Lezbelib: Speciﬁcally in the lesbian community, how do you think this ﬁlm is different and will stand out from the rest?
Velinda: Our lead gets to be gay AND deal with other human issues. We certainly aren’t the first story w/ a gay lead to do that. Still, the struggle in this film isn’t about being gay so it will stand out from some. It really excites me that gay characters are transcending the ‘lesbian genre’ and appearing in the regular worlds of TV & Film. More of that, please!
Maura: I hope that the lesbian themes are integrated seamlessly into all other issues this character is dealing with -- extreme grief, family, finding self-value and acceptance. I want it to be a piece of the puzzle versus the entire focus of the movie. While we will always have stories of coming out and struggles with acceptance around that, this isn't the central focus of every LGBTQ person’s life. We need to start expanding and telling other stories so this can stop being a niche market and become the norm, as it is in life. A bit of the life imitates art imitates life dilemma.
Lezbelib: Maura, what made you decide to do this ﬁlm?
M: The incredibly complex female character…one might even say they’re real people ;-) This is one of the few scripts I’ve ever read that passes the Bechtel test, ( Look it up) not sure why this is so hard to do.This script depicts real people and there are incredible details that make you so invested in these characters, more so than many of the scripts I’ve read. There is a scene where Lauren goes back to the house she shared with her girlfriend for the first time since her death and Carrie walks in on her just staring at the fingerprints on the microwave –it’s all these little moments that make a person and a life. I also appreciated that the lead being gay wasn’t the central theme of the story (although important) because this depicts a reality that we are living in; while she still struggles with unspoken discrimination from her mother , her real struggle in this moment is slogging through the grief from the loss of the love of her life.
Lezbelib: Velinda, is this ﬁlm based on real experiences?
V: This film is based on a thousand real experiences, but the central plot is fictional. Like, I’ve never hooked up with my brother’s girlfriend… but I have hooked up in a bathtub… that kinda thing. While writing, Todd (The co-writer) and I found ourselves living out some of the scenarios already written, so we’d go back and re-write with new truth. For example, Lauren is dealing with the death of her serious girlfriend. While writing, Todd lost his father and stepmother. I lost my grandmother and girlfriend of several years. After handling the details of death and loss, mundane things we otherwise may not have considered became a part of the script.
Lezbelib: How did you both get into ﬁlmmaking?
V:I started out as an actor then began producing/writing when I realized there’s a lack of great parts for women. I was encouraged by my teachers, Jeffrey Tambor and Elizabeth Payne, to generate my own material rather than wait around for someone else to do it.
M: I grew up in a theater company – we had a strong, network of talented actors, writers, and directors that all moved to NYC one by one. I went there to study acting at the School for Film and Television (now NYDA). Shortly after graduating I realized that acting wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. By a weird twist of fate I ended up interning at a production company and fell into that world. I never really made a decision to follow that path; I just kept getting the next job and was having fun doing it. Directing feels like a very natural next step, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do as it merges my base in acting with the more leadership elements of production.
Lezbelib: Is the character Lauren based after anyone either of you know in real life?
V: Not directly, though some of her experiences are based on familiar ones. When I first approached Todd I told him I wanted to tell a story about a girl in Oklahoma who wasn’t straight… probably b/c I was a girl from Oklahoma who wasn’t straight. But we never intended for Lauren to be based on me.
M: Lauren has a lot of pieces of people I know. She’s complex and dealing with a really intense life situation – I can’t even imagine what I would do if the person who I was going to spend the rest of my life with, died. I would probably crawl into a hole and never come out. I’ve watched people go through this and it is a terrible situation. In our story Lauren unfortunately makes some missteps that bites those closest to her, another thing I’ve seen happen over and over.
Lezbelib: What genre inside the lesbian community would you classify this ﬁlm? (ex: romantic lesbian comedy, horror, ect)
V: Do I have to? I’m not a fan of genres. I feel like they pigeon hole films into ‘they are this or that,’ but if I have to I would say this is a family drama with some hints of dark comedy and elements of romantic intrigue and upset – that’s on a shelf at the video store right?
M:It’s a drama. There’s no getting around it. BUT there’s a lot of comedy (dark comedy?) b/c desperate people are funny.
Lezbelib: What are some of your favorite ﬁlms where woman are central characters?
V: Bridesmaids! Then on the indie level, Winter’s Bone was extremely well done. (And I’m not just saying that b/c Maura was involved).
M: Anything with Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep or Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce, The Killing, Blue Jasmine are some of many examples)– all of them have these amazing women that are just messing up left and right, but they’re powering through and trying to do the best they ….there are so many others, but these are big bodies of work that come to mind.
Lezbelib: In Heartland, set in small town Oklahoma, the lesbian thing is sort of danced around, never really landing from family members, is this something that's personal to you?
V: Definitely. I'm from Oklahoma. There (and I'm sure in other small towns), people are quite good at pretending away things they don’t want to acknowledge. It has to do with being nice, but it can also be pretty lonely. Trust me.
M: Definitely, I think it’s personal to our whole generation. There are still a few living generations where being gay or talking about somebody that is gay is taboo. Certain parts of the country are still passing that message down. I have a really hard time comprehending this fear and hatred partially because gay community and culture is such a natural part of our day-to-day lives now. I don’t understand why anyone wants to make it their life mission to deny that an entire race of people exists. Or that anyone should hate them for no reason other than they are different than you. In our story, Lauren has a mother that blatantly denies this huge piece of her exists – this creates such a deeply rooted insecurity.
Lezbelib: Is there a reason you chose to tell this story at this time?
V: I think the story reflects the zeitgeist and on our generation. We’re seemingly in the middle of a slow shift from being tolerated to being accepted. There’s a big difference and that’s addressed in Heartland.
M: It’s us and it’s one of our stories. I feel that this is the next step. We’ve had stories of coming out and struggles with intolerance for a long time now and in this story we’re recognizing that the intolerance still exists, but in a more subtle and common way. Now it's mixed in with a whole bunch of other human struggles.
Lezbelib: Maura, this is your directorial debut, how are you going to show the vision of this story in a different light?
M: To me, success would be weaving together all of the complexities of this story so that each audience member can take away their own personal message. I think the deepest current is self-acceptance and finding a way to live true to you, but mixed in with that are themes of grief, family, intolerance, love, and betrayal. Everyone has dealt with different elements of these themes at moments in their life. There is an inherent comfort in seeing a movie where you go, “Oh, other people have been through ____too, I’m not alone.”
Visually the goal is to make the viewer feel like they’re there with Lauren – you can see an example of this in the conceptual scene we filmed, it’s intentionally shot to make it feel like you’re there in the bathtub with them
Lezbelib: I'm sure there are many young people all over the world that this story will touch, is there anything speciﬁc you want to say to them?
V: Make your own family and only keep those around who empower you. Find the good ones. They’re out there, I swear!
M: Not to sound prophetic, but ‘this too shall pass.’ We have all had those days, weeks, months, years that are complete shit and we question who we are and what we are doing. We meet Lauren in one of these moments where everything is upside down and we watch her struggle, fuck up and try to fix it with varying degrees of success. It’s hard to keep perspective today, with social media, everyone’s lives seem better than yours. When things aren't' going well, you can feel like the only person that has anything bad is happening to. To that I would say find your community and embed yourself, if you don’t have a family make one because that will get you through anything.
Lezbelib: In Heartland, a storm hits causing a slew of mischievous events to occur, have either one of you ever been in a tornado? Whats it like?
V: Yes! I’ve never witnessed a tornado touching down, but when I lived in OK I had to cram into a tub or closet multiple times. The summer when I was 8, we had to get in my grandparents’ cellar three times one week. The first time my sister and I were so terrified we bawled apologies to each other for every wrong ever done. We said “I love you” and clung to each other, sure it was the end for us. After that we were planted in front of the weather channel for days, excitedly anticipating more. There wasn’t a lot to do in Frederick, OK.
M: Not tornadoes, but I have been in hurricanes and blizzards. It’s kind of exciting and adrenaline inducing, one of the few experiences where you realize humans are nothing against Mother Nature. There is this feeling of banding together and hunkering down to “weather the storm.” It does create a certain closeness that I think we see quite literally in Heartland.
Lezbelib: I think it's so wonderful that you're young, female independent ﬁlmmakers, how do you plan on raising all the funds for this project?
V: It’s a fact women’s films are much harder to fund. And this budget level doesn’t excite typical film investors. So, we are turning to people who want to see this film and are asking them to help through crowd funding! Please, help if you can here: (https://igg.me/at/heartlandmovie) and take a look at the teasers and great perks!
M: We are raising our cash capital through crowd funding. We have fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas so all donations are tax deductible. However, that doesn’t even take into consideration the number of free and reduced cost favors and donations that family and friends are making in the form of time and services to make this film look like it costs much more. We already have a strong community around this project and we know this will be a great movie and is an important story to put out there into the world.
Here is the indie gogo link: https://igg.me/at/heartlandmovie
Photo credit: Heartland