As much a tribute to the beauty of our fair city as a ballad to the seismic feels sparked by first love, just-released high school rom-com Young Hearts might seem like the sort of slice-of-life story to have sprung from the mind of an exceptionally talented Portland teen. But Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman, the locally raised brother-sister team behind the film, are well past adolescence. Still, the two manage to capture the essence of a coming-of-age romance in what is Sarah Sherman's screenwriting and directing debut and Zachary Ray Sherman's second time behind the camera.
Though the role of "filmmaker" may be new, the siblings have spent years in the industry. Sarah Sherman pursued dancing for a time, while Zachary Ray Sherman continues to work as an actor, appearing in everything from the Oregon-filmed Netflix series Everything Sucks! to the CW's 90210 spinoff. Despite all of that experience, Young Hearts is their first collaboration to come to fruition.
Originally premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival as Thunderbolt in Mine Eye, the movie stars two of Zachary Ray Sherman's Everything Sucks! castmates: Anjini Taneja Azhar as a high school freshman, and Quinn Liebling, as her older brother's best friend in whom she's taken a love interest. Shot in just 15 days on a shoestring budget, Young Hearts managed to secure the support of the Duplass brothers, who came on as executive producers after a successful campaign on film-centric crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark.
Just before the widespread release of Young Hearts on Feb. 12, WW caught up with the siblings to discuss what it's like to shoot a film about the quintessential adolescent experience in their hometown.
WW: How did this project begin?
Sarah Sherman: We decided to film this movie, even though we didn't have any money, as a response to the years spent trying to make a TV show together while working gig-to-gig jobs in Los Angeles. I'd already moved back to Portland to have kids but was down [in Southern California] to see Zach in a play, and we had this conversation. The years are passing. Nothing is happening. We just have to make a movie on our own. I had a couple of really loose ideas, and Zach was into this little teenage love story.
Zachary Ray Sherman: I made a microbudget film in 10 days called Barbie's Kenny, which will play at Portland International Film Festival next month, and told Sarah we just needed to use that as a model—go figure out a way when it's impossible and piece things together with everything around you. That's fundamentally what made the Duplass brothers successful and famous, and that's why it's really strange and serendipitous they ended up springboarding us to where we are now.
Was the story always set in Portland?
Zachary Ray Sherman: Oh yeah. Portland has such a lush, green, alive feel that really translates through cinema. What the sunshine looks like, how cameras capture your streets and interiors—it's such a different landscape than the desert in Los Angeles. It's cliché, but the Northwest in the fall becomes a character. The simple metaphoric aspect of the beauty and the vibrance of the reds and the yellows and the trees—that setting is so complementary to the feelings of these kids.
Sarah Sherman: Over the film's first halfish, as these two young people are getting together, we mostly see them outside walking and talking and spending time in their own little world of parks and trees, which I think Portland totally enhanced. Then, the second half, they're back at school, the real world's coming into their relationship, and I loved contrasting that with beautiful fall Portland. Shooting somewhere else would've been a bit different.
Was there any trouble securing locations for filming?
Zachary Ray Sherman: We escaped the whole permit game. It's a flag of DIY filmmaking pride.
Sarah Sherman: Honestly, for a film of our size this strapped for money, [permits] just wouldn't have been possible. I guess flying under the radar felt like a necessity because we would've been so slowed down otherwise.
Zachary Ray Sherman: When you don't really have much money, locations are a big deal, and we got this baby going by flying by the seat of our pants, pulling every resource we could from members of the community around us willing to open their doors. Sarah and I went to the Catholic school where the film was shot. Getting a school was going to be a huge obstacle for a microbudget, so the approval of our alma mater was definitely important.
Sarah Sherman: It was small, only a couple hundred kids per year, so we were close-ish with some of the faculty still around. The principal there now was a teacher when we were in school, and he was sweet as could be.
Zachary Ray Sherman: Coming back, shooting here at our former school, really mattered to me. This was where I first discovered acting and fell in love with the craft. This was where I first took classes and first saw a performance of Cyrano de Bergerac and became enamored with what acting could be. We have a character doing that play on that very stage, and immortalizing the place exactly as I remembered felt pretty special.
SEE IT: Young Hearts streams On Demand.