Ovation? What’s that? If you’re not familiar with the cable network, you will want to look into it this coming Thursday when the show Millennials: Growing Up in the 21st Century premieres. Millennials is a six-part documentary from filmmaker Rick Stevenson. According to a Press release from Ovation TV, “Millennials is an emotionally raw look into the lives of a diverse group of 22 children as they transition from the innocence of childhood through the turbulence of adolescence and emerge as young adults. Through yearly candid interviews over the course of 15 years, Millennials echoes in real life what the award-winning film Boyhood has done in fiction.”
Millennials is a product of The School of Life Project, which is dedicated to helping children embrace their identities. Founded in 2001 by Dr. Rick Stevenson (D.Phil Oxon), the project enables self-discovery by asking age-appropriate key-life questions on an annual basis, creating a priceless visual time-capsule of kids growing up.
Rick Stevenson has produced, written or directed twelve feature films and nearly 100 hours of television. He has worked with Robert Redford, Hugh Grant, Christopher Plummer, Kiefer Sutherland, Meg Ryan, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Harmon and many others. He is also the director of thefilmschool’s PRODIGY CAMP for the 20 most-talented young filmmakers in the world.
I had the privilege of pre-screening the first three episodes, and it is definitely well worth watching. I should have my review posted here on Screenfish this Thursday. Below is an email interview with Greg Wright, who was my mentor at Hollywood Jesus for years. Greg has had a part in the project as the chief technologist for several years now.
GW: My pleasure, Mark.
MS: The credits for the show list you as part of the Bloom Team. Can you explain a bit about what the Bloom Team is, and how you have been involved in contributing to the episodes?
GW: Bloom is the technology that we have developed for capturing stories like those told in Millennials. Footage for the Ovation series was filmed in one-on-one sessions with the director, Rick Stevenson—but we have also developed apps for the iPad which use the same approach in school and therapeutic settings. I started working with Rick in 2009 as his chief technologist in this effort. The Bloom Method is the third generation of our story-capture tools.
MS: Millennials follows the lives of 22 children as they make the transition to puberty and adulthood. How were the children chosen for the project, and are the 22 only a sampling of many more who were filmed each year?
GW: Good question. The initial group of children that Rick started working with included his nephews and neighbor kids. Rick’s father was an administrator with the Shoreline School District in Seattle, so when Rick saw how well his approach was working with his initial group, he brought the idea to Shoreline schools with support from the Shoreline Historical Museum. Most of the kids featured in the Millennials series are part of that ongoing Shoreline project. Overall, though, Rick is now working directly with close to 300 kids in eight different countries, the majority of which Rick has met in his travels as a filmmaker. And we have another 800 using the Bloom technology on six continents—not to mention the thousands of adults who have also used permutations of the Bloom Method.
MS: I’m sure many people out there are wary of “reality shows” on television, which tend to stage situations and exaggerate problems to make the episodes more dramatic. How does Millennials compare to such shows? Do the final edits reflect reality? Were there measures taken to assure the completed shows were as close to “the truth” as possible?
GW: Well, you can’t keep up an act for ten or twelve years. The big thing with the work that Rick does is that he really spends time with these kids, and in a way the day-to-day masks that the kids wear for others are the staged and exaggerated personae that they present to protect themselves and others. What you see on camera in Millennials are the true selves that kids rarely reveal. I’m sure that watching these films has been incredibly hard and painful for their families—just like my mom hearing the truth of my own struggles with bullying and pornography were literally unbelievable when she finally heard about them when I was in my thirties. But parents, in particular, are usually the last to know what’s going on. The young adults that agreed to have their stories told in Millennials are incredibly brave, and understand the value in encouraging others to be heard. We like to say that the Bloom Method helps kids “find themselves before they lose themselves.” These are struggles that need to be dealt with while they’re happening, rather than sublimated only to surface much later in dysfunctional adults. And honestly, what you see on Millennials is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the stories we hear are just gut-wrenching.
MS: ScreenFish makes no secret it is a website “committed in our belief in the importance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central truth in our lives.” As the former managing editor of Hollywood Jesus, you know what exploring “pop culture from a spiritual point of view” is about. As a follower of Christ, what do you think fellow believers should take away from Millennials? What are some things of spiritual importance we should be looking for as we watch the show?
GW: Judge not lest ye be judged. Seriously. Right now, the Church seems to be retreating into isolationist rhetoric because it’s scared about the societal impacts of gender-neutral bathrooms, the Internet, hook-up culture, and drugs. But guess what? The damage has already been done. Long ago. The pressures of our increasingly artificial and disconnected culture has wrought immeasurable damage on us, and on our kids. While we’re worrying about digging in or casting stones, the kids right next to us are dying on the vine—and what they need is an ear that listens and a heart that feels. And a lot of patience and prayer. Children do not mature overnight; and all we can say about anyone’s path toward God at any given point in time is very limited. The proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In the meantime, however, there’s a lot of pain and wandering. You can’t really prevent the “Prodigal Child” from self-destruction—but you can be the Prodigal Parent waiting with welcome and open arms when the wanderer returns home. You might also consider venturing out to the pigsty from time to time as a show of support. Ivory-tower Christians are not modeling the Jesus I know. He met people where they were, and loved them.
MS: Is there anything else you would like us to know about the show and The School of Life Project in general?
GW: Honestly, as I think about my work with the Project’s Bloom Method, I often lay awake at night and wonder, “How would my life be different if I’d had access to this when I was ten and being bullied, or twelve and first getting hooked on porn?” And I have to remind myself that you can’t really play the “What if?” game. My wife and I both led lives not a great deal unlike those featured in Millennials—which, as it turned out, God used as the means for us to be of great help to each other as adults. God redeemed it all, because He’s the one who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.” That’s the business he’s in.
So the obvious answer to my “What if?” is: I wouldn’t be married to Jenn, and we wouldn’t share the rich spiritual heritage that we have. But God’s power is also no excuse for us to turn a blind eye to the suffering that’s around us, or bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not there at all. I can say without hesitation that it’s better for a girl to stop cutting on herself today than five years from now, or for a boy to start developing healthy connections with real girls at sixteen rather than at thirty-six. And those are the paths of healing, restoration, and reconciliation that the Bloom Method are trying to open up. Kids need to know that they’re not weird, and that they’re not alone. And they need to know there’s a hope and a future. That’s what we hope is communicated through Millennials.