It’s difficult to talk about Emily Hagins without talking about her age, which now stands at nineteen. But, as she continues to grow and refine her craft, I’m confident that she’ll gradually step out of being known for what she’s accomplished in spite of her youth. Right now she stands as the wunderkind who wrote and directed three features (Pathogen, The Retelling and My Sucky Teen Romance) between the ages of 12 and 18. Though I would soon expect her emerge into being a conversation piece simply because of the merits of her work alone.
Her new film, My Sucky Teen Romance, represents a significant leap forward in terms of her technical abilities, her knack for cool characters and the development of her voice as a filmmaker. Unlike many horror films submitted for review by more “seasoned” filmmakers it has a clear thematic agenda, emotional hook and consistent characters. A spring 2012 theatrical release is planned for the film, to be followed by DVD and VOD availability.
I sat down with Hagins recently to get a snapshot of her past, present and future. Hit the jump to check out the interview! A lot of films and TV portray the high school experience as all sex, drugs and texting. Your take is much different. Your characters aren’t just tools to provoke or scare parents. Is that your experience in Austin? That’s it’s not that nihilistic? There are still nice kids these days? “One thing about the way I write is I went to a magnet high school and I’m also sort of an awkward person so I gravitate towards really geeky kids. So what I relate to, and what a lot of my friends relate to, is more of just the experience of going to school, doing homework, having your friends over. Rather than drugs and sex everyday. I mean of course there were kids at my school who were like that, but I don’t think that’s what everyone can relate to. And I think those qualities are harder to portray in a way that makes people sympathize with the characters. It’s harder for me when I see a 30 year old [actor] in high school and they’re totally despicable. It’s all about the drama of who’s kissing who. With this story it’s just so focussed on consequences. Which isn’t the case with a lot of teen stories like “Gossip Girl” or ‘Twilight’. ‘Harry Potter’ does but it’s rare.”
You made your first feature when you were 12. Were you career driven at that point? “I didn’t really know what I had made with ‘Pathogen’. I just had a lot of fun doing it, I didn’t think it would be any notable accomplishment. And I guess because I knew I could get through it that time it gave me the motivation to continue.”
How did you come across the distribution deal with MPI? “They were at our premiere at SXSW. And it’s kind of been in the works since March, but it’s just been a really long process. It’s been really good though. Finally we’re at the point where we’re getting things together for them.”
You’re in a good place. You’re in a place where people who have five, six or even ten years on you would like to be in. Are you going to go to college or are you going to put that on hold and concentrate on your career? “Because of my financial situation I would have to got a lot of student loans and right now I feel like if I’m raising money I would rather it be for a film. But I’m not ruling it [college] out in the future, because I do like learning. But I wouldn’t go for film, I would go for something else I wanted to learn”.
What was the movie that made you want to get into all of this? “It was in elementary school. I saw ‘Lord Of The Rings’ in the third grade. I saw it 23 times in the theater, I went every weekend. I wrote a fan letter to Peter Jackson and he wrote me back and told me about Harry [Knowles]. It was so interesting because when I was that age I didn’t know movies like that existed. I liked ‘Spy Kids’ and my parents were good about not showing me movies that were dumbed down for my age. I like the ‘Muppets’ a lot too. They showed me good kids movies.”
Aside from Peter Jackson, who are some of the directors you find exciting? “I like Danny Boyle a lot. I think he’s really good at articulating why he does everything in his films. My favorite is probably ‘Millions’. I like Jon Favreau. I love ‘Zathura’, it’s one of my favorite movies. I stand by it.”
As far as your next project goes, do you know what that is? “Yes. I’m currently writing. It’s not supernatural at all, but it is a Halloween movie. It’s going to star Tony Vespe, the funny kid with the glasses from MSTR. He’s a good friend of mine, also a really good actor. He has great comedic timing but hasn’t gotten a chance to utilize his dramatic skills. I just want to see him succeed. Anyway, it’s a coming of age story about someone who’s a little too old to be coming of age. Halloween related. I have a portion of the script finished and we’re hoping to film next year. It’s a smaller movie conceptually than anything else I’ve done, so it gives me more storytelling possibilities rather than worrying about how we’re going to do a giant chase scene. I can focus on the actors more. MSTR is very much a plot driven movie with a lot of characters and this is a character driven movie with only a few characters and a very simple plot. But it won’t be boring! I can promise that!”
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Do you still see yourself doing horror or are there other genres you want to try? “This next movie isn’t horror”.
Even though it’s centered around Halloween? “You would think, but no. I would like to do comedy. Or dramedy even though you’re not supposed to use that term”.