Blog by: Daniel Laabs
What inspired you come up with the idea for the film – why did you want to tell this story?
I started writing the film 7-8 years ago. I was 27 and I was at a critical point in my life. Up to that point, I was closeted and was still living under the fears and anxieties I’d developed as a teenager in the late 90s. The script came first, the action came second. After showing the script to my producers at the time I knew I needed to come out and tell them why I wanted to tell this story. I wrote that first draft then and then rewrote the script and added a character in 2016. One half of the film is inspired by the emotional turmoil of unpacking decades of pain and regret and the other half is concentrated on the intellectual journey to find your place in the world. The whole movie comes from my experiences coming out without being a coming out film. It’s a personal film, but not an autobiography.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
There is a scene when one of the characters adopts a dog. It is pure fantasy for me. We always had a dog growing up. I love pets very much and want to be a puppy parent. But I live a fairly unstable life, lots of travel, I work all the time. My plan is to wait until that stuff settles down more before I become a dog owner. But I dream about being one every day, I feel like my desire comes through in that scene pretty clearly. Also, there is another character in the film that crushes on her straight friend and I did that a lot as a teenager, hearts can, will, and do break.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Originally Jules died. She doesn’t in the final film. I changed her story two drafts before we shot. I was more nervous about that change than anything else in the film. It changed the movie dramatically in tone, but it also made the movie much more emotionally complex and real.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
To shoot the film. At the eleventh hour, a small indie studio offered to completely fund development and repackage the film. After 6 years of fighting to get the film made, it was the email and phone call I’d always wanted to hear. This was 5 days before production and we didn’t have enough money to get through production. So the safer bet would’ve been to take the offer. I attribute the film’s production successes entirely to the producers on the film who made sure we’d make it.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
We were pretty conservative. Generally, we worked very hard to avoid risky situations. The tensest it got was when we’d be out filming and, this was right after Trump’s election, there would be people who didn’t like the type of movie we were making. They would make things uncomfortable in between takes. Dallas is very queer-friendly, but there are pockets that are not and we definitely found ourselves in homophobic situations. Nothing violent or anything, but definitely tense culture clash kinda stuff.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
The actors and the locations, they demand your attention and Noe Medrano Jr. (the film’s cinematographer) followed their lead. The Texas I experienced when I was coming out was also a touchstone. The scene we shot at the Omni Dallas was actually the spot where I came out to one of my oldest friends. It was a beautiful night. He was staying there and had a room with a balcony. So shooting there was important and iconic. The coloring of the film was 99% done onset, so we had rules for color. I think that comes through in interesting ways. I don’t think I would go so crazy with color again. I accidentally watched the movie all the way through in B&W recently and it is very different. I’d be curious at some point to watch it that way with an audience that didn’t know the difference and see how it felt.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
It is a very personal film. I wrote Maya as gay before I had come out, knowing that I would one day have to talk openly about why I wrote her. Back then the thought of telling my parents would’ve petrified me. So initially that was the big risk for me. But I knew it was right, and that I had the courage. In a lot of ways writing the script was that first act of courage, discovering my self-worth for the first time. My pride. It wasn’t easy.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screenwriting or film producing?
Think about your audience a lot. Watching a movie is a lot like having telepathic conversations with another person. Know that your film is going to say something about you. Try and figure out what that is and become that voice’s shepherd. Then find allies who want to fight to protect that voice too. Don’t sweat the rejection and the failures. Every film has their own journey. Making a film comes with a lot of drama and politics. That stuff doesn’t matter in the end. The work speaks for itself. Keep your eyes on your own paper and make sure you gave it every you got. Protect your voice.
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