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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "My Sucky Teen Romance" director Emily Hagins

My Sucky Teen Romance - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"On 17-year-old Kate's last weekend in town, she and her friends plan to spend it together at SpaceCON– the local sci-fi convention they attend every year. There, Kate meets Paul, a recently turned teen-vampire. But when the awkward teen romance goes wrong, Kate is bitten and turned into a vampire. Kate and her friends discover that Paul is not the only other vampire at the convention, and it is up to them to stop the bad guys and find a way to turn Kate back before it is too late." Director Emily Hagins on "My Sucky Teen Romance" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

This is my first film at SXSW, but I've volunteered and attended the festival in the past. My only festival experience, besides attending Fantastic Fest and Austin Film Fest here in town, has been with a documentary about my first feature film called "Zombie Girl: The Movie". I was able to learn a bit from the filmmakers about their experiences with the festival circuit.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I started making short films at nine years old, and developed my first feature at 12 called "Pathogen". It's a silly and cheesy zombie movie, but I learned tremendously from the experience of just getting it done. I made a second feature at 14 called "The Retelling", which was a dark supernatural murder mystery. I'm always learning from the movies I watch and make, shorts and features alike. I just love taking what I've learned from each project to make my next movie better than the last.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

I think I was a born movie geek, always wanting to watch or make movies. But the weirdest thing I ever wanted to grow up to be was a mime when I was 7-years-old.

How did this whole project come together?

"My Sucky Teen Romance" came from a combination of two script ideas, actually. I was hoping to write an exercise just for fun based on a real teenager's take on the teen vampire phenomenon. I did a bit of research and figured out what I liked about the horror subgenre, as well as what I felt didn't accurately represent of my age group.

I was also developing an idea for a movie set at a sci-fi convention similar to one I attend every year in Minneapolis called CONvergence. It's not as big or commercial as something like Comic-Con, it just has a genuine vibe of celebrating all things geeky over a weekend. It's also a safe environment for teens to go off on their own adventures, and all I needed was as story for the setting.

The ideas soon meshed into a horror-comedy about real vampires using the teen vampire craze to their advantage by dressing up at sci-fi convention to find victims. I started to become more excited about the idea, and I realized I wanted to make the film instead of just write the screenplay as an exercise.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

We had a bit of a challenge staging an entire sci-fi convention, but we were lucky to have a dedicated team and the model of CONvergence as a starting point. During the late night shooting our crew would double as convention extras, and the production design team, consisting of a teenager and an adult, created several signs and decorations that could be used throughout the hotel. We had to create a balance between introducing the audience to the convention as the primary setting of the movie, but not have it be distracting from the story and character relationships.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

The cinematographer, Jeffrey Buras, and I have worked together on a couple of short films and music videos over the past two years. I feel like a big part of filmmaking is intuitive, including your relationship with your cinematographer. Jeff and I had to be on the same page for every shot to make sure we covered what was in the script, and then some. It was always exciting when we'd both say "This should be in slow motion. Wait, you were thinking that too?!" ...not to say most of the movie is in slow motion, but we tend to generally agree on the visual style for each scene.

"Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

In general, I'm very inspired by Peter Jackson, Danny Boyle, and Jon Favreau for their styles and methods for working on each project. For this particular film, I was inspired by Edgar Wright's style of balancing both horror and comedy.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I think it depends on the project, but there is nothing I'd rather do than make movies that will entertain or move people in some way.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
Oh man, I've been focused on making movies since elementary school...I really can't imagine doing anything else!

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think with the internet and other viral marketing strategies it has become more possible for independent films to reach their audiences without much approval from the critical media. It's interesting to see how film festivals are adapting and incorporating the internet and smart phones to help the success of hype and film sales.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Either The Alamo Drafthouse or The Paramount Theatre in Austin, and we're very honored to be premiering at the Paramount!

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

I would say that this is a teen comedy from a real teenager's perspective, and if they're looking to see a movie with genuine teen awkwardness that's also respectful of the vampire genre then this would be a movie to see!

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

Dude. Maybe you don't care that you're disrespecting me or the other 75 people in the theater, but have you ever seen the end credits of a movie? To that list of maybe hundreds of people, their reward at the end of a grueling 15 hour day of production is that you, the audience, has the capability to pay attention and enjoy the finished product after months, or sometimes YEARS, of putting it together. So next time you put all your hard work and heart into a project that feels really special to you, I think it's more important for me to text my BFF about what we're doing later...and that's the meanest thing I'll (never) say.

(Author's note: While I have asked this a lot in interviews, this is hands down the best response I have ever had on this question.)

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

I think being able to see the story come together in it's final stages is my favorite part. From pre-production through post-production everything is one giant puzzle, you have to figure out what the picture is as the pieces fall into place.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

I would say to persevere through the problems no matter what. Sometimes what seems like a huge problem will turn into a happy accident. You never know until you get it done!

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

I would go with the one that inspired me to make movies in the first place...the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 17:10:58
last updated: 03/10/11 17:12:07
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