Sydney Film Festival Interview: Talking Teenage Kicks with director Craig Boreham and star Miles Szanto

Craig Boreham’s Teenage Kicks made its worldwide premiere last weekend as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival. Our reviewer, Simon, called it, “a beautifully filmed coming of age tale…that leaves you thinking long after the final credits have rolled.”

Fergus Halliday caught up with the director himself and star Miles Szanto to talk about the film, the ideas it explores and how it fits into the  queer cinema of 2016.

Check out what he had to say below:

So where did the idea for this film originate?

Craig: I think as a germ of an idea it started cooking I was doing a bit of Youth Work for a while in 2010 (which is a youth refuge for the LGBT kids) and just listening to the stories that they’ve experienced. Those stories and experiences that sort of provoked this idea, so I wanted to explore that.

This kind-of happened during the same time that my partner lost his brother unexpectedly. That death was quite really huge for him and the amount of grieving he went through around the time just seemed to profound that I started working those stories together.

I wrote the draft quite quickly and it sort of sat in my drawer for a number of years – then I got invited to a submit a  short script to a program in the States, so I did pulled out that script again and I found a section and adapted that into a short film (which we made called Drowning) and that’s where I met Miles who auditioned for that. It traveled quite well and did a lot of festivals and won some awards and then we went back to the feature script to look at that.

Miklos he seems like a multi-dimensional character. Did that present challenges for casting him?

Craig: Yeah, it did actually. We looked a lot of young people for that role and you know, when Miles walked in the door and did the audition it was pretty clear that he got it and he understood it. I think that that was the challenge; for a lot of people there’s a lot of sort of sub-textual internal stuff going on for the character that we kinda needed someone who could handle that and Miles really did; we were always keen to get Miles back for the feature film we started developing that.

How did you approach the character?

Miles: I mean my first experience with the character was on Drowning (which was the first incarnation of the feature) and, to be honest with you, I was seventeen years old when we made that and I mean, I was living through a lot of the similar experiences. Not necessarily circumstantially but I kind of really understood the struggles and the suffering that he was living through at the time, so I really kind of got you know, what was happening from Mick at the core.

Then you know, when we got to come back and kind of re-visit the character a couple of years later to make the feature I think having the benefit of having lived through those experiences as an adolescent has really helped in giving me perspective on what it’s like to feel those things but knowing that you do survive the terrors of stepping into it.

That’s really interesting. The film’s premiering during the festival. Are you really excited for people to see it?

Craig:I hope they walk out being reminded of what young people do when they’re finding their feet and I hope it starts a conversation about that and I know it’s not an easy watch; there’s a lot of big questions thrown out there but it’ll start a conversation and I’d like to see that happen.

 Do you feel like your film has addressed something that hasn’t been addressed in Queer cinema?

Craig: I think so. It’s not a “coming out” film. I think that’s a narrative we’ve seen a lot of the times before and [Teenage Kicks] kind of really doesn’t go there. We’ve always been kind of keen to always talk about that moment of discovery and finding yourself. Finding your feet rather than getting to this sort of identity sort of point.

Miles: I think it also looks at things that not only have Queer films not looked out but also films in general, you know. I remember being seventeen years old and looking at movies people my age and I didn’t identify with them so much; they’re kind of poppy and really fun and light and that wasn’t really my experience necessarily being seventeen is a pretty terrifying time in your life and it looks at like the identity crisis of becoming a man or becoming an adult, you know I don’t think you get to see so often when you’re around that age.

Exploring the “scars of youth” is a really tantalizing one. Was that sort of the central idea in the film to begin with or is that something you sort of arrived at?

Craig: Yeah, that and I guess the idea that you as a person are the sum of how you respond to the stuff that life throws at you. So yeah, it’s kind of that in a nutshell. That was kind of the big idea that I was always going back to and [also] that kind of universal craving that you know that everyone wants to feel worthy of being loved or you know, acknowledged as a person – that was something that is Miklos driving force for the whole story really ultimately and I think everyone can relate to that.

Tonally, there’s a lot happening in this film. Like you said, it almost came out of two separate ideas that sort of merged. Was that challenging to cater to both of those tones as a filmmaker and as a actor?

Craig: As a script, it was always a balance of telling this very personal story of this character and then also surrounding that by the story of the family and this other stuff that’s going on for everybody around him but they kinda were important because I felt like that’s such a universal experience for the actors as well. It’s like your family is really super influential on your reality and you know, what’s going on for them directly affects you. Even though a lot of the time his family are not acknowledging what’s going on for him – that pain and that stuff affecting them is still impacting him in a big way.

There are times from what I’ve seen in the movie – there are times where it get’s very dark and also times where it’s lighthearted. Was it challenging to jump between those two extremes?

Miles: I mean for me, as an actor, not necessarily. The dark stuff was of course – it’s work and it takes a lot of preparation and stuff but I think that because wherever the movie goes it’s totally motivated from what’s come before. It never feels like something is happening just because it’s such a fun scene, which makes my job really easy.

There’s a lot of times when you’re working with writing it isn’t as good as Craig’s script where it’s like you’re doing a thing and it’s a real struggle to figure out “why on earth am I doing this here” but with this, it just felt so motivated and so clear what the throughline of this character’s  journey was and it was slipping into those scenes was relatively – I wouldn’t say easy but it was relatively understandable.

Craig: We had a really quite amazing young cast and they were all really, really good at knowing at what they were fighting for in every single scene. It was really impressive watching them be so present in whatever what was going on in the scene.

Miles: And there was a pretty clear purpose for every scene; every scene was serving a purpose for the greater story which made it.

So what’s next for you? My understanding is that you have two other projects?

Craig: I’ve got a few things on the boiler. Currently writing a true crime drama with another writer Adrian Chiarella. It’s pretty dark and it’s sort of in the world of young people again but a little older. It’s an intense place to be writing.

Miles: I’m living in the States now. I’ve been over in LA. I just came back this morning so I’ve got a pretty functional life happening over there and I’m working a bit over there and I’m moving towards directing and writing a lot, and looking at scripts for future projects.

Teenage Kicks screened at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. 


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