I grew up 30 miles north of Los Angeles in the desert town of Santa Clarita, California. It was a place of rapid growth and development that served as an ideal backdrop for the seemingly endless days of unsupervised freedom of my teenage years. Now, just seven years after graduating from high school, I wanted to make a film about this period of life while it was still fresh in my mind.
Only the Young is a story that brought me back to those unencumbered days of youth, as Elizabeth Mims (co-director) and I followed Garrison, Kevin and Skye during their senior year of high school in Santa Clarita. We made the decision to avoid their time in school and focus mainly on the weekends and those long afternoons after school that stretched on forever. Those were the hours when they had time to explore, to try out love and to hope and wonder about the intimidating "real world" that they would soon enter.
I wasn't interested in making one of the "high school films" or "issue films" that seem so common recently. A survey of American youth in today's media might lead the casual observer to conclude that everybody between the ages of 13 and 18 is anorexic, pregnant, bullied, a bully, stupid, psychotic, drunk and obese. Yet none of that fit with my personal experience or with the experiences of my friends. And I'd bet that's not an accurate picture of growing up in America. I sure as hell hope not, in any case. So I set out to tell the story of three fairly normal teenagers—and, if it all possible, I tried to avoid stapling a "social-issue" or "problem" sign to their foreheads. We just focused on the lives of the kids as they were. We tried just to listen.
I feel extremely fortunate to have met Garrison, Kevin and Skye. Their forthright, selfless honesty was humbling and courageous. I think what I look forward to most is being able to give these kids this documentation of a moment in time. I hope they'll show it to their kids one day and say, "Look, that was me when I was young."
— Jason Tippet, Co-director
While a student at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), I got to know the neighborhoods in and around Valencia, California. Jason Tippet (co-director) had spent his childhood in that area as a largely unsupervised "latchkey kid," another wandering teen in an endless, epic landscape on the edge of the desert.
Skateboards are a basic form of transportation and, like Kevin and Garrison in our film, most kids aspire one day to own automobiles, though they remain oblivious to the responsibilities that come with cars. I'm not much older than the kids in Only the Young, and I think that helped me to see the world from their point of view.
I wanted to make a film where there was clear comfort and readability in the documentary subjects themselves—a sincere feeling that a solid relationship existed between the subjects and us as directors. Between MTV True Life episodes and other more aggressive reality TV shows, it often feels as though young people are manipulated for ratings. By choosing to shoot our film on a discreet tripod, we tried to help the audience focus on the characters themselves without being distracted by the presence of the filmmakers. All in all, I wanted to make a film that could help anyone remember his or her high school experiences and be completely immersed in the moment without the form intruding on the content.
— Elizabeth Mims, Co-director