Feb 25, 2022

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Maura Collins

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Maura Collins, a 16-year-old junior at Middletown High School South, a passionate, award-winning filmmaker working toward her big dream of becoming a chief/creative director of Walt Disney Studios. Filmmaking taught Maura how to tell stories, beginning with her own, and in so doing she found not only her voice, but conviction and self-acceptance. Maura’s films will be screening at the Garden State Film Festival this month. Until then, here is Maura’s story.

My seventh grade language arts teacher required all her classes to participate in the Genius Fair. This consisted of small research projects that took up the space of a trifold in the school’s cafeteria, with room for a box of munchkins to entice people to walk past your work. That’s what most kids did. I, instead, decided to make a three-and-a-half-minute animation about how I cope with anxiety. I had never made a film before, never mind an animation. However, for some reason, I had a serious inclination to do it.

After spending two months consumed in drawing digitally, I finally finished and premiered my film to my family. Most of what I spoke about in my animation I had never said out loud before. I felt like I was sharing a raw piece of me that I never wanted to recognize, and now the whole world could see it. After I turned it in to my teacher, my mother posted it publicly on Facebook. It ended up getting more than 36,000 views from people all over the world. It was shown in middle schools, high schools, and college professors asked to use it for their lessons. People reached out from Great Britain, Australia and more just to tell me how inspiring and brave I am. I never thought I was brave before. At the socially awkward age of 12, I had people I didn’t even know telling me that I changed their lives. It was then that I fully recognized my passion for film. (“I Want Them To Know” can be seen at youtu.be/-2szlFs9Z7E)

As I continued my studies in high school, I always felt out of the loop until I stepped into the film room. As a nervous freshman, I felt familiarity in the program, despite not knowing much about it. I continued to make films, and in March 2020 my short comedy film “Stressed Out” was accepted into its first film festival. In my sophomore Film II class, I connected with other passionate filmmakers and made some of my best work. By that June, I attended my first in-person film festival. I was interviewed, participated in a Q&A, and accepted awards for two of my films. My friend in the class convinced me to continue with the Independent Film Studies class for the remainder of high school, and my confidence skyrocketed.

However, going into junior year wasn’t as uplifting. The summer prior, I became trapped in an unhealthy mental state, and I questioned everything about myself. The first few weeks of school, I struggled with crippling anxiety and looked back on my seventh grade self in search of advice. Where did that girl go? I wasn’t brave anymore. I found myself crumbling in my own thoughts, and I didn’t know how to begin to escape them. Everything felt strangely foreign. Nothing felt right or comfortable anymore. Then I stepped into the film room.

It was our first class since summer vacation, and we did a short debrief on what we had achieved over the summer. My severe nausea and panic subsided for the first time during school that week, and I finally felt like I could breathe again. As I soaked in the moment of normality, two plaques from the Golden Lion Awards High School Film Festival thudded on my desk. My film teacher, Mr. Corey, congratulated me, and I held back my tears. For the first time in months, I finally felt a sense of who I was again.

Having passion in film is an interesting concept because like with most arts, you have to be crazy in every sense of the word to pursue it. Making films can be stressful, but provides me with a communication outlet that cannot be replicated. It explains ideas and situations in ways that words can’t. It serves as an escape from reality, but at the same time, it propels me back to my personal reality. When I was at my lowest, film salvaged what was left of me.

There are many points in every artist’s career where they question whether they have what it takes, and the answers are never simple. It takes a special type of determination to persist in any artistic industry, especially when you just start out. I got a lot of backhanded support when my so-called “hobby” became my future. I received pitiful “Wow, I wish you the best of luck” statements, as if I had caught an illness. I’ve learned that many people simply don’t get it, but that goes with anything.

Film connects me to the seventh grade girl that bravely spoke about the darkest parts of her in an animation. That girl wasn’t afraid of who she was and wasn’t concerned with what people thought of her. She did everything for herself, nobody else. I do this for her. The past year for me has been one of the most transformative, yet challenging years of my life, and I don’t regret one moment of it. I have shown my films more than 20 times at various film festivals and won many awards. Through my hardships and my success, I learned that there are times in life that will make you question everything, but the best you can do is to keep going. So, keep going. Find what grounds you. Find what drives you insane in the best way possible – and to quote the animation that started it all, “You will find your peace.”