Getting to know: Zachary Maxwell

Zachary Maxwell, filmmaker.Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Zachary Maxwell is a not your average teenager. He began making documentaries at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since. His award-winning 2012 film Yuck! A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch drew international media coverage. Zachary’s film, Anatomy of A Snow Day, is currently on the 2015-2016 AFS slate.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?

I don’t remember the exact movie I first saw in a theater but it was probably some animated family feature from Pixar or Dreamworks. However, I do remember the amazing theater lobby, the smell of the popcorn, and the walls filled with brightly backlit movie posters. During the movie, I ate an entire bucket of salty and buttery popcorn. I love going to the theater because it’s an experience that you just can’t get watching something at home or on a mobile device.

I also remember that, after the movie, I threw up all over the floor of the theater lobby. It was glorious.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?

I love sitting with an audience that is watching something that I made for the first time. It is such a rush to see and feel how people react to a project you worked on for so long and so hard. When they laugh when they’re supposed to laugh, or cry when they’re supposed to cry, it’s the best feeling for a filmmaker.

What do you like least about it?

I really do not like editing. I have an older computer so it stalls and crashes a lot when rendering and adding effects. I don’t have much patience when it comes to this so I usually delegate editing responsibilities to my Dad.

What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?

The person that has most inspired me to be a filmmaker is my Dad. We have been making short films together since I was just a little kid. As I got older, he taught me how to use the camera, set up lights, develop an idea and tell a story. Today, he is my co-writer, my editor, my business partner, and yes, also my Dad.

What is your favorite movie and why?

One of my favorite movies is Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. This was the first documentary I ever saw when I was around eight-years-old. I really liked that Mr. Spurlock had an important question (how does fast food affect us?) and he came up with a creative and entertaining way to present the issue. Mr. Spurlock is a professional role model to me and a lot of the stuff I make is influenced by his style of storytelling.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?

I suppose if I wasn’t a filmmaker I could work in a shop of some kind or do some sort of freelance selling. I could ask “what size are you, sir?” You would answer and then I would say “oh, I think we have that.” I think I would probably be pretty good at something like that… but it would depend on the hours. (Thank you Nigel Tufnel)

What has been your favorite project to work on?

I always say my favorite project is the one I’m working on at that time. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past or what you might do next. Your favorite project should always be whatever it is you’re making at that moment.

So right now, my favorite project is what I am currently working on. It’s a first-person feature-length documentary all about puberty and the awkwardness of teenagers. I’ve been working like crazy on this project for the past two years and production is going to be ongoing for the next four years. If all goes well, I’m hoping people will be able to see the finished product before I graduate high school.