Beyond Clueless: Charlie LynE & Summer Camp Talk
Beyond Clueless is a long overdue trip through the rollercoaster world of teen movies. Funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the film comes narrated by The Craft's Fairuza Balk, and soundtracked by indie duo Summer Camp, whose nostalgic, sun-drenched haze proves the ideal companion for a look at the eternal holidays of teen flicks. After loving the film, we caught up with director Charlie Lyne and Summer Camp to find out how the Kickstarter campaign – and the film's mesmerising soundtrack – came into being;
How did you get the idea for Beyond Clueless?
CL: My background is as a writer/ film journo. I was asked to host and curate a one day festival of teen movies a few years ago and so that was what set me down the path of watching all these films again. After that I sustained my interest in these and the actual movies I'd seen when I was a teenager and was revisiting and seeing in an entirely new light so it slowly grew out of that. As an idea I originally assumed I'd do as an article or blog post but when I investigated it seemed more and more that it needed a visual component, that genre is so involved. For it to fully work you have to be so caught up in that world it felt like it would be robbing us of something to do it purely as a written thing.
Is this your first attempt at film or a visual piece of work?
I'd done little things/ short films for my own amusement, bits and pieces but nothing I'd have phrased as a film or tried to get out there to people. So it was a whole new thing, though rooted in the world of film criticism, which is something I knew much better. It felt like a massive challenge but one grounded in something I was familiar with.
Did you find it daunting?
Massively! One of the first things I had to teach myself was to not ever think about the whole process ahead, to never think more than one step in the chain ahead. Whether that was dealing with an agent or learning how to do a certain thing in final cut or whatever. They all seemed easier when I dealt with them one at a time. Had I realised quite the number of challenges entailed in spending two years making this film it probably would have seemed overwhelming.
Are there any particular challenges?
I would struggle to pick one, I think the legal aspect was so unfamiliar to me that it seemed fairly indomitable at the beginning. Even that though, once you get over the initial shock of "Oh my god" I'm going into massive 80 storey building to meet lawyers and talk about this film about how we can make it legal. Once you get over that it and it becomes a practicality it loses its impact. The good thing with all these things that might have been terrifying otherwise, because we'd done a kickstarter and had to fulfil the film in some form or other I had to just get over myself with any of those sorts of worries. Because if I don't do this the film will be worse off for it and we'll still have to release it, so that was helpful the fear that one way or another a year down the line people were going to see it.
In terms of research, you watched 300 films, how did you define the list and structure watching?
Initially there was a list of 100 I drew up from memory from stuff I liked as a teen, ones I knew would be interesting to look at. Then that ballooned to 300, purely though links, I'd watch one film, read up about it and its cast and find 20 other movies they'd appeared in and then they'd be on the list. There was a few times during that insular period where I'd venture out to meet people, and the second you mention what you're working on people come out with reams of movies that they think are absolutely essential to it, so I would leave parties with scrawled lists of Freddie Prinz Jr movies that I had to order the next morning on Amazon. Very soon it became a mammoth collection.
Did you discover any new favourites?
Yeah a bunch, a few of the ones more heavily featured in the film were not really films I had much awareness of as a teenager but usually they were cherished by someone on the team, I did the bulk of the viewing but there was a team of about four of us and everyone had their own cherished film they fought to have in there. So something like Idle Hands was not a film I saw as a teen, but seems to outside of me have been a perennial favourite, which is strange given how utterly that film has fallen off the map, but it seems to have a prime placement in the minds of twenty something nowadays.
I read somewhere that you changed how you felt about some films in watching them again, one case being The Girl Next Door, can you elaborate?
I think every film in there I see massively differently now than I did then. Often that's a positive change, there are plenty of films where I probably thought of them as quite frivolous or stupid when I was a teenager albeit really enjoying them. Now I see layers in them which make them a much richer, more interesting film. And then there are those like The Girl Next Door where actually you feel like it reflects badly on you when you see it in all it's heinousness as an adult. So that film was definitely one I fell hook line and sinker for as a teenager- it does that cynical thing of having that sadsack teenage protagonist who you identify with and in order to do so you have to overlook the films more sinister aspects. I think that's one of the recurrent things of teen movies is they ask you to give them the benefit of that doubt and that's something teen audiences are often willing to do as they offer a hell of a lot in return. I think inevitably when you rewatch it's a sort of bittersweet experience, because there's always great things you never noticed before but also depressing ones.
It felt quite feminist, by that I mean that watching it that 90’s ethos of strong girls was very clear- at least to me, was that deliberate?
Yeah totally, but not in that way, we kind of made a conscious decision at the beginning never to explicitly identify our lines of critical argument. We didn't want to say this a such and such theory about the film. Certainly that was one of the most interesting aspects to me, gender in these films and like a lot of things in the teen genre it's a very conflicted thing. I agree with you there's loads of movies in there which have amazing, brilliant things to say about gender and brilliant feminist angles but equally there's stuff like The Girl Next Door which is obviously the antithesis of that. So it's impossible to ever tie your colours to the mast with the teen genre, even within a single film you'll have something that seems interesting and then falls back on something traditional and regressive a kind of inevitable aspects of these films that are fighty and provocative but also don't have a totally assured sense of themselves.
There does seem to be a resurgence of so called “girl power” at the moment in pop culture which is what made me think of it, I guess I’d wondered if that had permeated your thinking too?
I do think, while I'm being negative about some of it. I do think it was a kind of moment. There were so many more teen movies made at that time than in previous generations they weren't single titanesque movies that ruled over that genre. So you had a range of movies with female protagonists that seemed not to be made for male audiences above female. The example that stocks out for me and not an obvious one, American Pie, had that been made 10 or 20 years earlier those goofy frat style movies, the audience was so presumptively male. Certainly in the American Pie sequels it goes back to that 100%. Those movies are totally male led, male viewpoint for a male audience. But so easy to forget with the first one that it has the same number of female protagonists as male, same amount of screen time . The film seems to present itself consciously as a gender neutral coming of age thing. Which I think is amazing, because in that genre there's nothing which suggests a gender bias, the sole thing which unifies it, is that it's about human development which is no more male than female. I think it was a golden age for that stuff but still you had these undercurrents of nastiness which will take longer to eradicate from most movies.
You’ve built a real world around the film with the VHS release, letterman jackets and Hattie Stewart illustrations, how much of that was a consideration from the start?
Mostly from the start, Summer Camp were literally involved from the word go. Even when I was beginning to think about how the film would look or feel, they were in mind as absolute dream choirs for the soundtrack. For me the moment it became a real thing that was gonna happen was when they agreed to come on board. Hattie Stewart came a little bit later, but again I'd been a fan for ages and seemed so keenly a part of that world. It wasn't a snap decision, it was one we gave a lot of consideration to. Not least because I do think like I said before, that genre is so reliant on you immersing yourself within it and buying into it wholesale so you can accept the more interesting aspects of it, because you're comfortably immersed in that world and I think a wrong musical or visual cue could have destroyed that illusion. It's part of the reason we never wanted to do talking head interviews or those arts documentary staples as it felt like it's destroy the illusion.
Were Summer Camp involved in the evolution of the film?
Totally, basically the first thing we did with the film was to divide it up because I really didn't want to have a workflow where I would make a whole film hand it to them and they would stick some music on it. I was really keen that it feel like they were crafting it as much as I was. Some sequences I'd make a rough cut and send to them, other sequences they would make a demo of ideas around a theme or narrative arc send to me and I'd respond to that. We tried to be purely collaborative as possible. I think it worked out for us there are definitely whole big sequences that maybe when I first imagined them I saw very differently but once they came up with ideas for it, it completely transformed in my mind. While they are credited as composers they certainly had a major hand in the scripting and directing of the film and the way it took shape.
Do you have favourite song from the soundtrack?
Boring answer but there's something very exciting for me every time I hear the title track or see that written down. Especially as in teen movies that's such a classic thing – what plays over the title sequence at the beginning. What's the first track on the soundtrack, so to have what feels to me like an amazing classic teen movie title track like that is very exciting. Not least because it played on made in Chelsea recently, which was incredibly surreal.
You’ve been touring and promoting the film for a while now what’s been the most interesting reaction you’ve had?
The nice thing generally has been that strange sense that for me the process of making the film was solitary and to me recalled that experience of what it meant to fall in love with teen movies. For me that involved staying up late watching videos or discovering movies on TV. One of the strange things about those films is while they're incredibly mainstream a lot of the time, they still feel best suited to solo discovery late at night on VHS. So one of the really nice things generally has been putting on screenings and having a lot of people come down. Watching people have this experience, because these were films they discovered late at night on VHS and so to see them relive that in a communal setting with a lot of people who've had the exact formative same experiences is interesting and bizarre. The number of people who come up to me afterwards and say I really want to thank me for including one film that for them meant something. It's always the strangest most obscure film in there, very few people want to thank you for including Mean Girls. Instead they'll love The Rage: Carrie 2 or Cruel Intentions 2 and they're by no means alone- I'll meet four more people within the week who also cherish a film that for most people is a complete non-entity.
What do you think about the way these movies sell an ideal of a specific type teenage life and how they glamourise youth?
I think a lot of people are quick to judge and accuse these movies of presenting an unrealistic vision of teenagers and leading a warped vision of what it is to be one. In one sense I think these are very powerful movies that pitch themselves for audiences that are at a vulnerable age and most impressionable. On the other hand teenagers are often more canny than people give them credit for and I would hazard most of the people who saw She's All That in 1999 could identify the differences of their reality and the one in that. That heightened, alternate reality of those films is a good thing. Certainly for me it was a respite, a comfortable world you could slip into if the reality of teenage life was a bit too much. That's great it's having a separate life to slot into when you need it.On the other hand the sense of belonging that than instils can usher in some pretty insidious ideas. If you feel at home in a place, if you feel you're in a familiar world you can accept some ideas you wouldn't necessarily accept otherwise. So I think it's a blessing and a curse for sure but I couldn't come down one way or the other.
Do you have a character you relate to?
Like to be would be a stretch. The one I was closest to, I mean if I was in there, I'd be the exchange student with the accent, there isn't much of a place for non Americans in these movies other than as comic relief so I imagine that's where I'd naturally fall. Though I imagine I'd be evil, because I've got a British accent and I'm blonde which would probably cast me as the sinister guy who's trying to steal the heroes girlfriend.
Is there a character that informed that?
I'm thinking of the guy Steff in ‘Pretty in Pink’ the character James Spader plays but actually he's not British just blind. He's the blonde dickhead that orbits around her.
Do you have a favourite heroine in these films?
From The Rage: Carrie Two, which is the massively underrated sequel to Carrie made in 1999, there’s someone who stands out. Confusingly the lead character is not called Carrie, she's called Rachel. In the midst of this film ,which is a bit of a mess and doesn't add up to much, she remains a strangely well developed character. I'm not sure if it's because the actor who plays her is really invested in the role or I don't know what. There's a lot to her in the film and she pops up a lot in Beyond Clueless- that's our little tribute to her.
The film has some striking narration courtesy of Fairiza Balk from The Craft, was she your first choice?
She was, I kind of made the mistake deciding in advance that she was the dream choice. She has that remarkable incredibly evocative voice. We had a list of dream choices with her at the top. With that hanging over the edit, I did start hearing every line in her voice inside my head, reading the dialogue aloud. Had we not been able to get her it would have very much changed the shape of the film in my head. It was lucky, when we went to her and showed her the rough cut she was happy to do it. She had a sufficient amount of affinity for those movies but they're a mixed blessing, that strange world she was a part of for a brief time and her voice has that quality of suggesting both an insider and outsider at the same time. It'd had been a year, I'd imagined her doing it and I had to remind myself how it was the first time I heard the words coming out of her mouth and everything slotted into place.
I'm weighing up a few ideas and looking at the best way to do them. I wouldn't want to presume I'd have to do everything as a film, I love having the option to think about the best way to tell any given story, whether that's an article, piece of writing, film or whatever else. It feels very freeing.The teen genre had felt like the most natural fit for me. Something would have to really strike me to spend another year and half completely immersed in it.
And now to Summer Camp ….
What were your first thoughts when Charlie approached you about the film?
We were super-excited – we're huge fans of Charlie and have always wanted to do music for film!
Elizabeth I know you're a fan of Teen TV, from your column on Hello Giggles, are you a fan of the teen movie genre too and Jeremy are you also a fan of this genre?
We both love teen movies – John Hughes was a big reference point for us when we first started the band. And growing up as teens in the 90s meant that we were familiar with the films featured in Beyond Clueless – there was a lot of nostalgia for us, doing the music for the film.
What's your favourite teen movie?
Elizabeth – I don't have one!
Jeremy – Karate Kid
Charlie has said that he worked to send small sections to you to work on and that also you would compose and send pieces which suggested a narrative arc, are you able to describe your process and give us some more details on how you worked during this project?
I remember Charlie sending us incredibly long montage sequences which we would use to get a feel for the different sections of the film. We would compose to these images and then Charlie would cut the sequences to the music we created. Sometimes, it was more about providing a backdrop to something that was already cut quite tightly, which was a new challenge for us.
Were there any particular influences for this soundtrack and if so what form did they take?
At first we tried to incorporate something of a 90's pop-punk aesthetic, but slowed down and warped – the idea being that that music made up such a huge part of the soundtracks of the films featured in Beyond Clueless. (You can hear a bit of this in the original Kickstarter video). To our surprise, this just didn't work. The music in the film had to stand outside of the world of the teen movie, and comment on it from a different perspective – much like Fairuza's narration – rather than being a part of it.
Charlie has also mentioned the world of teen movies is very immersive and your soundtrack really captures that hypnotic spirit- was that deliberate?
That's very kind of you to say. Yes, absolutely. The music had to create an atmosphere that allows the audience to lose themselves completely, so that's what we were going for.
Do you have a preferred track from the album?
Jeremy – My favourite track on the album is Swimming Pool
What was your favourite part of this project and also the most challenging?
The most challenging was probably preparing to perform the soundtrack live to screen. The actual composition process was very smooth and a delight to be a part of. The best part of the project was working with Charlie, who, as well as being an incredible director, writer and editor, gives amazing feedback and is always positive.