After a decade of
writing about mixed-orientation marriages, I was in a rut. My writing niche had absorbed me for a long
time, offering a reliable platform for additional assignments and media opportunities,
but the topic had become too comfortable. I was a one-note song and the lyrics were
There was an
up-side though. Interviewing straight
spouses continued its fascination. I was
touched by their anguish and willingness to tell their stories in order to help
others recover. Men and women who told
me their painful truths demonstrated courage and highly individual approaches
toward resolution. Their experiences
were moving, dramatic, inspirational, tragic or triumphant--the stuff of good
film. Why not use their stories as
material for a documentary on the straight spouse dilemma?
How hard could it
be to point a camera, interview people, and edit the segments together? My research had garnered dozens of subjects
who might be willing to be filmed. The
characters would simply leap from the page to the big screen. There was only one obstacle: I knew nothing at all about filmmaking or
conventions of documentaries.
Armed with a thin
veneer of information from a quick reading of Alan Rosenthal's Writing, Directing and Producing Films and
Videos, I started tapping acquaintances who might guide me. I met with two experienced filmmakers, neither
of whom wanted to take the project because they were too busy with other work. They also disheartened me with the startling
fact that the average cost of a documentary is $3,000 per finished minute. Whoa! My assumption that this would be easy
began to fade.
I stepped back to
think it over.
The whole idea had
been shelved for a year when I met Roslyn Dauber, a filmmaker with more than 20
years of experience, both as a producer/director in Los Angeles and an associate professor
at the University of Colorado. Roz was easygoing, supportive, and
non-threatening to a novice. Having been
a teacher, she took me on as a student and she agreed to co-produce
"my" documentary. March
That was the beginning of my elementary education in the film business and the
genesis of one of the most interesting and demanding projects of my life.
Roz and I met
every few days that first month and each time she taught me more about the
process, from concept to finished DVD. Dozens of decisions and agreements were
required. Foremost was purpose. What did I want to
accomplish? That wasn't so hard to
articulate, since the same motivation drove my books: To create resources for healing the wounds of
heterosexual men and women who unknowingly married homosexual mates. The primary audience would thus be straight
spouses, with additional possibilities in university classrooms, peer support
groups and therapy situations.
During those early
weeks, we discussed style, length, content, narration, budget, funding,
timeframe, and our mutual commitment of time. Decisions were needed on each aspect. There were also legal considerations. Binding contracts would be necessary with the
professionals, including the director, film editor, cover designer, and
composer of original music. We would
need releases from everyone who appeared in the DVD, allowing us to use their
image and name for educational purposes. As in writing, accurate citation of sources of
any quoted material is required.
It was soon
apparent that I was deluded in thinking that this would be simple, or that we
could just run around shooting video tape and patch it all together. There
could be no tedious talking heads staring into the camera. Interesting visuals had to be planned and
shot. Family photos would demonstrate
individuals' personal history. Roz
indicated that re-enactments with professional actors would be useful to depict
dramatic experiences, narrated with voice-overs of the straight spouses
themselves. It grew more and more
complex This wasn't just a home movie. It would be a professional, first class DVD that we could show with
pride, and it would take months, perhaps a whole year to accomplish.
following months of shooting interviews, the direction and movement of the film
slowly evolved. Its storyline began to
emerge, with dilemmas and rising action, climax and denouement. We were working with real people, sharing
their true experiences. Nothing they
said was scripted, so we used selections from their interviews as building
blocks to develop a thread of meaning that served as plot. With 500 pages of transcripts, it was like
putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle. Since length was critical, we continually cut
segments to stay within the 35-minute limit. The result is a lean, evocative montage of
anecdotes and fragments pointing toward hope.
As a writer turned
filmmaker, I had to see through a different lens. Every point is conveyed visually, not with narration. Echoing William Carlos Williams: No ideas but
in scenes and pictures.
It's the ultimate application of the
writing teacher's admonition to "show, don't tell!" I rewrote the script a dozen times, each
version leaner than the last. The final
narration consists of fewer than 15 sentences transitioning through the
32-minute film. Straight spouses
chronicle their own histories, without comment or interpretation.
narrative portions are necessarily condensed, it was essential that they be
read sensitively, with just the right tone and emotion. A professionally trained voice was needed. Could we interest a celebrity in the project? We had a stroke of great luck when Roz asked a
mutual friend to approach actress Ali MacGraw. The subject interested her; she read the
script and my previous book and watched a sample of the film in progress. Within a week, we had a contract and a date to
record her voice in a Santa Fe studio.
Of course, everything
cost more than I'd hoped, particularly as the months rolled by and deadlines
were extended. Roz had estimated a
minimum cost of $100,000 for production, but that didn't count marketing and
promotion costs afterward. At the very
least, we'd need a trailer for promotional purposes and a Web site to sell it
online. Expenses climbed.
What did all this
money buy? The major cost of any project is payroll: Compensation for the
director and film editor and several camerapersons. We needed original music to enhance dramatic
scenes. There were countless other
necessary expenses: Various
contractors-technicians who transfer video tapes to DVDs, for
example-administrative expense to transcribe every word of every tape,
specialized equipment, hundreds of video tapes, airfare and hotels and rental
cars for film shoots, and entertainment of interviewees. There was liability insurance, entry fees for
film festivals, dozens of Fed-X deliveries, postage, additional computer
equipment and photo scanners.
Near the end of
the project, the final cut of the video required color correction and audio
"sweetening." A thousand
copies of the finished DVD were made, with a thousand
specially designed covers. It all added
up to well over $100,000, and the total would have been even higher, but I
worked for nearly a year on the project with no compensation.
should recover some of the cost with sales of the DVD. But for me, the real payoff will not be in
dollars. It is the conviction that this
film carries a message of healing and hope and guidance for straight spouses
and their families. It is the only
documentary of its kind and the need for it is clear. This psychic reward is enough for taking the
"One Gay, One Straight: Complicated Marriages" DVD now on sale! Click the cover image at the top of the page for details.