Yan England’s 1:54 follows Tim, a rising high school athlete who faces relentless peer pressure in the wake of his success. The well-acted film is a stark look at teen identity, bullying, and the stresses of competition. See twitter.com/yanengland.
What inspired you to write and direct the film?
I’ve always been very much involved in TV series and film as an actor playing a lot of roles as teenagers and young adults, and I’ve always had a very close relationship to the youth as a swim coach for kids between the ages of six and 18. I’ve always been close to that world, I’ve always known that world, and kids and students all the time tell me or write me about what they’re going through in school. They put their trust in me, they confided in me, and I’ve tried to help some of them to do different things in high school. I’ve always known that world, and there’s also that sports world that I know a lot.
As the lead character Tim, I know the running world, I know the competition, I competed statewide and also nationally. … I knew I wanted to write it, it’s all very real, and the whole story, it’s not autobiographical, nor is it a story about any one student in particular. It’s a mix of a lot of things that I know.
What light do you hope your film sheds on the dangers of bullying and peer pressure or high school life in general?
The film has had a really good response from audiences of all ages, students, teachers, parents, grandparents, and that’s a good thing. I wanted to talk about the story of this young 16 year old teenager who has gone through some bullying and he’s had enough, but it’s not just a film about bullying. He wants to move on, he wants to make his place in his school, and become somebody. … I didn’t want to have any moral, it’s not a documentary, it’s a live fiction.
What I’ve been getting from students, from everybody, and adults and teachers, is that high school is a micro society in itself. What I mean by that the parents don’t have access to that society. It’s always been like that. They discovered a world they didn’t know existed, or that they suspected but hadn’t seen. And it’s opening up the dialogue between students amongst themselves and with their parents, and opening a dialogue between parents and the school system, and amongst teachers and between teachers and students.
To me, the biggest problem with bullying is the silence that comes with it. When you’re a victim of bullying, you can’t talk about it. I’ve had a lot of people suffering through being bullied that have written to me, and adults as well, saying, this is what I’m going through now, or what I’ve gone through in high school, and even emails and messages from bulliers themselves saying, ‘Hey, I never thought I was a bullier, and I’ve realized I think I was a bullier.’ … It’s opening up a dialogue and making people think about it and it’s sort of raising awareness of something that is sometimes not spoken in schools.
What was it like working with teenagers making a movie about high school? How did the script resonate with them?
The most important thing of the film was to be super authentic. That was the main goal of the film. We shot the entire film in a real high school during school hours, the scenes that are at the cafeteria were really shot over lunch break with almost 1,300 students eating lunch and doing their own thing, and all the bus scenes were real. We had only a short amount of time, 15 minutes, to shoot the scene. The reactions were real, super authentic – the students didn’t know what would happen. …
They really became part of that high school, and interestingly enough, the character of Jeff started to become one of the coolest guys in the school, right away. I didn’t tell the students anything about the story, they saw these people just doing their thing, and because Jeff was the bully and making fun of some other people, then the cool people started to accept him. And on other side, the character Tim, he started getting certain objects thrown at him, because he wasn’t reacting or saying anything so people started to push him a little bit just as a joke.
What aspect of the film are you most proud of?
The authenticity of it, that’s really what I was hoping for. … Those Internet comments to Tim in the film, I didn’t write them. I changed some names, but all of those comments are real, and they exist online. It was a real conversation, and sadly, yes, it exists. The actors are great, they are 100% committed to film, and that really made me proud of these guys to be super, 100% there. They said, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’ and we made the film happen.