Written & Directed by Max Minghella
Elle Fanning stars in Teen Spirit, Elevation Pictures, Taro PR. Written & Directed by Max Minghella.
Violet (Elle Fanning) is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor, she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. Driven by a pop-fueled soundtrack, Teen Spirit is a visceral and stylish spin on the Cinderella story.
Music is the heart of Teen Spirit. In theatres now!
With his stylish directorial debut, Max Minghella creates a modern fairytale—scored to a lush, pop soundtrack—about a quiet 17-year-old girl who finds the support and self-confidence she needs to step into her own power. Violet (Fanning) lives with her Polish-immigrant mother (Grochowska) on the brink of poverty in a small village on the Isle of Wight. With her father no longer in the picture, Violet helps out around the house, sings in the choir and works waitress shifts after school, passing her tips to her mother.Whenever she can, she sneaks off to perform at a dingy pub to a thin audience of deadbeats. It’s there that she catches the attention of Vlad (Buric), a down-on-his-luck, boozed-up former opera star who now lacks purpose in life. When a national singing competition comes to town to hold auditions, Vlad becomes Violet’s unlikely mentor and manager, accompanying her on a journey that takes the young singer all the way to the glamorous Teen Spirit finals in London. Along the way, Violet learns about singing, about loyalty and about the kind of resilience it takes to find success.
Teen Spirit stars Elle Fanning (The Beguiled, 20th Century Women), Zlatko Buric (Pusher, 2012) and Rebecca Hall (Christine, The Gift). Directed and written by Max Minghella (The Social Network, “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and produced by Fred Berger (La La Land, Destroyer). Executive Producers are Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Max Minghella, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (I Think We’re Alone Now, Insidious film series), David Garett (Step Up, Happy-Go-Lucky), Dan Fisher (Low Tide), John Janick, Anthony Seyler (Black Panther, A Star Is Born), Mickey Liddell (Jackie, I Can Only Imagine) and Pete Shilaimon (Anthropoid, Megan Leavey). Michael C. Constable (Free Fire, How to Build a Bird) served as the Co-Producer.
Finding Your Voice
The first draft of Max Minghella’s script from 2009 was set in Poland, with 90 percent of the dialogue in Polish. The original expectation was that an unknown would be cast as the lead, but it proved extremely challenging to find someone who could sing, dance, speak two languages andact. Eventually, the producers at Mister Smith decided to announce the movie without any actors attached and that’s how Elle first heard about the project. At the time, she was interested in acting in a film in which she could also sing and sent Minghella a video of herself performing with the French musician Woodkid at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival. As Minghella remembers it, “Once I sat down with Elle, I reimagined the film as an immigrant story, which served to make the film more personal and underlined themes that were already in the screenplay. It turned out that Elle has an extraordinary singing voice.”
Actress Elle Fanning had done months of work into preparing for the role, working closely with executive music producer Marius de Vries and performing all the singing live. Following a wildly successful collaboration with producer Fred Berger on the critically-acclaimed La La Land, de Vries was interested in keep the relationship going. He was also curious about working with Minghella, “because of his parentage [his father is the late director Anthony Minghella; his mother is choreographer Carolyn Choa and because he was from the Isle of Wight,” says de Vries. “And then I was curious about the idea of it being an unabashed adventure in pop music.”De Vries was also thrilled to discover in Fanning “a kind of innate musical sensibility, just a really lovely natural voice.” By the end of the film, when she’s performing her climactic numbers, he sees evidence of the experience she’s accrued, a new strength and range. “She’s inhabited by something quite different and it’s great to witness that curve of the performance emerge.”Berger believes audiences will experience a sense of discovery about Fanning in this role. “She’s been in almost countless movies since she was four years old,” he says. “She’s an actor that people like and admire but, with her voice and her presence here, she’s carrying a film in a way I don’t think she ever has before.”
Fanning agrees: “I haven’t really ever shown myself in this way, but it feels very true to me, very true to who I am right now in this moment.” The character of Violet dovetails with so much of Fanning’s own experiences as an artist who is still learning and evolving. “I can relate to her hunger, I feel that in myself,” she explains. “Everybody imagines themselves being the best at whatever they do, reaching the tip-top just like Violet.”The Power of Music. Music is the heart of Teen Spirit.
Fanning refers to Minghella as “pop music’s number one fan” and the director himself emphasizes his deep belief in “music’s ability to create a visceral cinematic effect.” Director of photography Autumn Durald-Arkapaw speaks of the “affection and genuine, pure-hearted enthusiasm” that Minghella has for the musical genre. Coupled with a highly stylized approach, the result is a film that balances the ecstatic rush of pop with a more soulful undertone. Executive producer Jamie Bell, a close friend of Minghella, sees the director’s approach as very original: “The way Max is using the language of music videos—images of music that blend together—to tell this story feels very new.” Berger lauds Minghella’s ability to bring out the depth of feeling in pop music. “I think people underestimate the power of pop,” he says, “But Max is a bona fide lover of the genre and has an innate understanding of what makes for a timeless, evocative pop anthem. Berger also describes himself as “addicted to making music-driven movies,” which he claims are twice as hard. “You’re making two or three films at once; juggling the film itself, the entire music apparatus, and in this case,a dance component–three distinct layers that require their own preparation and execution. It’s a bigger swing, but it’s also much more fun.”Most of the songs in Teen Spirit were detailed in the initial drafts of the script and the sequences are shot very specifically to the film’s soundtrack, which features music by Ariana Grande, Robyn, Grimes, Katy Perry and more. There is also an original song performed by Fanning and written by Carly Rae Jepsen & Jack Antonoff. In addition to de Vries, the team assembled by Berger includes music supervisor Steven Gizicki and music co-producer Eldad Guetta; they relied on a strong working relationship developed during their shared experience La La Land, which earned numerous awards in music categories. “In some ways I felt like I was piggybacking on the success of another collaboration,” says Minghella, “but I think this movie also presented an exciting and very different challenge for them. ”To Gizicki, the film is all about music: “It’s a character unto itself.” He confesses to a fondness for “female-driven European synth pop” and finds that Minghella’s vision for bringing it to life is truly unique.
Fanning watched American Idol and YouTube clips of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift in order to capture the essence of a powerful pop performance. “In the beginning, Violet is untrained,” she says. “She is a good singer and you see she has potential, but she doesn’t have a lot of stage presence in her voice.” Fanning and de Vries worked together for months to strike that delicate balance and to invest the singing with the requisite emotion to profoundly move the audience. The feelings start to bubble up in Fanning in an early scene, when she is seen dancing alone in her bedroom to the infectious strains of No Doubt. “I really let loose and just went there and felt like Elle dancing in her bedroom.”
A Collaborative Spirit
Minghella stresses the importance of collaboration in the making of Teen Spirit, especially with the musical elements adding another level of complexity to the process. “You’re sitting in a room and you have a dream —essentially you’re having an abstract thought —and then you have the privilege of having talented filmmakers help you realize it and transform it into something that’s tangible for other people to see,” he says. “It’s impossible not to feel very grateful each day on set to everyone making it possible.”An early ally on the project was close friend Jamie Bell, an executive producer on the film. The two share a longtime passion for films and filmmaking and were excited to have an opportunity to make one of their own. “Pair that with the fact that you get to do it with your best friend,” says Bell, “and we’re just incredibly lucky.” The film’s distinctive look arose out of the relationship between Durald-Arkapaw and Minghella, according to the director. The DP shot Palo Alto—known for its haunting interplay of color, light and feeling —as well as music videos for Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles. She imbues Violet’s dreary world with drama, capturing the lyricism of a field at magic hour or extending long beams of light against the night sky. Berger praises Durald-Arkapaw’s eye for composition and lighting with its very specific balance of naturalism and formalism. “Autumn refuses to shoot something that is not tasteful or beautiful or striking,” he says. “Her work is hyper cinematic and expressive -images that demand to be seen on the big screen.” “I think she’s just a genius,” Minghella says of the cinematographer. “That said, we think about things in a different way and the resulting friction is what leads to our most interesting work together.”
Elle Fanning stars as Violet and Tamara Ronchese as Angel X in TEEN SPIRIT
According to Durald-Arkapaw, it’s unusual that a film of this scale would have such extensive lighting. She describes it as “very sculpted, visceral and visual —not in a handheld, quick-set-up way.” The camera movement, framing and lighting are all very considered. Berger echoes the notion that Minghella has an intense clarity of vision, but also commends him for his collaborative spirit. “He’s played the movie in his head countless times, so he knows every set up, every cut, every transition, the characters’ motivations in every moment,” says Berger of the director. “Yet that precision only makes him more open to ideas from his cast and team, as he has such a firm command of the material. It’s a rare and tremendously effective dynamic.”Despite how greatly he values the input of others, Minghella has taken an auteur approach to Teen Spirit, which he wrote, produced, directed and edited himself. “Editing is paramount to me,” he explains. “I’m very fixated on what the rhythm of a scene should be and how the audience is going to receive the images, so editing and writing feel inextricably linked to me.” Minghella has delivered a sweet, soulful and visually rich debut that he hopes will “deliver the kind of audio-visual experience that you can only get in cinema.” Berger concurs, describing Teen Spirit as a “big-screen pop-odyssey, a cinematic event that should leave you dancing out of the theater.”
ELLE FANNING (Violet)
In 2013, Elle Fanning was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance in Sally Potter’s film Ginger & Rosa.The next year, she played Sleeping Beauty opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney’s Maleficent,which earned over $750M in worldwide box office. She previously starred in Super 8, directed by JJ Abrams, and Somewhere,directed by Sofia Coppola. In 2016,Elle Played the lead in Nic Refn’s horror thriller Neon Demon, which premiered in competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. That same year, she also starred in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women and Ben Affleck’s Prohibition-era crime drama, Live By Night. In 2017, she starred opposite Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell in The Beguiled,directed by Sofia Coppola. Last year, she starred in I Think We’re Alone Nowfor director Reed Morano, opposite Peter Dinklage. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters on last Fall. She can also be seen in Galveston,directed by Melanie Laurent, written by Nic Pizzolotto and co-starring Ben Foster which was also released in theaters on last Fall. Ellie will reprise her role as Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent 2 set to be released May 29, 2020. She just wrapped production on All the Bright Places, in which she will both star and produce. The film is directed by Brett Haley and based on the novel by Jennifer Niven. She is currently shooting Sally Potter’s latest film opposite Javier Bardem.
FILMMAKER MAX MINGHELLA
(Director / Writer / Executive Producer / Editor) is a British actor & filmmaker. Minghella can currently be seen playing Nick Blaine in the Emmy winning Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” opposite Elisabeth Moss. In 2016 Minghella wrote and produced Alexandre Aja’s The 9th Life of Louis Drax.His other acting credits include George Clooney's The Ides of March; Alejandro Amenabar’s Agora and David Fincher’s The Social Network. Teen Spirit Marks his directorial debut. Minghella attended Columbia University and the National Youth Theater in London.He resides in both London and Los Angeles.
FRED BERGER (Producer) is an Academy-Award nominated and Golden Globe winning film and television producer based in Los Angeles. Berger produced Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, which won a record seven Golden Globes and six Academy Awards. The film has grossed $450m worldwide and also earned Berger awards from the PGA, BAFTA, Critics Choice, AFI, and the NY Film Critics Circle.Berger most recently produced Chris Weitz’ Operation Finalefor MGM, starring Oscar Isaac and Sir Ben Kingsley, as well as Karyn Kusama’s noir cop thriller Destroyer Starring Nicole Kidman. In 2016, Berger partnered with producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Midnight Special, Loving) under his Automatik Banner. The duo are off to a prolific start, making over 20 films in under two years, including Reed Morano’s post-apocalyptic drama I Think We’re Alone Now starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning, Max Minghella’s pop musical Teen Spirit starring Elle Fanning; Rowan Athale’s thriller Strange But True With Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Nick Robinson, Margaret Qualley, Brian Cox, and Blythe Danner; Nia DaCosta’s social drama Littlewoods Starring Lily James and Tessa Thompson; Lennart Ruff’s Sci-Fi thriller The Titans Starring Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, and Tom Wilkinson; and Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård and Selma Hayek. Past credits also include Hany Abu-Assad’s The Mountain Between Usas Executive Producer and André Øvredal’s horror thriller and cult favourite The Autopsy of Jane Joe. Berger began his career working alongside Sofia Coppola on Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette and on Ross Katz’ award-winning Taking Chance for HBO.
Photos courtesy of Taro PR and Elevation Pictures