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Film-in-Progress: Salina Conlan’s “Resistance”

30 Mar

One of the cool things about playing in fannish spaces is that you meet a lot of cool, stunningly creative people. While lots of people question the value of transformative work (which I don’t, and neither does Celia Tan, who is also someone I know through fandom), many people who play in transformative spaces, also play in original ones.

Among them is Salina Conlan, who I first met at the Gallifrey One convention as part of a somewhat legendary team of Torchwood cosplayers. She’s one of those people I see once a year and get to have a cool mutual respect thing with because we love some fiction in a somewhat similar way.

Salina is currently working on her senior thesis film Resistance, which is about a reporter, who happens to be gay, going to Iraq to cover a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” related story and then has to reassess his priorities (she’ll give you a better summary below).

As a queer person and someone with a journalism background who now does work about the media, this was pretty exciting to me, and not just because Salina’s good at stuff. So, I thought I’d let her talk a bit about the project here to help her get the word out about the film and her fund raising efforts:

Can you give us a brief synopsis of the film?

Reporter Joe Hodges goes to Iraq to interview soldiers about the DADT repeal and a soldier from their unit who was dismissed because of that. In the process he learns that things are not just black and white and the repeal doesn’t wash away the ingrained biases that people have.

Why did you choose to tell this story? With the DADT repeal process well underway, what makes this still relevant?

Originally, the script was built around the idea of a reporter who works to expose the truth and a closeted soldier, who works desperately to hide his personal truth. I think that theme is still prominent in this version of the story. I started on draft 1 in March or April of 2010 and the whole repeal came about when I was just locking down the structure of the film and the heart of the story. I wrote a few drafts while the politics bounced back and forth, then finally figured out how I wanted to tell this story regardless of how the politics ended up. DADT may be officially repealed, but the process of enforcing that repeal seems to be in limbo. More importantly, changing a policy won’t change people’s opinions. I made that notion a big theme in “Resistance.” This film goes beyond the bias of the policy and gets into the individual opinions that people have on gays, the military, service, and obligation.

What makes you the right person to be telling this story?

I love to tell stories about people. I like to get into the grit of what inspires us, what makes us tick and what are we afraid of. You can get on a soapbox and offer an audience all the facts and your opinion on the matter. There are times when that is the best way to tell a story, but I didn’t feel that way about this project. While I certainly have an opinion, I wanted this story to be about human issues. It’s a story about people that is framed by politics. I think that makes it something enjoyable to watch.

Tell us a little bit about your cast.

I’m thrilled with the actors who have come on to this project. Rory Coyle plays Joe and he brings that character to life effortlessly. Joe goes through a heck of a journey and there is some intense acting required to pull that off. Rory is so good, he makes it look easy. Ric Maddox, plays Lieutenant Daniel Burke and not only is he a very talented actor, but he served in the U.S. Army and has been really helpful with keeping the military aspects of the film as true to reality as we can get. I could take up pages and pages raving about this cast. I’m thrilled with every single person that we’ve gotten. They are all amazing actors and perform these roles perfectly.

Is this story personal for any of them, or are they just excited to tell a story that hasn’t been told very often?

From the start, many of the actors said that they were excited to work with this script. A couple of the actors shared some moments from their lives that made aspects of the story resonate with them. That was interesting to hear because it’s not necessarily the plot that they connect to, but the journey that the characters take or the way that they interact with each other. It seems to me that they like playing in that world and examining tensions between all these different characters. I give them a lot of freedom, as well as ownership of their characters. I still make sure it’s all true to the story, but these guys are so talented that I want to work with their ideas and bring out moments that are real.

I think most people know that film making is really hard, but not necessarily what goes into it. What do you want people to know about this process that they might not be aware of?

The first thing that comes to mind is that everything costs money. More than I even realized at first. Food, costumes, props, gas reimbursement, locations, permits, lodging, etc. all cost money. To make a film of this size and scope and do it justice takes a substantial chunk of cash. Yes, that’s a bit of a plug for support, but it’s something I didn’t fully realize until I was in the thick of it. I thought I could cut corners to get by – and I have – but it’s still a constant struggle to stay on budget without sacrificing quality.

The other thing is that we are filming 26 pages in 6 days. I’ve heard that in Hollywood the standard of shooting is about a page a day. Since we’re pushing for so much more, the amount of pre-planning and scheduling is insane. I’m very lucky to have a talented and patient assistant director on this project that makes our schedules and keeps us all on task. We have two days in Mojave coming up where we shoot our exteriors and we have to do those days like clockwork because we can’t afford another day on location. If we don’t shoot it then it’s cut from the script.

You’re using crowd-funding for this process. How is that going? I have my own experience with crowd-funding, and it was both really great and really stressful.

It’s going well because a few people have been so very generous. I’m trying to get the word out and compel people to help fund this because the film I’m making is one that Hollywood wouldn’t dare make right now. When studios are concerned about selling tickets and DVDs, they are less concerned about art and social commentary; especially when that commentary combines the US military and a gay storyline. I don’t blame them for that- a business is a business. Still, I’ve got this story being made. Talented people are working to bring it to life and it’s going to be good and unique. I’d hate to have so much going for this project and get held back because my bank account bottoms out.

If people can’t donate to your project, what else can they do to help?

Please spread the word. There are billions and billions of people in this world. If 3,000 of those people see this project and can contribute $1 that’s out budget. It doesn’t take much, if a lot of people are invested. I’m trying to get the word out and that’s gone pretty well, but I’m also in production so I can’t spend all day dropping notes on twitter and facebook. You guys can do that.

Also if anyone knows of resources I can utilize for getting the word out about this project, whether it’s a branch of HRC or a charity that assists soldiers who have been dismissed under the DADT policy, that information would be a huge help. If you work for a LGBT center or have a good relationship with your local LGBT community tell people about this film. Start a buzz.

What’s the rest of the time line on your shoot and post-production?

April 8 we’re back into production. We shoot for two days at a small studio in Mojave and then our last day is back near home (Long Beach). Once we get through that weekend we’re wrapped on filming. The editor has already been working on the footage from the first weekend so we’re somewhat ahead of the game. It’ll take about a month to get picture lock- that’s the first edit with no special effects, sound editing, credits, or music. The rest of the process will take another two months. Part of the reason it will take that long is because we’re all students and have to focus on passing other classes and graduating on top of finishing this film. My hope is to have it all done in June and start submitting to festivals right away.

And, while I’m sure thinking ahead is slightly overwhelming right now, what’s next when this is done?

The next steps are publicity and submissions. Once it’s done, we have to find an audience. I can submit to festivals, but then people need to come and see it. At this stage, the main way to draw a crowd is to spread the word. There are so many people trying to be seen every single day that one voice crying out is easily overlooked. However, if a lot of people are vouching for a project, it’s a lot more likely to get viewers.

When that is done, I think I’ll take a long nap and maybe a bath. It’ll be nice to have some free time again.

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