For years, Emily Hagins has been the kid in the room. The Austin native directed her first feature-length movie, 2006’s independent zombie film Pathogen, when she was just 12 years old. She followed that up with 2009’s supernatural murder-mystery The Retelling and then enjoyed a SXSW world premiere of her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance, this one about vampires, in 2011.
Now 20 years old, Hagins returned this week to SXSW to premiere her fourth feature, Grow Up, Tony Phillips, a wistful high school comedy about a boy who isn’t yet ready to give up his exuberant love for Halloween. After the screening, fans like Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez congratulated the young director on her accomplishment. And now there’s a sense, Hagins hopes, that people might soon stop qualifying her as a child-filmmaker and see her for what she is, a filmmaker. “That’s kind of my biggest battle right now,” she says.
Hagins shot Grow Up, Tony Phillips, which stars A.J. Bowen and Tony Vespe, in 24 days this past November, on a budget in part cobbled together from a $75,000 Kickstarter campaign. The tone of her script, a departure from her supernatural roots, reminded 35-year-old Bowen (The Signal) of the John Hughes movies he grew up on. “There’s such humanity and realism to each of the characters in his films, and I felt a strong connection to that in Emily’s work,” says Bowen, who plays Tony’s wayward relative Pete. “There’s an inherent kindness to her story.”
Watch a clip of Grow Up, Tony Phillips below:
“I really, really respect young people,” says Hagins. “I’m offended by movies that are really dumbed down for kids. Or movies that are way over the top in stuff like texting and OMG meme language.” Her star and friend Tony Vespe, 22, agrees: “I feel like it’s a staple of every teenage high school movie where all the kids talk in this weird lingo that doesn’t actually exist. Juno is an example. I like Juno but the way they talk in that movie? I’ve never heard teenagers say anything like that.”
The producers of Grow Up, Tony Phillips are currently fielding interest from various acquisitions people. In the meantime, Hagins and her friends are flush from another successful SXSW. After their world premiere, they hit up a local video arcade to celebrate. “Some of us are under 21,” she explains.
Read all of EW’s SXSW film coverage here.