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 "American Teen" Interview 
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Editor's Note: Immediately prior to my arrival for the interview, another Indianapolis film critic had interviewed the four "American Teen" stars in a group interview. At some point, the interview went awry and by the time I arrived "The Princess," Megan Krizmanich is now being interviewed separately from the guys. Ironically, the other film critic is also in a wheelchair and had acknowledged being bothered by certain of Megan's scenes in the film. This in mind, I began my time with Megan.

I am immediately struck by how inviting Megan appears, especially being that her previous interview hadn't exactly gone well. Megan looks tired, but she smiles warmly and laughs easily at questions she's undoubtedly heard all summer. I decide to maintain an upbeat line of questioning, and you can sense her relief that I'm not dwelling on those poor choices she made in high school. A mere two days before my own high school reunion, I find myself rather enjoying the company of this young woman who likely wouldn't have spoken to me had we gone to high school together. . .

RICHARD:  I told Amber, the marketing rep, that I was going to introduce myself to you as "the nice critic in a wheelchair."

MEGAN:  (laughs) Thanks. I could use nice.

RICHARD: This really does bring up the question, though, "How has all this been for you?" I mean, at least according to the film, you guys really didn't even know each other in high school and now you're suddenly touring together all summer. I know Warsaw High School...surely you at least knew these guys?

MEGAN: I had known Colin and Mitch. Colin and I'd gone to school together since the 3rd grade. I'd dated Mitch in 8th grade, but I didn't know Hannah or Jake. We all got thrown together and had a blast for a week and a half at Sundance. It was a blast. We've been touring together all summer, and it has been great. I think we're all tired and picking on each other a bit. We're all ready for the summer to end, but it has been a great experience.

RICHARD: Is this something you could have done in high school? Sitting down with the others, hanging out, interviewing...whatever? You comment at the end of the film about having matured a lot while at Notre Dame. Could this have even happened in high school, even being in the same room with this group?

MEGAN: (long pause) I'd have been hesitant. I think we'd all have been hesitant. There's something about high school. It doesn't matter which group you're in.

RICHARD: That's certainly something I noticed in the film, and I think it's true. It's not just the rich kids or the jocks...High school's tough. We're all mean to each other. Even the geeks do it.

MEGAN: Jake's acknowledged that. He's said that he used to sit there and do the same things I did...judge me for the way I look, the people I hung out with. We all did it. I think high school's always been that way. I don't know why.

RICHARD: Why did you do agree to do this film?

MEGAN: I didn't actually. I was the only one of the five who didn't go out to the casting call. Nanette had a casting call at the school, and I wasn't interested. I thought it would be very intrusive of my senior year.

RICHARD: What happened to change your mind?

MEGAN: I gave the director a school tour and we started talking. I ended up getting to know her. She became a friend. I trusted her...trusted her vision and decided to be a part of it.

RICHARD: This had to be a hard decision. Early on in the film, you come across as the ultimate princess...controlling, obviously the upper echelon of your class. Suddenly, you agree to do this and you are more vulnerable. You do come off quite negatively, even mean, at times. It really shattered the illusion of the princess.

MEGAN: The relationship I had with the director was a key. She really made me comfortable and made it all feel comfortable.

RICHARD: I'm sure you've either heard or read the comments from some folks, critics and viewers, who say that certain scenes seem like they are staged.

MEGAN: Yeah, I have. You know, all I can really say is that we would be the number one objectors if it was staged. Nothing was staged.

RICHARD: I have to admit that during the couple of scenes when I felt that way, I found myself thinking "What would be the reward for staging it?" It'd be different if this were a big budget, wide release film. It's not. It's an arthouse documentary. While it may give you a certain degree of recognition, I doubt it's going to make you a household name.

MEGAN: Exactly. I always tell people "I'm not being paid for this," what would be the motivation for staging anything? Part of why I agreed to do this is because I trusted the director and her vision for it.

RICHARD: I think sometimes people minimize the impact of editing. It has been said that the director shot about 1200 hours worth of film. It seems almost inevitable that the final product is going to have a certain amount of staginess to it. It would be impossible to show it all...at least to show it all accurately.

MEGAN: You don't see the background things in the film. You don't see the endless shots of me brushing my teeth or whatever.

RICHARD: What was it like the first time you saw the film?

MEGAN: The first time I saw it was very emotional...not just for me, but for everyone. It was hard to see everything I had gone through in the year, but it was even harder to see everything that everyone was going through...Hannah and Jake, especially. I had no idea everything they were going through.

RICHARD: It's amazing when you think about...five very different people living different paths, yet on a certain level having similar experiences, challenges. What's different about college?

MEGAN: The independence. You have to grow up. I love having responsibility for me.

RICHARD: How did your family respond? They didn't always come off positively in the film. They seem like a very high pressure family. 

MEGAN: They had a very positive response. I don't think my father realized how high pressure he was...he did apologize to me after the first time he saw the film. They all loved it, though.

Megan and I finished up our conversation by talking about the Warsaw premiere, the group's nervousness at going back home. She thanked me for being upbeat, acknowledging that she needed it. At the time of this interview, only Jake Tusing (the band geek) is in Warsaw having dropped out of his initial undergrad program and still deciding his next step.

  • Megan Krizmanich is preparing for her junior year at University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, following a family tradition of attending Notre Dame. She states that she's matured a lot since high school.
  • Colin Clemens started off playing basketball for Indiana Tech on a scholarship. After two years, he has transferred to Manchester College in Northern Indiana for his junior year.
  • Mitch Reinholt  is attending Indiana University and swears that he'll never break up by text message again. He's still the heartthrob.
  • Hannah Bailey is still rebellious, but that's not the reason she didn't attend the interview. After high school, she headed out to the West Coast to work for a year then attend film school. She realized she wasn't a West Coast type of girl, and is now attending a New York film school. At the time of this interview, however, Hannah was back on the West Coast doing an internship.
  • Jake Tusing- I just told you about Jake, but thought I'd say that his complexion has cleared up massively and he seems an awful lot more comfortable socially now than he did in the film.

I meet with Jake, Colin and Mitch in a small conference room across the hall from where I'd met with Megan at the Hilton North in Indianapolis. Like Megan, the guys seem tired and yet friendly and open. There's an easy chemistry between the jock, the geek and the heartthrob, and they acknowledge having become friends who hope that their friendship will continue. At times, it seems that Mitch is the "spokesperson," but he easily takes a backseat when the other two speak.

Our conversation starts much like my conversation with Megan...

RICHARD

How has this been for you?

MITCH

Are you referring to this (he gestures to the three of them)? The fact that you have to interview us separately? Some of us have matured more than others.

RICHARD

(laughs) Well, she does go to Notre Dame.

MITCH

Exactly.

COLIN

Wait a minute. I'm offended. I like Notre Dame. (Everyone laughs).

RICHARD

All jokes aside, I was thinking more about this entire experience. You've been on the road all summer?

MITCH

For two months, every day for about the last month...

RICHARD

Has it been mostly festivals?

JAKE

A lot of screenings, Q&A's, interviews...Sundance was great. I didn't get to see as many films as I'd have liked, but it was great.

RICHARD

How did this all get started? Why'd you agree to make "American Teen?"

MITCH

Nanette came in and talked to our class the last day of our junior year. She did the same thing with about 10 other schools. She had an open casting call at our school, about 150 showed up. The reason I got involved...My dad encouraged me to at least check it out . He thought it would be neat to have a living yearbook of my last year in high school. I felt comfortable with Nanette, so I went with it.

JAKE

I went with it, because I thought it would break the boredom. (he laughs) It did.

RICHARD

Was there ever this point where you said "What have I gotten myself into?" (there's a pause) I mean, all of you at last once come off not exactly positively. It was a hard year, really, for all of you.

MITCH

Emotionally and otherwise...

RICHARD

I think it's cool. To me, it showed you took it all seriously. All of you had your own place in the school, but you had similar experiences.

JAKE

It shatters the idea of the perfect life. Nobody has the perfect life.

RICHARD

Did you know each other? It's hard to imagine you had no idea what the others were going through? The movie really implies that you were practically strangers. 

MITCH

That wasn't completely the case. I knew Megan. I knew Colin, we'd played basketball together. I didn't know Jake at all. Obviously, I got to know Hannah.

JAKE

I knew of them. I'd never talked to them.

MITCH

I think we had one class together and I may have asked him "Did you get your homework done?"

JAKE

or "Can I see your answers?" (everyone laughs).

MITCH

(laughing) I don't know about that...

JAKE

I never thought I would get along with these guys, but it has been great. After two months on the road together, we've become friends. We hang out together. I think after two months on the road, we're all ready for it to end...to get back to our daily lives. On the whole it has been a terrific experience.

MITCH

We're all close. We've shared a lot of amazing memories together.

RICHARD

There have been some writers who have implied that certain scenes in the film feel very staged or manipulated. What would you say to them?

MITCH

It's frustrating. We're not actors. We sort of expected that, but it's far from the truth.

JAKE

Nanette was our friend, for sure, but she was careful to not influence our behavior or to try to get us to do something that was out of our character. I have a different perspective, because I know that it's real.

RICHARD

Take, for example, the scene with you and the freshman you dated. There's a scene of her making out with the band "hunk" followed by you finding out...the break up. I don't know if that's the way it really happened...

JAKE

It did.

RICHARD

It feels forced, but the look on your face throughout your conversation with her is really intense.

JAKE

It was definitely all real.

RICHARD

All of you have Facebook pages. People can be cold. I'm a critic, and I'm not that cold.

JAKE

I think we knew what we were getting into when it all started. It's just how people are. You can't really take it all seriously. You have to keep it all in perspective...it's just how people are.

RICHARD

Colin, how's life at Indiana Tech?

COLIN

Well, I'm at Manchester now (Editor's Note: Colin had disclosed earlier in the interview that he'd transferred to Manchester for his junior year), but I haven't started yet.

RICHARD

That's right, sorry. I was wondering. I'd looked you up on the Indiana Tech website this morning. I saw articles about last year's game...I saw reports about the film. I didn't see you listed on this year's roster.

COLIN

Indiana Tech was a good school. I made lots of friends there. Academically, I did well. The basketball piece just wasn't a good fit. This next school's going to be better for me. That's really the only reason I transferred. It was a little dangerous there, too...a lot of violence, not towards me. Just in general.

RICHARD

Since the whole scholarship thing was a big deal, I have to ask...Are you on scholarship at Manchester?

COLIN

Manchester doesn't give quite as much money as most in scholarships, but it's working out. It's better for me.

RICHARD

How have your families responded?

MITCH

We just had our screening in Warsaw last night. It went very well. The families loved it. Everyone at the school loved it. We were really nervous about it, but it went really well.

RICHARD

Because, really, your parents come off pretty rough at times. Very high pressure.

COLIN

My father loves the film. It's very emotional for him. He really got into the other stories quite a bit, especially Jake and Hannah's. Everyone loved his scenes as Elvis, of course. I think deep down he just wanted to be onscreen.

RICHARD

How could you not love his scenes?

COLIN

You didn't grow up with it. (all laugh). He did ask me "Am I really like that?" after he'd seen it the first time. He actually performed after the Warsaw screening.

RICHARD

Really? How cool. Why should people see this film?

JAKE

Because it's real...

MITCH

Because it breaks down stereotypes...

JAKE

Because it really shows that nobody has the perfect life...

COLIN

When we got outside of our roles, we could all get along.

MITCH

The film just has a lot to say for teens, for parents...and the fact that we could all become friends shows that we can break out of those stereotypes.

RICHARD

Plus, to top it all off you're all on a really cool movie poster. How cool is that?  How many people can say they've been on a movie poster?

COLIN

I actually ruined the film for them. Nobody ever notices. I'm in my college jersey on the poster. (Everyone laugh and looks at the poster).

RICHARD

How funny. You're right. I hadn't even noticed that.

COLIN

When they showed us the poster, I looked at it and just went "Wow, that really sucks. I ruined it. I'm in my college jersey." It's kind of funny...all the people who had to have seen it, nobody noticed it. Warsaw's school colors are black and orange. (Editor's Note: As you can clearly see on the movie poster, Colin's jersey says "Tech" right up front!).

RICHARD

I don't feel so bad for not catching it, then. If the studio can miss it, so can I. Thank you so much for talking to me today. Best of luck with the film.

"American Teen" opens in limited release on August 15, 2008 distributed by Paramount Vantage. For more information on the film, visit the film's website. For those of you on Facebook, be sure to become fans of the film and/or befriend your favorite "American Teen."

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