Youth Impact Report 2012: Bigscreen Kids

Every teenager dreams of throwing a legendary house party. The three young stars of “Project X” — Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown — actually got to do it on film, thanks to producer Todd Phillips.

The $12 million found-footage comedy grossed more than $100 million worldwide earlier this year and received an Instant Cult Classic award from MTV.

It was also an amazing opportunity for the young actors, since the filmmakers were intent on casting unknowns in keeping with the naturalistic quality of found-footage films. “It felt like auditioning for ‘American Idol.’ There were all these different stages you had to get through,” Mann recalls. “I think I ended up going in nine times by the end of it all. The last time, when they told us we got the parts, it was just the three of us in the room.”

As soon as they were cast, the actors got to work on building an off-screen friendship that would translate on film as a trio of close-knit high school buddies. “We just hung out,” Brown says. “We went to Disneyland, spent a couple of nights at a cabin in Big Bear, spent time at each others’ places. We shared an experience that’s unique and extremely hard to explain to other people. All three of us were having a huge break at the same time.”

The stars credit the film’s found-footage style with helping the audience feel like they’re experiencing the wild, all-night party firsthand, noting that the approach created a different vibe on-set. “You get a little bit more freedom, there aren’t really marks and there’s not as much coverage,” Cooper says. “When you shoot a scene, you don’t shoot it from 45 different angles. That’s the main difference, but you still have to play the character you’re playing.”

The filmmakers were also eager to get input from their young cast on making the characters and situations as authentic as possible (at least, until the party spins out of control in the pic’s memorably chaotic climax). Improv was encouraged and, in some cases, entire scenes were revamped by the actors. “They wanted (the dialogue) to fit our specific voices, they wanted it to feel natural,” Mann says. “If you’re making a movie about teenagers for teenagers, it should feel as real as possible, because they’re the biggest critics.”

Impact: Todd Phillips cast the three unknowns in found-footage stunt “Project X.”
Next: Mann has three films opening soon: “Fun Size,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Beautiful Creatures.”
Cooper recently completed “Runner, Runner” with Ben Affleck and plans to star in “A Film by Alan Stuart Eisner” with Robin Williams.
Brown has a role in the Duplass Brothers-produced comedy “Milo” and the lead in John Stockwell’s “Kid Cannabis.”
Causes: Brown supports veterans issues and filmed a PSA for the Keep a Breast Foundation.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more