Speed Pressing: Interviews From Outfest Los Angeles’s First Press Day
An Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellow reflects on the program and shares some excerpts from interviews with Outfest Los Angeles filmmakers from the festival’s first ever Press Day.
By Kristian Fanene Schmidt
August, 4, 2023
A photo on the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival Opening Night red carpet of some of this year’s Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellows. From L to R: Marcus’Anthony II, Ose Ehianeta Arheghan, Jireh Deng, Eli Press-Reynolds, Lindsay Lee Wallace, Joey Harvey and Kristian Fanene Schmidt.
Having been a part of other press inclusion initiatives in the past, I let go of any kind of expectation when it came to support in mentorship, guidance from established industry professionals, and access to talent. Especially as a freelancer. These are typically lacking for journalists of color. It was a pleasant surprise to have had a positive experience of all three while taking part in the Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative during the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival.
As part of the Initiative, each fellow gets paired with a mentor who is an established LGBTQ+ journalist working in the industry. Getting paired up with Abbey White from The Hollywood Reporter was a blessing. They dropped a tonne of gems in our one on one call as well as in the group session where they spoke to all the fellows, along with Sarah Burke from Them. I’ve never experienced this level of assistance in other programs.
A huge barrier for writers in entertainment is getting past publicists to talk directly to filmmakers and actors. Fortunately for us, we had the ‘Filmmaker & Press Pitch Session’, where we got matched up with a variety of creatives who had work in the festival and for five minutes we got to kick it. While we didn’t get a heads up on who we’d be chatting with, I definitely had a blast getting to know each of my interviewees. They may have been brief but in that short period of time, I got to learn a lot about their personal lives and how it influenced their respective projects. The following are some of my favourite excerpts to come out of our chats.
Kevin Yee – A Guide To Not Dying Completely Alone
KEVIN YEE: This is a very unique way of doing things.
KRISTIAN FANENE SCHMIDT: It’s almost like Speed Dating! Have you ever done anything like this before?
YEE: No, not with press. We do this with industry people, yeah, I’ve done that in the past here, but not with press.
FANENE SCHMIDT: Sweet. So what’s going on?!
YEE: I have an episodic here. It’s called A Guide To Not Dying Completely Alone. It’s about a queer Asian writer who goes through mental health issues and he has an anxiety attack. He passes out in a gay bar bathroom and he wakes up in the hospital.
He realizes that he needs to change his life for the better and so through that, he starts writing a book called “A Guide To Not Dying Completely Alone”. So it’s kind of like a bitchy self-help “Eat, Pray, Love”. But it is the only Asian centered episodic playing at the festival.
That’s also why I made it. Because there’s so little queer Asian representation in television. I’m a television writer currently on strike so I am often hired to write in rooms for non-Asian people to give that Asian representation for their Asian character.
But I think that more Asian representation is needed at the center of projects by Asian creators. So that’s really been my goal and that’s why I made this to show so that Asian queer people can be centered in shows.
FANENE SCHMIDT: What’s your ethnicity, if you don’t mind me asking?
FANENE SCHMIDT: Is that the character’s ethnicity too?
YEE: Yes. It is really important to me specifically to differentiate the type of Asian it is. So in my story, I don’t think I necessarily say it, but it was in the authenticity of the casting too, where there’s me and then there’s a father character who is Chinese American as well. The director is Yan, who is a prolific Chinese American queer director. Our cinematographer was Joe Han. I just wanted to make sure that it was a very authentic viewpoint.
FANENE SCHMIDT: I know we’re on strike right now but can you talk about any of your other projects?
YEE: One that’s out now that actually isn’t under WGA jurisdiction so I can say it! I worked on an animated show for Disney Park. It’s called Haley’s On It which is brand new.
FANENE SCHMIDT: Snap! It’s got Cooper Andrews and Auli’i Cravalho right? I know it because they’re both Pacific Islanders. That’s awesome!
YEE: Yeah! It’s an amazing cast and it was amazing to work with them. That was my first time doing a cartoon too.
FANENE SCHMIDT: I really wanna watch it but I don’t have a Disney subscription.
YEE: Listen, I didn’t either and I just got it to watch my own episode.
FANENE SCHMIDT: *Laughs*
An Asian man with short black hair stairs blankly off camera. He sits in a cubical. A still from A Guide To Not Dying Completly Alone. Courtsey of the filmmaking team.
Meryem Lahlou – I Am Illegal
FANENE SCHMIDT: Tell me about your film.
MERYEM LAHLOU: I Am Illegal is a 12 minute film about how Moroccan society perceives queer people and how they attribute moral values to the way people look. It’s an experimental documentary where basically in the imagery, I have a lot of Moroccan people who are wearing traditional costumes and every costume has a meaning in the Moroccan society.
Some costumes are for weddings, for women, for rich people, for poor people, for religious people and everything. So we see those people trying to free themselves from the image that we attribute to them. And at the same time we hear recordings of people in the street in Morocco. Ask random people “what do you think of anyone who’s not straight?” You hear the most shocking things.
A lot of times they’re like “Oh, God doesn’t allow it. Yeah, this doesn’t exist. We should get them to prison.” And that’s something we should know that in Morocco, people go for three years in jail if they’re with someone who’s the same gender.
FANENE SCHMIDT: This isn’t comparable, but as a Samoan, religion, specifically Christianity, has had such a huge impact on homophobia and transphobia in Samoa. So in Morocco it’s tied to…
FANENE SCHMIDT: You were talking about different clothing in society, can you talk about how it comes into play for the queer community?
LAHLOU: A lot of men hide in women’s clothes because it’s a long veil. It hides their face. It’s something where you don’t see the body shapes, which is very religious. Another thing is that a lot of queer people are actually religious. Me included.
There are a lot of misinterpretations of religion. Because I personally believe that God told us to, you know, protect each other. Give the space for each other to just be whoever you wanna be or whoever you are. Like, don’t punish people for being themselves.
And if you see something that you personally don’t agree with, it doesn’t allow you to go attack that person, but rather give them the space to grow by themselves. That’s something to experience in my community too, so I can relate to that as far as looking for meaning in life and, and having this belief in God or a greater power, right? But there’s so much of that discrimination.
FANENE SCHMIDT: So for the queer folk who aren’t Muslim, do they have a place in society?
LAHLOU: Oh, totally. There are a lot of people who just don’t believe in God. Who don’t believe in religion at all. But that’s also an interesting thing is that none of them are trying to provoke people. Like a lot of them are just trying to live their life. You’re not gonna see a queer person going naked in the street. They still respect the culture. They still respect the values of society, which is something that I really encourage.
FANENE SCHMIDT: I’m assuming you’re based in LA now.
A person in a red, full body outfit with a hood and dress bottom. A white cloth face mask covers their face. A still from I Am Illegal. Courtsey of the filmmaking team.
FANENE SCHMIDT: I think I Am Illegal is such a interesting play because when people think of “illegal” here, it’s automatically associated with immigration.
LAHLOU: I actually didn’t think about that. Because I do know, like for example, one of my cast members is a Muslim trans woman, uh, Turkish person who ran away from Turkey because she was living in hell there. They find refuge here with, you know, immigration laws are always complicated. Paperwork is always complicated, so it kind of fits too.
FANENE SCHMIDT: When you think of someone who’s “illegal” in the US, they really demonize immigrants from particular countries. It’s a huge part of politics because it’s a hot topic. It makes sense that it has a different association in Morroco because there are different hot topics there.
LAHLOU: Yeah. Whenever you say that someone is illegal in Morocco, they would automatically think of their gender or their sexual orientation. I wouldn’t even…that’s some really awesome insight because we don’t have immigration problems in Morocco. But we have a big problem with people’s gender or anyone who’s dating, even straight couples.
It’s illegal to date. You have to be married to the person. If you’re just walking in the street or holding hands with someone, you might get arrested for one year of prison if you don’t have your certificate of marriage with you.
FANENE SCHMIDT: As a queer Moroccan, what did you learn from your interviewees?
LAHLOU: I think everything was new for me. Because I was very young in Morocco, I left at 18, so I didn’t understand a lot of things. I was considered like a teenager in crisis, trying to be rebellious. I was just a confused kid, you know? I mean, living at 18, you’re young, right?
The word queer, I just learned it here in the US. I didn’t know what it meant. And I’m like “oh, so it’s actually okay, I can actually date and I can do things without that judgment”.
To be honest, I was kind of terrified to come in here. The first time that I made my film, I published a post on Instagram. Very innocent kind of thing. And the first thing that happened is my dad called me. He was like “what is this word? Queer?!”
And you know, my parents are very conservative. I said “oh, it just means someone who doesn’t fit in the box of being normal in Morocco”. And then he’s like “are you insulting our country? You insulting our religion?”
FANENE SCHMIDT: Wait, your parents know you’re queer right?
LAHLOU: No. That’s why I am terrified.
FANENE SCHMIDT: Oh shit. Are you going to have a conversation before it comes out?
LAHLOU: They’re just gonna find out, eventually. Which I’m fine with. Because now I’m safe and I didn’t feel safe enough there. Here, I feel like there’s a community. I’m okay.
FANENE SCHMIDT: I can imagine the stress you’re in. I’m happy for you though. That you have that, you know, you’re able to do this. To put yourself out there. It takes a lot of courage.
A white man wearing a gray fedora embrassing another man with black hair. A still from For Years To Come. Courtsey of the filmmaking team.
James Patrick Nelson – For Years To Come
FANENE SCHMIDT: What’s your TV pilot For Years To Come about, James?
JAMES PATRICK NELSON: When my mother was dying, I found out my father was a porn director.
FANENE SCHMIDT: Oh, wow. Alright. How’d you find out?
PATRICK NELSON: Well, she was dying and when I went home to visit, it was imperative to just ask all the questions that I ever wanted to ask because I was never gonna see her again.
So I was doing the same thing with him. We were driving to Costco and I was asking him about art and weed in the seventies and how come I’d never seen any of the films that he’d ever made. And he was like “I made a bunch of porn movies back in the day”. My head kind of spun around.
FANENE SCHMIDT: And so you’re starring as the character based on you right?
PATRICK NELSON: Yes, I’m starring.
FANENE SCHMIDT: Do you think your father’s career as a filmmaker inspired you to become one?
PATRICK NELSON: I think the character, as the season progresses, is going to wrestle with, as any parent in any situation, the parent-child relationship. The characters are going to reckon with how much they have in common despite themselves. They’re gonna wrestle, they both need to figure out how to be vulnerable with each other because they’ve had this great loss that they need to grieve.
And in that vulnerability, there’s gonna be a lot of prickliness that arises out of not wanting to admit how much they have in common with each other.
Kristian Fanene Schmidt (he/him) was born and raised in Porirua, Aotearoa/New Zealand while both his parents hail from Samoa. Now Los Angeles based, he is a writer, he has written for a number of media outlets such as HuffPost, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post and Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity. He is also the Executive Director of the Pasifika Entertainment Advancement Komiti [PEAK].
Schmidt is also an Outfest Inclusive Press Fellow for the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Learn more about the program here.
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