Brave: Threatdown – Bears!

Last night Patty took me to see Brave, and this review actually has nothing to do with the significant bear content, but as a regular watcher of The Colbert Show I couldn’t resist the title.

At any rate, as I think I have mentioned in these pages before, I don’t really see animated features as my thing, but she’s judicious about the ones she takes me to, and I’m nostalgic enough that Pixar’s insistence on placing a short before the main feature really charms me.

While Brave‘s animation is surely a technical achievement (the hair!), what’s particularly interesting is how the structure of the script makes its format — that of an animated feature — a necessary part of the storytelling mechanism. Because while Brave is about a girl and her mother overcoming the pitched war that often goes on between mothers and daughters at some point in their lives, Brave is also, thanks in part to a very judicious use of a voiceover, about the creation of legend.

And, because Merida’s voiceover in the film suggests, when combined with her father’s recounting of his battle with a bear that everyone has heard so many times they can tell it along with him, that what we are witnessing is her story as it has come to be told as opposed to the events as they happened, Brave provides an access point for people who distrust or just don’t have the receptor sites for animated features. Because if we’re being told a legend — a broad tale meant to teach us a lesson — its not being live-action is, in its way, more honest.

It’s a fabulous trick in a film that gives repeated shout-outs to stories and story-telling: there are the troublesome triplets that turn into the three bears; Merida, like Robbin Hood, splits an arrow already occupying the bullseye location on a target; the witch’s head in the caldron evokes the The Wizard of Oz; and the importance of storytelling technologies, from oral tradition to woven tapestry is plot central.

Prior to seeing Brave, I had been warned that it’s slight, but I really don’t think it is. Rather, the film has three things happening at once — comedy; structure about storytelling; and a narrative about freedom and duty. While, as audiences, we are deeply used to films about masculine honor and duty (see: Gladiator as perhaps the most obvious example of hundreds if not thousands of films), we’re not used to, I don’t think, films about feminine honor and duty where obligations are both questioned and ultimately met through change. This, combined with the lack of romantic resolution in the film could, I suppose, make it easy to miss the amount that happens and changes in the course of it.

Also contributing to the idea that the film is slight, may be the degree to which Merida and her disinterest in marriage is something of a cypher. Is she supposed to be echoing forward to some idea of Queen Elizabeth with her red hair and statement that only she is worthy of her own hand? Is she asexual? Is she lesbian? Is she just far too young to be interested in marriage? The film never tells us, but this is less a failing and more another structural nod to the construction of legends: Merida is whatever we need her to be. It’s an awfully dutiful role for a character that just wants her freedom.

Struck by Lightning: Once upon a time there was a boy

Chris Colfer’s Struck by Lightning is an odd little gem of a film that suffers more than a bit from being excessively clever, too personal, and uncertain about its relationship with magical realism. But it’s this unevenness that’s made it linger for me — not because of the film it could have been, but because of the way its flaws make it feel so true.

Which isn’t to say SBL isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious.  It is, and I lost a lot of lines to audience laughter.  While some of that was the nature of a highly responsive audience, the screening being both the premiere and filled with fans, I think that’s going to happen once the film is in general release too.  I’m going to have to see it again just to catch some of the zingers that I missed.

But it’s its quiet moments that work best. Like his acting, Colfer’s script is at its most adept when it’s listening and forcing you to live with the spaces in things; sometimes stuff is so terrible, there’s really nothing to say.

Scenes between Carson (Colfer) and his mother (Alison Janney) and Carson and his grandmother (Polly Bergen) are some of the best, although Carson has two big angry blowups at school that are somewhat agonizing to watch. They’re the righteous tantrums most of us who were bullied outsiders in high school probably fantasized about having, but instead of being moments that lead to change and victory they’re just met with a sort of stunned and exhausted silence.

Moments like that make watching the film feel profoundly personal but deeply murky; the temptation to decide the film contains truths about either Colfer’s life or our own is high and unpleasant, and a central conversation about the nature of ambition (someone has to be wildly successful, why shouldn’t Carson dream and work for it to be himself?) is both immensely truthful and feels weirdly naive. It’s a moment that should inspire a younger viewer and perhaps inspire regret in an older one, but it’s also awkward; because of who is in the scene it also reminds of us just how often we don’t like people who want things, or get them.

Ultimately, SBL has a great deal of compassion for people who do horrible things: a cheerleader who is cruel, a mother who sabotages; as well as for people it paints as cowards: the boys who won’t come out, the father who explicitly tries to forget his first family by neglecting to mention them to his second. It also gives us, briefly, the internal voices of the cardboard cutouts that were often the avatars of horror in many people’s high school experiences and makes them as human and lost as anyone else’s.

SBL also gives us a story about friendship that could have been ruined by veering down a “weird girl has crush on outcast boy” path. That alone is remarkable, but in keeping with a film that’s all about desire, but — for all it’s discussed — is almost never about sex.

Ultimately SBL is a very funny film about the beauties of sadness, desire and anger.  It’s neither a perfect film, nor a happy one, but it is a little victorious regardless of whether you choose to have a Watsonian or Doylist experience of it. Despite, or perhaps because of, that it also lingers like a burn and raises one particular question that can’t help but feel terrible to me: what would have happened to Carson if he hadn’t gotten out of Clover in the way he did?

The Hunger Games: How decadent! Let’s get cupcakes!

I first encountered The Hunger Games several years ago while serving as a judge for the YA Lit Track’s costume contest at Dragon*Con. An excellent young costumer showed up at Katniss, and I thought she was an elf.  While I recall the costume well and know we gave her at least one award for it, I didn’t get around to reading the book until my recent flight from Warsaw to Hanoi.

Planes are for sleeping, especially since I usually don’t have time to sleep the night before I travel, so it says something that I stayed up to read it.  It’s a quick read, but for me it was a hard book, because no matter how visceral I often found it, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters except perhaps Cinna (who is definitely my favorite, I suspect has more secrets to reveal in the later books which are currently beyond my reach), Rue, and the silent Foxface, who fought for her life the way I always played dodgeball.

But as someone who experiences fiction through identification, the book mostly sort of left me at a loss.  I didn’t identify with Katniss or the boys, and I didn’t care about the romance, true or false; I only cared about whether Peeta was a Slytherin.

But what I have cared about, passionately, since before I even read the book, is the film’s marketing campaign, which makes us all residents of the Capitol, because it’s not us, and it’s not our children.  It’s savvy — insert the audience as the audience, and a little cruel — do we feel like not nice people by virtue of being outside the story? Do we pause to consider that, just like in historical reenactment, none of us would probably be any of the fictional privileged we’re being positioned as?  And do we care as long a we can buy the limited edition nail polish celebrating this season’s Capitol fashions?

Of course, I love it.  And I love it not just as an indictment of our worse natures and our fame culture (who wouldn’t, for example, find Celebrity Apprentice more riveting (or at least finally mildly interesting) if immediately after “You’re Fired!” there was cannibalism?). I also love it as a statement of the obvious: sometimes in fiction it’s fun to be the bad guy.  If you’re a resident of the Capitol, what’s your life like?  Sex in the City with a lot of hot pink eyeliner and a little bit of blood? How decadent! Let’s get cupcakes! Do you like my new wig?

But even through all that (and if you follow my Tumblr you know that good marketing is one of my turn ons), what keeps lingering for me about The Hunger Games is the exquisite nature of some of Suzanne Collins’s phrases.

From the first time it appears on the page the girl who was on fire almost made me weep for the cadence of it, but also for the past tense of it.  Chosen and chosen and chosen again, and Katniss even wins, or at least survives.  But I feel like in that phrase is the book’s greatest warning about ordeal and spectacle: even illusions will change you; and even if you survive, everything ends.

I’ve been assured that the next book in the series is all about the stuff that really gets me going: fame and the construction of it, and I wonder if little girls in the Capitol write RPF about Katniss and Peeta, or if terrible pop songs come out about it all in that world — sort of like how the vampire Lestat has a crappy band (and speaking of the construction of fame, there’s something I need to revisit). I think about how every dress Jennifer Lawrence wears when promoting the film is flame colored; as we ponder whose fame is really being constructed in light of that, I find myself just wanting to whisper sweet nothings at another blurry fourth wall.

Of course, what I’ve said here is probably all ridiculous and trivial in the light of the second and third books, which I won’t manage to get my hands on until probably mid-April.  But I probably will get to see the film in India (after some obligatory and eagerly awaited Bollywood), which excites me beyond measure. With the largest film industry in the world (someone once told me that Bollywood has made more films about the life of Alexander the Great than all the films ever made in Hollywood combined; no idea if it’s true, but it’s my favorite piece of possibly accurate information ever), it seems like a perfect place to see a movie where we’re not just in the audience, but cast as it.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I thought Katniss was an elf.

Wrapping up 2011: Hugo, pop culture and kind magics

Greetings from scenic Ohio, where I’m spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s with my partner’s family.

While a yearly trip at this point, it’s not a place I’ve gotten used to. I’m an only child who has never needed to rely on other people to get where I’m going, at least at home in New York. But here in Ohio, we have to cadge rides from her parents, and I have to learn about the fine art of family teasing: Patty has a brother, and there’s a mode to the household humor that I often don’t get and can sometimes rub my desperate need for approval very much the wrong way.

But this is a week each year that I need in its quiet and during which I tend to catch up on random pop culture I might not otherwise seek out. This year, that’s included the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film, a Jeff Dunham comedy performance in an arena (and wow, does that need a post of its own; I have never so felt the truth of New York City as another country so uncomfortably), and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

It’s Hugo, of course, that really seems like the best place to wind up this blog for the year, because Hugo is about what this blog is about — the love and loss of stories, the nature of fame, and the tonality of magic. I loved it, desperately, and, towards the end of the film, when a character describes their first experience of cinema as “the kindest magic I’d ever seen,” it seemed like a balm to some of the unpleasantries of this inside/outside life that I, and many of my friends who also write about pop culture, inevitably lead.

Loving media and stories can be unkind. It is an act that does, in fact, often break our hearts: whether from within the narrative or outside of it. There’s a reason that “life ruiner” seems to be one of the most popular Tumblr tags for cute celebrity boys of the moment, no matter how much it’s meant as a joke. We measure, not just our lives in stories, but also our smiles, our bodies, and our hearts. And we measure these things not just against tales we love, but the people who create them; and so what is meant to make us feel more, can so often make us feel less.

At least, that’s what true for me and many of my friends, and none of us are snowflakes that special.

So we’ll see if I find the time to catch up with writing about some of my misadventures out here in a state that Patty insists is on the East Coast and I insist can’t be because it’s not on the coast or producing a piece on the horrors of being a girl and liking stuff that I’ve been promising my friend Rae since the night we met.

In the mean time, if you have any love of the sentimentality I can never seem to avoid when talking about pop culture, do yourself a favor and see Hugo. But be sure to follow it up with the 2000 film, Shadow of the Vampire, which is its own strange tribute to the silent era and really represents us all when the vampire grasps at the light from a projector that displays his long-forgotten the sun.

Because who here hasn’t touched the screen or held hand to heart in response to a story or a movie or a moment or a smile that moves us? We are all, I think, greedy and waiting in the dark, even when the kindest magic is also sometimes made of sorrow.

As ever, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy New Year.

The New Yorker Festival: Chris Colfer

Last night I went to see Chris Colfer interviewed at the New Yorker Festival. It was the first time I’ve actually managed to get to said festival — I always either have trouble getting tickets or the timing is such that I’m traveling. This time, I just barely made it, as I’m leaving for Europe tonight.

At any rate the experience was both lovely and odd, but neither really in the way I expected. As others have noted, the questions were largely a rehash of topics Colfer has covered extensively before, and, despite the moderator being knowing about how everyone in the audience were largely well-informed fans and Colfer himself answering many questions with the preface of “For the two of you in the back who don’t know this,” little was done to target the discussion to either the actual audience or to Colfer’s upcoming projects (he as a movie he wrote and starred in coming out, a middle-grade book deal, and a pilot in development).

Whether this was a matter of the moderator not knowing that catering to a young audience (it was largely teens) or a fannish audience (like I said, we were in the know) doesn’t mean watering it down, I’m not really sure. Either way, it’s worth noting that neither audience actually likes easy, neat, harmless content, but really loves new ideas and process discussion to chew over. But we weren’t given that, and it was really a disservice to everyone.

That said, Colfer was delightful. He’s verbally playful and well-prepared for questions both awkward and boring (He assumed an audience question prefaced as being awkward to be the usual “what’s it like to kiss Darren Criss?” Instead, it turned out to be about Colfer’s choice of cologne, and while none of it was less inappropriate for all that, Colfer’s navigation of that mess sure was a lot funnier than it could have been for those of us cringing in our seats).

The expressiveness of his face was also fascinating to watch as he got stuck watching clips of himself at various points in the evening. I think I learned more about performance from that than anything that actually got said during the entire program.

But evenings like this, when you’re in fandom and like to write about pop-culture, are rarely just about the content on stage. They’re about the people you see and the friends you have drinks with after. So I was glad to chat with three different groups of people I knew before the thing started, catch up on a bit of gossip, and have a lengthy, meaty discussion afterwards on the construction of fame.

For those of you who missed the event, there are quotes, audio and pictures all over Tumblr and Twitter. I would say some of the paraphrasing conveys a different tonal quality on certain issues than I got from the experience, but if you’re among those who have been wound up about recent Glee spoilers in the last week — spoilers that were heavily yet coyly acknowledged by Colfer, who isn’t just playful with words, but dirty with them — I would say, oddly, to trust. I think they know how deftly they have to tread in what’s coming, and I think the effort will at least be valiant.

My upcoming time-zone shift and work schedule mean I may be a little behind on things until I return in two weeks, although I am planning a bit of meta regarding Kurt Hummel’s clothes, one of the leaked performances in 3.03 and the 3.05-related excitement. So when I get to that some time this coming week (after 3.03 has aired), please remember this is a spoiler rich zone.

“The Boy Who Lived Forever”

To say it’s been kind of a surreal couple of days around here would be vastly understating the case. If I let myself think about it, it’s more like a surreal couple of weeks, but I sort of can’t let myself think about it. Forward motion, it’s all I got. There’s still plywood over our window.

Yesterday, when I wrote my post about fandom old home week, I wrote it expecting the Time article (“The Boy Who Lived Forever”) to drop today (when the print edition comes out). Imagine my surprise when I got a Google alert for it an hour later, and then saw that I was in the lead of the thing.

I think it’s a really lovely piece (I mean, gosh, I even told my parents about it), and that Lev captured the 101 of what fanfiction and fandom is both in content and tone. I laughed aloud reading the thing more than once (sex pollen!), and I’m really happy the article exists. It’s just an entirely random bizzareo-world bonus thing that I don’t really know how to process that I got to be in it too and that the company I’m keeping is sort of intense and includes some fandom friends (hi, XT!), Naomi Novik (who had a book release party I danced at), and Darren Criss (enough said). Seriously, I have been laughing about this whole thing on and off since I read the article.

For the record, I wound up in the piece pretty much the way anything happens — I was in the right place at the right time and put myself forward. In this case, that really meant being able and willing to have my real name in the thing. Despite the way I can be (which is something I actually have a lot of inner conflict with these days, but you don’t need to see my internal wank), I can really only speak for myself and my own dorky fannish life, so mostly I just hope I did okay.

Anyway, in the interest of living up to the Harry Potter portion of the piece, Kali and I unlocked a few pieces of fic from our co-written fanfic universe Descensus Facilis Averno: October 31, 1974 and April 15, 1978.

Both of these are PG-13, both of these are Slytherin backstory from around the time that Lucius, Narcissa, Severus and Lily were in or just out of Hogwarts. There’s probably a lot of context missing because these were part of a much larger arc with ridiculous amounts of world-building/additions, but they might amuse anyway.

From the stuff written all by my lonesome, I’ll inflict these two on you: Sometimes Knowledge, which is rated R and is also about Slytherins, and The Convenient Marriage, which is rated 16+, but is a really dark, post-Voldemort victory world where Snape and Hermione are trying to survive as collaborators.

Anyway, all of this is not, actually, the only thing that’s been a part of that “RSN, I have stuff to tell you!” chant I’ve been doing around here lately, but it is a part of it, although probably the least important and yet most bizarre. If nothing else, it’s been a brilliant distraction from looking at all the pics from the London premiere of HP7.2, which seem to have been triggering a major waterworks for everyone. I watched a little bit of it yesterday until I finally had to turn it off. My heart was just a little too permeable to get through work with dry eyes, and I really needed to.

It is certainly remarkable, I think, to look at how important and poisonous the subject of immortality is in the Harry Potter books (did Christian send me a photo of a t-shirt yesterday that says “Make Love, Not Horcruxes”? Yes, yes he did) and yet also realize that Harry has achieved on an extradiegetic (sorry, favorite word!) basis what Voldemort could not on an intradiegetic one. But because we, as fans, continue the story, and because Harry Potter also extends our own stories as something that has marked time and events in our lives, there’s also a sort of victory over mortality for the character in and beyond (as opposed to outside of) the original context of the narrative as well.

On that note, I’m headed off to work now, and then Patty and I are going to continue our plan to eat fabulous food in Boston and environs (if you don’t all know Evoo, know Evoo), and do as little else as possible. After the weekend we’re back into our busy lives, our apartment hunt, our battle against the plywood, and just trying to do what it takes to be ready for whenever we’re in the right place at the right time.

Soon, hopefully, I’ll get caught up on Torchwood: Miracle Day and have time to write about another boy who lived forever; this one, because he was loved in a way he didn’t quite want.

Fandom Old Home Week: I’m not ready yet

I’m on another very early train to Boston (wrapped in my Slytherin hoodie, I might add, because it’s really cold on this thing) with very little sleep. In fact, four hours of sleep is sort of becoming my new six hours — i.e., less than I’d like but certainly enough that I’m perfectly capable of functioning. In a way, I’m thrilled. I need more hours in the day, and I’ve always been envious of micro-sleepers. On the other hand, the idea of crashing out for ten hours multiple nights in a row sounds really, really sexy right about now.

While this doesn’t count as a Friday trash day post (since it’s actually Thursday), I did want to sneak in here and mention that it’s sort of fandom old home week around here right now. The last Harry Potter film is coming out next week, and Torchwood: Miracle Day launches this weekend. And I have a bucket of feelings about both.

For Harry Potter all I can think is that this is the end. Again. I mean, we already did this right? There was that night the last book came out and small child came up and introduced itself to me because he wanted me to know that Severus Snape was his favorite (yeah, I was totally in costume), and then Kali and I stood on the street corner and squeed at each other about Lucius Malfoy’s albino peacocks.

No, really. Sure, I cried multiple times during the seventh book (and not just because of the tedium of the Endless Camping Trip of Despair), but for Kali and I, all the vindication was totally in those albino peacocks; they are so the same sort of ridiculous stuff she and I are always coming up with. Because Harry Potter was how she and I started writing together.

It was fanfiction at first (and sometimes still) — starting with Harry Potter and then moving on to Torchwood (200,000+ words of that on something called I Had No Idea I Had Been Traveling, and it’s what the tattoo on my back comes from) — but as the question ranged farther and farther from the source material (“Okay, so how does a society that has a 2:1 male/female ratio work and what happens when it stops working?” “Right, now what does the evolution of Christianity look like in a world with magic? Does the formation of the CoE happen for more interesting reasons than divorce?” “All right, but, what if we take the European banking/sovereign debt crisis as a model for our magical system?”) we wound up working on our own original novel full of multi-generational intrigue, war and desire. About the only resemblance it bears to Harry Potter at this point is its length. One day we’ll finish it (in the midst of the gazillion other projects we both have our hands in together and seperately with other collaborators), and find a way for you to see it.

She and I are both too old to have grown up with Harry Potter, but maybe we found a way to be grown-ups in the decade plus we’ve spent being fans of it. Without the demarcations of high school and college to keep track of what happened when, I find I can often recall what year I was with which lover or worked on which show or lived in which apartment by mapping it to which Harry Potter book or movie had most recently been released.

Despite being the author of The Book of Harry Potter Trifles, Trivias and Particularities, I’ll admit haven’t been as close to Harry Potter in the last few years as I once was; I haven’t even been to a Harry Potter con since Terminus. I guess, at some point, I stopped feeling like Severus Snape and started feeling like Captain Jack Harkness, which is either a story for another day, or one I’ve already told.

These days, as you know, I’m sort of consumed with Glee, which is pretty much the definition of a bright, shiny object, and which harbors a character I identify with in some pretty uncomfortable ways. But just because my new relationship energy is all over that doesn’t change all the other people I’ve been and all the other stories I’ve loved.

Which means I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready for it to be the last Harry Potter movie anymore than I was ready for it to be the last Harry Potter book. And I’m really not ready to see Jack struggle with the consequences of realizing that there’s a good man in him somewhere that he’s really never quite going to be able to be.

We’re going to go to the last midnight Harry Potter opening together with our partners. And I’m sure that somewhere during Torchwood: Miracle Day she’ll call me and laugh sadly and say, “Are you all right, Jack?” while I pace on the sidewalk outside my apartment because I just can’t stand how much it all hurts.

But until all that happens and the tears come, I’m going to dig up my old wizard rock playlist, explain to Patty why Hermione Granger really is the most beautiful girl in the world, and be very, very glad for the very real adventures I’ve gotten to have because of a whole bunch of people who never were.

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

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.

actors, playing gay, and the perils of Twitter

Lots of things about being an actor can be less than fun. Anyone who does this sort of work will tell you that there are some parts of the job that just suck: weird working hours, unsteady pay checks, unpredictably long days, filming summer scenes in the dead of winter (how to know if you can really act: can you look happy about wearing a tank top and a mini skirt in 30 degree weather?). But few things inspire quite as much dread as love scenes.

As a performer I’ve largely been spared this, but not enough not to know that yeah, it sucks. It’s one of those things that falls somewhere between ludicrous and boring and embarrassing. Why it’s awful varies with the project and the people involved. Sometimes it’s worse when you’re genuinely attracted to the other performer; sometimes it’s worse when you can’t stand them; or when you’re buddies with their spouse. All of it’s pretty anxiety producing. For me, I get this running loop of terror in my head about how I need to give a good performance and look into it, but if I look too into it, will my partner in the scene mock me (this, for the record, has never happened, but it’s the neurosis I bring to the table — everyone has at least one).

One thing that can be, or can be assumed to be, tough for a lot of people, is doing love scenes with someone of a gender they’re not attracted to in their off-screen life. Because my tastes are wide-ranging, that’s not an experience I’ve had, but I can see how it would be super weird. And I don’t find it problematic that people find it weird. There can be a lot of social taboo going on there, no matter how progressive you are and no matter how much you get paid to pretend to be someone else.

Now, knowing, in fact, that it’s super weird for a lot of people, and that there are still way too many social stigmas out there about homosexuality (let’s face it, no one ever worried about whether a lesbian is comfortable making out with a man on screen), if you’re going to be playing gay on screen, especially in a love scene, casting will seriously, seriously ask you if you’re okay with that. Your agent will talk to you about the pros and cons of the choice. And sometimes, you’ll even have to sign something saying you won’t sue anyone if this playing gay thing leads to reputational damage (for the record: I’ve been questioned by casting more closely about my willingness to play gay, even after I’ve informed casting about my own orientation, than I have been about my willingness to have live insects placed on my body).

I’m not joking. I know we all wish I were.

So at the point that you are an actor and you’re booked to do a love scene with another actor of the same sex, and you’re straight and thinking “Oh shit, I hate filming love scenes and OH MY GOD, I’ve never kissed another dude before,” you’ve already had plenty of time not to sign up for this. I get that you’re stressed. I get that it’s weird for you. And I’m not asking you not to feel that way. Because filming love scenes SUCKS.

But in this age of constant interviews and the ill-considered opportunities for general crankiness Twitter provides, please think very carefully before you speak on the record about this experience. Because when your anxiety about this process reads as “playing gay is disgusting, and I’m worried about getting the gay cooties on me,” you look like a bit of an arse. At best. And it’s really hurtful to gay fans of a given property to hear that someone can’t stand playing a character that might be someone we can actually relate to.

This happens, unsurprisingly, all the time. It’s recently happened through some now deleted tweets in one of my fandoms of choice. And it’s happened before regarding other actors and properties that are important to me. Seriously, if you’re going to be in a film (no matter how terrible) about Alexander the Great, don’t make snide comments about the gay. Ditto for Torchwood. Double plus ditto for anything that is inherently and overwhelmingly a gay narrative.

So, “Hey, I have to do this thing that’s uncomfortable for actors in general and is new to me in this particular situation ’cause I’ve never kissed a dude before and I’m feeling a little strange about it; acting is so weird” — totally cool; it’s a weird job!

But, “Any hot chicks want to help me get the gay off?” Not cool, man, not cool.

The brutality of being chosen

One of my creative associates (who may have words with me at that particular phrasing in the name of identity plausible deniability) has a discussion piece up on Friends of the Text today about the premise of being chosen within texts and the idea of being chosen by texts. Thematically relevant to the stuff that interests me? You bet.

But also, of course, thematically relevant to my life. It’s easy to say, I think, and Balaka says as much in the piece, that everyone wants to be chosen. It is, she notes, like winning in the passive voice. But I wonder. Do boys want to be chosen as much as girls? Is the chosen part of the narrative what makes Harry Potter and Star Wars exciting to the male segments of their audiences? Do men have a Pygmalion narrative in their fantasies, one in which they are the transformed and not the transformer? Are women more socialized to this idea of being chosen? Is that why Twilight flies off the shelves? What’s it like, I wonder, to grow up, wanting to choose. Who is that person? And how are they formed? Were they once waiting to get chosen and finally got sick of not having magic powers or not becoming a star just for sitting at the table in the window of some diner?

It’s a sticky, nasty, uncomfortable question. At least for me. Because it touches, potentially, not just on ideas of gender, but also on ideas of dominance and submission and of leadership. It speaks to the troubling idea that chosen just means, “you’re good enough to be transmuted into gold.” It’s not just that you’re nothing without being chosen, it’s the suggestion that you’re nothing without acquiescing to the consequences of being chosen, and they are legion.

For me, this whole chosen business also speaks to ideas I have about the directorial imagination and my fears about whether I have enough of one. And it speaks to the doubt I have about the idea that the best thing anyone can do for themselves is get over that fantasy of being chosen, even though I know that waiting isn’t how to do life, poetic, rigorous, and narratively enticing though it may sometimes be.

Of course, I work in industries that largely are about “winning in the passive voice.” I write something, and then someone snatches it out of a pile of slush and publishes it. Sure, sometimes I get asked for things up front, and sure, I have to write things (which is an active endeavor) before waiting for them to get chosen, but “winning in the passive voice” is definitely the right description of the experience of it. At least for me.

Acting can be even more bizarre in that regard. You get a call; someone likes how you look; can you come in now and show us what you can do? It’s “winning in the passive voice” before there’s even a chance of winning in the active voice, and trust me, when they say you’ve got it, and it’s a contract, it doesn’t, in that moment, feel like you did anything, other than get plucked out of a crowd. A week later, you might recall how damn hard you worked for that opportunity, but the first flush of reaction is, at least for me, and I suspect for many other performers is “They picked me! Me!” Chosen.

“Winning in the passive voice.” It implies all of the benefits and none of the hard work of this success thing, doesn’t it? Seems snazzy. But there’s a real brutality that underlies it, one of clay in the kiln, and the insidious possibility that it might have actually been a certain peculiar and shifting inadequacy that brought you to attention. To be fair, I grew up as a dancer, and being chosen meant being told how you were wrong and being pressed harder and further into shapes to which you did not yet conform. But I suspect, regardless of background, that for a lot of people, it is this idea of brutality that appeals.

To return us to matters of the text and this idea of being chosen by the text, it makes me think about the work I’ve done regarding death and mourning. Or, at least, the tangential experience I’ve had in having done that work of seeing a lot of anger and distress from audiences in which beloved characters do die. Does this speak, I wonder, to this idea of being chosen by the text, and then finding out — for those who have had negative reactions to these fictional deaths — that this was really not what you signed up in that moment where you felt the text chose you. Conversely, for those of us who have felt vastly satisfied in those losses, is it because of the relief of encountering the expected brutality in our selection by the text?

And it’s not just on death that texts can brutalize us. Look at Bella in Twilight and look at our reactions. Is not the inspired longing for that type of impossibility a brutality of the text? Is not what Bella experiences in the face of the love she endures another brutality of the text, this one intradiegetic, instead of extradiegetic?

What, ultimately, do these narratives of being chosen suggest to us about the ethics of favor and brutality in our relationships with texts and in texts’ relationships with us? And how much choice do we have about those relationships, when the narratives themselves are, at base, about not having choice, and the supposedly great good fortune of that condition? Nobody ever asked Harry Potter if he wanted to save the world.

Thinky thoughts are a double thumbs up. Please make sure to give Balaka’s post some love too, especially if your reactions are more about her work than my little digression/extrapolation here. I would also particularly love to hear here from men on the subject of Pygmalion narratives and anyone who feels they are instinctively wired towards being the one who chooses.