Ahead of Wednesday’s Los Angeles premiere, I sat down with director Alex Goyette and the cast of Awesomeness TV’s Expelled to discuss the making of the film, the actors’ transitions from their social media personas, and the current state of teen comedies.
Expelled is billed as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for this generation.” It follows Felix (Cameron Dallas), “a legendary prankster who gets expelled from his high school and, with the help of his friends, will stop at nothing to hide it from his parents.” The film nods to Ferris in several iconic ways – i.e. narrating and winking directly at the camera – as well as to several other classic teen films such as Election and Say Anything, making for a nostalgic high school story with fresh faces.
Members of the cast that were in attendance included online stars Cameron Dallas (6.1 million Vine followers), Marcus Johns (5.4 million Vine followers), Lia Marie Johnson (1.4 million YouTube subscribers), and Matt Shively (44.3K Twitter followers and cast member on Disney Channel’s Jessie). Alex Goyette, who on top of directing produced and penned an original script for the film, also has a large internet following– he is known as YouTube’s Joule Thief, boasting 120K subscribers.
In addition to booming social media followings, Goyette also shares another significant trait with many of his actors: this is his first feature film. He shot down any negative associations, though, saying “I think that there’s a lot of stigma around a first time director,” but knowing the story backwards and forwards, he is mostly confident and “excited to get it in the can and show the world.” In response, Shively “had to give him props,” as “he knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it,” all the while taking cues from his actors, and giving them room to improvise and develop their characters.
Making the transition from the smaller world of internet videos to the big screen with Goyette was a fun process for both Dallas and Johns, who play colluding brothers in the film. Dallas commented,”when we do the six-second Vines, or maybe five-minute YouTube videos, we direct it ourselves. We do everything. We’re the actor… and we produce it,” adding that “for Felix, [he] had to take the director’s vision and portray what he wanted.” Being surrounded by their peers on their first feature made the switch a lot simpler for both Dallas and Johns. Dallas feels “they’re coming from the same place as [him], so [they] kind of vibed off each other in that aspect” – a notion which Johns seconded.
With regard to main character Felix, Goyette said that his “particular role is tough to sell – someone as the coolest kid in school – unless they’ve been there… you’ve got to be able to buy it, and I totally buy Cameron in that role.” Dallas has a lot to live up to, especially as many moviegoers will naturally draw comparisons between him and Mathew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller, but Goyette is confident that Dallas and the rest of his young cast pull the nuances off smoothly.
This is a teen comedy, this is something where we’re trying to reach a demographic that know how to spot a phony. They know when somebody is trying to write that slang that they know nothing about. Cameron Dallas is a huge teen icon and I remember working with him was actually very simple because he is a lot like that character. He is that age group and he understands how to bring that suave demeanor to the screen.
Goyette went on to discuss exactly what “teen comedy” means for this generation and the generations of yore, citing John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) as the shining example.
I feel like teen comedy is this crazy genre where it’s tough for somebody to create a film that’s not all raunch and dick jokes, and John Hughes managed to do that. He made a prolific career out of it. I’m so impressed with the fact that he was able to make these films for teens that have style and integrity.”
Agreeing with Goyette, Shively added “it’s kind of a lost art form at this point, because nowadays the majority of teen comedies are dick jokes, and I think every plot is about when they’re going to have sex for the first time… and it’s not even done in a romantic way anymore.” The idea behind Expelled, therefore, will in part revert audiences back to those classic teen narratives.
After Expelled opens to limited engagements on December 12 and through Digital Download on December 16, Goyette, Dallas, and company have a lot to look forward to. Goyette is currently working on the treatment for his next screenplay, which will be another teen comedy. Dallas will soon be filming a movie with his good friend and Vine partner Nash Grier. Johnson, whose song “Moment Like You” is featured at the end of Expelled, will be working to put out her EP. Shively plans to continue his work on Jessie, while Johns will be writing his very own screenplay in 2015, in addition to his early New Year’s resolution to expand his YouTube channel.