How far can a teenager take his desire to find fame and popularity among his peers? What role can access to the Internet play in this situation? These and other questions are asked by the viewer after watching Swedish director Jonatan Etzler’s film, Get Ready with Me, which was presented this year at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Jonatan also received a Student Academy Award in Gold for it in 2018. Vendela is a typical teenager who wants to be special and popular, but so far she hasn't done too well with either one. In addition, she wears braces and is not the cutest girl in her class at all. The easiest way to change the situation, she decides, is to make provocative videos and post them on YouTube. And what could be more provocative than mocking teachers? Who cares about the results, right?
How to talk about suicide with children? I realized that it’s something they do want to talk about.
The film shows that there are very fragile borders between online and offline life. Do they still exist or not? Do we actually realize where real ends and virtual begins?
I think you start at a good point. It’s a very thin line, especially if you grow up today. Me and my generation, we didn’t have social media when we grew up, but this new generation – oh, it means so much more for them, it’s part of their daily life.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how it turns out, how these young people will function as adults later.
However, it’s definitely a fact that borders are getting more confined, it’s shrinking our world.
How did you come up with the story in the film?
I was working at a school and teaching 13-year-old children. Working there for days, making films with them. They were supposed to make films, and then there was one group of kids who made a film about suicide. It was really disturbing. They presented it to the entire class. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, I hadn’t had any training for it.
Any idea, what to do…
Exactly. How to talk about suicide with children? Anyway, I realized that it’s something they do want to talk about. So I think that’s why I made the film.
From that moment, we began to develop the story with screenwriters; they came up with the idea about YouTube.
So you basically were in the position of that teacher in your film, but in real life. Did you feel the same as your hero does?
Yes, but the situation didn’t develop as it does in the film. There was another teacher also, he handled it somehow, I just went home, but it was an idea that inspired me.
Sometimes when you work with kids it happens that you kinda regress to the earlier stage of yourself.
You know, it seems that the teacher in the film, his character is not as strong as his student’s. He was even a little childish in some ways.
Yes, and that was particularly interesting, because I recognized myself in it also. When you work with kids it happens that you get confronted by them, and you kinda regress to the earlier stage of yourself, then you become thirteen years old again.
So you end up like them: “Oh, and what about you?” I mean, you start to behave childishly. I wanted to explore that in the character of the teacher.
I remember a situation, when I was going to talk with some kids at school about films. And they took the iPads I prepared for them and put an alarm on every minute, and changed the passwords, so I couldn’t turn it off.
And I was supposed to talk, but it was like just “bzzz” going on every minute. Disturbing, huh? But you have to stay an adult person. Well, I mean, kids are pretty unpredictable anyway, but it’s important to show all the sides.
Did you explore the situation in Sweden, how does it look there with teenager suicides in reality? Is there some connection with virtual reality and social media?
It happens much more often now, also because of social media. It is a good thing that we are talking a lot more about it, how we feel about it, because we didn’t do that fifty years ago. I think there’s a lot of pressure on children today, also with social media and everything around it. So that really affects them more and more. It’s definitely become a problem for the mental health of young people in Sweden.
“Much larger change in our lives than we can imagine.“
But what do you think, is there any solution to this problem? The older generation still remembers how to be popular without getting likes on Facebook or Instagram, but the millennials, they often just do not know how to exist without iPads or iPhones.
Well, I don’t think that we are able to get out of this circle. I think it will continue, and we just have to update our understanding. As long as our generation really understands what it means, I think it’s really important to integrate it in our education in schools, I mean how to deal with social media. I think it’s a much larger change in our lives than we can imagine.
How do you explain to children that they still have a chance to be valuable in this world without thousands of followers in their accounts?
Maybe we also have to change our own behavior then. Not to behave as though the smartphone were the most important thing in the world, because we are addicted as much as they are.
I think it’s complicated. I don’t think that social media are bad either, I just want people to be aware of the consequences.
There’s also a family topic in the film. The moment when the teacher comes to visit Vendela and sees her dad playing video games, and her mom, who doesn’t even know that her girl is suffering from something. Did you also want to show this side, the “family-social media” relationship?
The family – well, all the characters were a bit exaggerated, but I wanted to present them as stuck behind their screens and not seeing their child at all. I mean dad playing games, mum watching TV – she doesn’t really understand her kid. I wanted to explore this kind of relationship.
By the way, mom, she suddenly becomes very angry with her child, so she has problems of her own in some way, stress-related things and so on. Afterwards she maybe just goes and buys something for her as a sort of apology. I just wanted to create an image of materialistic behavior, giving stuff to the children instead of trying to understand them.
“Once my charger didn’t work, and I spent just one whole day reading and writing. That was the most creative day I’ve ever had.”
What about you and social media?
I use them, too, and I use them too much. So well I actually think about restricting them now, because on the iPhone, you know, you have these notifications, like how much do you use it. And so it is two or three hours for me every day. And when you think about it – well, it’s three hours every day!
There was once a moment when my charger didn’t work, and I spent just one whole day reading and writing. That was the most creative day I’ve ever had. So I really think I will have to do something about it. I think I’m very much into social media.
Do you practice offline days after an experience like that?
No, because I get nervous that someone could want to reach me. These social media play with our emotions. But – we can’t go into a cave, we can’t just hide from the world around, we need to be a part of it at least as filmmakers. Even friendship needs social connection, so I think we just need to accept it and to think about it a little more.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1988, he graduated in Film Directing from Stockholm’s Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2018. Before that, he completed Cinema Studies at the University of Stockholm and Stockholm Film School from 2006-2008. Jonatan has directed several shorts that have won awards at major festivals around the world, and been shown on TV and in the cinemas. His previous short film, Intercourse, was chosen as a Staff Pick Premiere on Vimeo.com. He also took part in Berlinale Talents in 2015, Fårö Talents in 2014 and has worked as a film teacher, producer, editor and cinematographer as well as a production sound technician.
Åka utför (2014), Jag följer dig (2015), Önskedrömmar (2016), De andra barnen (2017), Intercourse (2018), Get Ready With Me (2019).
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