Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little chat I did with young Emily Hagins, local wunderkind who earlier this week premiered her mega-indie teenage rom-com MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE at SXSW.
It’s impossible for me to be objective with this movie and I wholeheartedly acknowledge that. Not only do I count Emily as a personal friend, not only have I known her since she was 12 years old, not only is my own brother one of the stars of this movie, but I also contributed some money when she began her IndieGoGo compaign. And I know many of you did, too, as she reached her goals quickly after Harry posted a link to her page.
So, you won’t see me reviewing the movie, but I have no qualms about telling you guys how proud I am of Emily and the entire cast and crew of this film… including my own little brother, Tony, who has been wowing people with his Jagger this week.
See? Tony joined me as I talked with Emily, so don’t be surprised when you see him pop up once or twice in the interview.
Emily’s story is an interesting one, especially when it comes to how she got this film off the ground. Below we talk about how she raised the money, how in the world she successfully got money from the internet, how she grabbed some of the talented people involved in the flick and what her thoughts are on premiering at SXSW.
If any of you are are struggling indie filmmakers, this interview has a lot of info for you. Hope you enjoy!
Quint: I’d like to start with you how you were very successful in doing something that was very much though impossible and that’s raising money on the internet. It was IndieGoGo, right?
Emily Hagins: Right.
Quint: For some reason that site seems to be really working and you were the first person that I had heard about that actually was able to make it, but I’ve heard of many filmmakers now that have actually raised budgets and raised finishing funds through that website, so I think that’s a really interesting place to start and how you found then and how you made it work for you.
Emily Hagins: Yeah, it’s really interesting. Aaron [Morgan] actually was the one who sent me to Kickstarter, just a link to the website and he said, “Check out how these people are raising money for their films.” I had never heard of anybody doing that before and so when I was researching more I found IndieGoGo and I was trying to find out what the difference was between the two.
With Kickstarter they only take five percent out of the money that you raise, but if you don’t raise all of the money by your goal then they give back all of the money to the people who were investing. It’s kind of like a safety net for the investors and with IndieGoGo they take out nine percent, but no matter what, you get to keep the money as a filmmaker and then if you reach your goal, they take out like two percent for all of the donations you get above your goal, so that you make more money once you surpass that number, so I thought “It’s good, just in case we can’t make our amount…”
Quint: Then you can at least roll with it and work with what you have.
Emily Hagins: Yeah. So I decided to go with IndieGoGo and also another thing I think is cool about crowd funding websites is complete strangers get to hear your pitch for your movie or see your trailer or clip and you can kind of test who your audience is going to be based on who is donating and then also what people’s feedback is on what they think. It’s kind of cool, because not only are you able to raise money without really having to do anything, you just have to sit there and wait and then pass out of the link to as many people as you can, but at the same time you have to get feedback, so I’m guessing if you are raising money for your movie like we were, we were still in preproduction and revising the script and everything, so that was kind of influential to me as we were still in preproduction just to kind of hear the general public’s feedback on what they thought the movie was going to be.
Quint: Were there any real serious changes?
Emily Hagins: I don’t think very much at that point, I think making it clear it wasn’t a spoof was a big deal. We have an actor in the movie who is the main bad guy who looks very similar to Robert Pattinson and he was already concerned when he first heard about the movie and we were trying to cast him. He was like “I don’t want to do a spoof movie.” I think making it clear…
Quint: But TWILIGHT spoof movies are so unique.
Emily Hagins: (laughs) “Who would of thought?”
Quint: There aren’t any of those out there…
Emily Hagins: (To Tony Vespe) You saw VAMPIRES SUCK with me.
Tony Vespe: Yeah.
Emily Hagins: We did see it just to make sure there weren’t similarities and it’s very, very different. That movie makes no sense at all.
Quint: To be fair though, you did have to cut out the scene were Lauren (Lee) farts and knocks him out the window.
Emily Hagins: (laughs) Oh man… There’s so many incoherent jokes we had to cut out of our movie to make sure it wasn’t similar. (Laughs) I felt like I didn’t watch a movie… I didn’t know what I saw. But yeah just making it clear it’s not a spoof, that was a big part of our marketing that changed a little bit.
Quint: So, what was the tone that you wanted people to see then? What was the idea that you wanted to sell?
Emily Hagins: Just the idea of how real teenagers deal with the teen vampire phenomenon, because kids at school talk about it all of the time, but they don’t behave like the kids in those movies and it’s kind of like an anti-influence. I think when MEAN GIRLS came out, it was kind of interesting to be at a really impressionable age in middle school because all of the girls started acting like mean girls, because that movie was so popular and so good and then it ended up with a lot of really mean kids at my school.
Quint: (Laughs) Who didn’t quite understand MEAN GIRLS, but they did like to copy it.
Emily Hagins: Yeah, it was just that really bad influence. I was in High School when TWILIGHT started hitting really big in it’s popularity, so I wasn’t quite as young, but nobody wanted to mimic TWILIGHT they wanted to do the opposite and I thought that was interesting with my age group and something that isn’t quite represented in teen vampire movies today.
With BUFFY and other movies from the 80’s there’s like those kids who when they say “There’s real vampire…” they are like “What? We’ve got to go stake them in the heart!” Now when they say “There’s vampires,” they are like “Oh, my true love!” It’s a very different teen reaction to vampires. I mean I love LOST BOYS and those ONCE BITTEN, those goofy teen vampire movies and I wanted to make a movie more like that.
Quint: At the center of your story is kind of a really sweet and tragic love story in what you were doing, so I think not to lay too much praise on you, but I think that’s the success of the movie and that’s what separates it from anything… There’s nothing authentic in the TWILIGHT movies. You can like a lot of the feel of it, but it all feels so packaged. But here there is as funny and goofy as the movie gets and is crazy and off the wall that my brother gets in the movie, it does feel like real people doing real things. The romance of it, the kind of puppy love, the crush that’s in the movie is actually something that’s very layered and very detailed. Was that an intentional thing? Do you wantto have that heart underneath the comedy?
Emily Hagins: Yeah, definitely. I mean those were my favorite… I think a lot of movies that I really enjoy sometimes get some not so positive feedback, but I think have a lot of heart like those Apatow comedies, like I know a lot of kids are like “I don’t want to see that, it just looks dumb.” I’m like “No, there’s a lot of heart in that story. You’ve just got to see the movie.”
There were two things that were kind of in my mind when I was writing. With vampire movies and… TWILIGHT is an example for sure, but using monsters in this kind of over romanticized way, it looses what really makes a monster a monster and I think once the kids turn into vampires, there’s something about their humanity that’s lost, no matter how good of a person they are, and that’s just part of a monster movie.
I don’t mean to just be ripping on TWILIGHT, but (that’s) such a small part of it and it’s like “Oh, but our love prevails,” but I think there’s so much more of a sacrifice and so much more of an impact on the relationship, just the fact that there are monsters involved like if that were to be real. That’s just were my brain went when I was writing the script.
Then also just me being a very shy teenager, the kind of romance that I would tend to write is like something that’s very shy and that’s something I don’t see a lot of in the movies. I also go to a very nerdy school and that’s how those romances are, they don’t really talk and then they are like “Oh, but I like him!” So I think that’s kind of endearing and I wanted to write from my experiences in a way that would feel very genuine to being a teenager, from my point of view. I know what it’s like to be a geeky kid, I don’t know what it’s like to be a cheerleader, so that’s the kind of romance I ended up writing.
Quint: It works and maybe that’s why it works for me. That distant crush thing… I’m pretty familiar with it. But it works because you cast really well…
Emily Hagins: (Points to Tony Vespe) This guy.
Quint: Well, present company excluded of course. (laughs)
Emily Hagins: Oh no, no he’s great.
Quint: You probably know exactly where I’m going with this, but since you were making it locally and you were doing it on favors and all of this stuff and super low budget, the fact that you are the writer and director, were you writing with people in mind? How many people did you have to find later in the process?
Emily Hagins: Tony did come on pretty late in the process. Elaine (Hurt) and Patrick (Delgado), who play the two leading roles, I had cast them pretty early on, about this time last year, when I was still early on in the script writing, so I started to write more based on the way that they talk and behave. Patrick was originally going to play a different part in the movie and I ended up shifting around as the other parts got cast.
To me it was really important that the kids just felt like real kids and I was willing to sacrifice some of that over acting that I think a lot of kids tend to do, especially in independent movies when… I don’t know a whole lot about the kid actors in Austin and I definitely don’t want to talk down about them, but these kids that ended up going with were just a lot of people I knew. We just had to talk about the seriousness of the project and making sure like “I know you’re a great actor, just because I saw it in your audition, but I just need you just need to make sure you push yourself to that level, so that the movie can be on that level.”
Quint: “You need to make every day matter as much as the audition did.”
Emily Hagins: Definitely, because I know that they were all very nervous and they wanted to impress to get the part and I didn’t want them to lose any of that once we were making the movie.
Quint: (Laughs) So, you threatened to fire everybody if they gave a bad take?
Emily Hagins: (To Tony Vespe) Were you on that email that I sent at four in the morning one time where I was like “Oh shooting schedule is so short, you guys better memorize your lines or else I’m going to be mad.” Did you get that email?
Tony Vespe: I think I did.
Emily Hagins: And everyone always memorized their lines, it was never a problem! I mean it really does take a lot to make me mad, but I think everyone worked so incredibly hard I was really blown away with the kids on the set, the actors, and the crew. I think everyone was just really excited to be a part of it and I was very open to like if they needed to change a scene to be funnier… I know Tony cusses a lot and he’s hilarious when he cusses, but I’m not, so I don’t write that into the character.
Tony Vespe: You told me to curse.
Emily Hagins: Yeah, I said like “Do one where you curse here” and it ended up being hilarious.
Quint: Was that the robot scene?
Emily Hagins: That was improvised, yeah.
Tony Vespe: The robot idea I think Paul (Gandersman) helped with the robot, he’s like “Just say something and do the robot.”
Emily Hagins: It was Evan was always doing the robot on the set, yeah. We had this assistant camera guy who every time there was a break between scenes… and he loved Torchy’s Tacos… He would always show up with Torchy’s Tacos and he would always do the robot and it worked; it worked so well.
Quint: So let’s talk about getting it into SXSW. This project has seemed to survive so many challenges that most indie movies can, in any step of the process, get caught up in and not be successful at. From raising the money to shooting to gathering the right people around you and then now getting it seen. You are getting to premiere at The Paramount theater. I’m sure you’re like me and you’ve probably seen many premieres there; it’s got to be a big deal.
Emily Hagins: Definitely. I’ve been there once since I found out that we were premiering there and all of the blood drained from my veins, I was like “Oh man, there’s nobody in there… What am I going to do?” It was amazing. I don’t even know who to describe it, because I have so many memories of really big events happening there. SXSW and Fantastic Fest sometimes and just how every once in a while they will do a Rodriguez premiere and of course our movie is very, very small in comparison to those, but just to be in the same space…
Quint: But it was also the first movie that sold out of advanced tickets, isn’t it?
Tony Vespe: It was before SUPER.
Emily Hagins: There was another movie, I don’t remember which one…
Quint: We’ll just say it’s your movie. (Laughs)
Emily Hagins: They said it was really, really close, like they both sold out pretty much at the same time. I didn’t even know there were advanced tickets for the longest time, but yeah I just hope… It could be ten people or it could be whatever the maximum amount is, I don’t even want to think of that number, but…
Quint: 1,200. Just think about standing in front of 1,200 people.
Emily Hagins: Oh Jesus! As long as it’s an audience that’s enjoying the movie, that’s all I care about and I don’t want people to show up just for the sake of “Eh, I guess I’ll go to that.” There will probably be people like that there, but I just want… It’s a movie I just want people to enjoy. It might not be life changing or the best independent movie ever made, but I think it’s just something that people can have fun with and I hope those are the people that come to the screening. The SXSW process has been really intense when we found out about when our deadlines needed to be… It got a little crazy.
Quint: How many hours awake were you the last couple of days?
Emily Hagins: We worked for like 26 hours and then we took a short few hours break and at that point where we had been working for 26 hours straight, our sound designer had been working for an additional two days straight, so he was completely incoherent by the time we left. He was asleep by the time we left his house. When we got there the next day, we were happy to find out he was alive and then we continued for about another 28 hours and it was just nonstop and then the colorists and back to sleep.
Everyone’s dedication… I talked about the actors, but the post production team was very small, so everyone had to be in touch with each other and making sure everyone was communicating, because one little setback for color would be like a setback for sound and then for some reason it would all just tie back together, so we had to be very in sync. Everyone did a great job and pulled their weight. Of course there were those little setbacks, of course everything seemed to go wrong at that time, but it worked and it was good.
Quint: I’ve seen all of the movies you have done up until this point and this is by far the most accomplished thing that you have done, did you learn a lot making this movie? If you had to pick a few things that you were going to be taking from your experience on this one into your next film, what would those be?
Emily Hagins: I think I learned a lot more about directing during this movie. With my other films I was doing a lot more things than I thought I was doing. I didn’t even think about it, I just thought it was all part of my job as leader, but this movie I was working with producers and then they would be taking things off of my plate and I was like “Oh, what do I need to do?” “Oh you need to just direct.” “Oh yeah, that thing I wanted to do.” So just being able to focus on directing gave me a lot more of a chance to figure out exactly what I needed to work on and what I was better at so I could just kind of make sure that everything clicked and so I could communicate with the actors better.
I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult male director, but as a young female director I think there’s some difficulty in the balance between being humble and making sure everyone feels like they are part of the team and they are being listened to and then also being assertive, but not bitchy. I keep trying to think of a better, nicer way of saying that, but I think it’s easy for girls in charge when they are like “You need to be more assertive,” then they kind of reach that level of like making people not want to work with them, because they are too much and so just making sure that you are balancing that and just keeping a really positive vibe on set.
I think if there’s a negative vibe on set, it’s going to come through in the final product not matter what, so even if you are getting way more stuff done, if nobody is having fun, then you are not going to have a fun movie, especially as a comedy. That was very important to me. Having a lot of kids on set, it was important that somebody was telling them to stay on task, especially as it got into the later hours of the night and people were getting goofy.
Being able to work with a producing team, that definitely helped me focus on directing and also production design was something I hadn’t really focused on much in my other films. With this movie it was important that people could understand where they were without it being distracting to what was going on. I had this convention I was basing the convention in the script on, so we had some point of reference, but it was still a lot of work to make a setting that was believable on our budget.
So, learning about production design, the importance of it, and how to integrate it into the scene and how much of that should be done in pre-production, because a lot of it was done on set, just like figuring it out as we went and then director. I guess those would be my two main things that I spent way more time talking about than I thought I would. (laughs)
Quint: (Laughs) So what’s the next step? You are hoping to lock in some distribution of some sort after the premiere?
Emily Hagins: Yeah. We have been told some things from certain people that make it sound like our movie has no audience…
Emily Hagins: I just would like to say, “Thank you for your input, but I would like it to be distributed.” (laughs)
Quint: It’s a comedy, so the important thing is to get the distributors there for the premiere. Get people in with that crowd of 1,200 people. It’s a comedy; if it works there, then they will see “Oh look, there’s the audience.”
Emily Hagins: I think it’s hard to watch a comedy by yourself. Even some of my favorite comedies that I saw in the theater when I watch them back on my DVD player I remember liking the jokes in the theater so much that I will maybe laugh again, but when you are by yourself you don’t really want to laugh as much as you do with a big group of people.
Quint: Comedy is like horror, it’s a communal experience.
Emily Hagins: Exactly, it’s a horror comedy, we have double the efforts. Tell that to our marketing! (laughs) But yeah, I would love it to reach an audience of people that can an enjoy it… Geeky people that might be able to relate to it, as we were talking about earlier, and teenagers, teen vampire fans. I really wanted to be respectful of the genre and honestly, even though I was ripping on TWILIGHT a little bit, I do respect everybody who put their hard work and effort into TWILIGHT, because they put their hard work into it, so good for them.
Quint: “A for effort.”
Emily Hagins: (laughs) Yeah, nobody is going to like every single movie, but yeah I think there will be people out there that will enjoy the movie and I want some kind of distribution that will make sure that those people can see it. I don’t want to hide this movie.
Quint: What? You didn’t make this movie not to be seen?
Emily Hagins: Yeah, it’s just for my house. (laughs) I really hope more than anything that people like Tony and the other people in the cast and crew can be able to use it on their resumes and show other people what they can do and be movie stars and so forth; continue to pursue their talents. I want to make another movie that’s even better. Right now!
Quint: Do you have an idea of what you want to do next?
Emily Hagins: I wish I did so bad, because that would help me with a lot of these questions! I want to do something that’s not supernatural, because I haven’t done that yet. I also want to try something I haven’t written if that’s possible and I mean there are definitely other things I want to try after this, I just don’t have anything currently in the works.
Tony Vespe: You just got done with this.
Emily Hagins: Yeah, like literally last week.
Tony Vespe: You can take a break…
Emily Hagins: A one week break!
Quint: Cool, I think that’s about it from me.
Emily Hagins: Awesome. Thanks so much.
Quint: Of course!
Congrats to Emily and her team on the wildly successful showing at SXSW. Hope you guys enjoyed the chat!
Coming up you’ll find more interviews from South By, including another female director slightly less known than Emily… What’s her name? Frost? Forster? Foster… That’s it! Jodie Foster! So, I got her and Anton Yelchin for The Beaver, director Joe Cornish for the great Attack the Block and an AICN Legends length chat with Mr. Michael Biehn. It’s an epic one, so keep your eyes peeled!