Much has already been made about Nanette Burstein's forthcoming AMERICAN TEEN. At Full Frame, there was practically a knock-down drag-out over whether the film should have even been programmed, what with it's various constructed elements (the fact that there was no such fuss at Silverdocs or True/False says a great deal about all three festivals). We wrote approvingly about the film's construction during Sundance and previewed its theatrical poster, a nearly direct copy of John Hughes' THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
We're less convinced over the latest marketing effort in support of the film, which we first saw over at Jeffrey Wells' place. In a series of ads for the film, people are invited to become "fans" of characters in the film, characters - if anyone needs reminding - that are actually real teenagers.
Having met some of these kids at Sundance, I get the impression that they are pretty ready for their Hollywood Close-Up and are also under no illusions that they are being sold as archetypes, even if they suggest, in sotto voce, that they are more complicated that their assigned stereotype. But even with that, I wonder if they are prepared to become marketed commodities. Click on me and become my fan to win tickets to Lollapalooza?
(When you do click through, you are directed first to the AMERICAN TEEN website, where the trailer begins playing. Keep going and you can "meet" the five focused characters identified by GEEK, REBEL, PRINCESS, JOCK and HEARTTHROB, along with mini bios like "Mitch Reinholt is an attractive and charming Varsity basketball jock with a soft side." You can keep clicking through to Facebook to "become a fan" and win the concert tickets.)
Earlier this year, there was a great deal of hand-wringing (mostly from concerned others) when Errol Morris admitted that he paid some of his subjects. This, of course, was not news to most working nonfiction filmmakers. Even those of us who don't pay our subjects (I have never done it and would be opposed to it in my own films), recognize that our subjects are often called upon long after the film is finished to attend film festivals, premieres, do press and otherwise represent the film in which they appear.
So, here's an open question. Am I missing something or are we entering new territory when we begin selling our subjects' very identities - even with their apparently enthusiastic permission?