From the teen angst of Rebel Without A Cause to the hardcore exploitation of The Class of 1984, the dark recesses of teenagedom has been a favourite subject in the world of cinema.
With Wasted n the Young comes a new entry in the sub-genre. Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Ben C. Lucas, the film utilises the narcissistic, social media driven exploits of Generation Y as a backdrop to the story of two brothers (Oliver Ackland and Alex Russell) on different ends of the high school social scene, who clash over the horrific treatment given to a shared crush (Adelaide Clemens).
Unflinching in its approach to its themes, and graphic in its content, Wasted on the Young has proven to be a polarizing experience for critics and audiences alike.
Ben C. Lucas, Oliver Ackland, and Alex Russell sat down with Matt’s Movie Reviews to talk about the themes and making of Wasted on the Young.
The road towards Wasted on the Young was one filled with many twists and turns.
Originally conceived as a slasher flick, the film changed direction thanks to the vision of Lucas, who ceased on an opportunity to make a film which will challenge as well as engross viewers.
“I was already friends with Aidan (O’Bryan) the producer, and he had an idea that he wanted written, which was for him a small budget, DVD release, slasher flick was for him straight up, easy for him to market, release and get his money back,” explained Lucas.
“That was his idea, an ‘80s throwback, sort of Carrie, about a kid who gets revenge against all of the mean people at his school. I like to work, so I said yes. I liked even more the idea, since I never written something based on someone else’s concept before. It has always been based on my own material. It wasn’t the sort of thing I was into, so it was part of the challenge writing something that wasn’t from me, so that was great.”
“I wrote it, got it out of the way, and moved on. Then Aidan got the money together for it and asked if I wanted to direct it. I was in a really ungrateful position, so I said ‘No I don’t. But I really need, or want the opportunity, so do you mind if I re-write it and change it into something different?’”
“We were actually casting at that point for the original idea, but thankfully the production team and financers were behind the filmmakers, so they were willing to let it go that way, which was really rare. So it was a big re-write at the last minute, for something which I really wanted to do, and I thought was a bit of a career builder.”
Prior to Wasted on the Young, Lucas had a brush with Gen Y when he directed a segment entitled Y God in the documentary series My Generation. It was an experience which saw Lucas’s pre-conceived perceptions about Generation Y change.
“What was really cool about doing that documentary was that I was in my late 20s, and even though it put me 10 years out that university, leaving high school, young period of your life, I still was passing judgement on the subject matter and the kids that I was covering in the documentary, thinking ‘Here we go, a bunch of spiritually inept ingrates!’” laughingly confessed Lucas.
“What was cool about it, was that I learnt just how insightful, how in touch, and how spiritually balanced everyone was, and that was a really big lesson in realising just how mature, grown up, intellectual and kind of insightful we were. We were 17 once, you know? (laughs) We don’t give ourselves credit, or give them credit for just how tuned in we are.”
“So, yeah. It taught me to respect that culture a lot, more, and treat it more maturely. Like how I treat adults, basically.”
“The story is tightly bound in that world, and that’s a world those kids have created, those characters have created, and there isn’t room in that for any authority figures at all. In fact, it relies on there being none." - Ben Lucas
A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS
Wasted on the Young is essentially the story of two brothers: socially awkward yet intelligent Darren (Oliver Ackland) and popular jock and bully Zack (Alex Russell). Bonded by name only, they become bitter enemies with their prestigious private school the backdrop.
For Russell, Wasted on the Young was just the type of first feature film project he was after: “When I first read Ben’s script, I thought I never seen an Australian film like this, so I was intrigued just at that. But definitely the script got better and better, and in quite a short space in time from the first time I read it, to when we were shooting.”
It was a different story for Ackland. The recipient of the 2009 Australians in Film Heath Ledger Scholarship, Wasted on the Young marks another milestone in a burgeoning career currently played out on film and TV screens.
“My first reactions were kind of towards the character, because that is what I base my decisions on first” said Ackland. “I was attracted to play this guy, because he is so conflicted, he is in his own kind of world. He really doesn’t know how to relate to people. He has come to the point where he is so withdrawn, he has no idea just how to interact on the most basic level. Also, playing someone who is in high school really sounded like a challenge and was really exciting as well.”
For some, his characters’ inaction can prove to be frustrating, yet for Ackland it is part of the appeal of playing Darren.
“You have to remember that he is 17, and that he’s dealing with some full on stuff. Also, the fact that it is heightened and you’re not sure what’s real and what’s metaphor a lot of the time,” said Ackland. “But when it came to doing that stuff, it was fun, because the character knew that he was pretty lost. So for him it was about breaking out of that shell and that bubble, that he’s in. It’s kind of about going from inaction, and then dealing with it and doing something about it.”
In Russell’s portrayal of Zack, many influences manifest on the screen. Of particular mention is his similarity to a Michael Corleone like figure, cold and calculating, wrecking havoc on those who he finds expendable, so justified he is in his position of power.
“That’s definitely a take on it, and it’s a really accurate take, because it was a way of thinking about it that we incorporated in our rehearsals, to get all of the relationships right, to get them where they needed to be, and forget the overall shape of the story and everything,” said Russell.
“To reach what we wanted to reach in rehearsals, it was a way of thinking, a frame of mind that we incorporated into working the themes. Don’t think of this as a school story. Think of this as a mob story. This guy is the don. In the end we sort of let that and a lot of other things go. We had our rehearsal time, then we had 3 or 4 weeks off and it all sort of sunk it, and it was just there and it we were shooting it. But it was a huge part of the process.”
The idea of a first feature film would be a daunting task for many. But for Lucas it all came down to preparation, and knowing exactly what he wanted before the cameras began rolling.
“Film gets progressively more expensive as time goes by. Pre-production is expensive, production is really expensive, post-production is astronomically expensive. It gets worse and worse, so you don’t want to be learning your lessons and planning your execution in the fat end, where it’s costing thousands of dollars an hour. You want to have all of that done when it is cheap or free”, said Lucas.
“It all comes down to preparation. That’s casting, rehearsal, storyboards, location scouting...just conversation. Sitting down with the production designer or the DP (director of photography), watching movies, talking about the certain things we want to do. How are we going to cut? How is it going to feel? What will the colour palate be? That is pretty standard things you would hope everyone would do, but we took that to a much higher degree.”
“In addition we were just really surgical about how we scheduled about what sort of value we were putting on screen, in terms of the scouting the locations, what types of lenses we would use, and how we were going to capture this thing.”
Lucas also implemented strict rules in regards to who and what will feature in the universe these characters inhabit, one of which that no adults will appear on screen, a courageous movie which saw many of these characters without an authority figure to turn to. But then again, that was exactly the point.
“By omitting adults, you make a really strong point of how they are ignored anyway. In the script level there were adults, but it didn’t take long to realise in the scenes what would happen is the adult would say, ‘Tsk, tsk, you’ve shouldn’t have done that, and don’t do it again’, and the kids would ignore them and do it anyway. So I thought it would be more interesting to get rid of them all together,” said Lucas.
“The story is tightly bound in that world, and that’s a world those kids have created, those characters have created, and there isn’t room in that for any authority figures at all. In fact, it relies on there being none. So I think the parties, and the school yard politics...that stuff happens under the radar where kids go through a lot of effort to make sure parents and teachers don’t find out about it. In a way it feels like a parallel universe, this pocket dimension where all of this shit happens out of sight of the authoritative adult world.”
“People found the violence extremely confronting. It is very graphic. But the really disturbing or confronting thing is the poker face, in which Zack has people do those things." - Alex Russell
VIOLENCE IN THE SCHOOL YARD
If the years have proven anything, it is that the world of adolescence has become a more dangerous one to navigate. Or has it? While it’s easy to point the finger at Gen Y and damn them for their destructive ways, maybe we should look at our own teen years and ponder what it would have been like if Facebook was available, and mobile phones were the ultimate accessory.
“It’s a really interesting discussion, and I’m sure there are social analysts who are much more insightful on this than I will ever be. But I’m pretty convinced that nothing’s really changing. I don’t think kids are getting worse, I think the tools are changing. I think the structure of it changes”, said Lucas.
“I don’t know if kids are any crueller than what they used to be. If you go back 300, or 400 years, would you say that a 15 year old was more polite and less abusive then they are now? I find that sort of hard to believe.”
“It’s probably getting a bit more exposure, because there are so many cameras around, so maybe that’s a part of it. I think another influence is the fact that you are able to be cruel impersonally. You can post on a forum something really racist, or derogatory, or cutting, or hurtful, and you don’t have to face up to it. They literally don’t own that statement. So I think that impersonal nature is really cruel, but the people themselves aren’t any meaner.”
True as that may be, there is no denying the vicious nature found in some of the characters, especially Zack whose love for power knows no bounds.
“People found the violence extremely confronting. It is very graphic”, admitted Russell. “(But) the really disturbing or confronting thing is the poker face, in which Zack has people do those things, and has his minions execute these terrible things, given the order with is absolutely unaffected by it. Totally desensitised to the pain he is causing to these people.”
Reactions to the film have contrasted in different territories, with Ackland reminiscing on the varied responses which caught him by surprise.
“When it played in Toronto, I was kind of thinking if they were going to be offended, because there are still reservations with the Columbine stuff. But it got under people’s skin,” said Ackland.
“When we did Q&A’s after the screening, it was kind of cool how many people would stay and just ask all of these in depth questions about ‘Why we did this?’, and the details about the film. So it obviously had some kind of effect, and the responses were really good.”
Having played at the Sydney, Korean and Toronto film festivals, Wasted on the Young finally gets its Australian release, and Lucas is glad to finally see it let loose upon the Aussie public.
“I feel like I’ve washed my hands of the film, like 3 or 4 times already. Then you keep on getting dragged back to it, which is great because it means people love it. But I’ve been so focused on moving forward in other directions, and working on other projects. I want to do another film this year, so I kind of always focus forward (laughs). Thankfully the film has had such a response, now that there is now a machine behind it”.