INTERVIEW | Eric Schaeffer16th June 2015
Once in a while we come across a new small movie that is unafraid to tackle important issues with a very big heart, and Boy Meets Girl is certainly one such film. It is a tender, human, sex-positive romantic comedy that explores what it means to be “real”: to live and love authentically to the truth of one’s heart, regardless of the sex or small town you’re born into. We were so moved by the refreshing and sensitive way that writer/director Eric Schaeffer told this story that stars a transgender girl but is so much more about all the other people in her life who learn to embrace their own identities. It also challenges us to suspend our preconceived views on gender labels and be as open to what happens as these lovelorn kids are.
We were not the first to give this movie a 5 Star review, but THEGAYUK is the first UK gay publication to sit down with ERIC SHAEFFER to find out more about his remarkable new film, Boy Meets Girl.
RWD: Where did the story come from?
ES: It’s dramatically very similar to all my other eight movies. Everyone I know has a very colourful myriad of sexual and emotional feelings and interests that really don’t fit into the narrow boxes that society puts us in, and what I like to write about is breaking out of the confines of these boxes. I came up with this idea of writing about a transgender girl in a small town in the South and challenging the boy meets girl cliché, and so this is, in fact, a broad simplistic kind of romance but with a twist that middle America and the rest of the world can relate.
I am a straight man and I date women and I have dated transgender women as well in the past. Getting to intimately know some transgender women and also meeting transgendered men gave me the idea of wanting to write about them. The idea that a cisgender straight man who had always dated cisgender women started to be interested in dating transgendered women at a certain point of his life was very interesting to me. Opening up his heart and his eyes to dating these women I thought was a fascinating story especially as it had some real life correlation with me. However, quite honestly, the real driving force was much more abut making a story about people who at the core want to be loved for who they are, as that essentially is what all my films are about.
Without giving too much away, what surprises so many people who have seen the movie is that Ricky the transgender girl had the smallest arc and the smallest transition emotionally of any of the characters.
Everyone around her was having much more dramatic profound emotional realisations and that was very exactly what I planned. I wanted the character of Ricky the transgender girl to be ‘normal’ as possible in terms of her life goals, her challenges, her joys, her family and her friends. In a lot of movies, transgender characters are too often being portrayed as people who have all kinds of challenges that are different from cisgender people and that is not really the case in a lot of my own experience and from the research that I did. Most of my trans friends have very wonderful lives that are replete with all the same challenges and joys of cisgender people.
The other young leads Robbie, Francesca and David are characters who slowly realise that they are being challenged by having the courage to lead lives that they want to live, and with convictions that they feel are right regardless of what society tells them, they should feel and how they should live. This is really what this movie is all about.
BUY ERIC’S BOOK: I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single – Sane, Slightly Neurotic (But in a Sane Way) Filmmaker into Good Yoga, Bad Reality TV, Too Much Chocolate, and a Little Kinky Sex Seeks Smart, Emotionally Evolved … Oh Hell, At This Point Anyone Who’ll Let Me Watch Football.
RWD: How did you find the wonderful Michelle Hendley, and how important was it to you that you cast a transgender actress in this part?
ES: Besides Laverne Cox, there is a very very small list of transgender actors and actresses who are successful enough to be represented by agents, and so they are hard to find. I Googled both ‘transgendered women’ and ‘transgendered actress’, and by a stroke of luck, I found Michelle’s YouTube channel. On all her Vlogs she was talking about her life and her boyfriends and the fashions she liked and she clearly had a performance bone in her body because she was not afraid to be on the net and do these very impressive videos. She looked the part and is young and very pretty and had the right personality. When I got in touch with her she was understandably dubious because she didn’t know my work so she wasn’t sure if my offer of an audition was legit or not. I also had my concerns as she had never acted before and it is a far cry from having the charisma to make a Vlog to being in a feature film. Not only that, she was going to be the star in my movie, which was going to live or die on the performance of her alone. So I rehearsed and auditioned her over Skype and then flew her to NY and had her workshop with other actors. It was a six-month process before I gave her the part and over that time she worked harder and harder and got better and better.
I had a lot of latitudes because this was an indie movie with a small budget so I could cast anyone I wanted in that part. Had it been a bigger film with a lot more money behind it I would have been answerable to both investors and a studio and I would probably have been under a great deal of pressure to cast a famous cisgender actress in that role. While every actor can portray all sort of characters who they aren’t in real life, no one can argue with the fact that a transgender woman would have the absolute organic profound experience of being transgender. I also thought it an important element of this whole project that I give this unique opportunity to a transgender girl.
RWD: Was the YouTube plot line in the movie then taken from the Vlogs in her own life?
ES: No, not at all. I thought it would be unrealistic to have a movie where everything was just so completely fantastic in her life, so I wanted to ground her and show her exposing her more troubled and challenging part of her youth with her making these online videos. I got the idea when I was actually looking around on the Internet trying to find an actress to play the part. I don’t know how I ended up on this video of this young 13-year-old edgy Goth tough-looking girl who was doing this cue card video about being bullied. At the end of this video, she broke into a smile, which was so disarming and completely charming as it made her look so childlike and sweet and adorable. It literally broke my heart when I later found out that this particular girl’s life ended tragically as she either killed herself or was killed.
Although Ricky’s story has a much happier and positive outcome with such a supportive community, I still wanted people to understand that she didn’t always have a perfect life. So the cue card video sequence is to show that she had struggled with things that we all struggle with in her youth.
I always wanted it to be very realistic and in fact, it is on the edge of being a fable, but it was also a very crucial element to me to ensure that there is a lot of positivity in the story.
RWD: You very surprisingly gave her a completely supportive father and a loving kid brother. Why was that important to you?
ES: Again in the world of wanting to paint this transgender character as being realistic, I thought it important that she have a supportive family life. Like most people, I had suffered from the delusion that is born out of what the media tells us, which portrays transgender women as being victims of a system that denies them the same experiences as cisgender women and not having loving support in their world. In my research, I found that was simply not accurate and many of the transgender women I spoke with came from small communities in the South and were not bullied and had fully supportive families.
RWD: I read recently that someone wrote about your movies/TV shows: “They all tend to centre around love, or lovin’ and losin’. Usually involving sexual taboos at some point “which are a huge fascination of his”. How true is that, and where does Boy Meets Girl fit into that spectrum as a cursory glance at your resume, this seems quite a leap.
ES: I don’t think that this is a large leap at all. If one looks at my body of work you would see tremendous similarities with the themes that are running through this film with those in all my other films. However, I don’t mind people thinking it is a change because there are three big departures from my norm. Firstly I chose not to star in this film like I usually do, and secondly, I abandoned my usual setting of New York and placed the action in the deep South, and thirdly I was writing for the first time about people in their early 20s. However quite honestly to me, it dramatically talks about things that I have always talked about.
RWD: You swept the board at the San Diego Film Festival winning 11 awards, and amongst the many others you have been awarded is the prestigious Iris Prize in Cardiff. Do you think that will help you get the movie beyond gay film festival audiences?
ES: We opened in New York movie theatres two weeks ago and did extremely well and Wolfe Video who have the world rights are now rolling it out theatrically right across the US before releasing it on VOD/DVD later on.
RWD: Has it been marketed as a romantic comedy or specifically as an LGBT film?
ES: Marketing people hate it when I insist that it is simply a movie for people who like good movies. I love the fact that my audiences cut right across a radical age range and sexual orientation and gender race. All my films, especially this one, are heart films, and hearts speak to hearts, and everyone has one. We marketed the film not as straight or LGBT but as a smart edgy sexy romantic comedy.
RWD: You have a reputation for putting a great deal of your own story in your movies, is that a fair observation?
ES: People often say that, and I will admit that some of my stuff is autobiographical but quite a lot is not. Wirey Spindell which I wrote, directed and starred in, is totally from my life, and he is a character who I am very closely connected too. However, unlike him, I never made a death pact to kill myself at 30 (laughs).
The characters that I play in my own movies are very similar to me so in that respect they have the same personality traits, albeit thinly veiled. After Fall Winter, a movie I set in Paris, has a BDSM backdrop and the leading character that I play is interested in a lot of physical and emotional abuse. So much so that some of my friends who know I write about my life expressed their concerned and said, “Eric should we be worried about you?” I told them not to panic; I do have an imagination too (laughs).
RWD: Let’s talk a little about Eric Schaeffer. You have one of the longest and funniest titles for a blog ever which you parlayed into a book and then a TV reality series I Can’t Believe You Are Single. How do you like living your life out loud and so publicly?
ES: Whilst I would agree that it would appear that I lead my life very publicly in terms of some of my work, what may come as a total surprise is that I am also fiercely private too. In my book, I am certainly very open about aspects of my life and in my series, you can see me in some very compromising situations. Having said that I am a performer and I am a director and I do understand that there is a bit of me in every character that I play. I did that TV series 7/8 years ago and I really enjoyed it as it was fun to do, but that chapter of my life is definitely closed. I think going forward creatively that less personal projects may be more interesting to me now.
Our world is very fractured and there is still a tremendous amount of bigotry and suffering borne out of the delusion of separateness and I really want my work to unite people. I think that I’m just a regular old dude but the big difference between me and other old dudes is that I accept who I am and I talk about it.
RWD: What gives you the most satisfaction?
ES: I really enjoy creating TV shows and movies and being part of a community of people experiencing a TV show or movie that I have made. I was at a screening of Boy Meets Girl in New York last week and I saw two men who had their heads on each other’s shoulders as they watched the movie. When it ended they looked at each other and had a really sweet love heart kiss, and that brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the bond these two lovers had that in some way my film had helped them create, was just priceless to me. That’s why I do what I do.
RWD: What’s next for you Eric?
ES: I’m spending the next 6 months making sure that Boy Meets Girl gets in front of as many people as possible as it can. Unlike bigger budget films where the filmmaker’s job is done once the movie is in the can, the life of an independent filmmaker like me is completely different. It’s just like having a child but whereas well-funded filmmakers have nannies to raise them, as an independent director you are more like a single parent dad. Once I have given my child the best upbringing I can then I will start writing my next project that I have already had ideas for.