Can we still make teen films as good as American Grafitti? If you want to try, here are some dos and don'ts.
To draw inspiration for his latest video essay The Art of Teen Film, editor Andrew Saladino had to go back 43 years to 1973. This is a little troubling. Sure, their probably isn't a better example of a coming-of-age tale out there than American Grafitti, but what does it say about our modern teen flicks? American Grafitti set the mold for films like Dazed and Confused, but what good did it do for, er, less authentic examples like The Spectacular Now?
Not only does Saladino provide us with some concrete tips for creating a successful teen movie (in particular, focusing on soundtrack as a storytelling device), he identifies a trend of the hyper-serious tone increasingly present in modern entries into the genre. Gone are the days of lighthearted joy and fun. Saladino argues that teens should be worrying about low-stakes teen things like drag racing, stealing beer, or finding that blonde in the T-Bird. How many of us remember that time a handsome stranger came into town and started murdering people? Above everything else, these films need to feel relatable to become classics. We've kind of lost that in favor of cynicism and deeper issues that no one under the age of twenty should rightfully have to deal with.
The real trick, like in all writing, is to get into the mind of the character as he or she sees the world while the plot unfolds. If your characters aren't talking or acting like kids, then they are really just a pale reflection of all the regrets and nostalgia you feel for your own childhood. As Saladino puts it, think of your film as a love letter from youthhood rather than a love letter to youthhood.