Neil Trif­fett’s new mu­si­cal takes aim at emo sub­cul­ture

Tas­ma­nian film­maker Neil Trif­fett lam­poons the black eye­liner and melan­choly mu­sic of emo sub­cul­ture in his new satir­i­cal mu­si­cal

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS TIM MAR­TAIN POR­TRAIT SAM ROSEWARNE

If you’re like most peo­ple, you have prob­a­bly never said to your­self, “I re­ally wish there was a mu­si­cal about emos”. But Neil Trif­fett made one any­way, and its Tas­ma­nian pre­miere screen­ing is this week. The Tas­ma­nian film­maker, 29, ad­mits the con­cept for his fea­ture film de­but is a lit­tle out-there but says his twisted high-school mu­si­cal has a lot to say about ac­cep­tance, both of your­self and oth­ers.

“The film has eight char­ac­ters who all have vary­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of re­al­is­ing they are not the same as the other peo­ple around them,” Trif­fett says. “Ob­vi­ously young peo­ple deal with that in school all the time, but even as adults we do that daily. We re­alise we can’t live up to the ideals of what peo­ple want us to be, and that’s fine.”

Emo is short for “emo­tional hard­core”, the genre of mu­sic that formed the ba­sis for the sub­cul­ture back in the 1980s, and which was at its main­stream peak dur­ing the first decade of this cen­tury. The clas­sic image of the emo is the teenager with dyed dark hair cov­er­ing half their face, eyes rimmed with black eye­liner, lis­ten­ing to an­gry, angsty emo­core mu­sic and wear­ing de­pres­sion like a fash­ion item.

While the re­al­ity might not have been quite as grim or cliched, it was this pop­u­lar image that led to much neg­a­tive press for emo sub­cul­ture a decade ago, with par­ents wor­ried about the so-called sui­cide cul­ture of the emo scene.

EMO: The Mu­si­cal, an in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion shot on a modest bud­get, was adapted from a 16-minute short film of the same name that Trif­fett wrote and di­rected in 2013. It is based on a teenage emo who falls in love with a strait­laced Chris­tian girl at school and ac­ci­den­tally starts a war of sub­cul­tures on cam­pus.

This stylised Romeo and Juliet story has been ex­panded to cre­ate the fea­ture-length film, which has been tour­ing Aus­tralia and will screen in Ho­bart this week.

The story cen­tres on emo Ethan (Ben­son Jack An­thony), who has just been ex­pelled from a pri­vate school af­ter at­tempt­ing sui­cide in the court­yard. On his first day at his new school – the di­lap­i­dated Sey­mour High – he meets Trin­ity (Jor­dan Hare), a naive but cute Chris­tian girl who is des­per­ate to con­vert him to Je­sus. But rather than join­ing the Chris­tian evan­ge­lists’ Hope Group, Ethan wants to join the school al­ter­na­tive rock band, Worst Day Ever, and be part of the emo clique led by the enig­matic and dan­ger­ous Bradley (Ra­hart Adams). Af­ter a suc­cess­ful au­di­tion Ethan is wel­comed into the emo world and em­braces his image – com­plete with black eye­liner and a pos­ses­sive new girl­friend, Roz. But Ethan can’t stop think­ing


about Trin­ity, who is stuck in a re­stric­tive world of dogma and de­nial, and they se­cretly fall in love.

While Trif­fett says the film is “ab­so­lutely not au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal”, the themes of alien­ation and search­ing for ac­cep­tance at school are cer­tainly drawn from his own ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter grow­ing up at Port Arthur on the Tas­man Penin­sula, Trif­fett had to leave his small ru­ral school and en­rol at the much big­ger Rosny Col­lege to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion. He says there was a def­i­nite cul­ture shock that came with the move. How­ever, while his first year of col­lege in 2005 came at the height of emo cul­ture, he says he was never an emo.

“Nah, I was never a mem­ber of that group, but there were lots of them at Rosny, and I was kind of drawn to them,” he says. “I was jeal­ous of them in a way, even though we used to kind of make fun of them for try­ing to be non­con­formist while all dress­ing ex­actly the same. I saw them as re­ally ballsy, will­ing to dress up in all black and say ‘screw you’ to so­ci­ety, and they kind of pioneered this idea that you didn’t have to be happy all the time.

“I think that is a mes­sage that so­ci­ety is only just be­gin­ning to un­der­stand, but at the time they made peo­ple very un­com­fort­able. There were al­ways sto­ries in the news about the dan­gers of emo cul­ture – they were the rock stars of the pe­riod.”

Trif­fett stud­ied mu­sic and drama at Rosny Col­lege but says he never re­ally ex­celled at ei­ther. “I didn’t fin­ish mu­sic at col­lege,” he laughs. “I learnt to play pi­ano since the age of six, but I wasn’t tech­ni­cally trained. The teacher at Rosny was shocked by my in­abil­ity to play. My sightread­ing was per­fect, but my tech­ni­cal skills were ter­ri­ble. I was just a ter­ri­ble fit for the de­part­ment. In my se­cond year I just let it go.

“I also wanted to be an ac­tor and wanted to learn to do that, but that didn’t work out too well, ei­ther. I thought I was quite good. I was in a school pro­duc­tion of Romeo and Juliet – I played Romeo and Bon­nie Sveen was Juliet. She went on to NIDA and won a Lo­gie and, well, I ap­plied for NIDA and didn’t get in.”

Trif­fett shifted his fo­cus to film, ap­ply­ing to arts col­leges around the coun­try. He was ac­cepted into the pres­ti­gious Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts. “I doubt I’d have ap­plied for VCA if I’d known how pres­ti­gious it was,” he says. “But I did an in­ter­view and they ac­cepted me. I was re­ally blase at the in­ter­view and that’s prob­a­bly why they liked me, be­cause I ap­peared to be coolly tak­ing it all in my stride.”

He stud­ied the VCA’s film and tele­vi­sion un­der­grad­u­ate course, with a fo­cus on writ­ing and di­rect­ing as well as pro­duc­ing.

EMO: The Mu­si­cal was the first short film Trif­fett made af­ter grad­u­at­ing. It did well on the film fes­ti­val cir­cuit, be­ing awarded a spe­cial men­tion at the 2014 Ber­li­nale (the Berlin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val), as well as Best Com­edy, Best Score and the Craft Award at The St Kilda Film Fes­ti­val.

Trif­fett knew EMO was ripe for a fea­ture-length treat­ment, partly be­cause the sub­cul­ture it­self has largely faded. “One day it oc­curred to me that now ev­ery­one who was an emo in high school has had to grow up to work in an of­fice or some other re­spectable job,” he says. “I’d see them walk­ing through the Ho­bart bus mall ev­ery so of­ten, the hair grad­u­ally be­com­ing less dyed over the years, clothes be­com­ing more main­stream, and even­tu­ally they were all wear­ing suits. I thought, ‘Man, they must be dy­ing in­side’.”

Trif­fett was also de­ter­mined to keep the film as a mu­si­cal, build­ing on the short songs and mak­ing ev­ery­thing sound more emo, with songs such as Rain on Me, Stupid Band and We’re All Gonna Die.

In­spi­ra­tion for the songs stemmed from Trif­fett’s own mu­si­cal dab­bling as a teenager. “I started writ­ing an­gry songs about how I couldn’t play mu­sic very well. They slowly mor­phed into fun­nier songs and I re­alised that one way I could ac­tu­ally per­form was to do it in a funny way,” he says. “And then a few years later Tim Minchin be­came re­ally fa­mous and pop­u­lar, and that style be­came a cool, ac­cepted thing and I knew there was some­thing in it.”

The film has been tour­ing Aus­tralian the­atres since the be­gin­ning of May and is earn­ing praise ev­ery­where it screens.

While the emos of the story are pit­ted against the stereo­typ­i­cally dog­matic Chris­tian stu­dents, Trif­fett says he con­sciously avoided mak­ing sim­ple tar­gets of the re­li­gious kids

“Peo­ple do change in this film but not to the point of giv­ing up their own val­ues. “I’m not try­ing to make fun of Chris­tians with this. It would miss the point of what I’m try­ing to say. If this movie had been made in Amer­ica, it would be set in a Chris­tian school, but in Aus­tralia th­ese kids know they’re a mi­nor­ity, not the moral ma­jor­ity, so there’s a dif­fer­ent dy­namic,” he says.

Hav­ing done some live theatre, a few TV com­mer­cials, and an in­tern­ship in the US work­ing with the pro­duc­ers of The Lego

Movie, Trif­fett is now based in Mel­bourne and is mak­ing a liv­ing from writ­ing and pro­duc­ing his own films. It is a lux­ury few film­mak­ers get to en­joy and he is well aware of how lucky he is.

“I made sure I got a salary from pro­duc­ing EMO. It wasn’t much, but it’s enough for me to live on while I spend my days screen­writ­ing and de­vel­op­ing new projects,” he says.

Trif­fett is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing two hor­ror films – one for kids and one for adults. “They’re a bit un­usual, they’re all to do with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween kids and adults and how we use mon­sters in sto­ries to hurt and con­trol each other, how mon­sters are cre­ated in the me­dia for po­lit­i­cal ends and so forth,” he says. “I’d like to do an­other mu­si­cal, too. Maybe Hip­ster: The

Mu­si­cal, but maybe that would be too dif­fi­cult. The sound­track would have to be folk mu­sic or some­thing.” ●

EMO: The Mu­si­cal is screen­ing at the State Cin­ema on Thurs­day, fea­tur­ing a Q&A with Neil Trif­fett, and again on Sun­day, July 2. For more in­for­ma­tion or to watch the trailer, visit emoth­e­mu­si­cal. com or search for EMO: The Mu­si­cal on Face­book

Clock­wise from op­po­site page, Tas­ma­nian film­maker Neil Trif­fett stud­ied at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts be­fore cre­at­ing his first fea­ture, EMO: The Mu­si­cal, which has its Tas­ma­nian pre­miere this week; lead ac­tor Ben­son Jack An­thony (right)...

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