Afterschool (2008): Antonio Campos’ Probe of a Community

Cannes Film Fest 2008 (Certain Regard)–In Afterschool, the protagonist is Robert, a young American student at an elite East coast preparatory school who accidentally captures on camera the tragic death of two classmates.

Their lives become memorialized as part of an audio-visual assignment designed to speed up the campus-wide healing process. But the video memorial assignment creates an atmosphere of paranoia and unease among students and teachers.

With AFTERSCHOOL I wanted to examine a community that has become accustomed over time to an almost abnormally sheltered and safe existence, but now has to confront the sudden impact of a violent death on its own grounds.

The central character of Robert, a boy consumed by the angst and self-obsession of adolescence, embodies the feelings of safety and isolation that are compromised by the occurrence of this tragedy. My hope is that the viewer will go into AFTERSCHOOL with an open mind and leave with a series of questions about this world and about this boy.

If anyone happens to arrive at any concrete answers, please let me know; I am still looking for those answers myself AFTERSCHOOL began simply as the story of a boy mired in the angst and self-obsession of adolescence who witnesses a death in the privileged, safe environment of his boarding school. As I was living in Paris, agonizing over who this boy really was and what he wanted from life, I decided to place more of myself in him. My ideas tend to come from my own insecurities, fears and anger the things I try to hide in my day-to-day interactions, but with which for some reason I feel comfortable enough to share the world in the form of a film. I wrote Robert so that he had all these things inside hi; but it was only when I introduced my one passion cinema into the equation that things started to truly come together. I did not want Robert to be a natural-born filmmaker, or even a lover of films; I just wanted him to have a pure fascination with watching, observing reality, witnessing, and like myself, the desire to share them with whoever cares to watch.


More than ever, we are able to bear witness to all the horrible and wonderful events surrounding us on our own computers, in the safety of our own room. People are fascinated by videos, whether they be sweet or violent, that lie outside the realm of their daily experience. Robert, the central subject in AFTERSCHOOL, is one such person. We are constantly being watchedor are potentially at risk of being under surveillance somewhere. Digital cameras are now standard inside computers and cell phones; surveillance cameras are a fixture in nearly every public place. Before the age of digital technology, the eye of God was merely an abstraction; now, a digital camera can be quietly tucked away in someones pocket, ready to shoot at the prefect moment and instantly be shared with the rest of the world. Through the character of Robert I tried to examine my own fascination with quiet observation and documentation. As a filmmaker, my preferred technique is to let my actors play out entire scenes in front of the camera in one long take; in allowing a scene to unfold in this organic fashion; it is my hope that some semblance of authenticity will emerge. I have found that, if we wait long enough, we may be fortunate enough to witness something revealing, something touchingor even something shocking. Ultimately, the goal is always to experience something real.


Visual Style

I made a short film in 2004 called BUY IT NOW, which was about a teenage girl who sells her virginity on eBay. It was about the internet and kids taking drugs and not communicating with their parents and ultimately paying a certain price for their carelessness and apathy. There were a few MTV-style teen films out at the time that were about similar kind of characters in similar environmentsand I absolutely hated every one of them. The only thing I liked was the performances. But there was so much rapid cutting and too much music on the soundtrack; it took away from the experience because it felt so cluttered. I decided to make a film about teenagers and do everything in the opposite manner. As opposed to a lot of cutting and a heavy score to try to communicate the sense of confusion of adolescence, I decided to watch a confused adolescent in a room, watch two kids talk, observe a conversation between a mother and daughter uninterrupted. And I liked it. I liked watching people. During production I was inspired by not hurrying a performance or moving my camera around multiple times in order to get a different angle. There was this beauty in watching people simply exist in a frame without interference. Ive always been interested in creating a scenario and allowing my actors to live in that scenario-its simply a matter of finding the right angle for the scene and the giving my actors the tie and luxury to arrive at something authentic and truthful. Theres the feeling that if the camera is always shaking and things are sloppy, theres more of a sense of realism, its what we associate with documentary filmmaking. But Ive never related to that. In documentary, youre for the most part using handheld cameras to give you freedom to catch everything going on in a space; the form in which youre working dictates hat style. Ive always felt a static frame is closer to how I actually see the world.


I wasnt really interested in making some general comment on American schools simply because AFTERSCHOOL is set in the prep school environment. I can only comment on my personal experience, and that was in an international private school. It wasnt a boarding school, but it was a prep school. It was pretty diverse because it was international and there were a lot of kids on scholarships, like myself. But there was a great deal of hypocrisy within the administrationyou always felt as though there were certain kids who were treated differently because of their families status. Most of my friends left that environment with a pretty cynical outlook on life

The Internet

I dont blame the Internet for our social ills. I blame people. I dont think its wrong to observe images like the viral videos that appear online on YouTube and other web sitesI think these videos can be quite revealing. All youre doing by watching viral videos on YouTube is observing humans interacting. If people have the ability to be objective theyre fascinated by it because theyre watching themselves.


The point of view in the film is technically my P.O.V. but in some ways its also Roberts P.O.V. A film is a film; there is always someone behind the camera, even when yo udont see that person. You see these viral videos on the Internet and the last thing that occurs to you is: who is the person holding that cell phone during that girlfight Why didnt they step in and stop the fight At what point did they thin, I need to record this What were interested in with these videos is the actionnot the circumstances of production. In AFTERSCHOOL, by contrast, I grappled with P.O.V. Sometimes it was Robert looking at the teachers legs, but it was also me because Im the director. Other times it was myself deciding to look at some place, with a certain regard but I was well aware that Robert would do the same thing if he could.

Teen Angst

I feel like if I went in with the intention of making an existentialist teen film it wouldnt have worked. But during the editing of the film I realized how much an effect the ideas of existentialism and the writing of Sartre and Camus the Stranger had on me. For the past ten years Ive been making short films about adolescencebeginning with my short film PUBERTY, Ive dealt almost exclusively with adolescent characters and concerns. Ive found that I like building stories around a character still in the process of figuring out who he is or what he wants from life. This is interesting to me as a filmmaker because I went through the making of AFTERSCHOOL still trying to grapple with who Robert was. As I was editing I was trying to figure this out. Even now, putting the final touches on the film, I dont know if I will ever really understand him. I know there is a lot of me in him and vice versa. He is like a human Rorschach test, open to interpretation. I wasnt trying to make a film about death. I feel like if Bergman couldnt come to terms with it after all his years then I wasnt going to have an answer my first time out either. I was more interested in a film about how people deal with death. Not the death of a family member or someone you were close to but rather someone you maybe saw from time to time or you knew of but werent close friends with. The loss is shocking and sad but youre not quite sure why this is yet. You feel something, but youre not quite sure what

Frederick Wiseman

I saw a Wiseman retrospective in Paris, where I tried to watch every single on of his films. I love how there are so many characters in his filmsat the end of any given sequence you feel like you know Wisemans subjects but he tends not to come back to them or stay with them for too long, except for a follow-up shot here or there. In my own life, I enjoy watching people interact and seeing how institutions functionand how people exist within institutions and are shaped by them. Wisemans HIGH SCHOOL was very important to me while I wrote the treatment for AFTERSCHOOLthe name of the audio-visual teacher in my film was named after Wiseman and in some ways I feel like I shot AFTERSCHOOL like a documentary. I noticed the way teachers talked to the kids in HIGH SCHOOL, the way they reprimanded them and the way they infused their speech with the morality of the day and the values of the school. I loved how the film was just full of conversationsbut at that the same time no one really seemed to be communicating. The adults would rattle on and on and the kids would try and speak up and then just shut up so they could take their punishment and leave. No one was getting through to each other. Wisemans film NEAR DEATH was crucial for me because it was a great document on how people talk about deaththe colloquialisms and clichd phrases that appear over and over when people grapple with mortality and loss.


We looked at a lot of kids for the film. And they were all professional actors, which in some ways is more of a challenge because I wasnt interested in teen actors in the traditional sense. Its important to mention my casting directors, Susan Shopmaker and Randi Glass, who both have a very good eye and know so many talented New York actors. Casting AFTERSCHOOL was a long process, but it wasnt hard in some ways because I was seeing so many great people. In general I look for actors who I think are close to what these characters embody, or who at least will appear that way in front of a camera. Ezra Miller, the actor who plays Robert, is a professional actor, but this was his first film. Many of the adults in the film I had worked with for previous projects. The rest I just foundsomehow. One of the hardest things with the young cast members was finding parents who were mature enough to see that I wasnt trying to exploit their kids with some of the material in the script. Many parents prefer to remain ignorant about what their kids are doing and cant handle them being in a film where kids are doing drugs, having sex, or even masturbating (because obviously, teenage boys do not masturbate.)