BLACK VELVET: A DIRECTOR’S GUIDE TO QUEER UNDERGROUND HOLLYWOOD
Queer underground cinema has changed. New voices from around the world emerge every day, bringing unique LGBTQ perspectives to mainstream culture. With easy access to crowd funding and cheap production, how does one film stand out against the rest?
Early one February morning I got an email from Verena from TQU, saying she was visiting LA and wanted to connect. We met to discuss my film Black Velvet, my process for making the film and chatted briefly about our own unique (and sometimes-bizarre) experiences with Scientology: the Celebrity Center looming over our heads just across the street from the sidewalk café we were sitting at, the Bourgeois Pig. Verena is at the forefront of a global movement of tastemakers and artists shaping the culture of the future. Listening to her talk about how the Transnational Queer Underground is no longer underground, how it’s at your fingertips and influencing every part of our global society, inspired me to open up about what it’s really like to be an LGBTQ Filmmaker of Color in Hollywood.
If you’ve ever engaged with crowd funding you know how incredibly difficult it can be. The reality is most of the money you raise comes from people you know. However, the buzz and legitimacy of watching a community come together to back a project is crucial to the sustainability of any artistic endeavor in the digital age.
For my feature Black Velvet, crowd funding did a couple things: First, the work I put into my Kickstarter Campaign (the fundraiser that came before it, the hundreds of emails to press, and countless phone calls, emails, and parties it took to get people to open their check books) gave contributors the confidence to believe they were supporting something that had a chance of survival, but above all it solidified my shooting deadlines and obligated me to complete principal photography. Too many people were involved; I couldn’t give up.
Directing my first feature documentary taught me what I was capable of as a filmmaker. It also opened the door to conversations with industry leaders, conversations I would have never been a part of without completing the film; the kind of wisdom that’ll stay with me for the rest of my career.
In many ways life has imitated art in the early stages of my career. T-Boy (the star of my Documentary) once told me, if he plays to a room of 100 people, 99 might leave, but the one person that stays is a fan for life. Black Velvet tells the story of T-Boy’s struggle to survive in the newly gentrified New York, his reconciliation from his time in the pre ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ US Navy, and how he reconnected with his estranged family after coming out of the closet. The film is not about a big American Idol moment where T-Boy finds overnight success, but about the process of finding his voice as an artist, and how he’s (slowly) building a fan base in Germany where his unique style is celebrated. For me, the Director of Black Velvet, the path to becoming a Queer Underground Filmmaker has not been about instant success, but about lasting connections.
Sometimes the best asset for the life of your career as a filmmaker is changing your perspective. The old saying,”Hope for the best, but plan for the worst” still stands true and couldn’t be more accurate in the film industry. Believe that you are worthy of every goal your heart desires, but expect to be given nothing. Be prepared for NO.
For me no’s are an opportunity to take a step back, appreciate what I’ve accomplished, and shift my perspective on what my ultimate goals are. If for example your goal is to create a film in order to learn how to make a film, don’t beat yourself up if it is not well received. If the goal is to “break into the industry”, accept that “breaking in” comes in many forms. Your timeframe may not be realistic for what the market can offer you in terms of the type of films your making. Either be willing to bend to the market, or accept that your path might take a more organic (and many times a much slower) path.