Directors tackle 'Millennials'
May 6, 2005 | By Brian Clark
There is an underlying irony behind much of the research and writing that goes into classifying younger generations: Most specialists who write about the subject are well past the age group in question, and so we are left with texts based on research and interviews but absent of real social interaction and experience within the generation.
However, radio-television-film senior Derek Franzese and political science/economics senior Ray Hafner plan to change that. Immediately after Franzese’s graduation on May 21, they will set out on the road for two months with a camera to sleep on the floors of strangers and find out what makes their generation (called the “Millennials”) tick. This trip will be the subject of their feature documentary, “Now Entering.”
According to Hafner, the idea started last summer with a 6-foot-5-inch student who sported a huge Afro and introduced himself as “Tree.” At the time, Hafner was working for The Congressional Quarterly and had arranged to stay with a friend of a friend in Boston in order to cover the Democratic convention. Only when he arrived, his host was nowhere to be found. Instead, he met his host’s roommate Tree, who hadn’t been told anything about Hafner’s arrival.
“I thought, ‘I’m screwed, I have no place to go,’” Hafner said. “But then Tree invited me to stay, and I spent all week hanging out with him and a bunch of other kids I didn’t know. But they were all so nice and laid-back that it was a really amazing experience. After it was over I thought, ‘I bet we could go across the entire country and do this.’”
Since then, they have secured financing, taken Franzese’s SUV to the shop multiple times for check-ups and most importantly, set up a Web site (www.nowentering.com) to reach America’s youth. Through this site, Facebook.com, AOL Instant Mmessenger and MySpace.com, the two have received hundreds of e-mails from teenagers all over America who want to be a part of the project. The duo’s plan is to drive around the country and stay with as many interested parties as possible, hang out with them and videotape it all.
“We’re the first generation that could be marketing through the Internet like this,” Franzese said. “We’ve had people calling from everywhere, even Alaska and the UK. This type of marketing would not have been possible five years ago.”
While Franzese and Hafner aim to capture the spontaneity and interaction that sociologists miss, they have done their research. In fact, both point to the book “Millennial’s Rising” as a key point of inspiration for the project.
In the book, Neil Howe and William Strauss argue that “Millenials” grew up with more material wealth than any other generation, but that they are simultaneously the most socially active and community-oriented generation.
Franzese and Hafner said that now is the perfect time for this project, because these hypotheses are about to be tested in the real world. The beginning cutoff for the Millennials is around 1982, so the leaders of the generation are just graduating and about to go out into the workforce.
“I think understanding what our generation is like now, as they enter the real world, will be like a window into what society might be like in 30 years,” Hafner said.
While the focus will remain on their sociologist-meets-Kerouac approach to understanding their peers, both admit that their own relationship on the road might come into play as well.
The friends say they’ve thought about the fine line between a social documentary and an autobiographical one extensively over the past few months and hopefully found a way to walk it.
“We want to document our own connection with these kids and their interests, and then their connection to everyone else and what they are doing with their lives,” Franzese said. “We’re not totally sure how it’s going to turn out, but no matter what, the camera will always be running.”