By Special to The Nation
Premiering last September at the Toronto Film Festival and going on release in the US earlier this month, “Teen Spirit” will appeal to any young person who dreams of making it in the cut-throat music industry.
It tells the story of Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning), a young Polish immigrant living with her mother on the Isle of Wight – a small island off the coast of England – who seizes on an opportunity to audition for a local singing competition with the help of an unlikely mentor (Zlatko Buric).
Director Max Minghella talks about the inspiration behind the film, working with Fanning and why he chose “Teen Spirit” for his debut feature.
Can you explain more about the film?
It’s really about a young girl who embarks on a journey to pursue her dream with the help of an unlikely mentor. While there is this music contest in the backdrop, the film is very much about the relationship between these two characters and how they affect one another. This is not a traditional underdog story. Violet is a strong performer from the outset but she is inhibited by personal demons that limit her from truly expressing herself. The contest ultimately becomes a test of her character as much as her talent.
How was it working with Elle Fanning and why is she the perfect choice to play Violet?
Elle and Violet lined up in the right moment. There were wonderful and unplanned parallels between her and this character that elevated what was on the page. It was clear from our first meeting that she had a deep understanding of the script and how to enhance it. She is clearly an extraordinary actor but she is also a consummate professional and those things are equally important. This was not an easy shoot and she really went above and beyond to make sure she was prepared every day on set.
Elle has an incredible voice, how impressed have you been with her performance?
We knew when we hired Elle that she had an extraordinary singing voice that hadn’t really been explored yet, at least on film, and she was very keen and excited to do that. That said, as good as she was when she started, she did so much preparation for this movie, not only with the Polish and the choreography, but really on stretching her vocal ability.
Following on from that, can you introduce us to Marius de Vries’s role with Elle and her preparations?
Our composer and music producer, is a hero of mine and that’s really been special for me and for Elle as well. They have a really trusting and respectful relationship and it actually reflects the relationship between Vlad and Violet in the film.
Can you introduce us to the character Vlad and what does Zlatko bring to the role?
Well… the role of Vlad was written for Zlatko dating back to the first draft of the script. He was the one and only actor that I wanted to play this part. He is so much himself, he has such a huge heart, he’s incapable of a lie, he feels very authentic and it felt like a way to ground the story but also sort of guarantee the audience’s empathy for this person.
It’s a fantastic soundtrack. Can you talk through some of the musical numbers?
It was important that each musical sequence would drive the story forward and actually give insight into Violet’s internal life. So that each song had an emotional responsibility as well as a narrative one.
With the strong exception of “Tattooed Heart”, every track that was specified in the script appears in the finished film, which is still unbelievable to me. That’s all because of Steve Gizicki, our music supervisor who made miracles happen.
On paper it’s an ambitious project for your feature debut. Have you faced many challenges?
I have faced a lot of challenges but I’ve also faced a bizarre amount of luck. Every step of the way we’ve really been blessed with the people who have decided to work on this film and support it. I never thought this movie was going to happen. The first draft of the script was written in 2009. We’re now in 2018 so it has been a long journey. It’s also an absolute reflection of the film I originally set out to make and that’s largely because of Fred Berger. He receives a sole producer credit and there is a reason for that. This was a movie everyone thought would be impossible and he quite literally willed it into fruition. He also held my hand every step of the way. Both as a supporter and devil’s advocate. I owe him a huge amount.