Austin’s littlest filmmaker

Austin, Texas has a tight-knit film community. If you become one of the 'it' people in that community a lot of opportunity opens up. So when 12-year-old Emily Hagins decided to make a feature film about zombies, the Austin film community rallied behind her, and then-Austin-based filmmakers Aaron Marshall, Erik Mauck and Justin Johnson documented the making of Pathogen.
May 27, 2009

Zombie Girl: The Movie is essentially a doc about a young girl making her first film. While many filmmakers start young, the first indicator that 12-year-old Emily Hagins is different from other young filmmakers is just how many people in the Austin, Texas film community knows who she is. And it’s all because of Peter Jackson.

When Hagins was eight she wrote a letter to Jackson to tell him that she wanted to be a filmmaker because of his film The Fellowship of the Ring. He wrote back and, knowing that she was based in Austin, put her in touch with Harry Knowles, editor of Ain’t It Cool News, and the ball started rolling.

‘Once she hooked up with Harry, that opened her world up,’ says Erik Mauck, co-director of Zombie Girl. ‘He’s pretty much the guru of geek cinema, not only in Austin but throughout the Internet. Once she got hooked up with him there was this whole… movie-watching community that he had access to, [as well as] independent filmmakers. So she was almost more savvy about the community than we were.’

Mauck and his co-directors, fellow Austin-based film school grads and filmmakers Aaron Marshall and Justin Johnson, found Hagins when they saw an ad that read: ‘Need 12-15 year-olds for zombie movie directed by twelve-year-old girl.’ Once they met with Hagins and her family, and saw how serious they were about filmmaking, they began filming and stuck with Hagins over the two years it took her to make and screen Pathogen.

While this is a film about a young girl making a film, the underlying theme is how innovations in technology have improved young people’s opportunities to make quality films on their own. The message of never underestimating the abilities of a child is reminiscent of a Toronto-based art project called Haircuts By Children which has traveled to cities such as Portland, Oregon; Dublin, Sydney and Terni in Italy. The premise of this project is to train young children to cut hair and then get adult volunteers to hand their heads over to the children, thus showing that children are capable of more than we normally give them credit for. Mauck, Marshall and Johnson, who have each relocated to new cities since finishing Zombie Girl, agree with this premise.

‘One thing that’s interesting about Zombie Girl is that, maybe 200 years ago you couldn’t trust a kid with the tools of a haircut, but 10 or 15 years ago a kid couldn’t get their hands on the tools of making a movie,’ says Marshall. ‘Now it’s like anytime a kid can get access to the tools of a potential trade, whether they’re good at it or not, I think it just opens them up to more possibilities and gives them move time to practice and work. It’s cool that technology has now allowed that to permeate into filmmaking.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.