The Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas draws a diverse crowd of not just horror fans, but also filmmakers each year. They range from Hollywood directors and actors promoting their newest work, to indie filmmakers eager to show what they’ve done to an audience. Perhaps one of the most interesting up and coming filmmakers to have their work screening at this year’s events is writer/director Emily Hagins. While the subject matter of her first film, zombies, may be fairly common place for the event, what makes her work unique is that she didn’t go to film school to learn her art. In fact she started making movies before she finished elementary school!
Emily, nicknamed “Movie Girl” by her friends, had produced several short films and written a feature length zombie movie called PATHOGEN by the time she was 11 years old. She finished PATHOGEN a year later and became the youngest person ever to win a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant from the Austin Film Society for her work on the film. Now Emily, still a year shy of graduation from high school, has two features under her belt and a third one in the works! B-Movie Man Nic Brown was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with this amazing young filmmaker about how she got her start, what she plans to do next and why she thinks fast zombies just don’t make sense!
* * *
Nic – So Emily, what brings you to the 2010 Texas Frightmare Weekend?
Emily – I’m here with my second feature film called THE RETELLING which I made when I was 14 years old. I’m also selling DVDs of my first film PATHOGEN which I made when I was 12 years old.
Nic – You were 12 years old when you wrote and directed your first feature length film… OK, Wow! That’s impressive. Can you tell me how you got started making Pathogen and a little about the film?
Emily – Well I’d been making short films for a while and I’m a big movie geek! (Laughing) So I’d been watching a lot of movies and I worked on an independent feature in my hometown of Austin and that inspired me to write my own feature film. Since I’d really gotten into zombie movies, that’s what I made, a zombie movie.
Nic – So you were 12 when you wrote it or when you made it?
Emily – Oh yeah, well I was in the fifth grade, so I was 11 when I wrote it. Then we filmed it when I was 12 and we finished it when I was 13.
Nic – Now here you are just a few years later and you’ve just released your second feature film. Tell us about it.
Emily – THE RETELLING is a murder/mystery/ghost story. It screened here earlier today!
Nic – How was the audience reaction to it?
Emily – It was pretty good! For me PATHOGEN was really a learning experience where I was playing it by ear and just seeing what happened with the filmmaking. With THE RETELLING there was a lot more planning that went into it. But with the extra planning there seemed to be more things that could go wrong. The first three days were really hectic. In fact all I’ll say is I’ve only had one panic attack in my life and it was during the first three days of filming that movie! Still we finished it and a lot of people, both the cast and crew, put in a lot of hard work on the film. I’ll add that about 98% of the crew who worked on the film were under 18. The cinematographer, the lighting, and the sound, they were all just friends of mine and we’re all proud of what we’ve made!
Nic – So you’ve made these movies, how do you distribute them?
Emily – I’ve been doing a lot of self-distribution on my work. We’re selling PATHOGEN through my website: www.cheesynuggets.com. So people can order a copy there.
Nic – In addition to the films you’ve made, I also understand you’ve been the subject of a film yourself.
Emily – That’s right. There was a documentary made about the process of making PATHOGEN; it’s called ZOMBIE GIRL: THE MOVIE and their website is www.zombiegirlthemovie.com. If anyone’s interested they can learn more about it there.
Nic – Going back to your movies again. You’ve made two films, but you’re also working on a third is that right?
Emily – Yes, I’m writing my third feature right now and we actually shot a test scene for it and the footage will be screened here tomorrow. It’s a comedy about teen relationships with vampires in it. Oh, and my vampires aren’t the sparkly kind either. (Laughing) I’m hoping to have it finished up and start work on it this summer, and if not this summer then next summer, so hopefully that will happen pretty soon!
Nic – So I have to ask, you’ve been in school when you’ve been making your movies. Is it a challenge to work around your school schedule?
Emily – School is definitely a big factor in all this and I really want to make good grades. I’m a Junior this year and I’m still considering colleges and taking my SATs and all that good stuff. So it’s a balancing act between my filmmaking and my academic life. Sometimes it can be a real challenge. (Laughing) I mean I had to skip school today so I could be here.
Nic – You know that I work part time as a truant officer right?
Emily – (looking suddenly worried) Uhm….
Nic – Just kidding.
Emily – (Laughing again) Well it really was OK. I went in and took some tests I had to make up, then I came here.
Nic – You’re doing all the work behind the camera for your films. Do you have any plans to step in front of the lens and do some acting in one of your features or someone else’s?
Emily – I’ve done a little bit of acting, mainly through theater at my school just to try it. I think it’s really important for a director to know what actors go through as well, but, it’s not something that I really want to pursue. I want to focus on directing and writing.
Nic – Going to something a little more serious, your features generally fall into the horror category and there has been a lot of criticism of the genre for its portrayals of women. What are your thoughts on that?
Emily – I think it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of male directors and they’re just showing you what they want to see. Sometimes I am drawn out of the movie because I’m thinking OK, this guy just really wanted to have a scene with two girls making out before they get eaten by werewolves or whatever. I mean in general with my films I just try to show what I know and I know what it’s like to be a teenage girl so I just try to add that perspective. I’m not really thinking about how other directors might want to put in more sex appeal with the women characters. (Laughing) My female characters are 14 and 15 years old and they don’t need to be dealing with that! It goes back to what I was saying, I try to take into account that right now it’s mostly male directors out there and they’re just doing what they want with the portrayals of women.
Nic – Emily, you’ve made two films and are starting work on your third at an age when most people can’t decide where they want to work part time! You’ve already accomplished a lot. What are your plans for the future?
Emily – I just want to keep building on what I’ve learned from my other films and make better movies! I love storytelling, especially through filmmaking, so I want to continue with that and make the best movies I can.
Nic – So are you planning to carry on with horror or do you want to branch out into other genres?
Emily – Oh I want to branch out definitely! Even though my next film does have some monsters in it, it’s really about 80% comedy and teen relationships the other 20%, with the vampires on the horror side of it. I do want to go off more towards doing other genres, especially comedy, so hopefully I can do more of that.
Nic – OK last question and this one is probably the most important one. Fast or slow zombies?
Emily – Definitely slow! I know people say they aren’t as threatening because they’re slow but you know it’s the number of them and the fact that it’s the people that you know who’re coming back to life and want to eat you. That’s what’s scary to me. Plus fast zombies just don’t make sense to me. They’re dead, why are they running around!
Nic – Well you’re not alone, George Romero said the same thing, so you’re in good company.
Emily – I actually heard him say that and I thought “that makes sense!” He definitely had a good point.
* * *
Photo credits: Photos courtesy of ZOMBIE GIRL THE MOVIE LLC.