Claire Braverman and Tori Taylor are much like other 14-year-olds. Best friends, both believe in the transformative power of a new hairdo — “when you change your hair, you change your life,” Claire says. After school, they like to walk around the mall. Claire is always on her phone.
But unlike their fellow middle schoolers, Claire and Tori spent part of eighth grade working on a television pilot.
Two creative teenagers trying to make it big in Hollywood sounds like a television show itself. But Claire and Tori’s project is real, drawing hopeful actors from several states. Much of their brainstorming on the pilot, set in a mental-health facilityfor teens and funded by a shoestring budget, was done during lunchtime.
“We didn’t eat lunch with our friends — we just sat in the corner and worked on it,” Tori said. Some teachers even let them work on the script during spare class time. During the search for a volunteer casting director, they sometimes had to dash out of class to make business calls.
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At one point, they said, a teacher told them, “You’re not television executives, you’re junior high students.”
“We’re both,” Claire responded.
Claire and Tori met in multimedia class at American Heritage School in Plantation at the start of eighth grade. Both live in Davie, but Claire was new to the school. The first time they hung out, they made a video.
The idea for the pilot surfaced in March, on a whim. Claire came up with the idea of a television show set in a mental-health facility. At first, Tori thought Claire was joking. Not knowing how to proceed, they wrote a script and showed it to a family friend in the entertainment industry. His response: “This sucks.”
But the girls weren’t dissuaded. School was still in session, so they rewrote the script “whenever we could,” Claire said. They finally finished all 45 pages in early June.
The pilot — titled Imbalanced — takes place at a residential facility for mentally ill adolescents. Tori called Imbalanced a typical teen drama with a twist — the setting. The youngest member of their cast and crew is 12, the oldest 28. Some flew in from as far as Kentucky.
Chandler Storm, an aspiring teenage actor who traveled from Atlanta to play a role in the pilot, said he is impressed by Tori and Claire’s work on the project, as well as their initiative.
“As soon as we finished a shot, Tori would go back and edit it — that very night,” he said.
Imbalanced takes on heavy subjects like mental health and eating disorders. The issues hit close to home for the two girls, who have struggled with anxiety and the stigma associated with it.
The premise of Imbalanced emerged from earlier short film work the girls did on mental health problems. Tori and Claire said they are drawn to the subject because they feel mental health is usually either off-limits, or is dealt with one-dimensionally for its entertainment value. In addition to Imbalanced, Claire and Tori have made six short films together and entered 10 film festivals and competitions, placing internationally seven times, nationally once and statewide twice.
After a judge in a film competition for their age group called their entry “too metaphorical,” the girls decided to stick to adult competitions.
“You don’t really see people our age doing actual, meaningful films,” Tori said.
Claire said that much of their work has a “dark-ish undertone.”
“We thought about doing comedies to change it up, but we’re pretty sure the only people who find us funny are ourselves,” Claire said, laughing.
In the path to creating a pilot, there have been hiccups and challenges. Claire and Tori, who are co-writers, co-directors and co-producers, occasionally argue. The actress playing the main character, who was present in every scene, dropped out.
The girls operate on a barely-there budget. Everyone participating — from a local casting director to the actors — is volunteering, with the hope of a deferred payment if someone airs the series. The filming locations were donated, and Claire and Tori have to pay their parents back for the minor expenses incurred. They credit their parents with helping them get so far.
Mimi Taylor, Tori’s mom, called it a no-brainer.
“I can’t believe that 14-year-olds can be this determined, motivated and focused,” she said. “How can I not support this?”
There is no guarantee that a television network will pick up their pilot, but Mimi Taylor says the family friend with entertainment ties plans to shop it around in the coming weeks.
If nobody bites, they plan to pitch it to Netflix or, as a backup, air it online as a Web series.
“We want to be on Ellen,” Tori said.
Not to mention, they start high school in the fall.