Wednesday 6 May 2009
Zombie Girl: The Movie
"I was 10, so there was like no character development..."
So says Emily Hagins about the first draft of her own script for her feature length debut "Pathogen". It speaks volumes about the young filmmaker by not only showing her preternatural interest in movies and in making them, but also the typical overconfidence and know-it-all views of a 12 year old. Her determination is clear though and with the help of her very understanding and helpful parents she embarks on creating her own zombie movie. Each step of the way is documented in the Slamdance award winning "Zombie Girl: The Movie".
The story and all those expected steps and plot points (initial fumbling, gradual improvement, bouts of frustration, a major mistake, final push to the end, hometown premiere...) are all there and its a fun ride through the bumps, but what really makes the film hugely enjoyable is the relationship between Emily and her Mom. Emily is a lovely, fresh faced, young girl on the verge of bursting into her teenage years, but already willing to engage with people and learn. Especially if it has something to do with movies. It seems her face is always smiling even when she is most certainly not.
Her Mom also seems delightful. She encourages and helps Emily at every step, even being part of the film crew (boom mic and set/costume design is her forte). She tells us how she just simply enjoys being with her daughter and we see through old photos that they both went to innumerable screenings at the famous Austin Drafthouse - including Harry Knowles' "Butt Numb-a-thon". Given Mom's requirement to actually work her day job as well, she seems to have a remarkable amount of patience and encouragement for her child (Dad is also very present and helpful, but the major relationship on view here is Mom and daughter). There's likely a fairly large portion of people who might be critical of how loose the parents are with restrictions regarding the amount of time and money Emily pours into the project, but she also seems to be a very well-adjusted kid.
Of course, conflict arises. Tiredness, frustration and even creative differences work their way into the ups and downs of the process. Particularly during the last bit of filming that encompasses the big zombie scene at the convenience store. Emily is not overly prepared for the shoot and seems less interested in staying on schedule than in getting a perfect shot. It's yet again a telling sign of Emily's age that she doesn't quite see the effort that not only her family are putting into this, but also her friends and other recruited actors. Worse yet is the scene at the Drafthouse when they are waiting to see if they have won a filmmaking grant - while her Mom had just previously told her that they could really use the money to pay bills, Emily wanders the crowd and tells people (including I would guess some of the judging panel) "I don't really care if we get the grant..."
Don't let me sell her short though - she has obviously impressed a number of people with her dedication and drive. Several critics and many other industry types are curious and supportive of her work. There's some discussion regarding new film technology and its ability to allow for a younger set of people, especially girls, to get involved in all aspects of filmmaking. Though I wouldn't want any of "Zombie Girl's" storyline changed, there appears to be an entirely separate documentary waiting to be filmed just on that topic alone.
As mentioned above, the journey along the plot points is very fun and interesting. Emily's issues with holding a clapboard and her camera at the same time or walking into signs while filming are all parts of her learning experience and she seems to take it all in stride. Even more fun is meeting the other people involved in the film - the goofy 13 year old boy who seems delighted to be playing the annoying guy who gets killed, the little girl who would be happy to be a zombie as soon as she finishes her nap and the young male star of the film that really needs to wrap for the day by 6:00PM because he has to go see Riverdance.
"Zombie Girl" is obviously shot pretty cheaply (almost on a par with Emily's own "Pathogen"), but when you get to meet great people like this and are treated to pretty much an entire process start to finish (it's not a bad little film school primer), I expect most people won't seem to mind. If there will be one complaint it will likely be the paucity of actual finished footage of Emily's film. I'll admit I was just as curious as the next person, but that's not what this film is about. "Pathogen" may be a masterpiece from a young genius or (more likely) a sllightly more elaborate home movie project, but that all takes a back seat to the relationships and the actual process of making your own film.