It’s hard to find any member of Generation Y who didn’t grow up with the ‘teen movie’. From the legendary films of John Hughes to modern classics such as Mean Girls and Eurotrip, it’s a genre that is impossible to pin down in many ways. Yet a new documentary entitled Beyond Clueless is turning the tables, putting some of the most well-known (and obscure) teen movies under the microscope to examine what makes the genre so enduring and diverse. InTheMiddle Arts spoke to director Charlie Lyne and producer Anthony Ing to learn more about the film’s production.
Where did the idea for Beyond Clueless come about?
Charlie: Rewatching the teen movies I grew up on, I started to get this strange mixed feeling of simultaneous nostalgia and unease. On the one hand, they transported me straight back to a very fond feeling of youth and adolescence. On the other, I started to notice all these bizarre undercurrents that had completely passed me by as a teen. Beyond Clueless was my attempt to resolve those two feelings, by making something that was both a teen movie, and a deconstruction of the whole idea of a teen movie.
How wide did you set your parameters for what counts as a teen movie?
Charlie: Pretty wide. In my opinion, the only real thing that links teen movies is that they capture some sense of adolescence. They should give you a window into the terrifying shift from childhood to adulthood. It doesn’t matter to me whether that happens in a comedy context, a horror context, or whatever else. Tonally speaking, teen movies are as different from one another as actual teens are.
Anthony: If you watch Scooby-Doo alongside something like Elephant, you get a pretty good idea of the range.
The film’s promotional short video is almost like a glossy teaser trailer for a teen movie itself! Was this intentional? Did you feel it was important to take a different approach from more traditional documentary in order to reflect the content?
Anthony: Well, it was legally difficult for us to use footage from any teen films in our actual trailer, so I think that limitation forced us to be a bit more creative with it. As Charlie was saying, although Beyond Clueless scrutinises the genre, it simultaneously embraces it, so it’s great that the promo reminds you a teen movie itself. That’s a good sign.
The poster for Beyond Clueless is gorgeous, and a definite contender for ‘Best Film Poster 2015’. Who is the artist behind it, and how much input did you have into the design?
Anthony: Thank you, we made it ourselves! It was meant to look like an actual teenager had customised the covers of their own VHS collection. We spent a few weeks decorating the covers with pens and paint, and got friends to help out too. It was the most fun I’ve had in years.
Charlie: After spending nine months fine-tuning every last second of the film until we had it perfect, it was certainly nice to do something so practical!
The teen movie is in many ways a uniquely American phenomenon and many of the references within teen movies are a definite product of their time and environment; it’s pretty hard to think of British ‘teen movies’. Yet films such as ‘Clueless’ and ‘Mean Girls’ have appealed to a global audience. Why do you think this is?
Charlie: America is very good at exporting its vision of adolescence to the world, and because it’s been doing it for so long, it’s established a formula that British teen movies haven’t quite managed yet. The tropes and traditions that make up that formula give viewers a real sense of belonging in that world, which in turn drives demand for yet more American teen movies. It’s either a virtuous circle or a vicious one, depending on your perspective.
Obviously you’re a fairly young filmmaking team and ‘Beyond Clueless’ is a massive achievement. How did you manage to realise the dream and what would your advice be for any aspiring filmmakers?
Charlie: Thanks! The whole experience has been a massive learning curve for us, and an uphill struggle for the most part. All I can say is, we tried to take it one step at a time, never thinking too far ahead, and that way, even the most baffling aspects of making a movie became a little more manageable. If we told ourselves, ‘okay, right now all we need to do is understand how this contract works’, then by the end of the day we’d usually have managed it.
Anthony: It became a much bigger project than we thought it would be, I think our view at the beginning was that it would only ever really be seen by our friends and family. But I think it’s very important to make something with the attitude that you never know who will see it, because then you just do the best you can. By the time we hit the festival circuit we were like ‘thank god we spent a week fixing that tiny edit, because now it’s being blown up in front of a room full of unforgiving strangers’.
What’s next for you guys? Will you be staying with documentary filmmaking?
Charlie: To some extent! We have to be pretty vague about it for now, which I realise is annoying, but I can say it will probably feature less Freddie Prinze Jr than our first movie.
Anthony: ‘Less Freddie Prinze Jr’ is a terrible sales pitch, he’s all people want!
Finally, the most important question of all, and surely one you’ve been asked a multitude of times. All pretence and objectivity aside, what’s your favourite teen movie, and why?
Anthony: Empire Records for sure. The film that makes working in an independent record store look like the most ridiculously eventful job ever. My older sister showed it to me on video when I was a youngster and I remember her responsibly fast forwarding the bit where Corey (Liv Tyler) takes speed. They just seemed like the coolest people on the planet, and I just wanted to be like them. If I’d seen that drugs bit I’d probably be off my head right now!
Charlie: I have to say EuroTrip. That was the film that sent me down the path to making Beyond Clueless, and the one that really showed me how much depth was hidden in these movies that I absorbed so unthinkingly as a teenager. I know it’s not widely considered a classic but I hope that, in some small way, Beyond Clueless can encourage a little respect for what I genuinely believe is a forgotten masterpiece of satirical comedy.
Beyond Clueless is currently on a national preview tour, and is showing this Sunday (18th) at Hyde Park Picture House, and on the 20th of February as part of Ilkley Film Festival. To find out more, visit http://www.beyondclueless.co.uk/