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Behind-the-scenes of Growing pains with director Devina Saberi

Director Devina Saberi shares the inspiration for new documentary series Growing Pains, as well as the challenges and opportunities of documentary storytelling for online platforms, and advice for early career filmmakers.

Devina Saberi, still from Growing Pains

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For early career filmmakers, social media offers a path from development to audience says Devina Saberi, director of new online documentary series Growing Pains. The episodic structure of TikTok and immediacy of community response has opened up the series beyond the story and engaged audiences in unexpected ways.

“We’re able to immediately respond, even while it's being released, to people's questions about the series,“ she says.And it's been nice to have conversation with people on that platform […] as it comes out in real time.”

Focussed on the experiences of three young people from culturally diverse backgrounds – and close friends of the director – as they navigate career, love, and family, the 20-part series reflected the personal and professional choices Saberi was facing as she made what would be her first longer form screen project.

“I knew I wanted to tell these stories, and I knew that I wanted to do it in a certain way, and I didn't know how yet, but I saw [TikTok] as an opportunity,” she says. “Online funding has been an entryway for me into the industry.”

But it wasn’t without its challenges. With each episode up to one minute, building an algorithm-friendly narrative was an ongoing process of filming enough to capture the nuance of these very intimate stories, while adhering to the platform format and audience expectation – and as Saberi shares, that balance can be tricky. “Trying to capture that nuance can be hard, [and] there are lots of different formats you can do it in, but it takes a lot of consideration.”

Throughout the episode, Saberi talks about structuring stories for social media platforms, supporting community storytelling, and the challenges of observational documentary – especially while filming your friends.

“When you're filming real life, it never goes exactly how you would have anticipated. And in some of these storylines, it did not go at all how we anticipated it.”

Growing Pains is available now on TikTok.

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