Having made waves with her first film, an ode to the zombie genre titled "Pathogen" at the ripe early age of twelve, Hagins has become quite an indie film sensation. (She even had a documentary made about her exploits titled "Zombie Girl: The Movie!") Her second film made a few years later was a ghost story called "The Retelling," but her drive and need to make movies didn't stopped there. Hagins has already shot her third feature and it’s a film that blends both horror and comedy this time around. It’s a cute, quirky and sometimes scary little ditty about vampires, Spacecon and love in all the wrong places called "My Sucky Teen Romance." (Available on Blu-ray/DVD Sept. 4 from Dark Sky Home Entertainment) The film is being distributed by the horror experts over at Dark Sky Films and the pairing of their cool catalog (go Drive-In Double Feature!) with Hagins youthful fervor is fitting to say the least. We’re continuing our Starpluse.com support of Emily and her ‘grab a camera and shoot’ filmmaking spirit with a little one-on-one chat all about her inspirations behind "My Sucky Teen Romance," what she’s learned growing up making movies and also what advice she has for other young up and coming moviemakers. So watch out for bloodsuckers, grab your Spacecon pass and follow your heart – here’s filmmaker...
Since your first film at twelve was "Pathogen," the second a few years later with "The Retelling" and now your third being "My Sucky Teen Romance," what would you say you’ve learned the most over the course of making all three films?
Emily Hagins: I think getting to a level of production value that’s not distracting to your audience, because inherently all my films are going to feel independent. You just don’t want your audience to feel that with the characters. You want to be thinking about sound, about lighting, about acting and you want to be telling your story the best way you can with what you have. With "Pathogen" it was all whatever we have and who ever we can get, which is actually in hindsight pretty crazy. With "The Retelling" we had a lot of issues because we had upped the production value and there were a lot of learning experiences, but most importantly we just wanted to make a coherent film. Then the same for "My Sucky Teen Romance" again, the production value increased and the budgets increased, but not by a whole lot so it was mostly about doing the best with what we had to work with.
You funded your first two films – did you do the same for this one?
EH: Essentially. I sold some things; we had garage sales, fundraisers and a couple donations, but not very much money at all. We also did the crowd funding with a website similar to Kickstarter that’s called Indiegogo, essentially the same thing except you keep the money no matter what. They require a little higher percentage for that but it is worth it because we wanted to film immediately like a month later. So we ended up making all of our goals and it ended up working out really well. But I’ve sold a lot of things that meant something to me to make each film better then the last.
What has been the best thing about growing up making movies – and what has been the worst?
EH: For me I think the best part as I get older has been perspective because the perspective when I was twelve and making a movie would be different from now even at nineteen. Even though it hasn't been that long I think perspective is always something to value. I would never dream of making a gangster movie at nineteen because it wouldn't make sense for me. Why do that now when I could do that ten years from now? By doing the films I’m doing now I can bring my own voice to it while I have it. The worst thing would be respect. It’s a blessing and a curse to be young and working with people older then you because it’s a good way to weed out people that don't respect you no matter how old you are.
"My Sucky Teen Romance" features a more comedic side to your work – is there a genre you prefer?
EH: I love comedy and I’d like to go in that direction. I love horror films as well, I will most likely return to horror, but a part of me also likes light-hearted things. I think I can easily access both sides of that creatively.
Your cast is great, especially Robert Pattinson look-a-like Devin Bonnee as Vine – how many people did you know vs. folks you just cast?
EH: It was a varying combination. I knew a lot of the kids to some degree, like with Lauren Lee we weren’t very close friends at the time, but then we became close friends. The lead girl Elaine Hurt she had never acted in anything before, but she’s so funny and charismatic and photogenic. She’s not at all the awkward girl in the movie, so it shows her acting ability. And Devin was a waiter at the Alamo Drafthouse actually, but he is a very good actor and has been pursuing it since he was nine. It was just magical happenstance – I saw his picture and I thought he has to be in this movie.
I loved some of your awesome make-up effects – how did you pick your team and was that a huge cost for you?
EH: Those people who did the special effects make-up were awesome. They are really known in Austin because they did effects for "Machete" and pretty much anything that comes through Austin. But the only thing shooting at that time was the show "My Generation" and so they were having to make cups and papers and they were like, ‘We wanna do blood and guts!’ And I said, ‘You wanna work on this little low-budget movie?’ So they had a really great time and we were very lucky to have them. But it was a reasonable cost in scale.
There was a lot of tasty mood in your period-esk opening sequence – did you approach it differently from the rest of the film?
EH: In a way...and not in a way! (Laughs) It was the very last thing we shot so the team was working very quickly and efficiently and the actors were all on the same page. And everyone was excited about doing the period thing, so we had the car and the motorcycle and everything. But that scene excited a lot of people and we were very efficient at that point – it’s a little bit of both.
For young people looking to make their own films what do you think is key as far as making movies?
EH: If you have an idea for something you have to suck up the self-deprecating filmmaker thing and mentally think I’m the only person that can tell this story. Then sell it to your actors and your team – you can't make it without them. Also things aren’t going to go the way that you thought and it’s going to completely change, but it will be worth it because at the end of the day you’re going to have something to show for that idea you had. And then you keep going.
Was there any special interest in you after the documentary "Zombie Girl: The Movie" came out?
EH: My favorite thing about that movie having come out is I hear from kids all over the world saying I picked up a camera and I want to make a zombie or I want to make a film and that’s really inspirational to me – that’s the best thing to come out of "Zombie Girl."
What does the future hold – are you going to move to LA or just keep making films in Austin?
EH: I like Austin a lot and it’s my home, but I’m not opposed to going other places. I have a comedy film that I’m working on and hopefully we’ll be shooting that soon.