"What It Means to Be a Man" in 'Boys State': 'THR Presents' Q&A With Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine and Steven Garza

Documentarians Moss and McBaine, along with protagonist Garza, discuss what the latter's run for the highest office of the weeklong political camp says about 'boyhood in 2018 America.'

Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the pair’s acclaimed documentary feature Boys State in a THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media. Joining them was Steven Garza, one of the 1,000 teenage subjects in the film who participated in the annual event at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The Boys State program takes place over the course of a week in all 50 states, with thousands of high school students participating in mock exercises to build representative state governments from the ground up. Garza himself was one of the teenagers who ran for governor — Boys State’s highest office — and the Apple TV+ documentary follows his campaign, from his arrival to the final vote count.

“It's definitely a force that bites at your heels a little bit,” Garza said of the cameras that followed him for a week. But he also said that his focus during Boys State was entirely on his campaign. “I'm trying to get the signatures to get on this ballot, or I'm trying to write this speech, I'm trying to talk to voters … and it's like, Oh hey, there's a camera there,” he added. “But it really was just a nonfactor in the sense [that] it didn't influence me or anyone else to vote for something.”

“We’ve never made a movie like this,” said Moss, who is used to following his documentary subjects over the course of years rather than just a few weeks. The production team included 28 crewmembers, with six operating as cinematographers to capture as many facets of Boys State as possible. “What we love about unscripted filmmaking [is] you never know where it's going to take you,” Moss added. “What we never expected was for someone like Steven to emerge as this powerful political voice.”

Moss and McBaine also didn’t expect the chaos of filming hundreds of teenage boys gathered together in one rowdy mass that at times resembled Lord of the Flies — but that also proved to be part of the project’s most exciting aspects. “In hindsight, I should have recognized what an incredible window we were going to have,” McBaine said. “We started to get a sense of this kind of, What is boyhood in 2018 America? These kids all across the state were all radically different and had radically different ideas about what it means to be a man.”

THR Presents film screenings are powered by Vision Media; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed in THR’s new public hub at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.