Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.
As my webseries “To The Max” nears the end of production (one last shoot day on Saturday!), I thought it might be fun to take a detour down memory lane for this column. And by that, I mean I went back in my Google Docs and my messages with my best friend to when I started conceptualizing the webseries.
Here was how the first Google Doc started:
“Teens tryna accomplish their dreams + save a woke radio station in their teeny tiny town.”
(I’m a great writer. Hire me.)
In my messages to my friend, I had barely thought about producing it-- I was caught up in writing and planning. So young. So naive. (This was over a year ago, I’m allowed to say that.)
can u read smth for me?
it’s for the thing I sent u the description for
I think it’s a webseries/TV show maybe?”
As I was looking back at these relics, I started wondering about my brainstorming process. It was musical theatre season when I first came up with it, and I do not remember anything from the March to May except for “A wop baba loo bop? A wop bam boo!”
So I combed through everything I could find from the conceptualization of To The Max (which is not much because I’m pretty sure I dreamed one of the characters and it started from there) and looked at all my recent notes as I look to the future and jot down ideas.
If you’re struggling to brainstorm-- if you need a new take on something-- if you want to write something that matters to you-- look no further than this teenage girl telling you what to do!
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
(I implore you to click on that link just for the font changes.)
Newsies aside, I know it’s a cliched thing to say, but it’s true. You tell your own stories best. For example, I’m writing about teenagers and social justice because a) I am a teenager and b) one of my hardly used nicknames in elementary school was “ky-dot-social-justice”. (There’s a story there.)
Make a list of what you know best. Since I’m digging in this article, I went back in my notes to October and found my list from then, which includes “teen angst”, “gender roles”, “ambition”, “mental health”, and “social hierarchies”. To The Max was created prior to this list, but deals with all of these topics to some extent (though one is very very minor).
RESEARCH WHAT YOU DON’T
Okay, cool, so you want to write a webseries set in the 1980s even though you definitely weren’t alive then and you don’t have cash to drop on authentic vintage clothing and hair/makeup is hell. Cool. Do that.
Just make sure you do your research first. If you’re writing about something you don’t know, you can’t just make things up. You can’t do a research paper on fast fashion if you think fast fashion involves drive-thrus to buy clothes. That’s not how things work.
When I wrote “teens tryna accomplish their dreams + save a woke radio station in their teeny tiny town”, do you think I thought it would end up as a teen drama that plays with all the hallmarks of the genre but still makes a point to emphasize mental health and the LGBTQ community far better than most popular teen TV shows do these days?
As much as I want to say that was my plan all along, it’s not. The point is is that you can’t just say “this is the idea and it’s set in stone”. You have to foster it and let it grow. I’m not saying to completely ditch the first thing you write, but let it bloom.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU LOVE
It’s time to get personal here.
I have a deeply tragic confession to share in the hopes that it may guide and enlighten you all.
The confession is:
I like Degrassi.
As a Canadian, I am legally obligated to watch it, and I enjoy it both ironically and unironically. It’s the cornerstone of cheesy plotlines and having a “teen issue of the week”-- but it’s also very engaging and handles a lot of topics very maturely unlike SOME SHOWS. I don’t think I consciously modelled To The Max after Degrassi, but I think the show did heavily influence it.
However, this is a good tip to consider consciously rather than consuming media and waiting for it to be reflected somehow in your writing. Look at what you love-- why do you love it? What appeals to you?
MAKE SURE IT’S MEANINGFUL TO YOU
You shouldn’t write something that’s meaningless. If you can’t throw your entire soul into it, if it doesn’t make your heart sing at the possibility of producing it, if it isn’t something you’re proud of and a story you want to tell-- don’t do it.
“But Kyla,” I assume you’re saying, because I’m egocentric and I need you to pretend you at least are wondering this so I can make a point, “how the hell is melodramatic 1980s teenage angst meaningful to you?”
And to that I say-- because it’s a guise. I can write about all the things I want to write about under the layers of a cliched teen drama. I get to build a world that is hopefully satisfying from a storytelling perspective, but is also satisfying from mine. I’ve written scenes that are painfully cathartic, scenes that discuss the ambition and need for control that I’ve often talked about on here, scenes that skew immensely personal-- and it’s all through the lens of a cheesy narrative about teens trying to reach their dreams.
It’s meaningful to me because as unrealistic as the entire show is, there’s realism in the layers and in the characters. I get to write fun drama and arguments while discussing issues that myself or my friends have faced. I can capitalize on the cliched and ridiculous nature of the series-- a major plot is literally just this one teenager making a series of worse and worse decisions that definitely did not need to happen and is only happening because she’s extra-- while still exploring what I want to explore.
My wonderful actors after being told to give me their best ‘Riverdale teen angst’ faces.
(From left to right: Eden Griffin as Jackie, Ben Faulknor as Benjamin, Hannah Licop as Julie, and Stephanie Penner as Taylor.)