Walking into Tavern on Rush in a modest black dress and tights with a chic, chin-length haircut (the result of a "double-do-over" of cuts gone wrong), 19 year-old writer/director Emily Hagins transcends the "teen filmmaker" title she is so often pegged with--reinforcing that there is much more to the petite producer than meets the eye.
On her first ever press tour to promote the theatrical release of her third feature film "My Sucky Teen Romance," out on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 4, Hagins caught up with RedEye to talk making movies at 10 years old, vampires and bath salt zombie apocalypses.
You're 19 years-old, and you're already promoting your third feature-length film. Tell us a little bit about "My Sucky Teen Romance."
"My Sucky Teen Romance" is a teen comedy, coming-of-age story about a group of kids at a science fiction convention.
What was the process behind making the film? How long did it take to write and produce it?
It was about two years. I kind of include now as we're wrapping it up and getting the DVD out there. I started writing it and it was a really quick process. I felt like the movie should have taken longer because it's a high-concept movie. I wanted to take longer with the process but also wanted to strike while the teen vampire phenomeon is still very present in pop culture, so I wrote the script very quickly, did the crowdfunding through IndieGoGo--not a lot of money--but we just did what we had to do to get the movie done without making many compromises and get it out there. It was not a long period in terms of making movies, but we wanted to get it out there.
Your first movie "Pathogen" came out when you were just 13. What sparked your interest in filmmaking?
My dad, one day when I was 9, as just a fun day-activity, just wanted to walk me through the process of making a short film. He had a background in advertising so he knew you needed to have a script, a plot list, and all that stuff so he just walked me through it one day. I knew off the bat that it wasn't something that you can just take your camera and go shoot whatever you wanted. You have to have your whole story outline and an idea of something you really want to tell. Every short film I made after that, I wanted it to be bigger and better and then I started doing feature when I was 12. It was just kind of a snowball effect.
So even from a young age you had this very big-picture mentality. And most of your subjects have been along a supernatural and horror path. Why horror?
The fanbase of horror is very loyal. They'll like your movie no matter what the budget is as long as there's something they can connect to and enjoy. I think that's a really good place to start as an independent filmmaker because you don't need the big budget and special effects and everything. You can make something really scary by not showing anything. So I wanted to take a scary, darker route at first and then my second movie was just so dark I was like, "I don't wanna go there again; I gotta do comedy now." I got really into horror for a while and got into the different subgenres and I could kind of pick and choose like, "I like the zombies that ooze liquid" or "I like the purple zombies - still zombies - whatever," and vampires are the same way. It's cool to know what different rules resonate with different fanbases. It's a cool jumping-off point and then you can creatively take it wherever you want with your story. It's a catalyst for different themes like, growing up and dealing with consequences in "My Sucky Teen Romance." I've always enjoyed making horror. I want to branch out and do other things, of course, but I think it's always something that will mean a lot to me and I always enjoy a fun horror movie.
What is your stance on the supernatural? Do you think we might have a zombie apocalypse in our future?
I used to babysit this kid that every time it was cloudy weather, he'd say, "That's zombie weather." So now every time it gets cloudy I just think of zombies. I think there are things in horror that people relate to. The idea of your family and friends all turning on you and not being your family and friends anymore is something that I think is an innate fear within people, so I think there are things that can translate to real life through these monsters, but I'm not sure about literal monsters--I hope not!
Just keep the bath salts away from people.
Every time I see someone staggering down the street I think bath salts and lock my doors!
In the midst of all the vampire hype, how does your movie stand out against those? What fresh perspective do you bring to the vampire phenomenon?
I really hope that people like that it takes place in a world where it's already very prominent. The vampires are like, "This is great, we love it! Everyone loves us!" They're not these monsters that people are running away from. They're really cool and hip and they don't have to hide. I hope that's something people will like and aren't sick of at this point in pop culture. I think like everything else it'll run its course and then come back in a few years. Also the romance--this is something that some people like and some people don't--it's just about crushes and not really about the over-done sex and we're in love and we're 16 years old! To me that doesn't feel real; that doesn't feel like high school. I was a shy, geeky girl in high school, and I wasn't going around dating a bunch of boys; I just had a lot of crushes! I hope those are things that people can relate to and understand it in that very real life way in how I interpret that in the monsters. There's certainly some death and over the top things, but it's all in perspective to the crushes and the smaller moments in the film so hopefully that will come across.
What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing your film?
I really hope that they can relate to the genuine teen experience in the film and also that there are real consequences. That's kind of my problem with a lot of teen stories is that they don't ever have to deal with the consequences of things that they're doing. Sometimes in this movie it's a little undeserved for some of the characters, but I think there are always reprocussions--especially when you're learning and growing and not really knowing what you're doing at the same time, but these characters are dealing with life or death situations and I really hope people are going to respect that in the film and also enjoy the humor. I tried to balance and kind of make that transition from the funny, light-hearted tone to the serious, "Well, we gotta focus now or people might die" tone. I just hope they have a good time with it. It's kind of a small movie; we don't try to hide that, but the stories and characters are really relatable.
What upcoming projects do you have in the works? Are you still interning with Rooster Teeth?
I was interning at Rooster Teeth. After I graduated high school, I had an internship with them for about six months. They're a really good company based in Austin, TX. They do a web series thats animal related, but I left to kind of focus on my films. It was just kind of a good time for them to do their thing while I did my thing. It was a really good experience and they had some nice equipment to work with. I left in May and I put my attention on this Halloween coming-of-age movie. Nothing supernatural in this one, which is funny because it's Halloween. One of the characters in "My Sucky Teen Romance" plays the lead actor in this Halloween movie, and he's a really goofy kid, but it's about him and he's 18 and doesn't realize that he's too old to be trick-or-treating until his friends and family are kind of like, "Hey, you've gotta stop." It's kind of a sweet-sad movie, but hopefully really fun. Kind of in the vein of John Hughes and all about Halloween. I have a couple of smaller projects coming up in the fall as well, so I'm just trying to balance all of that.
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