Director Emily Hagins Talks Professional Passion and the Austin Movie Scene
The film enthusiast and Austin native will soon release a reboot of her first original movie, which she filmed at the age of 12
By Britni Rachal
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
What started as a project for a 12-year-old in a North Central Austin neighborhood in the early 2000s with a boom mic made of a paint roller, has turned into more than a decade’s worth of professional experience, including an upcoming 2022 reboot of that first original film, “Pathogen.”
Passion for films hit movie Director Emily Hagins at an early age, and thanks to her own personal drive, along with support from her parents who have no background in film, her career now spans to more than one dozen credits, including a most recent, and first international film, titled “Sorry About the Demon.” Filmed in Toronto, the recent production is about a young man struggling with a broken heart who learns that his new place is full of restless spirits.
“I would describe myself as a hyper-focused nerd,” says a very modest Hagins. “Even as a small child, I loved movies and writing, so my parents bought a home camera and started showing me that I could write stories and edit them together.”
Inspired by horror movies, Hagins and her crew of middle school friends filmed her first film “Pathogen” in 2003 and never could have imagined that nearly 20 years later, it would be rebooting on Blu-Ray. The honor is from American Genre Film Archive, which preserves quirky, independent movies.
“It’s a zombie movie made by a kid. It’s really goofy. It doesn’t totally make sense. AGFA isn’t releasing it to make fun of all that; they’re releasing earnestly, in a ‘we think this is a cute little weird indie Austin-made film’ kind of way. I appreciate that,” says Hagins, who adds there have been times when people maybe wanted to screen her movie for the wrong reasons.
Keeping close with her core group of friends, most interestingly, some of Hagins’ crew from those earlier days are still working with her. In “Sorry About the Demon,” one of them plays a demon voice. Another friend writes original songs for the end film credits.
Empowering others on the set is a fun aspect of directing movies, and Hagins is known for advocating for gender diversity in an industry that is still considered male dominated, with women recently only representing 20% of behind-the-scenes roles on the top 100 domestic grossing films, according to a study by Women in Television and Film at San Diego University.
“I try to hire women in crew positions and as producers, writers and in lead roles. I’d like to see equal representation at 50% — if not more. I just don’t want this to be a thing anymore,” explains Hagins, who has her own experience of unnecessary comments about her gender. “Industry peers have told me, ‘I look at you and I don’t see a director.’ But there’s no real look of what a director is,” says Hagins. “They have said that when I show up to a meeting for the first time. It’s amazing what people feel like they can say, maybe because they are not aware of the situation or how hard it is to just be seen and heard.”
Another area of support for female leadership? Her boyfriend, a Beaumont native turned Austinite and graduate of University of Texas, Ben Hanks, who several years ago moved from the ranks of crew, to now producing. Hagins caught Hanks’ eye when they first met in 2013 at a documentary screening.
“She ordered a cheese pizza — a kid’s pizza — and I was like oh, I would do that too,” said Hanks.
“Yes. He is trying to leave out that I was trying to be cheap and ordered a kid’s pizza,” laughs Hagins. “He thought that was interesting.”
A brief friendship, followed by a first date at Ramen Tatsu-ya and Spider House, and the two have now been together for almost 10 years.
“Emily loves to collaborate, but she’s also incredibly independent,” says Hanks. “I admire that she likes to not lose control of certain aspects of writing and directing, because this kind of work really does require a singular vision. If there’s too much debate or too many voices, sometimes it can stall things for too long.”
With roots planted in Austin, the duo spends most of their time in Central Texas, but occasionally travels to Los Angeles or other remote locations for work. Both are excited for the future of film and movies, especially as Bastrop gets ready to open a new 546-acre film set in 2023.
“I think the more that Austin can grow and not just this little indie bubble, that’s great! But I also the indie bubble is great,” says Hagins. “It will also be interesting to see what kind of movies continue to come out of the pandemic, especially as we go through this collective experience, together as a society.”