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Social Animals
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Social Animals

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A daredevil photographer, an aspiring swimsuit model, and a midwest girl next door are all looking for the same things from their Instagram account – a little love, acceptance, and, of course, fame.  And they’ll do just about anything to get it.  With an observational eye, SOCIAL ANIMALS peeks into the digital and real worlds of today’s image-focused teenager, where followers, likes and comments mark success and self-worth. We chat with director Jonathan Ignatius about his experience in the process and the vision behind the film.

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What got you interested in how teens use, and react to, Instagram?

In our agency work we have helped a lot of brands like Nike market to a younger demographic through social media. We will  frequently look at reports about the behavioral patterns of teenagers but we wanted to see for ourselves, to get a more qualitative peek into the lives and motivations of teenagers. From a storytelling perspective, we were also interested in looking at how things might be different for this generation that has grown up with social media as part of their daily lives the way previous generations have grown up with television. We were asking “how does becoming a ‘channel’ change how you become an adult?”  

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How hard was it to create the film without adding in your own voice?

In most of the documentaries that I connect with the filmmaker’s point of view is more subtly present through the way the story is told rather than by being literally present in the film. So it was never a question for me as to whether I would play a significant on-screen role. I knew I wouldn’t. We “cheated” a few times when you can hear my voice for a few seconds behind the camera, but the teenagers themselves are the verbal storytellers of their experience, and I am happy to remain the invisible storyteller. 

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You work in branding and helping companies tell their stories in short snippets. Did you enjoy getting to tell stories in a longer-form?

I like the challenge of telling a complete story in a short amount of time that can still connect to its audience, and that’s certainly the challenge with conventional branded content. But yes, I was very excited to get the opportunity to render characters and themes on a much larger canvas. I studied screenwriting in my graduate work and that really shaped how I build stories and the character journeys. The same storytelling principles apply in documentary as well, particularly character-driven documentary which is what we were after. Finally having the space to more fully develop these arcs in a longer-form film was hugely satisfying as a storyteller. 

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What do you hope people take away from Social Animals?

My intension was to give people an emotional peek into what it is like to be a teenager now, in this new world that runs minute-by-minute on communication technology and image-making. Like most things in life, social media isn’t just good or bad. It’s both, often at the same time. Finding balance is the hardest part. Rather than trying to convince the viewer of a specific stance to take on the topic, this film exists to provoke reflection about the role of social media in our individual lives, and we hope that it can be especially useful in prompting conversations between parents and teenagers.

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Watch the trailer here >>

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