Four Movies and Shows That Were Written By Teenagers
Art doesn’t card at the door, so plenty of it has been made by legal children, some of it even good. It’s an acknowledged fact, for example, that no one of any age will ever write a better album than Fiona Apple’s Tidal, and science-fiction was invented by a teenage girl. But music and books are by their nature a solitary endeavor. To get your words on screen, you need to convince a lot of old people you know what you’re doing and aren’t going to use any slang that will make them uncomfortable. Only a handful have beaten the odds (or as the kids say, “slapped the leprechaun”).
Superbad captured teen boys’ cluelessness about girls and sex a little too well, probably because it was written by two teen boys. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing the script when they were 13 years old after watching a tragically unnamed movie that was so bad, they were convinced they could do better. They even did the classic teenage writer thing of naming the main characters after themselves.
Of course, that first draft isn’t quite what made it to screen. A few years later, Rogen worked with Judd Apatow on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and showed him his teenage screenplay, which Apatow found “incredibly funny and original” and decided to see “if we could get (it) into the shape where someone would actually allow us to make it.” They staged a reading starring Rogen and Jason Segel, and if anyone has footage from that, we’d pay a sum of money that probably doesn’t seem like a lot to you but does to us.
That said, the final draft was still very close to Rogen’s and Goldberg’s teenage experiences. Some events were even taken directly from their lives, including getting perioded on while dancing, hiding alcohol in laundry detergent bottles, and ending up at entirely too adult parties. Even Fogell is a real guy whose name really is Fogell who had a fake ID. He’s a real estate analyst now. “I thought it was funny,” he said after he saw the film. “I gave them a bit of hell for it, just because I wasn’t here to defend myself. Made me the butt of every joke?”
So, you know, he’s pissed.
Then-Hollywood production designer Catherine Hardwicke started dating Nikki Reed’s father when Reed was five, and although the relationship didn’t last, Hardwicke vowed to stay in the girl’s life by getting her hair cut by her mom. If it sounds like a strange plan to spend time with a child by going to a hair salon, it turns out Reed’s mom did hairstyling out of her house, meaning that Hardwicke put her hair in the hands of her ex-boyfriend’s ex-wife in some shady home salon. That’s love right there.
She eventually noticed, when Reed was 13, that like most 13-year-olds, she’d started treating her parents like shit. Upon prodding, Reed revealed that she’d fallen in with a bad crowd and struggled with mental-health issues. Hardwicke was in a unique position to help. Reed came to live with Hardwicke for days and weeks at a time, where Hardwicke scheduled “positive activities” for her, including the opportunity to write a movie about her experiences. PSA: Usually, it’s a very, very bad idea to let your child go live with someone who wants to make a movie with them.
The result was Thirteen, which was written by Hardwicke and Reed in just six days. It’s a good thing, too, because the clock was ticking — Reed would only be the right age to star in the movie for exactly one year. The subject matter — sex, drugs, and shoplifting — didn’t make it any easier. In the nick of time, Hardwicke hooked up with Holly Hunter and managed to scrounge up enough of a budget to barely get the thing made. In 2003, it became a Sundance darling, and Reed is now best known for playing a Twilight vampire. Man, how come none of our dads ever dated movie folks?
In 2019, Lena Dunham got tired of declaring herself the voice of her generation and instead declared Zelda Barnz the voice of her generation. At 17, Barnz decided to write a book about queer teens, but her dad, a successful screenwriter and director, encouraged her to develop it as a TV show instead, because when all you have is Final Draft, everything looks like a pilot.
Barnz and her dad connected with Dunham, and after some COVID-related delay, Genera+ion premiered on HBO Max in 2021. But despite some big names, like Justice Smith and Martha Plimpton, and surprisingly favorable reviews, the series was canceled after just one season and then removed from the streaming service entirely the next year. It turns out Barnz was only the voice of one year of her generation.
From 2007 to 2013, Skins gave British teenagers something they’d never really seen on TV: themselves. It was a dirtier Degrassi or slightly less dirty Euphoria, depicting the realities of drug use, casual sex, eating disorders and other problems plaguing the youth that was well covered by Gossip Girl in the States but considered too scandalous for the Queen’s subjects. It also launched the careers of some of today’s best young British actors, including Nicholas Hoult in one of his first post-pubescent roles, Dev Patel and Joe Dempsie, aka Gendry on Game of Thrones. Thank Channel 4 for those abs.
But whereas Euphoria is written by a gross old man, the creators of Skins (one of them only 22 at the time himself) sought out young writers, plucking them out of random London theaters to write about themselves. Again, we would usually advise against going anywhere with strange dudes who ask you to write about teenage sex, but in this case, it paid off. One of them was an 18-year-old Daniel Kaluuya, who became one of the youngest people ever to write an episode of primetime TV and also, you know, an Oscar winner. The creators also routinely held contests throughout the series’ run for what was essentially paid internships for teen writers, some of whom went on to join the writing team full-time.
Most adults would kill for that kind of opportunity. Literally — most Hollywood hitmen are out-of-work writers.