“We didn’t really want to waste anyone’s time,” Jason Tippet says of his new documentary “Only The Young,” which he co-directed and shot with close friend Elizabeth Mims. Humble and laidback, but always quick to throw in a playful jab at the other, you couldn’t find two better people to capture the throes of 21st century adolescence.
“Only The Young” chronicles that lull between school ending and going home for dinner – following three teens as they skateboard and explore the outskirts of their small California town, grappling with friendship, love and growing up. The East Valley Tribune recently chatted with Mims and Tippet about the film, which is now playing at Film Bar in downtown Phoenix.
EVT: So to begin with, when did you first meet Garrison, Kevin and Skye?
MIMS: We met Garrison and Kevin one day when we were going to check out a skate park. Jason kind of grew up in Santa Clarita, (Calif.), where we filmed, and we kind of wanted to see how it changed. So we went over there and the kids ended up approaching us, asking if we had lost keys to a Jaguar, which we hadn’t…oh, there he is!
TIPPET: Hey, sorry about that.
MIMS: Hey! I’m just answering questions so if you could just be quiet for a second that’d be great.
TIPPET: Oh yeah, no worries, go for it. I’m sure you were saying some really interesting s***.
MIMS: Oh, it was really interesting. No, we’re just mean to each other out of love. Anyways…were you going to say something?
TIPPET: No, no, no, I wasn’t going to say anything. Did you have something to say?
MIMS: Oh yeah, I’m just going to finish this real quick. So, Garrison and Kevin approached us, and they kind of started arguing in front of us, so we knew right away that they don’t care what anyone else thinks, they’re able to kind of be themselves. It was just one of those things where we were looking for new subjects and they were just these great kids.
EVT: How long did it take to shoot the film?
MIMS: Um, about a year and a half.
TIPPET: And then we spent about another six months editing, but we were editing the whole time as we were going because we were so nervous. It was our first feature so, you know, I think we were both a little neurotic about missing something. Every day after shooting we’d go home and we’d cut something together from the day. We had this corkboard where we had all these note cards and we’d try to guess, you know, if Garrison got back together with Skye and figure out the questions we’d need to be asking. It was just a lot of us trying to predict what was going to happen in their lives and be prepared.
EVT: Filming their lives for such a long period of time, were there any shots or scenes that regrettably didn’t make it into the final cut?
TIPPET: Yeah, there’s this one day where these kids made this homemade slip n’ slide down this hill, like, broke into this guy’s backyard and used a hose and his water supply to run the hose over the fence into the backyard down to this hill. They just had this huge tarp and there were all these kids just sliding down this tarp all day, and I actually took the camera down the tarp with them.
There was just this great long shot, and I was trying to use this scene in the movie but it was just too repetitive with what they were talking about that day. It was like another interview of Garrison talking about how much Kevin meant to him and I felt like we already kind of understood that in the film by that point. But yeah, definitely that day.
MIMS: I totally forgot about that.
TIPPET: Yeah, that was kind of a heartbreaking thing for me. I think, though, that both of us wanted to make a kind of shorter feature. We didn’t really want to waste anyone’s time and just wanted to be really specific with what we were saying.
EVT: Were there any films or directors that particularly inspired you while shooting?
MIMS: I think we were both very inspired by documentaries like “American Movie” and “Billy the Kid.”
TIPPET: Yeah, I mean, I love Robert Yeoman’s photography so a lot of it is really symmetrical and most of the interviews are done in two shots. I’m trying to think of whom else we were watching during that time…I think David Fenster; all his shots are on a tripod. I don’t know, I think something he does really well is he doesn’t let the audience notice that there’s a filmmaker involved, you know, like there’s no zooms and there’s no camera movements. You’re not imagining this cameraman and sound person following him around. I think it feels a little more personal that way and makes you forget about that. That’s something else that we were trying to achieve.
EVT: Of the three teens, I found Skye to be the most interesting – sometimes unlikable but always sympathetic. Could you tell me a little more about her?
MIMS: Yeah, I mean, when we met Skye, she had just been dating Garrison and we realized that she kind of brought out all these different sides of the guys by kind of creating this conflict as soon as we met her. She’s actually younger than the boys; she’s just going to be graduating this year. We just thought it was amazing she was able to kind of put them in their place all the time and also had some pretty incredible things to say. I think growing up, her dad was always in and out of jail, and she talks about that. She’s developed this type of personality that’s very resilient and really brave, you know? I think that’s what really brought us to her.
EVT: I thought the documentary did an excellent job of showing these oftentimes-awkward teenagers with very “high-school” problems, and crafting them into a surprisingly compelling, relatable story. Could you elaborate some on what you wished to achieve in your filmmaking process?
TIPPET: When we went into making this, we were talking a lot about our favorite times in high school and you know, what we wanted to capture. We could capture their life in school or their situation with their parents, and both of us kept going back to this time where you get out of school and then have to be home for dinner around 7. We wanted to kind of stay in that realm of things and not really show parents too much. The only time we see Kevin’s dad is when something negative is going on, like talking to him about having to move.
We also thought that, kids around adults, they always act really differently and it’s kind of uncomfortable for them because they’re not really sure how they should act, so we just wanted to keep it this time that they had this freedom. They didn’t really have jobs or any responsibilities, you know, it was right before you get your first car. Once you get your first car, it sounds like that’s when you’re going to have the most freedom, but you have to get a job, pay for gas, insurance, you’re working a lot more to pay for those things and that free time kind of dwindles away. I think we kind of caught them basically in a special time before they got cars and these responsibilities kind of built up.
EVT: Do you still keep in touch with the three of them? If so, how are they doing and what have they been up to?
MIMS: I think I’m much closer to Skye. We talk all the time and she’s doing really well. Her grandfather moved into a new condo and she’s about to graduate, but yeah, she’s doing pretty well. I guess the guys, can you talk about them?
TIPPET: I think that Skye would actually disagree that you’re closer with her. I was much closer with her. Garrison…he quit his job recently and he’s going train hopping up to Portland. He’s going with a few friends. He’s going through some interesting stuff right now, I think he’s trying new things and he’s hanging out with really different people. I don’t know, I think he’s coming into his own right now, even more so than you watch him change in the movie. Since the movie’s been out, he’s like a completely different person.
Kevin works at Tommy Burger because he’s obsessed with chili. He was like, “I’m buying so much chili from Tommy Burger, it’d just make sense if I worked there so I wouldn’t spend all my money at Tommy Burger.” He has a ton of chili in his fridge right now. He moved back to Santa Clarita, so him and Garrison are skating every day and finding new dilapidated places to hang out.
EVT: To wrap things up, what sorts of films or projects do you guys have in the works right now?
MIMS: I’m actually writing a fiction right now just to kind of do something different. I’m also looking for new documentary subjects but nothing’s really come across that I really want to do. I don’t know, after realizing how long it takes to make a movie, I’m just kind of waiting for the right story before I invest all this time and energy and everything.
TIPPET: I’m just trying to figure out a means to make money while I’m making documentaries. I’m also writing a script right now with a friend. It’s just a short film but I want to try making a fiction short and trying a few things out. It’d be its own thing very different from the way I make documentaries and yeah, I’m hoping to shoot that within the next few months.