Why They’re On Our Radar: In a field of impressive documentary films at this year’s True/False Film Festival, crowds were consistently buzzing about a feature debut that debuted in a sneak preview at the festival.
The buzz for Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s “Only the Young” is certainly well-deserved. In “Only the Young,” the recently graduated CalArts alums head to Tippet’s Southern California hometown of Santa Clarita to document the friendship of two young men, Kevin and Garrison.
The two high schoolers, sincere and naive, are evangelical skateboarders who are exploring the world of girls and enjoying their loving bromance, but none of these attributes dominates the film’s depiction of their character or their friendship. The film is a stylized look at the two men’s lives – mixing testimonial interviews with with scenic shots of the adventures the friends go on with each other and with their girlfriends.
Mims and Tippet met their producer, Derek Waters (who makes the popular Funny or Die “Drunk History” series, set to be made into a Comedy Central TV series) at Sundance, where they both had films in the same short program. The three sat down with Indiewire to chat about the directing team’s first feature.
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How has bringing the film to its first festival been?
Jason Tippet: It’s been amazing. This is our first feature. We’ve gone to festivals with shorts, and then, you go and have a good time. This is more nerve racking; you want to know how people are gonna take the film.
Elizabeth Mims: It’s just been the three of us watching it. This is so exciting.
Derek Waters: We weren’t surprised at the response, but it was nice to see people respond to the film, laugh at the parts we thought were funny.
How did you all decide to work together?
JT: Elizabeth and I made our first short together at CalArts. After we got out, it was nice travelling around the festivals, we won the jury award at SXSW, and we felt it was time to tell a longer story. We met Derek at Sundance. We loved each other’s stuff, and we shared a lot of favorite movies in common — “Billy the Kid,” “American Movie.” After we got back from Sundance, we met the kids in our film, and we knew we wanted to make this film, and we knew we needed to take the idea around to people to get funding. No one wanted to get on board. Derek asked us how he could help, and we ended up meeting for a dinner that I think I paid for, and we decided to work together.
DW: Yeah! Thanks for the dinner! I love character pieces and documentaries. There’s something these two do. This sounds cliche, but they actually take “moving pictures.” What they do only amplifies how you’re feeling about the characters.
And how did you meet your subjects?
EM: We met them when we were checking out this new skate park, and Garrison came over and asked “Did you lose keys to a Jaguar?” And I said “Do we look like we lost keys to a Jaguar?” Kevin ran up and we watched them interact, and I just thought it was so sweet how they were handling this situation.
JT: When we were at CalArts, we were looking to write a script. I was housesitting in this neighbor’s place, and we decided to build something in the yard and we kind of messed up their house. So Elizabeth and I were looking to write that script. But when we were talking to the guys, they started telling us how they lived out of this abandoned house a lot of the time. So we thought, why should we make a narrative feature? We love documentaries where people are capturing things in the moment, following a story where they’re not sure where they’ll end up, so we did that.
You take a lot of stylistic chances in the film, and they all work. How did you gain the confidence to play with form?
JT: One of the shots i wanted to develop more is the behind the head shots, like from Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant.” A lot of the times when they were alone – it was a nice shot to go to. It made them look that much more isolated.
EM: We wanted to have a relaxing slowly paced movie. We wanted it to be something you had to work a little bit for, not necessarily exciting at every turn. We didn’t move the camera once with our short. We tried to do that with this film, but we were missing so much stuff that we had to do camera movement.
JT: We also had a lot of fun working with our colorist, Loren White, who mostly works in commercials. We played with colors to make each scene different.
How was it documenting a group of kids’ last years in high school, a time many of us would never want to look back on?
JT: We wanted to be sensitive to them. They did take a big risk letting people they didn’t know as well first start filming them. People can manipulate images and make them look a certain way. We tried to handle it very sensibly. I feel very privileged that they trusted us so much.
DW: Liz and Jason are great filmmakers. Garrison, Kevin and Sky [a third close friend, who both of the boys have feelings (not clearly romantic) for] look up to them, whether they want to admit it or not. Being the subject of a film is awkward at first, but having two filmmakers really like you boosts your confidence.
Showing the kids the film was a great night. I’ve never been that nervous. Every line matters. It was amplified by hearing Sky breathing. Kevin brought his newest girlfriend along. There’s a line that talks about how Sky is a sloppy kisser. Once we all got past that, everything else was okay.
They’re way beyond their years. It has something to do with that specific town: you’re constantly maturing, but you still want to light off firecrackers and skate off an abandoned house roofs.