6 questions for Charlie Lyne
Interview by Andrei Probabil
The third film that is going to be screened during this autumn’s Documentary Mondays is Beyond Clueless, directed, written, edited and produced by the young filmmaker and film critic Charlie Lyne. He answered 6 questions about his first feature film, Beyond Clueless, in an interview prepared with the occasion of screening the documentary for the first time in Romania.
- Why did you choose the subject of teen movies for your first feature film? Are you particularly interested in this genre?
Back in the early 2010s, as I entered my twenties, I became newly fascinated by the genre. After revisiting a few of the high-school films that came to define my adolescence, I was struck by a feeling equal parts nostalgia and disbelief. On the one hand, my affection for movies like EuroTrip, Idle Hands and Bubble Boy was largely undiminished. On the other, I was blown away by the wealth of subtext that had sailed clean over my head just a few years earlier.
I wanted to find a way to distil these contradictory feelings into some kind of statement, and I landed on the idea of an essay film, which I think is a great format for mixed emotions because the picture and sound can often work in opposition to one another.
- You were the director, screenwriter, editor and producer of Beyond Clueless. What did each of these roles mean in creating such a complex documentary?
Perhaps surprisingly, those titles all meant roughly the same thing they do in fiction filmmaking. Even though the film is an essay film and a visual collage, I wrote a screenplay in much the same way that a fiction filmmaker would — complete with dialogue and action. The only difference was that I was describing scenes that had already been shot, twenty years earlier, by other filmmakers. So there was a limit to what I could include. But I found writing it out a really useful way to think about structure and flow.
Likewise, it was me who sat down and—painstakingly over the course of 9 months or so—ingested and cut together those 200 films into a single 90 minute feature.
- Which were the steps of creating Beyond Clueless? Was there a draft that evolved while working on it or did you start, for example, with a list of films that you had in mind and then constructed the essay and pieced together the scenes? How long did it take you to get the final form?
As I say, it started with a screenplay, which was the result of several months spent rewatching hundreds of teen movies—some that I remembered from my own teen years, others that were totally new to me. Then I made a first cut of the film that was basically identical to the screenplay. From there, it was a very slow process of trial and error, adjusting the edit to fit the script, and then adjusting the script to fit the edit, back and forth for months. In total, the whole film took a little over a year to make, part time.
- Why did you choose the essay style and not the meta-documentary as we know it from The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (d. Sophie Fiennes), for example?
The Perverts films were certain a big influence on Beyond Clueless, but in the end I wanted to create something that felt more like a closed universe, shared by all the teen films I wanted to explore. So although the narrator, Fairuza Balk, acknowledges the names of the films she’s talking about, I also wanted it to feel like she was inside a diagetic reality. It helped that she literally is inside a number of those films!
A few critics have referred to the film as a kind of fictional anthropological study, which I think is quite close to what I was going for. I was much more interested in the characters, archetypes and tropes than I was in the filmmaking techniques and directorial decisions themselves.
- How did the process of creating such a documentary change your perception of watching teen movies, for example rewatching EuroTrip (d. Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, David Mandel) or writing a critical review of Spider-Man: Homecoming (d. Jon Watts)?
Making Beyond Clueless definitely inducted me into the universe of a certain kind of teen movie, which undoubtedly changed the way I saw examples of that genre like EuroTrip. I came to love the predictability of some of these films — the way they lean into a whole range of tropes, cliche and formulas, hopefully in order to subvert or tweak them in some way. So when I watch EuroTrip, the elements of that film that fall a bit flat don’t take anything from the experience for me; they heighten the moments when the film does something out of the ordinary.
As for reviewing Spider-Man: Homecoming, I don’t think I ever did… unless I’ve forgotten something? But I do get quite a lot of emails from outlets when they need a new teen movie reviewed and can’t think of anyone else who’d want to tackle it.
- Your debut feature film was an analysis of teen movies, in the second one you approached fear through horror and thriller films (Fear Itself, 2015). What comes next?
Since Fear Itself, I’ve made a number of short films, some essay films and some more straightforward documentaries. I’m currently working on a few projects, including another feature-length essay film about cinema, so that will round out the trilogy, for want of a better word.
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