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TRANSCRIPT FROM CHAT WITH R.J. CUTLER, ANNA AND MORGAN (4.4.01)


pbs_host: Hi everyone! Welcome to the American High chat. Our guests tonight are American High graduate Anna and Executive Producer R.J. Cutler... They'll be joining us at 11 p.m. ET. So send your questions in!

pbs_host: You can check out the American High Web site at http://www.pbs.org/americanhigh
Get the dirt from Anna and R.J. on what it was like to make American High... Would you want your life broadcast on TV?

pbs_host: PBS was thrilled to have the chance to air this realistic look at teenage life. Keep sending in your great questions! We'll get started in a few minutes... And R.J. and Anna will be with us til midnight.

pbs_host: Welcome R.J. and Anna. We're so happy to have you join us this evening.

R.J.: hey everyone. Great to be here.

pbs_host: R.J. and Anna are here, so let's get started!

sobriquet_films: R.J., did you spend a whole year with the kids at school?

R.J.: Yes. We spent 10 months with them. We started in September and went until June. Someone from the show and our 2 film crews and some producers were with some combination of the kids every day of the year.

knowledge_worm: R.J. - what did you want to accomplish with this series?

R.J.: We were just trying to tell good stories about what it's like to be a kid right now. Our goal was to provide the opportunity to the kids in our series to tell their stories and to provide a window in to the life of a kid and coming of age in the US right now. We also wanted to make a good tv show and to work with a group of people who we thought were really interesting and had fascinating stories to tell.

knowledge_worm: Anna, what made you decide to participate with the show?

Anna: First, it was an amazing way to document my life.
I'm so curious to know what my Mom's life was like, for example. And it was awesome to always have someone to talk to and someone to listen to.

SarahBiv: Did you like filming? and how did it impact your senior life?

Anna: I LOVED filming. It impacted me because it was a way for me to reflect on my life every day, by always talking out loud about my feelings, explaining myself, and having people to talk to and listen to you is very therapeutic. Especially during my senior year. Senior year is very hard for me academically, socially, and I always had time set aside with my camera for self-reflection to babble through and talk about what I was feeling.Especially right before college to think about what I was feeling was very important to me then.

Buffy_BandDork: Was there ever anything that you felt you couldn't share with the cameras? Did you share it anyway? Did you feel you had to?

Anna: There was definitely no obligation. It wasn't sharing it to the cameras, but to the producers who were my friends. It was a very friendly environment. There were times that I was concerned about it or about other people's feelings and I talked about that with R.J. and the other producers and they always listened.

jovan787: Do you still keep in touch with Kiwi?

Anna: Absolutely! He's still my best friend.

pigletag04: So why is PBS running this show?

R.J.: As some of you may know, we were originally on Fox and 4 episodes were aired on Fox last summer and actually lots and lots of people watched it last summer, over 5 million each time, but on network tv, 5 million people aren't enough to keep a show on the air. So they cancelled it and as soon as they did, PBS decided they wanted to run it.

PBS has been home to important American documentaries for a long time and projects like this date back to the early 1970's when PBS ran a series called "An American Family" about the Loud family, so in a lot of ways, "American High" is following a rich tradition. We're excited because this gives us the ability to be back on the air and for the series to have a whole new life and reach a second audience.

x35x352000: I'm a film student at temple university. Watching your show for me was fantastic. I went to high school every day saying "I wish I was documenting this." I love the idea behind your show. Reality is the key. Thanks for putting it out there.

R.J.: Thank you, Temple Film Student!
Tell your friends!

Buffy_BandDork: I absolutely love Kaytee. Will we ever be able to get a CD of Kaytee's songs? They are hilarious.

R.J.: In fact, I think you can download mp3's off our website already (www.pbs.org/americanhigh). Just check out the part that's devoted to her and you should be able to find it. We'll definitely talk to her about if she'd like us to put more songs on the site. Also, there is a CD of her music that we recorded for the show and hopefully it will be available for fans to pick up sometime in the near future.

schmonzie: Anna, has college thus far been what you'd hoped?

Anna: College is great. I think it's really important for everyone to spend some time away from home whether it's college or something else. I have some concerns about my school but it's a big change and it's a lot of fun.

evilhomerpbs: What college do you go to?

Anna: I go to school in upstate New York.

joe_jericho_1_2: R.J. is it possible that we can start thinking about a new generation of kids doing this show later on?

R.J.: Absolutely.
We're hoping to do it as long as PBS will have it. We're already talking about a 2nd season. If we did, we want to do a school in a completely different setting. This season, it's set in suburban Chicago. We'd like to see a year in an inner city environment, for instance. In subsequent years, perhaps a rural community or the deep South. The great thing about American High is that every year you can do a completely different environment

freeurmind.geo: A good TV show like American High deserves diversity in race. Will you consider adding this in the next season?

R.J.: Actually, there is racial diversity in it this season, although we certainly feel that in subsequent years, emphasizing diversity is something we would embrace. Later on this season, viewers will come to meet African-American characters, etc. In fact, having met Anna, you've already met a Latino character.

iamwaitingongod: So how has the show changed your life since the taping?

Anna: I've been able to have a lot of people come up to me. They feel comfortable asking questions about high school and college and relationships, and working through problems your senior year. That's been kind of exciting.

pbs_host: We have a surprise guest....
Morgan's here!

lauraland5: What's Morgan doing with his life?

Morgan: I'm going to college and hanging out with friends.

kicker99ca: Morgan, how is college going???

Morgan: It's going really good, it's really fun. It's just cool. It's a good experience, fun people.

moeware: It seems like a lot was acted for the camera. Especially in Morgan's case. Is he actually always like that?

Morgan: I am actually always like that! You can ask anyone who knows me! I am a ball of energy and a real dumbass!!!!

aaaaeus: Morgan what was it like working with the kids, did it change your look on life?

Morgan: Yeah! Which kids? The disabled kids? Yeah, I loved that. I still keep in touch with them and they were the coolest people I've ever met. Definitely the funnest.

tylerdurden_30: Did you ever want the cameras to stop being there?

Morgan: Not really. There was a couple times where it got annoying, but they would turn it off. They knew when to start and stop.

R.J.: The basic rule was, if the kids didn't want us to film, we didn't film. On any day, if they just weren't in the mood, we didn't come around because they'd let us know. And if we were filming them and they wanted us to stop, we'd stop. Our whole goal was to make it as comfortable as possible for the people we were filming because it was their lives and their story so we wanted to make it as comfortable as possible.

kurtz1979: R.J., You probably started out with some preconceptions of what you might get out of this project. What surprised you the most, or was the most unexpected outcome when you were done?

R.J.: The biggest surprise were the video diaries and how intimate and honest and open the kids were able to be with them. We started off thinking the diaries would give us some good ways to narrate what was going on in the show but we had no idea they would provide this incredible window into the kids' lives.

If you think about it, each kid really became a documentary film maker this year. They each made their own documentary film this year.Some shot over 100 hours of footage. And then we took all the footage they shot and all the footage we shot and put it together into the show that became American High.

queenofdiamonds99: Morgan, when I saw your piece it touched me in a way that you can't explain. It made me feel that as a teenager in this generation we can make a difference!!!!!

Morgan: That's right!
You're cool! You're my new best friend!

freeurmind.geo: Morgan, I'm deaf and was thrilled to see you willing to help other people who are challenged in other not-always-thought-about levels in this society! Even though I don't KNOW you, I'm congratulating you. It's a big thing to do.

Morgan: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it and I continue to help disabled kids b/c I know what it's like to have a disability and set apart from regular classes and regular teenage groups.

krinkle68: Anna, what are your plans for the future? Do you think this experience changed your goals?

Anna: No, it didn't change my goals. I am interested in film making, but I don't want to go into the entertainment field, I don't think.

tennesseenimp: R.J. why was highland high chosen as the school for the project series?

R.J.: We choose Highland Park mostly because they were really enthusiastic about having us there and understood the process. They had worries, but they were smart worries and were willing and able to work thru their concerns with us. I don't think it's possible to rep all teens throughout the country. I do think it's possible to honestly and sensitively tell the stories of the kids with whom we were working. And I do think we honestly represented their stories. That's all we could do. We hope the stories of the 14 kids in American High provide something for many people to relate to. We hope that you see your own story and learn something possible from Morgan or Anna or Katie's or Robbie's story ... but it's possible that you don't. And we hope that in subsequent years, we're able to tell stories of people you can relate to more.

pacoi3j: What were the kids reactions to seeing cameras in the school all the time?

R.J.: They got used to it very very very very quickly. I think this generation of kids is particularly comfortable around cameras b/c everyone owns one. And the equipment we use isn't much different from the cameras you probably have around your house. Our whole working style is to be as unobtrusive as possible. We don't use lights. and we try to impact our environment as minimally as possible. So it was pretty easy for people to get used to having us around. They saw us as people, not as camera equipment and that made a huge difference.

anjills2001: It was incredible. I am a teacher and I always get the question...why would you want to work with teens?? I think that this show answers it bluntly. What a wonderful group of human beings, going through life and learning so much along the way. Thank you for the insight!

R.J.: And thank you for your comments. :) I hope you'll turn your kids on to the show.

egadsman2000: Anna, how was prom? Who was your date? Was it fun?

Anna: Prom was a blast! It was the last night I got to see my friends dressed up. My date was a friend from school. My friends were all there, and the ones who weren't, we met up afterwards, it was a whole weekend event. It was the last going-out event of high school.

bwern: Predictable question: Are you experiencing the post "real life show" fame, and if so has that affected your life?

Anna: The truth is that I go to a really small school. I've been there all summer and I've been there all school year, so some people recognize me and come up to me and that's cool and in public sometimes people say stuff to me, but I haven't really been around since I've been at school.

jovan787: How was it seeing yourself on television that was broadcast around the United States?

Anna: It was hard. Just because so many exciting things happened to me senior year and there was so much that went on and it was very interesting to see how, physically, the camera man saw my life. The certain things they pulled out. It was neat to watch - to see everyone else at my high school - on the show too. Because I knew what was going on in my life at that time but I didn't know what was going on in their lives so it was really neat to see that there was so much going on in their lives that you couldn't see normally.

fuji22222: What do beautiful girls, like yourself, want most in a guy?

Anna: Wow. Thanks.
You know ... there isn't one perfect guy for anyone, I don't think. It's how you match together and right now I'm dating this amazing Italian guy so hopefully I'll keep him for a little bit.
:)

skylark025: Anna, how did you feel last fall when you found out that FOX had canceled the show?

Anna: It was mixed feelings. First, it was disappointment b/c I saw how much work and detail was put into the show with the cameramen and producers, everyone had such intensity and spent so much time and gave personal sacrifices for it. So that was hard. But at the same time, it was a relief to not have to think about people coming up to you. It was hard to go to school and try to make friends and have people judge me by what they saw on the show when I wanted people to judge me on who I was now and know that the show happened a year and a half ago. So that break between August and now was kind-of a relief.

hellnoe: Don't you feel stupid with camera's around, and having everyone staring at you

Anna: You know, you don't feel stupid until you trip and fall on your face. And that did happen! The truth is, the cameras were a part of the community. Everyone in my high school and town and even Chicago knew about them. So only once in a while you'd have some fool screaming "Real World" or waving to the parents or something.

morgonsgrl87: Is Morgan single?

Morgan: No! I'm not single!

ronnie11581: I was wondering if Morgan was still interested in becoming a teacher?

Morgan: Yeah! I'm still thinking about pursuing a teaching career, but right now I'm studying to be an actor.

pacoi3j: Do you see your resemblance to Eminem Morgan?

Morgan: Oh, who said that???? I will find you! Eminem does not have a big schnoz like me!!!!
No resemblance!!!!

jovan787: Do you keep in touch with anyone from Highland?

Morgan: Yeah. Brad every once in a while. Kaytee lives across the street from me. And I see Pablo every once in a blue moon.

psylocke62: Did you find it hard to open up knowing that everyone watching would know all this personal information about you?

Morgan: Not really. 'Cause I'm an open sort of person.

singe_101: Morgan - Are you still in a band?

Morgan: My band actually just broke up a couple of weeks ago, but anyone out there who's looking to start a band should email the website and I'm totally looking to start a band with anyone who loves music.

morgonsgrl87: i luv morgan from american high

Morgan: I love you all too!!!!!!!! Keep watching the show! Tell your friends!

jovan787: To Anna and Morgan: Is there anything that you would change about the show that you either did or said?

Morgan: I would change my language a little bit. I haven't, but think about doing it every once in a while.

Anna: That's hard to answer b/c the show was done artistically, but of course on the other side, there were a lot of neat things that happened my senior year, and some were focused on and others weren't. But it's all about getting a compilation of everyone's experience.

morning_theft: Morgan and Anna - did either of your parents have reservations about you being a focus of this show? Were there times they didn't want the cameras in their house, etc.?

Anna: You know, with my family ... my dad wasn't home a lot ... and my mom would always say the cameras were fine and then we'd get into an argument when the cameras were there and she would say, "Hey, wait, take that off the film." But then after she cooled down, she'd realize that I was just a kid and that those kind of things happened to everyone.
Of course, she was concerned that she didn't want me or anyone to be portrayed negatively. It took a long time for R.J. and the crew to earn the trust of my mom and actually the whole community. But after a time, no one questioned the characters of the producers or the intentions of the show.

singe_101: Anna, Did filming help you to know some tof the other students that you hadn't met?

Anna: Yes.
And that was a great thing.
Once in a while, we would have group dinners. Especially when the shows were starting to air, group dinners and different press event. It was an incredible bonding experience because it was very unique. Like, Morgan and I didn't hang out in high school but now we are, sitting around, eating chips and dip and we're going to go out in New York City afterwards! It's awesome because he's someone I wouldn't have known otherwise!

morgonsgrl87: Do you have a message for anyone out there who can relate to what you filmed of your life at school?

Anna: I just hope that if people pick up anything from me or anyone in the show, it's that everyone has problems, conflicts, and triumphs, and I think it's really important for everyone to know that they're not alone, that everyone is going through similar situations, similar issues, which is such a transitional time and for me, I had lots of problems struggling through my relationships, romantic and non, and a lot of family issues ... maybe leaving home ... and finishing all your business. It's just a time when you're not quite a kid anymore and you want to be an adult but you're still held back by rules and parents and principals and curfews. Just know that everyone's going through it and everyone will get out of it soon.

joe_jericho_1_2: Do you find the transition from high school to college very hard?

Anna: It's going to be different for everyone, but I think it's really important to spend time before college thinking about who you want to be and who you have been and whether or not you like that person. Just spend a lot of time with your friends - who knows when you'll see them again - and it was really important for me to not fool myself. To do the things that I wanted to do and be the person I wanted to be and enjoy every moment of the summer. Enjoy the time you have because college is a change. It is a big change.

kdando: R.J., when you were making this, you edited AH knowing it was going to air on FOX. Would you have done anything differently if you knew it was going to air on PBS first?

R.J.: We had 8 months to make changes, and we didn't. It was the show we wanted to make. The folks at Fox were as supportive as our vision as PBS. Both networks really trusted us to capture the rhythm and the style and the tone that we wanted to present. And the stories that we wanted to tell. So this is the show we made, whether that airs on Fox or PBS or MTV .... or Public Access ... it would have been the same.

anonxer: Did American High ever film the complete episodes and will they be seen on PBS??

R.J.: Yes! Yes! The great news is all 13 episodes of American High will air on PBS!!!! Tonight, you saw episodes 1 and 2. Next week, we'll re-run episode 2 and also air 3 for the first time. The following week, we'll re-air 3 and show 4 for the first time. Etc., etc. This way, all 13 episodes will air over the next 3 months. And then, even better ......... PBS will re-run the whole cycle again!!!!! So American High will be on every Wednesday night at 10pm ET/PT from now until the end of the September. So I hope everybody will keep on watching, and please tell your friends about the show because it really matters and really helps us with the show!

pbs_host: Thanks for your great questions everyone! Thanks and good night to everyone!!!!!! And thanks to R.J., Anna and Morgan for joining us.

R.J.: Thanks to everyone here for their comments and insight!!!!!

pbs_host: Join us again next Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET for another American High chat. And tune in next Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT for a repeat of tonight's second episode, plus a brand-new third episode of American High. And don't forget to check out the American High Web site at http://www.pbs.org/americanhigh
Thanks everyone! Goodnight.