- Writer-Director REBECCA LOUISELL (Why I Smile, "LA Picker," Genderfreak)
- Producer TEODORICO SAJOR (Embedded, Why I Smile)
- Cinematographer ELIZABETH YARWOOD (The Couple Downstairs, Why I Smile, "The Wonderly Way")
- Composer JORDAN BALAGOT (Ascendance: The Angels of Change Documentary, Genderfreak, I Do)
I’m very interested in subverting the popular narrative as far as portrayals of trans people, especially trans youth, LGBT youth of color and young people from the Midwest. While the narrative for trans people has changed some recently, especially with TV shows such as Transparent, Orange is the New Black, I Am Cait and I Am Jazz and films such as Tangerine, there is still more that can be done to portray young trans people of color and the variety of their lived experiences. This is something that is important to me. It comes out of working with LGBT young people for many years, some of whom were transgender and/or genderqueer, identifying as part of the LGBT community myself, and being married to a trans person.
Are you teaming, or creating connections, with any groups focused on transgender issues or policies? Do you have plans for your film to serve in any educational or social consciousness-raising capacity?
Last month, I did a workshop with a group called Transforming Families MN in Minneapolis. We did a table read and the workshop participants gave input on the script and what they thought worked and what didn’t yet work. The group was made up of youth and adults, and they all had interesting, smart and thoughtful feedback. So that was amazing. I hope to workshop the script with other groups but it depends on if the groups are willing and can make the time.
As far as concrete plans to utilize the film in an educational or social consciousness raising capacity, I am not focused on that at this time. I want to make the best work I can and I hope that the project is nuanced and gets inside people’s hearts and heads – gets them feeling first, then thinking. That said, my thesis short film Genderfreak was ultimately included on an educational collection that went out to gay/straight alliances in the US and Canada in collaboration with Frameline.
You mentioned to me by email that you'd like to film Tomás and Ines in your home state of Minnesota rather than Los Angeles. Why is this important to you?
The biggest reason is that there is a lack of stories told about growing up in the Upper Midwest. It’s an interesting place, not everyone knows that much of the Midwest, especially the Upper Midwest, are blue states. Minnesota has a long history of populist politics from the small farmer and labor movement of the early 20th century. There’s a complexity between the groups that intersect there. In addition, I’ve always loved the Minnesota landscape. As I was considering switching careers to become a filmmaker, I noticed through watching films such as Sweet Land, North Country, and A Simple Plan that the landscape photographs extremely well. So I’ve been thinking I would like to shoot something in Minnesota for as long as I’ve known I wanted to become a filmmaker. I realized this story might even be more interesting and unique if it’s set in Minnesota rather than LA, and I would like to be able to tell a story that shows how the heartland of America is becoming more and more diverse.
You have a few key creatives on board your team now: a producer, cinematographer, and composer. Could you discuss how you went about assembling your team?
We have all worked together on previous projects. Liz (Elizabeth Yarwood, cinematographer) and I went to USC together and worked on an advanced documentary project wherein we had to travel to northern California and to San Diego, so I think our friendship is rooted in lugging heavy equipment up and down stairs. Also in eating a lot of turkey sandwiches, since that was the cheapest healthy option we could find for meals. I met Teo (Teodorico Sajor, producer) through a writing group and we had a lot in common as far as our purpose in making films, so I ended up directing his short film Why I Smile. Liz shot it and Jordan and Teo wrote the song. Then Liz wrote the web series "LA Picker" which we produced together, and I directed it and she shot it. Jordan (Jordan Balagot, composer) and I met through a mutual friend and at the time I was looking for a composer for my thesis film. Jordan was interested in the project and it turned out we worked really well together professionally. Later we started dating and now we’re married. We still work together when we can. While we were doing Why I Smile I realized that I was lucky to be able to work with people I care about, who respect me as an artist and a person and who I have fun with. So whenever I can, I rope them into helping me, even on small projects, but especially on big ones. We’ve become a team that takes turns taking the lead and supporting one another.
Your script for this film has twice reached the second round of the Sundance Screenwriting Lab and also placed in the top 10% of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship entries. Can you discuss how your script has developed throughout that process?
I’ve been working on the script for a while now, and so far it’s just gotten better. This is in large part due to the writing groups I’ve been a part of over the last few years and the smart people who read the script and gave notes. I’ve also spent a lot of time working the script. Another huge leap for the script occurred when a friend of mine hooked me up with a script consultant who grew up queer in East LA and used to affiliated with a gang - Tomás’ brother’s storyline was strengthened from their feedback. Most recently, the workshop I did last month with Transforming Families MN, a Minnesota group that works with families who have a transgender or gender fluid family member, gave incredible feedback that I am currently incorporating into the script to transition it from being set in East LA to being set in Minnesota.
It's been said by some that humans are the storytelling species, that it is narrative that we latch onto and consume because that's simply how our brains function. What is your motivation to tell stories?
I want to represent women, people of color and the LGBT community in the diversity of their experiences. In college when I was studying art, one of my professors said that as artists, we have a drive to create. I do have a drive to create works that are beautiful, well crafted and entertaining, and I am a bit of an idealist. Before becoming a filmmaker I worked with young people, and since I myself grew up LGBT and as a woman, changing the way we tell stories about groups that still face oppression and misrepresentation is important to me.
Rebecca Louisell is a writer/director working in narrative, documentary and digital spaces. Louisell graduated from Carleton College with a background in fine art photography and mixed media, then worked with youth before returning to graduate school for film and television production at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts. While at USC, Rebecca received several scholarships and a College Television Award. Her MFA thesis film Genderfreak premiered at Outfest and showed at thirty festivals worldwide. Most recently, she directed Teodorico Sajor’s spoken word poem short film Why I Smile and nine episodes of the comedic web series LA Picker.