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Beyond Clueless, a teen movie about teen movies

“My plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.” “Well, there goes your social life!” 1995’s Clueless is full of brilliant quotes, something which Charlie Lyne, the creative mind behind film blog Ultra Culture knows all about. Teaming up with a selection of his most talented friends, he set out to direct the ultimate movie about teen movies.

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With this inception-like concept in mind, Charlie et al. spent over a year watching hundreds upon hundreds of films from between 1995-2004 (from CluelessMean Girls) and analysing every second of them, tearing apart their teenage favourites in the process. Getting longtime friends and total sweethearts Jeremy and Elizabeth of Summer Camp on board to score the project was a perfect fit, and calling on The Craft’s brilliantly creepy Fairuza Balk to narrate was almost too good to be true. It wasn’t though, it was real. It is real. Welcome to Beyond Clueless! Having premiered the movie at SXSW and due to screen this weekend at Latitude complete with a live score, we grab a coffee with Charlie, Jeremy and Elizabeth to talk cliques, crushes and Dawson's Creek...

Where did Beyond Clueless come from?
Charlie: A few years ago I was asked to curate a festival of teen movies at the Hackney Picture House, so in preparation for that I started re-watching all these teen films that I hadn’t seen since I was like 14. And viewed in such dense lots, back to back, it was strange how quickly these weird things that you never notice before just emerge. Obviously the weight of nostalgia and affection that I had for these films was still there and really palpable but there were these bizarre underpinnings that I’d obviously never seen before. So it got me thinking about how strange and under-examined the genre was, and I wondered what best way to present that would be.
Elizabeth: I actually remember going for sushi with you and I said that if you ever make a film, we’d make the soundtrack…
Charlie: Did you?!
Elizabeth: Yeah… so I’m claiming credit for suggesting that.
Charlie: I’d forgotten that you brainwashed me into this, because I recall it being my idea. But when I was first researching it, you’d just put out the Always EP and I was listening to that on rotation while thinking about the movie, so maybe that’s where the two things melded in my mind.
Elizabeth: and the subliminal messages that we put in the EP as well…
Jeremy: we’re going to always release a record just before you start planning a movie.
Charlie: Obviously it was convenient for us to work together, but at the same time, I tell people about the collaboration who have no idea that we’re friends and it does seem like an incredibly natural thing. Partly because at that time, the only album you’d had out had lots of teen movie references in it, and felt like it existed in that space. What’s the track title? Brian Krakow?
Elizabeth: Yeah. I think it’s a world that we find endlessly interesting though. In fact, I think your next film should be a recut of Dawson's Creek, with the James Van Der Beek scenes all replaced with his scenes from Rules of Attraction and Varsity Blues maybe… because his character is so terrible in Dawson’s Creek.

You got an incredible response to your Kickstarter campaign. Did you see that as your only option?
Charlie: We knew we only needed a small amount to make it, because of the nature of the production. And so we certainly could’ve looked at other ways of raising the funds. The problem I suppose is that I think we’d have had trouble convincing people to put a large sum of money into it when none of us had prior film-making experience. Kickstarter seemed like such a natural thing to do, to put it in front of people and essentially ask, ‘do you want to see this?’ It’s a subject so close to people’s hearts. And we all had audiences online that we could talk to. I don’t think it's right for every project, but for something like this it felt ideal.

Tell us about your team...
Charlie: So it’s these two, then three producers... Billy, a director, who was amazing at explaining the difference between various ProRes Codecs and helping with the script editing. And Anthony who’s an old friend of mine and now mostly produces music - he’s a genius.
Elizabeth: And Catherine - the best networker I’ve ever met in my life. She’s been coaching everyone to become better talkers!
Charlie: The role of producer on this film has been very vague and multi-faceted – everyone’s been doing everything throughout the process. 

How did you get Fairuza involved?
Charlie: A friend of mine suggested her and it just clicked. Her voice is perfect and her personality is just amazing! It was another nine or ten months until we actually contacted her, because we wanted to actually have something whole to show her. We were just really lucky that we managed to get her attention. It was really refreshing that she was so open to it, especially cause it’s a subject she has direct involvement with and it might be seen as taking a risk because on paper it’s sort of an odd film.

Does it feel like a documentary when you watch it?
Jeremy: No, it definitely doesn’t feel like watching a documentary about someone that murdered somebody or anything…
Elizabeth: I thought it might be like ‘So, guess where Selma Blair is now!’ and ‘Did you know, that in 1998…’ but I was awed by how beautiful it is. It’s much more a piece of art than a documentary, but at the same time it's very funny and absoutely gorgeous.
Charlie: I think a lot of that is down to you two as well. Throughout the film we’re quite careful to never actually mention the fact that we’re talking about movies. We treat the whole thing like it’s the real world, like we exist within this teen movie Universe and everything we say is going by these teen movie terms. We wanted it to feel like a teen movie itself, and music was so essential to that. I think the highest compliment that someone could pay to it is actually that it doesn’t feel like a documentary. The category that we’re in at SXSW is a blend of documentary and fiction, which is nice. I think when you tell people that it’s a documentary, either they feel let down or confused or put off because they don’t like documentaries. So I like that there’s a bit of ambiguity there.
Elizabeth: We were playing one of the songs during our last tour and introduced it as being from a movie we scored...
Charlie: And you showed some footage from the film as you played the song didn’t you? I think a lot of people must have thought, 'OMG, this film has THE BEST cast of all time! It has 30 of the most famous teen stars ever in it!'
Elizabeth: And they all look so young!

Did scoring the movie feel the same as when you write your own music?
Elizabeth: So much better! It was a breath of fresh air. With our first album we created a fictional world where the songs were set, so it’s already something we already like doing – just disappearing into somewhere that the songs take place. There was all this stuff to pull from and reference - so much richness to nick!
Jeremy: There's this really great bit in She’s All That where the kids are rapping in the playground and…
Elizabeth: the ‘kids are rapping in the playground'?!
Jeremy: That's exactly what happens!
Elizabeth: You make it sound like there are ten year olds rapping. I would say that there are some, like, really cool bros rapping in the quad.
Jeremy: Anyway, we basically we took that and put a beat to it.
Charlie: They actually sent across a version of the whole score that was all rapping but unfortunately I had to tell them to redo it.
Elizabeth: That was a difficult week…
Charlie: Those are my favourite bits, where the music and picture blend to an extent where you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. I think in a documentary you rarely get that, without it being a full on experimental art movie. It was nice to find that balance. I feel like experimental art movie is a better description than documentary.
Jeremy: We made a nice range of music too. Some of the tracks could have easily sat on a Summer Camp album and then there are some ambient instrumental ones too. And the album will be out too in the summer on Moshi Moshi Records!

Which teen movie do you think has the best soundtrack?
Elizabeth: I always like the Rules of Attraction soundtrack. I remember when it came out I saw it in the cinema with my best friend and she hated it and I loved it so bought the soundtrack and walked around pretending I was in the film.
Charlie: Is that also because Robin Thicke is on the soundtrack?
Elizabeth: Really?!
Charlie: Yeah, the Rules of Attraction soundtrack has on it a Robin Thicke single that was quite big in America but never really made it big here. It was based on a disco remix of Beethoven’s Fifth, called a Fifth of Beethoven, and he would do his thing over the top of it. So when you watch the film back and there’s a party scene with this playing over the top it’s like two world collide – especially as it wasn’t even set when it was made. So time seems to fold in on itself.
Jeremy: My favourite is probably 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s everything that is good about teen movie soundtracks.

So how did you end up bagging the premiere at SXSW?
Charlie: I think it might even had come up that day that we had our very first meeting about potentially doing it. We were talking about how we’d eventually show it to people. That was the insane pipedream but it never seemed in any way plausible.  
Jeremy: So we sent the film in with no contacts or anything, right? It was like sending a demo in to a record label.
Charlie: Yeah, I had no pre-existing establishment as a film maker but I had the advantage of the film having some awareness because of the kickstarter and various things we could point to and say, ‘look, people are interested’. We had two months wait after we sent it in, so we had to put it out of our minds and I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen.
Elizabeth: I knew…

Are you excited?
Charlie: Wildly excited, and terrified, and everything else. I don’t think people are gonna be bored, and that's enough for me.

And what’s the plan post-SX?
Charlie: It’s still all very tentative but we’ll probably premiere it here early summer and get it out as quickly as possible in as many different ways as possible. It definitely feels like a summery film, given that every single film featured in the film is set in a state of perpetual summer. It would be so weird to release it in winter.
Elizabeth: There’s no winter in teendom! Everything was golden hour really.
Charlie: It does add to that sense that you’re trapped in a world from which there’s no escape. Every teen movie has these few things that reoccur, one of which is that summer setting which is so instantly recognisable, and because they’re so often shot at the same six Los Angeles high schools. In fact, when I went and did the narration with Fairuza I walked past at least three of the high schools that are in our film.

What cliques were you guys in at school?
Jeremy: I was a dweeb.
Elizabeth: I don’t know… I guess I was the least popular of the popular girls. I would go to all the cool parties but I’d be sitting on the stairs with the girls who were crying because too many boys fancied them and they didn't know who to pick. Nobody would ever want to go out with me, but I didn’t mind.
Charlie: I was a real jock. No, I suppose the art crowd? From the age of 14/15 onwards I got very into making experimental art at school, so I hung around with the people who did that. So in many ways, I was Rachel Lee Cook in She’s All That, making very angry, expressive art. I made a room out of cardboard one year – like a ten foot tall box with just blackness inside, like my heart. The walls were all sticky with all this material and gunk and stuff. There was some controversy on the day of the unveiling that they might not let people in it because it was a hazard, but in the end they did.
Elizabeth: What an amazing school to let you do that! We had to draw fish and sew sequins onto them…
Charlie: Well I paid like £70 - a major outlay for 15 year old me - for cardboard. So yeah, I was Rachel Lee Cook, but I was never saved.
Jeremy: I was Elijah Wood in Faculty.
Charlie: So maybe we can all be members of the faculty team! You’re Elijah Wood, I can be Clea DuVall maybe? And Elizabeth, you are…
Elizabeth: I’d be the alien… Mary-Beth!

Who are your biggest teen movie crushes?
Jeremy: Elisha Cuthbert in Girl Next Door.
Elizabeth: Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You is just the perfect man. Sorry Jeremy.
Charlie: I feel like I’m trying to win feminism awards here, but I always liked the girls pre-makeover in makeover films. Obviously in Mean Girls you’re supposed to like her pre-makeover, but the ones where you’re not, it’s amazing how attractive they actually are… Anne Hathaway in Princess Diaries and Judy Greer in Jawbreaker.
Elizabeth: She’s brilliant! She’s the one in Arrested Development that always flashes her boobs!
Charlie: No, it’s too late. I only liked her when she was dowdy and 15. She was my bag. I’m not interested in this make-up wearing adult version of her. I only like her when she’s huddled behind a comically large stack of books.