Wow! What a surprise this was. Not only is this documentary -- about a twelve year old filmmaker who makes her very own feature length film -- good, but the actual film that the 12 year-old "Zombie Girl" made (Pathogen a zombie epic -- included on the DVD), is really quite fantastic.
You may have heard the name Emily Hagin lately. She's the 18 year-old who just recently signed a distribution deal with MPI for her film My Sucky Teen Romance -- which had just premiered at the SXSW Festival. This is remarkable, seeing that Hagin may very well be the first teenager to get a film released on the major market, but even more remarkable is that MSTR is Hagin's third feature length film. She's a veteran filmmaker, and she hasn't even hit college!
Emily first hit the national pop culture scene as the subject of Zombie Girl: The Movie, a 2009 documentary that chronicled Emily's first foray into feature length filmmaking, from the first day of shooting, to the premiere screening of her completed movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. While so many star-crossed preteens dream of being the next Miley or Taylor or Mrs. Beiber, Emily Hagin finds her influences and inspiration somewhere outside the standard pop realm. She got the movie bug when she was very young, making her own short movies by the age of ten.
Then, in 2003, inspiration struck at Harry Knowles Butt-Numb-a-Thon 5. Emily and her mom, Megan (her constant movie-going companion), attended the annual 24 hour movie marathon, with great anticipation for the Q&A with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. But, it wasn't the iconic director's pearls of wisdom that kick-started Emily to make her big leap into the features. Instead, the brainstorming sprang from some good ol' fashioned brain-eating. One of the other flicks at the marathon was the Aussie comic zombie flick Undead, and it was there and then when Emily came up with her story idea. So, by the following year, she had a completed script, and at age twelve, she began shooting her first feature length film Pathogen.
Having been a part of the motion picture and video industry for numerous years, I've grown fond of the documentaries featuring filmmakers, especially the offbeat kind that feature the non-Hollywood folk or even the next door neighbor, like American Movie, Monster Road, Burden of Dreams... I enjoy them because the featured filmmaker is someone who is fulfilling their own passion, and struggles to achieve their dreams or their vision. Emily Hagin is certainly full of passion. She lives and breathes cinema, and through most of her life, has endeavored to become the filmmaker she has dreamt of being.
You could easily argue that the young filmmakers of today have it fairly easy, with affordable video cameras, highly accessible editing software, and loads of inspiration. But, the big roadblock here is -- vision. There are piles of homemade backyard masterpieces, written/directed/edited by every Tom, Dakota and Hunter, made in a fevered pitch of Red Bull fueled hysteria. And, believe it or not, they're mostly heaping loads of crap, copying, mimicking, or plain ripping-off the same movies, over and over. I don't mean to say that these home movie mavericks aren't sincere in their passion. They are! They clearly love the movies so much, they wanna make every cult classic over again... with their own camera.
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However, once you see Hagin in action, though fairly meek and mild, you see her passion, and her vision. For a kid of twelve, she demonstrates an incredible amount of discipline in her work, visiting the sets of professional filmmakers, to study the process, and then, awkwardly maybe, applying them to her film. She's like a real life Big -- a grown-up caught in a kid's body. She converses with adults with ease, while struggling to connect to the rest of the kids her age. Thank goodness for the adults in her life -- especially her Mom -- who guided her, and influenced her to explore and grow creatively.