High school, the years that some of us want to re-live and others want to forget. But what if you could look back at a documented account of your senior year of high school? For five people (Hannah Bailey, Colin Clemens, Megan Krizmanich, Mitch Reinholt, and Jake Tusing) who graduated from Warsaw Community High School in 2006 that is in fact a possibility. American Teen came out ten years ago and gives us an intimate look at teenagers navigating the ups and downs of high school as this chapter of life comes to a close. It’s a very rare thing for me to watch most documentaries more than once, but every few years I get drawn back to this film. Why is that? Today I’ll be looking back this documentary, giving my personal opinion, and seeing what’s currently going on in the lives of these people.
-Why it Speaks to Me?-
Fictional films set in high school are no new thing. In the 80’s studios began to realize that teenagers were a great source of income, but movies weren’t being made to specifically target this demographic. This ushered in the John Hughes era with films classics like: Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and of course the seminal coming of age film The Breakfast Club. When the 90’s rolled around the formula for this genre was perfected and the next wave began. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You, Can’t Hardly Wait, and She’s All That were what I (as a dumb kid) assumed high school would be like. Unfortunately I wasn’t living in a fun east/west coast suburb where the sun shined everyday. Nor was I an actor in my early/mid 20’s, but that’s another topic. As a documentary American Teen stripped away the fictional veneer and sparked some truth. Seeing Hannah deal with her anxiety and depression struck a raw nerve with me.
As I said before, many 90’s teen films were predominantly set on either coast of the U.S. Living in South Dakota it’s rare to see anything, let alone teen films set in this section of the country. With American Teen being filmed in Warsaw Indiana I instantly felt a connection. This isn’t a town just a few miles down the road from Los Angeles. It’s population and culture measured up to what I had experienced. I instinctively felt like this was an area identical to where I grew up. While the marketing of the film pigeonholed the five teenagers into specific high school stereotypes (Hannah “the rebel”, Colin “the jock”, Megan “the queen bee”, Mitch “the heartthrob”, and Jake “geek”) there’s more to them. Everyone has their own struggles and cliques, but it never seems like they’re far removed from each other. We feel that these five have probably been going to school together since kindergarten and possibly over time drifted into their respective social circles.
– What Makes it Relevant?-
There are certain things about being a teenager that have not and never will change. No matter what there will always be cliques, kids getting bullied, stressing over grades or ACT scores, and having to read The Great Gatsby. But as our technology changes, so do the scenarios. In 2006 we were on the cusp of a technological boom. Email was being embraced by schools as a way to disseminate information from teachers to students. Cellphones were cheap enough that giving your kids one wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity. I personally used MSN Instant Messenger (Is that still around?) as my main mode of communication with friends. The tools and understanding of how to build a website were becoming elective classes.
In the film, a girl sends her boyfriend a topless photo via text message. In the meantime Megan gets ahold of the photo and sends it to a few people. From there it filters out into the entire school via text/email and everyone has seen it. Megan proceeds to leave this girl a mocking voicemail. It’s fascinating albeit disheartening to see this wouldn’t be a random event. Less than a decade later we got to the point where the term cyber-bullying would be coined to discuss such terrible incidents. I too distinctly remember an event that transpired when I was in high school. A couple of girls had created a website used specifically to mock a fellow student. While the site was brought to the attention of the school they had no idea how to handle it. Nobody knew who made it or how to remove it. In the decade plus since schools now make sure to keep an eye out for such problems and try to effectively deal with them.
-Where are They Now?-
So here we are. This is most likely the reason you’ve read this far. Twelve years later and at the age of thirty where are these five people? With too much free time on my hands and the power of Google search we can shed a little light on their lives. NOTE: At the end of the documentary there is a coda stating where they went. I’ll try to skip that information and dig into more recent events.
Hannah stuck to being a jack of all trades artist. She acted to two short films Night Rituals (2009) and Pretty Girls (2013). Both Night Rituals and a sizzle reel for Pretty Girls are available to watch on Vimeo (See below). Since then she’s been living in Minnesota working steadily in photography. A link to her website will be provided.
After graduating from Notre Dame Megan went to work with management consulting firm The Huron Consulting Group. After spending three years as a consultant she transitioned over to recruiting coordinator. On December 31st 2017 Megan was married to Mark Figura.
After wrapping up his undergraduate Mitch attended and graduated from Indiana University School of Optometry. He moved back to Warsaw where he currently practices optometry. He is married with two kids.
-Colin Clemons & Jake Tusing-
Here’s where we get something a little special. In their own words I’ll let Colin and Jake get us caught up on what they’ve been up to.
First things first, what’s going on in your life nowadays?
Colin: I graduated from Manchester University with a marketing degree. Currently, I am a teacher/basketball coach at Sacred Heart Elementary School, which is where I went to elementary school. The boys basketball program had been a perennial loser since the school’s inception in 1958. I took over knowing the boys team have never previously won a championship. Total, there are ten elementary schools in our Indiana town. Since we’re a private school we’re roughly a quarter the size of everyone else putting us at a numbers disadvantage.
Three years ago I took over as head coach in a total rebuild. We were 2-7, but I laid the groundwork for success. The next year we went 7-3 having the (eventual) city champions on the ropes in the playoffs, when we were up 2 in the 3rd quarter. However, we ended up losing by 10. This year we finished the regular season 9-0 and had the #1 ranked defense in the last fifteen years! We then went 3-0 in the tournament to finish 12-0, winning our school’s first City Championship in the 60 year school history! Of course, since we’re in Indiana it’s the biggest deal ever!
Outside of that I run an adult Men’s basketball league featuring former college and high school players from the area. I’ve also been married five years and have two daughters; Chloe (3.5 years old) and Cora (10 months old).
Jake: Most recently I started working for Amazon in the Seattle area. I got married and my wife and I are expecting our first child in late September.
Looking back, are there any moments in the film that feel fake to you?
Colin: There are altered moments that are obvious to those of us from Warsaw. Conversations in cars start at one end of town, then the next second they’re on the other side of town, only to jump back to the other side of town. Some of my basketball moments were also taken out of context. I’ll just leave it at that!
The film crew couldn’t be at multiple places at once. Things happened that they missed. Naturally they had to use editing to recreate a few things. But from my experience that’s standard.
Jake: Nothing feels fake to me, but I do cringe throughout most of my screentime. I imagine now how the future will be, with more and more of our individual lives being documented and archived. Who knows, my kid might end up being able to watch each year of his schooling condensed into a mini series.
With 2016 being your ten year high school reunion did you meet up with any of your former schoolmates?
Colin: We had a class reunion that I helped plan. We got together over the summer at a local restaurant. I met up with Mitch and several other friends, but Mitch was the only cast member who attended.
Jake: I didn’t attend my ten year, but if I remember right it was held at a local restaurant. I don’t think the nearly 500 of us could fit in there anyways.
Can you discuss how you got picked to be in the film? Was there an audition process?
Colin: Interestingly enough my pathway to the movie was not what you’d expect. At the end of our junior year Nanette Burstein (the director) spoke to the whole school announcing she’d chosen our school and there would be an open casting call for the senior class.
I had other things on my mind at the time and didn’t plan on auditioning. At the very last minute on the final day of interviews I decided to go. I ran out of open gym to make it in time being interviewed by a bald headed gentleman. The interview concluded and I went on my way. I never heard anything back, so I figured they didn’t want me.
A couple months passed and I went to Mitch’s house for a senior get together. The film crew was there focusing on other people. However, my personality shined and I was the center of attention. Nanette approached me and asked, and I quote, “Who the Hell are you and where the Hell have you been?!” I told her I had interviewed, but never heard anything. She never saw my interview and asked who I had interviewed with. I told her it was some bald guy. She told that he had quit the day after casting calls, losing several interviews. She asked that night if I would like to be a feature character, and the rest is history. 250+ seniors auditioned and I ended up one of the five featured characters. That’s pretty cool.
Jake: At the end of junior year and announcement went out over the PA that Warsaw was being considered for a documentary. And if any of the upcoming seniors were interested we had to fill out a questionnaire. I did and took it to the open casting call. After sitting down in front of a camera to review my answers, the director took an interest in my personal goals for the upcoming year. Warsaw ended up being chosen out of around a dozen schools through the Midwest. There were more students followed through the year who didn’t end up having their stories in the film.
Has being in the documentary affected your life in any way?
Colin: Absolutely. It always helped me shine in job interviews because it made me stand out from others. Having companies like Paramount and the L.A. Dodgers on your resume sure helps! Also, it is widely known in the area and I’m called ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Superstar’, things like that. It’s funny because it’s more of a big deal in other countries moreso than the United States. Australia, Thailand, Europe, South America, etc. I guess it has become “that movie” high school and college classes study. I’ve had questions and met people from all over the world. Now my kids at the school where I teach have seen it and they like to make fun of me. So it’s been fun.
Jake: I think everything we experience shapes our lives in some way. In this case though, I think every girl I dated after high school was because of the film. They saw ’05/’06 Jake and wanted to see what I was like after.
If you could go back to 2006 and and talk to your younger self, what would you tell them?
Colin: I’d tell him to enjoy the little things. To take more time to have fun and like there’s not tomorrow. I’d tell him to let loose in front of the camera more. Even though I was still fun, I held back my personality out of fear of what others may think. (Clearly because I’m the only cast member not involved in any kind of bad activity LOL). I’d tell him to enjoy the lack of responsibility because being a grownup sucks a lot of the time. And I would tell him that having Elvis as a dad is pretty sweet, and to not be embarrassed about it!
Jake: I suppose I would let myself know that college isn’t the only thing to do after high school. I wasted a TON of money going that route. Also, worrying about what other people think is a ridiculous thing to do all the time. It’s difficult to ignore, that’s just part of people being people. But you can’t please everybody. It’s best to focus on the people you care about most.
-Last, but Not Least-
A decade later we look back on American Teen and ask, does it still hold up? Since a guy from middle of nowhere SD has written an article about it, I’d say yes. There’s not much these days that’ll paint the ups and downs (but mostly the mundane) of high school life in a truthful light. Where teens roam the halls of school, freak out over trivial details, find/lose love, and enjoy the last moments of a care free (pre-adult) life. To me there’s a tinge of nostalgia when watching it. I look back on my own high school era with some objectivity. All those moments I could re-live (either for the sheer enjoyment or to fix them) not knowing what would lay ahead. Wow, this article is getting a little gloomy. Gotta fix that. At least 30 year old me can grow a beard that 18 year old me could only achieve in his dreams.
These are my thoughts… actually they’re also Colin and Jake’s, but as usual what are yours? Have you seen American Teen? If not it’s streaming on Hulu, so watch it! Do you have any high school moments you’re happy never were committed to film? Let me know. Before I close this out I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Colin and Jake. Thanks to them this article became more than I could’ve hoped on it’s own. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. As always, thanks for reading.