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EXCLUSIVE! Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls director Julianna Notten talks queer storytelling, coming out and comics

Looking for a queer, coming-of-age indie film that perfectly encapsulates being a Gen Z middle-schooler? Julianna Notten has you covered. We had an opportunity to speak with the creator, writer and director of the new gay tween movie, Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls. Julianna shared everything with us—from how they got the idea for the film to what advice they would give girls (like the movie's main character, Erin) who struggle to balance friendships and crushes. 

Girls' Life: This movie is *not* a coming-out story. How did you decide that the film wouldn't be about coming out, but rather would focus on other parts of Erin's story instead?
Julianna Notten: The inspiration for this film came from my feeling that all the queer coming-of-age stories that exist are solely about coming out or are rooted in tragedy. These are still important stories to tell, but, you know, it begins to feel like they're the only ones. It felt like there wasn't really a lot of positive queer representation, particularly for the late-middle-school and early high school age group. 

It was important to me to not make the film center on this big, "Oh my gosh, I'm gay" moment. Being gay is not the start and end of Erin's problems. She still faces microaggressions because it's not a perfect world. But her queerness is not the main source of her issues at school.

GL: Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls features some incredible art! We love how Erin and her bestie's relationship is reflected through scenes from their shared favorite comic book: "Lunar Girl and Scarlet Sparrow." Where did you get the inspiration to intertwine these stories?Julianna: Comics were never really my form of media, although I did a little bit of fanfiction as a kid—as we all did! But as I was writing the script, it made sense that the characters are big comic book nerds. I was trying to find ways to explore Erin and Liz's relationship visually, and [Lunar Girl and Scarlet Sparrow] seemed like a useful tool for that. Parts of the sketchbook were actually drawn by Elliot, who plays Erin. They're a very talented visual artist. 

GL: This movie started out as a short in 2017. What made you want to turn Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls into a feature film?
Julianna: I wasn't sure at first that the short was going to be a feature, but I had become so attached to the characters. I wanted to explore what their larger stories might look like. So, it was really cool to just expand their worlds a bit. Erin and Liz and Sydni have been with me since 2016, and they took on a life of their own by the end of everything. I got to the point where I'd be writing the script and the characters were practically talking to me. 

GL: With more and more media showcasing the experiences of gay teens, what do you think sets Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls apart from the crowd?
Julianna: For me, the demographic that we are targeting is unique: younger, particularly femme-presenting people. [Also,] the movie is not only focused on romance. The main relationship at the core of the film is the friendship between Erin and Liz. I think a lot of times people feel like the only way to have queer representation is through romantic relationships. Yet there's so much more to being queer. 

GL: Finally, what advice might you give girls who are in Erin's situation, trying to balance romantic relationships and their friendships?
Julianna: I think the bottom line is that it's okay to be excited about new relationships. But you've got to keep in mind that this [romantic] exploration should never be at the expense of your established friendships. Because those people are always going to have your back. They're the people who have always been by your side, and they care about you. 

Tell us how excited you are for Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls on Twitter @girlslifemag!

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Images courtesy of Quiver Distribution
Parts of this interview were edited or condensed for clarity.


by Madelon Basil and Madeline Morrow | 2/3/2023