When making a film, the circumstances in which you find yourself are always a surprise. Tuesday Nov. 4, 2008 was supposed to be a day off for a feature film I was producing. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. On Monday the 3rd, we were shooting on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles well after midnight when our set was nearly knocked down by wind and rain. We were forced to suspend shooting and call the cast and crew in on their day off to finish the scene.
Thus, while the nation chose its new leader, we went about the business of making our movie. In between takes we watched -- via wireless internet connections -- as Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States. His victory represented so many things -- a new beginning in a troubled time, the chance to restore our country's image in the eyes of the world, a civil rights landmark that seemed impossible not that long ago, and so much more.
It was amazing to be a part of the collective sense of hope that the victory caused. However, as the country celebrated and we went about making our movie, another landmark civil rights moment occurred: California voters passed Proposition 8, which banned marriage for gays and lesbians.
I have to admit that the impact of that vote did not hit me until days later -- when I witnessed the outpouring of grief and anger from friends whose vows had been taken from them; it was such a stark contrast to the idealism personified in Obama's victory.
To see people that I know and care about being treated like second-class citizens was something I was not prepared for; it's so contrary to the values with which I was raised. Oddly enough, aside from my friends who were personally affected, the people I sympathized with the most were a pair of fictional characters, Mabel Mayville and her wife Elle, from a short film I directed called Learning to Fly.
As a filmmaker, it's my job to put obstacles in front of my characters, help them find ways around those problems and force them to grow. As strange as it may sound, it hurt that this real world obstacle was presented to these characters and nothing I did would help them. Of course, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit Mabel and see how Prop 8 had affected her.
I decided to return to the format of a staged video blog, which I had used in the past for other shorts. What appeals to me about this device is that it rips away two of the biggest crutches a filmmaker depends on: editing and music. Here all we have is a small window into a character at a single, uninterrupted moment in time. Like theater, this brings an amazing level of danger to the actor's performance. They are out there on their own, there will be no cut, and there will be no post-production magic. The piece becomes dependent on the oldest and best special effect ever created: the human face.
Of course, the benefit of writing for Mabel is that I know that actress Marion Kerr will be there to speak the words and add depth that I never considered. When I presented Marion with the first draft of the script, she was open to the project but immediately recommended we tone down the raw anger that the script expressed. As she said, doing this piece would do no good if we simply preached to those who already agreed with us; to really achieve something, we would have to try and reach out to those who did not agree with our view point and see it from their side. Working together, I hope we have turned out a text that will, at the very least, make a few people dig a little deeper and reexamine their beliefs on this issue. I would consider changing a single person's point of view to be an amazing success.
Words aside, I defy anyone on either side of the issue not to be moved by Marion's performance. For me, Mabel's final statement of hope recaptures the wonderful feeling that I had standing on that rooftop in November as Barack Obama addressed the nation as president-elect. For a brief moment, it felt like this nation stood together and believed that everyone is created equal.
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