The years we spend as teenagers in high school are definitely impressionable years on all of us. You make your first big mistakes, have your heart broken maybe one or two times, start to rebel a bit and even make friends that in the past seem like the coolest person on the planet, but in hindsight are really just larger versions of immaturity. All of that and more is explored in writer/director Jason Orley’s first feature film, ‘Big Time Adolescence.’ Orley has had the story in mind since he was in high school himself, and after years of life experience, he was able to go back to the story with fresh eyes and a personal, yet realistic lens.
What Orley wanted to convey most was the authenticity of the plot, something that everyone from any time period can relate too—and the rookie filmmaker doesn’t seem so amateur in doing that. In fact, he nailed it.
Orley sat down with Metro to discuss his inspirations for the film, his style of directing and dive into more on how he hopes audiences relate to the story in more than just a nostalgic way.
Where did the inspiration for ‘Big Time Adolescence’ come from?
Since it was an idea in your head since high school, did the story evolve for you over time?
One-hundred percent. It was funny, I’ve had this idea since I was young, but I don’t think I started writing it until I had the tools after film school when I was sitting down trying to figure out what I wanted for a script, and that was still there for me as an idea. So I had written that script, and it was still several years before I actually got to make the movie, so I kept re-writing the script. But I’m glad by the time I had gotten to make the movie it had been so long because I was approaching it like I was directing someone else’s work and I had a little distance from it. I could look at things. Also the people who had inspired those characters, it had been a lot longer since I had those relationships, so I think even more so I could bring a level of realism to it.
You had said before that ‘You wanted the audience to not be sure if they like the film or not, and to not be sure if they like Pete Davidson or not because you want them to be surprised’—what did you mean by that?
Well, I want everyone to be sure that they love the film when they see it—what that quote was referencing, I think a lot of people come into this movie or come to Pete with their own preconceived decisions. But people have never seen him act in something like this before. I think my favorite part of this movie is that people kind of go in with certain expectations and come out loving it and having those sort of expectations changed. They come out going I knew who Pete was and I knew he was on SNL, but I had no idea that he could do that. That’s what has been really exciting for me, that surprise element. Even with [Jon] Cryer, people have seen him on “Two and a Half Men” for a long time and in this he’s just a very different kind of dad. So going into this movie, knowing who these people are, you draw your own conclusions about who they are, but you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.
How did you end up deciding on Pete Davidson for the role of Zeke?
I had seen Pete do stand-up, I had seen him do some Comedy Central roasts and I had seen him on ‘SNL’— I knew he was funny, and I knew he was very real. There was just something about him, he’s kind of like an open wound when you see him on stage, he’s not doing a performance at all. It was kind of a leap in a lot of ways where I was like, no matter what happens I know this movie will be funny if Pete’s in it, and beyond that we’ll see. But when I saw him—he was Zeke. After I spent time with him, he really was someone who commanded the room and you really wanted to hang out with him. It was just such crazy, dumb luck that we started shooting and he was also just such a great actor and nailing these emotional scenes. I think the movie was written even more of a comedy than we ended up shooting because he was so excited to flex that more dramatic muscle and there would be some broad jokes where once I was doing them with Pete, it wouldn’t even feel right to do the joke in this moment, so we would play it smaller and more natural. He completely changed my idea of this movie too. Pete and I had very different backgrounds—I came from the suburbs of Detroit, and I think I was picturing like Ferris Bueller when I wrote Zeke. Pete got the script and pictured his Zeke or who that person was for him, which were these Staten Island guys that he had a relationship with, and when we started talking about the script and talking about the character, we decided that he could play it the way that felt most natural for him, and we don’t have to change anything about the story. He would show me pictures and say I want to wear this watch, these shoes, and I think the apartment should have this poster—he brought the character to life in a completely different way beyond what I would have done. I think that’s what makes it feel so natural and what makes him feel so perfect for the part.
Switching gears a bit, can you tell me a little bit more about your style of filming? It was very interesting for this film.
Since it was my first movie, a lot of it was discovering what my style was while shooting. I didn’t really come into with ok, this is my style, it was more just what feels right. I think the most important thing was authenticity and giving the movie a really natural feel. I think comedy always works best when the world feels very real. You can have kind of bigger, broader characters if the world that they live in feels natural and authentic. That was really what I was doing with the camera, and the editing—just to not be quirky and not have the camera be dancing too much and just really have shots that felt composed in a way that really wasn’t trying to get in the way of the story at all. Also, there were certain things that we did in order to make Zeke and his apartment feel fun and energetic. Early in the film, we did it handheld and did it in a way that felt warmer, then later in the film when Mo is changing how he sees Zeke, we’re shooting it bigger and wider and letting Zeke seem smaller and kind of showing the dirty edges of the world. I can attest a lot of that to my cinematographer, Andrew—everyone said if you’re a first time director, you really need a good DP, and he really was and helped with the whole process and designing the look for the movie. We really wanted the movie to feel like John Hughes with a layer of weed smoke in front of it. I also just figured out what I began to like in the editing room, with jokes and cutting right on the look—things along those lines.
The other thing was just making it feel timeless—not having word bubbles when they’re texting, not having them constantly look at their phones or not having the plot ride heavily on social media because I’m not trying to tell a story about what it’s like to be a teenager in 2020, I’m trying to tell a story about what it’s like to be a teenager and have people of all ages hopefully be able to see their own story in it.
‘Big Time Adolescence’ is available to stream now on Hulu.