Communication is where a film lives and dies. It is essential for efficacy, for performance, and ultimately for translating a director’s vision to the screen.
To me communication is less about the art of talking than it is about the art of listening. I hired an all-female crew on Band Aid, which was deliberate on many fronts, one of which was rooted in this very issue. At the risk of over simplifying, women, by and large, are excellent communicators. Which is to say, they excel at the art of listening.
On our first day of production, I gave a brief state of the union (which was inevitably followed by a brief dance party, a must on day one…) in which I spoke about, among other things, the impact of words.
Obviously we are living through a very divisive time, and transgender issues are among the most controversial of what people call “the culture wars.” That was something I was aware of while making this movie, and its something we are aware of as we release it. That said, every film I make involves going as deeply as I can inside the lives.
During its development, production or eventual distribution, what specific challenge of communication did, or will your film, face?
The late, great advocate for documentary, Roger Ebert, once said that films serve as empathy machines. “We all are born with a certain package,” he said, as captured in the wonderful Steve James documentary. “We are who we are: Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person.
The so-called “red states”
There are a lot of people in the middle of the country, the rural areas, the so-called “red states” who may have never met a transgender person in real life. Even in the cities, many of us may fall into the same category. To many, their entire knowledge of the trans experience is through what they have seen in media.
However, I knew that if I was true to the spirit and person of Gigi, viewers would come to empathize and understand in a way they might never otherwise, because as Ebert said, movies do that. Communication is also really at the center of This Is Everything.
How Gigi communicates to her family, especially her father, that she was born a woman. She became famous on YouTube.
She communicated so openly and connected with millions in the process, inviting them into her journey to become a woman. She proved to be a great communicator to her own audience, and through her we had a roadmap as to how to communicate her story to our audience. Once you can understand a person’s background.
For me, the greatest communication challenge that I encountered while working on my film happened during the prep phase, where I was still scrambling to raise funds and cast my leads. This was my first feature and a lot of people just weren’t sure of me yet. And short of surgically implanting someone into my head, it was nearly impossible to convey to them how the film was going to feel different than just what they could read on the page. I knew from the onset that I wanted to make a stylized film and you can obviously show people a million images of things that inspire you or are in the vein of what you’re going for but the actual result of what you’re trying to do doesn’t really exist yet, so it can be very difficult to explain.