by Dan Lybarger
Megan Krismanich, Colin Clemens, Hannah Bailey, Mitch Reinholt, and Jake Tusing from ĎAmerican Teen.í Courtesy of Paramount Vantage.
Itís been over two years since Nanette Burstein finished filming a group of seniors at Warsaw Community High School in Warsaw, Ind., so itís not surprising the former high schoolers featured in the documentary lead much different lives.
American Teen garnered Burstein the Best Director: Documentary award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, the students, who are now in college, have been actively promoting the film around the country.
On their own, the five former Warsaw residents have been anything but idle. Hannah Bailey, the artistically minded non-conformist in the film, is currently attending the State University of New York at Purchase and is studying to be an editor. Sheís also completed an internship with comedy producer-director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up).
Mitch Reinholt, the popular (with female students) basketball player who dated Bailey briefly during the filming, is now a pre-med major at Indiana University. Both he and fellow basketball player Colin Clemens worked as interns for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clemens will be starting his junior year at Manchester University in Manchester, Ind.
Jake Tusing, who was a self-professed geek in the film, now sports shorter hair and a more muscular build. He also recently got to live many a geekís dream by interning with video game specialists IGN.com.
Megan Krismanich, the popular but occasionally mean member of the quintet who almost got in legal trouble for spray painting a rivalís window with questionable material, is studying pre-med and seems to have shed her youthful vindictiveness.
All five of them spoke to me by phone last month, and it was an intriguing experience. The five have developed a camaraderie from working on the film, and all laugh their way through answers. At times, they even fill in each otherís responses. As a result, keeping up with the five of them and determining who was speaking was occasionally a challenge.
While the film will always be part of their lives, itís intriguing to hear them recall that they doubted it would be completed, much less receive a wide release.
Dan Lybarger: So you guys didnít think (the film) would get off the ground.
Jake: I personally didnít. I thought it would be something fun to do while she was here. She sounded like she had a neat project, and really who would be interested in a small town like Warsaw, Indiana, especially just like high school students, people who have very little place in the community?
I donít know if anybody else thinks that way, but
(A chorus of ďyeahsĒ).
DL: How do you think she managed to develop such an intimacy with you because there are some moments that can politely be described as ďunflattering.Ē
Mitch: A big part of the reason why she was able to capture the intimate moments was the relationship we had with her. She made her intentions clear from the beginning. She became our friend before she tried to film us a whole lot, before the filming was successful. There was kind of a one-month awkward period where we just stared at the camera and were uncomfortable. Then as we got to know Nanette, it was a lot easier and then she could really capture who we really were.
DL: One of the things that made the film compelling for meóand I grew up in a small Kansas town about 20 years agoóis that I was getting Vietnam flashbacks. In the case of Megan and Hannah, a lot of the stuff was really heavy, is it tough to look back on two years ago and see this stuff again.
Megan: I think the time difference is harder because Hannah and I have both matured a lot. Thereís been a significant amount of time for us to grow up and learn from our mistakes in high school. Getting to relive those mistakes with thousands of strangers who have now seen the movie is a little hard at first. Overall, itís not too bad. I kind of look back at the mistakes and see that Iíve learned from them and grown from them and become a better person from the mistakes that Iíve made.
DL: Iíve just read your (Facebook) profile and saw what youíre doing with CoachArt.
Megan: Oh, yeah. I love my internship. Iíve always been really involved with service projects, and thatís the internship I decided to take when I came to LA for the summer.
DL: And certainly Jakeís internship is something every geek like me would dream of doing.
Jake: Itís pretty awesome. Iím hoping to go farther with my internship and eventually move back out here and eventually work for them full time. And it blows my mind to think that these people get paid to have fun.
DL: Did you learn anything about yourselves or each other looking back at this footage that you might not have known at the time?
Jake: Iíd never talked to any of these people in High School, so I got to meet them for the first time at Sundance back in January, so it was already two years after the film (was shot), so it was like seeing slightly different people.
Even just from watching the film, I learned that I need to think of strangers not as people Iíll never see again but as people who have lives as complex as my own. Everybody deserves a chance, and you shouldnít be quick to judge other people. And we all have a lot more in common than we think we really do.
DL: Thatís certainly the case. Megan, you might enjoy this, even after the graffiti incident, the audience I saw the film with in Columbia, Mo. clapped when you were accepted into Notre Dame.
Megan: All right! I made a comeback!
DL: What sells the film is that itís so intimate. If the filmmakers didnít get that close to you, it would feel real.
Several in Unison: Definitely.
DL: Was there anything that Burstein and her crew did to prevent themselves from being noticed?
Hannah: One of the things she did during the most personal intimate moments, she would just come herself. The crew was already small. There were just three people at the most. At huge events like prom and graduation, there would be a couple of crews, but that was rare.
But during, for instance, the scene the beginning of the movie when Iím crying with my best friend Clarke (Joyner) because my first boyfriend breaks up with me. That was just her with the camera all alone. She brought a mike. She took a few seconds to put it on me. She filmed for about 15 minutes, and after she filmed, she spent a few hours talking, and she gave me some advice. And I just spilled my guts to her, which was nice to have someone to vent to about all that.
So I think that had a lot to do with the capturing of the intimate moments. She was a friend before a filmmaker in our eyes.
Jake: It was kind of weird. She seemed to be more connected than disconnected. I think thatís what made the difference. She didnít make any attempt not to be seen. She made an attempt to be seen as a friend instead of a filmmaker.
DL: This was a tough year for all of you, particularly for Colin. Go to war or earn a basketball scholarship. Not that thereís any pressure in that?
DL: Do you think teenagers of your own generation have pressures that teenagers in mine never had?
Colin: My big pressure like you just said was getting a scholarship or joining the army. A pressure that I have that most people donít have is having a father whoís an undercover Elvis impersonator.
Other than that, I didnít have too many pressures because I was pretty close with my family and had a lot of good friends. I donít know how it was back in the day with scholarships and stuff with basketball, but thatís more common nowadays.
Iím sure that anybody can relate to the army aspect from previous generations.
It was much more terrifying back then Iíd assume.
DL: Ms. Burstein told the audience that your performance has a player has really improved and that you now lead the team in assists. Is that true?
Colin: Yeah, that was true. We kind of had a break in the season this year, or at least I did because I went out to Sundance. Iíve had to miss some games due to the movie and stuff, which my coach understood. The starters were averaging 20 minutes a game. I was averaging about 10 to 12 minutes a game, so I was in about half the time, and I was leading in assists. It was pretty impressive for me. I was pretty happy about that.
My dad was pretty happy, too. That was a cool thing.
DL: Itís really interesting watching you adjust to pressure, and seeing how Hannah went from the painful breakup to making films in New York.
Hannah: And I think thatís something that everyone goes through. It just happened to me that year. But thatís something that happens throughout life to various degrees. Thatís what great about it. People of all ages can relate to it, heartache, breakup, whatever it may be.
DL: How did you guys feel about the animated segments?
Mitch: I thought they were pretty cool. I thought it was appropriate for a high school teen movie to put animations in. It wouldnít have been successful. For some dialogue, it would have been difficult to show what we were thinking if they just showed us talking.
Jake: I always wanted to be a cartoon character.
DL: Ms. Burstein says that a lot of her musical selections were made based on your own tastes. Is that true?
Hannah: Yeah, I listen to Cat Stevens a lot, and I listened to that song in particularóthat CD of his greatest hitsówhen I was skipping school. And I think she probably took note of that.
DL: Oh, wow.
Hannah: But a lot of the music wasÖ
Jake: On the wrong label.
Hannah: So they couldnít use it because they went with a certain label and had to use songs from that label.
Jake: They did find a lot of similarities, though. I donít know if youíve ever been to Pandora.com. But you type in a song that you like, and the web site finds similar bands to help broaden your interests. They found what we liked and were able to find similar bands. It fit pretty well with my taste in music, too.
DL: Do you think the film would have had a different feel if Ms. Burstein had chosen a school, say in Florida?
Jake: Yes, we talked about this a little bit earlier today.
I think the Midwest is why Nanette picked it. Thereís a timelessness and an innocence to it. A lot of other places have different problems than we would, not just economically, but even naturally. Like in Florida, they have the hurricane season every time. I imagine it would be pretty rough on the community.
Here we donít have a lot of worries. The town is just now starting to grow again. It had been really still and calm for a long time. In the bigger cities, it would have been a completely different experience.
DL: In the last twelve years, itís grown from 12,000 to 39,000.
Jake: Itís getting really big, really fast, it sounds like.
DL: Is this the first time youíve been able to see the rest of the country?
Jake: Kind of. Personally, I donít travel a lot. I stayed up in Indiana almost the entire time. Itís a big culture shock coming out to California and seeing how different life is out here even though weíre in the same country.
I think other people, like Mitch, goes on cruises a lot. He gets to see lots of different places and meet lots of different people. For me itís a very unique experience.
DL: Youíre getting some really choice opportunities because I have to wait till next week to see The Dark Knight.
Hannah: (laughs) Yeah, so do we. Megan and myself.
Colin: The boys got to go to ďBatman.Ē
DL: When I heard Mitch and Hannah talking before their relationship began, each of them seemed to think the other was unattainable, which I thought was fascinating.
Hannah: Thatís true, actually.
Mitch: Thatís true. No oneís ever said that. Youíre definitely right.
DL: This film took a long time to put together. Didnít Ms. Burstein take a year to edit this thing?
Jake: Yeah. Thereís been a lot of downtime between when the filming stopped and when we got to see the final product. It did take a long time, like a year and a half.
DL: This one is for Hannah. Before we talked, I actually got to see Julie.
Hannah: (Giddily) Julie. Oh, my movie. Thatís a natural reaction because thatís my dogís name.
DL: Itís interesting to know that not only are you in school, but you have a few films to show for it.
Hannah: That was I guess my big project of the year. Eight minutes, so not too long. Itís hard. It was on film and everything. I got it transferred to DV, and I decided to put it up on YouTube. Itís been getting pretty good responses.
DL: How does it feel to be on the other end of the camera now?
Hannah: I still donít know how to direct actors, which is why I ended up being in my own movie because Iím not good at getting people to do what I want them to do in that way.
I can make a boy wear a dress and do that, but I canít direct him.
I used some of the things I learned when I was working with Nanette. Iíve always wanted to be behind the camera. Iíve made little music videos since I was a kid, so Iím more comfortable with that than being in front of the camera.
DL: Iíve been reading up on what various people in the group have been doing, but Iím curious about what Mitch is doing at this moment.
Mitch: Good question. I am at Indiana University, pre-med. And thatís about it.
Jake: I donít know how to feel about it. I was always kind of comfortable living in Warsaw, having a good knowledge of the community always knowing whatís going on. Now that Iím out in a big city, itís kind of fun to be out where things are always changing, and you never know whatís around the next corner.
DL: How have you felt about being instant celebrities with the Facebook and the Blogspot journals and stuff like that?
Jake: Itís a good chance to get our ideas out there, what few we do have.
Megan and Hannah: Great! Itís OK. The best part is just meeting people, really.
Jake: You get lots of different contacts out here. Thereís potential for jobs later on. Thatís actually what Iím looking forward to the most.
DL: This questionís for Jake. In the film, you talked about how much bad luck you had with girls, but I started counting, and you actually had several dates there. I started counting, and I said, ďI didnít have that kind of luck when I was in high school.Ē
Jake: I think that things were different my senior year probably because all of the people who werenít involved with the movie directly were trying to get into the movie.
I think thatís why Larrin decided to go out with me to begin with. I have a few other opportunities like that with girls I didnít particularly want to get to know. But I figured they deserved as much of a chance as anyone else. I very rarely got the opportunity to go out with someone I wanted to go out with. So I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and take them out for once.
That happened several times, but it never took off. Actually, my senior year between Molly, the girl I took to the senior semi-formal, and Leslie, the girl who flew in from San Diego, that was the most success I had, at all.
Iím actually in the middle of a two-year dry spell right now. Senior year was kind of strange in that respect.
DL: Had any of you been interested in documentaries before you became involved in this?
Hannah: Iíd watch documentaries occasionally. Not as much as I do now. I had Netflix before I knew Nanette. Iíd get recommendations for documentaries.
DL: Itís really odd watching people in an audience cheer for whatís essentially a personal experience.
Jake: I think so. It still makes me smile whenever we go to a screening and we hear the audienceís reaction. Thatís part of our reason for being out here.
I keep telling people when they come up to me after the screening. I was just being myself. Thereís really nothing in my mind that stands out about me. Iím just a typical person telling a typical story.
And itís like, oh no, youíre really brave, and youíre really awesome, and we appreciate what you really did. To me, it just doesnít feel that way. It feels like a home movie almost.
DL: That youíve been involved with a teen movie of your own, how do you feel about fiction films on the same subject?
Jake: You mean like The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles or something?
DL: Yes. When I was talking with Ms. Burstein, she was constantly throwing out references like that. How do you feel about those films now that youíve actually lived through something like this?
Jake: Theyíre fun to watch.
I donít really put much credit in them. I donít try to compare them to American Teen because I think thereís a big enough difference between what a director of a mainstream picture does because theyíre looking for ideal situations. And theyíre in complete control of what the characters say and do. I donít see how you can make a true comparison between a documentary and a major motion picture.
DL: How has the community reacted to the final film?
Megan: They love it.
Jake: Theyíre pretty positive about the whole thing. A lot of people are anxiously awaiting the release. Actually, most people in Warsaw havenít seen it. We had one private screening for our family and the other close characters in the movie.
DL: There is a danger with documentaries that the locals who cooperate with the film could be exploited. Ms. Burstein seems to have avoided it.
Megan: If you do it honestly with an honest portrayal and especially in our town where people are generally enthusiastic about new things and curious and interested. Thereís been a good response to the movie, and I think it will continue to be popular when it is officially released. People respect that.
DL: How have your families reacted to the film?
Jake: My mom never stops talking about it. Sheís always really excited to tell people about it and get more fans to go see it. Sheís basically kind of doing a promotional front back in Warsaw. Sheís basically self-motivated to do that.
Sheís a big fan of it even though sheís not really in it.
I donít really know about Colinís dad.
Colin (facetiously): My dad actually has quite the large ego. He wears his suit around morning, noon, day and night, to work, and itís quite embarrassing for the whole family.
DL: One of the things I noticed from watching the film is that even though youíre introduced, youíre both presented as two good-looking guys, you both have really warped senses of humor.
(A huge outburst of laughter ensues.)
Colin: Could you elaborate?
DL: The Magic Johnson joke got quite a rise out of my crowd. Itís nice to see you have active brains inside there.
Colin: Thank you very much. Weíre not typically meathead jocks. Weíre pretty normal guys. Weíre pretty cool guys, I think.
Hannah disagrees I think.
Mitch and I were always known as a couple of the nicer guys in the class. Everyone kind of knows us as nice guys. I would say that weíre not typical jocks or anything like that.
DL: One of the charms of the film is that youíre each given a label, but as the film progresses, that label falls apart.
Jake: I think thatís a big part of what the movieís about. You shouldnít be so quick to judge people. Weíve all got, despite different stereotypes, similar problems. We all do our best to overcome those.
DL: As we get to see more of Meganís background, you see that sheís from a family of overachievers, and with the horrible tragedy that happened to your sister, you have to have pretty strong character to survive all of that.
Megan: Thank you.
DL: I was struck by how you all had problems, but yet she humanized you all.
Megan: That was her whole intention in doing it. She wasnít trying to make it flashy.
DL: She and Mr. Roberts compared what they did with this film and what happens with reality TV. In reality TV, theyíre not going to spend a year after they get the footage editing.
Hannah: Itís obviously typecast. And now thereís a lot of scripted ďrealityĒ TV, which is very different than what she wanted to do and what she did end up doing.
Thereís been some criticism, which is upsetting to us because weíre real kids. And itís like trying to defend that youíre alive and that youíre real. Itís a very weird situation to be in. This is me; Iím here. Listen to me talk.
Itís a subject weíve had to deal with a bit. Itís a little bit frustrating, so we want to make it clear thatís the cool thing about the movie. You can relate to us, and weíre actually real.
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originally posted: 08/12/08 13:44:11
last updated: 08/12/08 13:55:34