Edmiston’s Film a “Cool” Experience for Seattle-Area High School Kids
The film critic Robert Horton talks to Steve Edmiston, the director of “The Day My Parents Became Cool,” about the making of his film.
Steve Edmiston's "The Day My Parents Became Cool" is one of the offerings in Reel NW's "Long Shorts" program, and a project that allowed the Seattle filmmaker-attorney (an unusual hyphenate, but we'll go with it) to include dozens of high-school students, among others, in the moviemaking process. Here, he answers a few questions about the film, which details the comic-horrific results when teenagers wake up one morning to discover their parents have mutated into hipsters.
Robert Horton: When did you realize that everyone could identify with the horror of seeing one's parents dressing like hip teenagers? And that this could be a subject for a movie?
I originally envisioned this as a home movie to shoot with my two daughters and our neighborhood kids. As a dad, I had no doubt that a suburban, conservative mom experimenting with a thong or tongue piercing, or a father trying to wear his pants “sagging” style, could be real “horror” from the teenager’s perspective. After I wrote the script, the problem was obvious – it was way too ambitious for a home movie. It went in a drawer for a few years until I discussed it offhandedly with the superintendent of the Highline School District. He loved it – and he loved the idea of collaborating with the students to get it done.
The real surprise was discovering just how much the adults watching the film relate to both sides of the comedy. It’s the parents in the audience that know what if feels like to be a teen, and they now have teens, and so they really get it. I didn’t realize this until we screened for audiences.
Robert Horton: The movie's got the look of an honest-to-gosh teen comedy - quite ambitious for a short film. How did you pull together the cooperation of a school, teachers, and kids?
We got a tremendous offer from the Highline School District – any locations we wanted. I knew immediately I wanted Highline High School – old, worn, happily well-used. I knew we could have the mandatory exterior high school establishing crane shot needed for every high school comedy.
We took the school over the weekend after school was out for the summer. [Before the shoot began] we went school to school, class to class, and pitched the project to students. We ultimately had 150 students from seven schools in two districts participate. The teachers loved the idea of a professional arts experience involving students at a time when arts funding was being decimated. We had kids scrubbing the script, giving notes on fashion, serving as production assistants and actors. We had students from Federal Way High School write and record the song that plays over the end credits. They were brilliant.
As far as being ambitious – it was probably good we didn’t realize what a deep dive we’d taken until we were shooting. We wanted to include the classic elements of a high school comedy and pay some homage to the horror genre. We wanted to deliver both laughs and poignancy. We had a huge cast, and we had enormous costume, hair and make-up challenges (main cast appears in a wide variety of contemporary styles, 1970s disco, and 1950s classic wardrobe). We needed music and media from different eras. It was a lot to ask on a four-day shoot. But we had a terrific Northwest cast and crew, and they (as always) stepped up to the task. And then some.
Robert Horton: Can you describe the larger goals you had for the movie--other than to make people laugh, that is?
First, we wanted to see if we could effectively partner with schools and students and provide a professional-level arts experience and produce a quality film. Second, we wanted to see if we could effectively share the work of these students with a broad audience. Third, we thought the film would be a great discussion starter on the topics of teen style, body image, and identity – an easy way to access a difficult topic. A fourth goal developed as we began to share the film – exploring what kind of new media distribution opportunities were now available for short films. And yes, we wanted to make people laugh. Amazing what a simple reaction shot can do!
Robert Horton: Did you get useful cooperation from local film organizations?
More than useful – we received incredible support from the Northwest Film Forum (grants for equipment and fiscal sponsorship), and the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Film + Music has ceaselessly thrown help our way. We also received grants from 4Culture, the Burien and Federal Way Arts Commission, and the Des Moines Rotary. We made a lot of “asks” and almost everyone said yes. I think we had a great pitch – putting public high school students at the center of all aspects of making a high school comedy.
Robert Horton: The film's been screened in some film festivals. How did you give it life on that circuit, and how has it been received?
We had two ideas with the festivals. First, we wanted to see if we could screen at every Washington State festival, to maximize the exposure for the students. The film was accepted almost everywhere (Seattle International Film Festival, Port Townsend, Bumbershoot 1 Reel, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, etc.). Second, we were curious how the film would hold up to the competition on the national circuit. We premiered on the same weekend at Sedona and at the Los Angeles International Family Film Festival, where the film was named best short comedy, and suddenly, we were off and running. We’ve played festivals from New York to Hawaii, and are now on a national tour as a KidsFirst! “Best Film” of 2010. We’ve received a few awards, and signed five distribution deals – the festival exposure and relationships have been instrumental. In the end, the film is intended to be fun experience. And so far, it has been.