Interview: Director Emily Hagins Grows Up For 'My Sucky Teen Romance'

What did you do when you were twelve years old? Probably went to school, hung out, got interested in guys or girls, and generally, tried to avoid your parents as much as possible. Emily Hagins, on the other hand, made a low budget independent zombie movie called "Pathogen" which gained critical acclaim, and led to a documentary about her called “Zombie Girl.”

Now almost twenty, Hagins hasn’t really slowed down. She’s directed two more features, various shorts, and continued to get further enmeshed in the Austin filmmaking scene. Her latest movie, “My Sucky Teen Romance,” a skewering of the plethora of vampire romance movies and books from a teen perspective was released on DVD and On Demand last week. Before the NYC premiere, we had a chance to sit down with Hagins to chat about her career path, working with people twice her age, and also, got some advice for other young filmmakers.

“I was always a big movie geek, I watched a lot of movies when I was young,” said Hagins as we chatted in a busy New York pizza joint in the Village. “They called me the movie girl in second grade, because I went every weekend! Then my Dad showed me how to make a short film. He didn’t do anything for me, he just guided me through it.”

With the aid of her Father – who worked in advertising, and knew his way around a film set – the young Hagins started experimenting with short filmmaking. And thanks to the vibrant Austin film scene, she also got to hang out on a number of movie sets, leading to making "Pathogen" at the ripe old age of twelve.

Her next few takes were a bit more difficult, as not only was the spotlight more in her direction, but, “I did a lot of growing up between thirteen and fifteen,” continued Hagins, citing the challenges of upgrading her technical capabilities while also going through some tumultuous teen years.

Still, she hasn’t let her age play too much of a factor beyond simply living her life, and fueling her art. “Sometimes the age thing can be an issue to people when I propose working with them,” said Hagins, “But if it becomes a problem for them, I just think, well, I didn’t really want to work with them anyway! I try to use my age as a place to come from because I know I’ll never be nineteen again, and won’t be able to use it in films in the future – so I want to use it now.”

One thing Hagins hasn’t lost in her youth, though, is the wonder of film. Despite being a veteran at this point, she still professed interest in every aspect of the industry, and wants to keep exploring new techniques ranging from motion capture, to timing in comedy. “When you see it work in other movies, it’s inspiring to try and make it work for your own stuff,” said Hagins.

Luckily, Hagins has an ace in the hole: for her latest feature, she was able to get advice from Robert Rodriguez on how to make special effects on a budget. And the effects in the film actually look great. They’re understated in a way that’s rare for Hollywood features, and as much a testament to Hagins ingenuity, as the professional effects studios she took advantage of, that just happened to be in the Austin area at the time.

In fact, Hagins feels that the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin is the main reason she is where she is today, stating that it was the chance to see films on the big screen – as well as inspiring lectures from film professors and creators at the movie theater – that drove her to become a filmmaker herself. “In addition to watching movies as they came out, I got to watch these classic films, and hear from the people who made them,” said Hagins. “It’s very nurturing, and has this vibe, this whole, ‘let’s get together and make a movie!’ that happens all the time, but everyone is equally excited.”

Talking about “My Sucky Teen Romance,” Hagins mentioned that the movie – naturally – came out of frustrations with the popularity of the "Twilight" franchise, but also about the experience of being a teenager. “I wanted to make a movie that felt very real to me and my teen experience,” said Hagins. One other wrinkle? She wanted to make a movie set at a comic convention. Not a San Diego convention, but a local, hotel set comic convention, and all the geekiness that implies.

Still, Hagins had a little bit of reticence tackling a vampire movie, even to make a parody of vampire movies, given their ubiquitousness. “I felt that when I had to go see "Vampires Suck," just to make sure we weren’t making the same jokes,” said Hagins with a laugh. “Luckily, it was all fart jokes, and we were safe. Still, it’s the consequences, and the choices the characters make that’s the story. The vampire elements are just part of what it’s about.”

For her next project, Hagins is trying to make a bit of a departure from the horror genre. Though still hanging on to her roots. The movie, set on Halloween, is about an eighteen year old too old to trick or treat who gets a big wake up call from his family. “It’s kind of sweet and sad, a John Hughes style comedy,” said Hagins.

So that means no serial killers, right? “Well, not in this draft!” said Hagins with a laugh.

"My Sucky Teen Romance" is now available on Blu-ray and DVD via Dark Sky Films, as well as On Demand everywhere!