Only the Young

PBS Premiere: July 15, 2013Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

POV: Tell us a little bit about the film and for those who haven't seen it, give us a sense of the story.

Jason Tippet: The film follows three teenagers through their final year of high school. They found an abandoned house in the desert and they wanted to build a halfpipe in it. And so it's a story about these two best friends, and that's their goal. But then once a girl comes in the picture, they get a little distracted.

Elizabeth Mims: It's mostly about the really awkward time of your first relationships and realizing who your best friends are and what they mean to you. Everything you're going through when you're a senior in high school. And that responsibility of being an adult, but not so much yet.

POV: How did you first meet the kids you follow?

Mims: Actually, we first met Kevin and Garrison at a skate park. Jason grew up in Valencia, where the film was shot. He had wanted to go see the skate park that they had recently rebuilt. So we went there and actually the kids approached us asking if we had lost keys to a Jaguar. I know we look really fancy and everything, but we were very surprised because I know that kids from my high school would have thrown those keys over a fence or done something really terrible with them. And Kevin and Garrison were really great kids. Skye really didn't come into the picture — she was Garrison's girlfriend at the time — until maybe a month into filming. Then we realized that she brought this element to the film that we didn't have before and that we could really have a feature.

POV: It's a very awkward time in all of our lives, that moment of adolescence when you're not quite an adult, but you're striving for that adulthood. But you managed to get them to be very comfortable with you guys. Can you talk about the process of making them at ease and getting them to open up?

Tippet: We went through so many things with them. I mean the first day of filming we were hiking through this wash and came across this underground beehive. We all got chased by the bees and we all ended up getting stung all over. There were all these things we kind of went through together towards the beginning that I think we could laugh about.

Mims: Yeah, we had these stories of trespassing and them having to help throw me over a fence with all the equipment.

Tippet: And you wore dresses and boots for some reason when we'd film.

Mims: I had to look good. No, but it was really something where we just had all of these experiences. And I think we're close to them in age as well; they had to be themselves around us more, more or less.

Tippet: But also we just wanted to make filming a good time. I mean we weren't getting paid to make this movie and we had no budget so it was just a love for trying to tell a very simple story. We'd only film for a few hours a day with them. We never wanted it to be overwhelming or feel like a business or anything and we always wanted to know what they wanted to do. We tried to make it just relaxing and almost kind of fun for them.

Mims: Also if they were saying things they didn't want to talk about that day, we weren't going to push it and make it uncomfortable for them. When they eventually would come around and actually really want to speak with us about these things, it was always that much better.

POV: The two of you made a decision in the film to kind of sideline the adults.

Tippet: When we were first talking about how we wanted to do it, we were remembering the best times or the times we enjoyed the most were always in this period between when you got out of school and when you had to be home for dinner. And so we wanted to capture this time in their days. And then we didn't want to show school either. We kind of wanted it to be—

Mims: Just them spending time together, hanging out. And have it be about their friendship much less than the school or however that really affects them. I think the majority of the film, we were trespassing. So that was very exciting.

Tippet: We were never where we should be.

Mims: We realized that we were considered the "adults" or the people in charge, which was also kind of bizarre to us. And therefore we had to make these responsible decisions. For example, Kevin, if you're going to skate off that roof, and we're here with the camera, would you do it if we weren't here, you know? And if you hurt yourself, I guess at least we're here so we can call 911. And he would answer, I would absolutely do this if you guys weren't here. So we were like, all right, well we're in the middle of the desert, let's hope we don't have to call in a helicopter.

Tippet: Do you have numbers for helicopters?

Mims: I have the helicopter numbers right now if you want to see it.

POV: And so at what point did you move from that moment of hanging out with these couple interesting kids to, "we actually might have a film here?"

Tippet: Originally we were just going to make a short film with Garrison and Kevin and it was going to be about them and this abandoned house. Kevin had the skate competition coming up. So no matter how he did in the skate competition, it was going to be that his best friend Garrison was there for him. That was going to be the short. And I think when we started taking the idea of a feature a little more seriously was when we met Skye.

Mims: We realized too that this love story was kind of developing in front of us. And that they were comfortable enough to tell us about these really awkward moments. When there's a love triangle in a group of friends and they're willing to give us these details, we realized this is definitely not about skateboarding, it's not about religion and this is what the story really is, these relationships.

POV: Jason, can you talk about the visual aesthetic of the film and how you shot it?

Tippet: We didn't want the viewer distracted by any zooms or any handheld camera work. We shot it all on prime lenses and on a tripod and we did most of the interviews in two—shots. The reason we did it that way is you're watching this kind of natural reaction. You can decide what to look at and that's how we wanted to do the interviews. And I'm kind of a huge fan of Robert Yeoman's photography, who shoots for Wes Anderson. Most of the time I was trying to do my best Robert Yeoman impression with documentary. Also I think American Movie made me realize what you can tell a story about. I mean I had no idea before watching that movie, you could make documentaries about real people, not just issue.

POV: But there are issues present in the film. For example evangelical Christianity and becoming an adult. In the hands of other filmmakers they may have chosen to highlight those things more. In your film it just kind of unfolds naturally and discretely through the eyes of the three kids.

Tippet: It's easy to pinpoint a teenager. I think once you bring up those issues, for example with Kevin cutting himself, there is a point of no return. if we continued on with that, that would have to become a bigger theme in the movie.

Mims: It was definitely one of those things as well where you know religion became a moral compass for these kids, which I think is great. But just like skateboarding or anything else, that was just a piece of their life and didn't dictate everything that they did. And I think it would be really unfair to focus in on one of those specifics when these kids have so much going on.

POV: How did you work together as a team on this? Jason shot it, Elizabeth did sound and you both worked together on the editing, right? What was your process?

Tippet: Since it was our first feature, I was so nervous about missing anything. And they changed their hair so much, you can't really go back and forth. It was kind of a guessing game. We would go home and we had a cork board and we had these note cards. And we'd write down, well if this happens, here's questions we need to be asking. And if Garrison and Skye get back together, somehow, this is what we need to be following.

Mims: I think it was great that you know we both had our different dynamics in terms of having a female perspective and having you know his perspective, whatever that may be. I'm just kidding. No, but in reality with Skye, I was able to get really close to her. And so during those interviews, we had a really great relationship. I mean we all did.

POV: In addition to having a distinct visual aesthetic, the score is also very distinct and atmospheric. Please discuss.

Mims: Yeah, we decided to use soul music because these are times are about heartbreak and first loves, which mirror the themes of soul music. And so we decided that it would really be great to use this kind of music as a score for these moments that are kind of small but are huge for them.

Tippet: It just fit with a lot of the themes that are present in their lives. I mean these songs weren't written for kids, but it kind of developed into a love story a little bit. Clearance for this movie was—

Mims: A little bit of a nightmare.

Tippet: Absolutely terrible.

POV: In terms of getting music?

Mims: Yes, I mean we just didn't realize how much it was going to cost and then once you edit a song into a movie, you're going to cry if you have to take it out. So we said, we cannot lose these things!

Tippet: We got too attached to a lot of the music but—

Mims: We got really fortunate through Kickstarter and we were able to raise the money for it.

POV: What were some of the other challenges that you encountered on this first time feature?

Mims: Well I think first of all we had the idea that we were going to get money to make the film. And we realized that wasn't going to happen at first. Mostly because we're making this portrait documentary where its difficult to describe and have people be really excited about it. So we kind of realized that we were on our own and that we just needed to go for it.

Tippet: Yeah. I mean I just got so tired of trying to pitch the movie to people and what we thought it was going to be. I feel we wasted so much time doing that. And eventually I was kind of fed up with trying to do it that way. And then with doing it by ourselves, we had so much freedom.

Mims: We did exactly everything we wanted to do which is amazing. And had it been different, maybe we wouldn't have had to work jobs we definitely didn't want to do. But you know I think in the end it couldn't be better.

POV: Is there anything now— because this experience is behind you, you've made the film, it's been released— you would do differently?

Tippet: To me, the first ten minutes of the film feel very different than the rest of the movie. it's us still figuring out how we want to do this and what we eventually learned was that we'd sit down the kids for an interview and they would eventually stop paying attention to us. They'd converse amongst themselves and we would end up cutting our interview portion of it. I wish in the first ten minutes we kind of let them go a little bit more.

POV: You know I'm curious about: You're both young filmmakers. You're not that much older than some of the kids in the film. Did filming take you back to your own lives that you could refer to?

Tippet: We talked about how you don't realize, when you're that age, that you think about you're man, if you only had a car. If I only had a car, I could go do all these things. But you don't think about having to have a car payment. Also you know if you have a car you have to get a job to pay for gas. The responsibilities start building up. And I think we caught them in this time where they rode their skateboards around town and took the bus.

Mims: It definitely brought me back to being a teenager, absolutely, where you don't have a plan. You don't know where you're going next. And you don't know who you're going to meet up with maybe. But for us that's what we wanted the film to really feel like; all of these things allowing you to kind of go back. From the way we decided to shoot the film and have it where you could be very observational and enjoy you know these landscapes and the music and all the textures, we tried to include so that anyone can go back to this time. The time in your life when you know everything's new and exciting.