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05/06 - 06/06

Changing Spots: Changing the Face of Lesbian Cinema

by Jesse Kramer

Once upon a time, films with lesbian characters were a wildly scare commodity, ebbing mostly into the soft-core or girl-meets-girl-loses-girl category. However, with more and more feature films being released every year by mainstream Hollywood production companies featuring lesbian leads, the creative bar – and the competition for holding the lesbian audience – has been set fiercely higher. So much so that there are often debates on popular message boards about what truly makes a fantastic movie featuring lesbian main characters – the overall story? The love scenes? Attractive actresses? Great Music? A plot that you would re-live over and over again? Of course, all of the above would be ideal, but let’s face it – the niche realm of lesbian cinema is often a watered-down and heavily forgiven medium, so you just don’t get all of those fantastic ingredients in one film. That is, until now. And maybe it’s because the Clear Pictures film Changing Spots refuses to fall into that niche.

Veteran Writer / Director Susan Turley founded Clear Pictures, a roof under which she has created literally hundreds of hours of programming and several films. She believes that simply because a film features strong lesbian main characters, it does not mean that the film is a “lesbian movie”. Being aware of the limiting affect of any media niche, Turley set out to create a powerful film whose lead lesbian characters had so much depth, feeling, and intention that they represented the complexity of the human condition, rather than simply being fascinated with the mere fact that they are, indeed, gay.

This tenant is also important to seasoned Changing Spots Executive Producer Cynthia Rush, who has worked closely with Turley on several films over the past 12 years. Rush, who is a razor-sharp cornerstone in the visionary structure of Clear Pictures, maintains that amazing cinema comes first from the heart, but must be followed up by the integrity of what is captured on film. Even with this scrutinizing attention to detail, Cynthia Rush enthusiastically placed her stamp of approval on Changing Spots.

Turley’s cast is a towering monolith of weighted talent, featuring an absolutely stunning Lane West as the ragged Molly Brite, a highly-complex and tormented former child star, and the enticingly riveting Danielle Egnew as her disenfranchised and washed-up rock-star partner, Peg Frankin. Just as Molly is offered the role of a lifetime and her partner Peg becomes pregnant, a dark secret from Molly’s past threatens to destroy everything. And that’s only where the wild ride called Changing Spots begins. This film is gloriously filled out with velvety veteran talent such as Larrs Jackson (The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Beaches, The Dick Van Dyke Show) as the crusty Jim Brite, Molly’s father, and comedic darling Twink Caplan (Friends, Frasier, Just Shoot Me) as Aunt June, Molly’s small town aunt.

But more than anything, the film is rich with Director Susan Turley’s trademark writing, a character in and of itself, which brings to the table an all-in-one story which redefines the face of lesbian cinema, providing the audience with not only characters who just happen to be gay, but the lives, the pains, the joys, the love, and the heartbreaks of what it is to be human.

With Executive Producer Cynthia Rush as a gracious hostess, I had the excitement of visiting the set of Changing Spots while filming. The cast and crew took a moment in their busy schedule to sit down with me, and here’s what Writer / Director Susan Turley and Lead Actresses Lane West and Danielle Egnew had to say about the process of creating this eagerly anticipated film.

JK: Susan, you wrote and directed Changing Spots. With such a mainstream interest in lesbian storylines, what about this story inspired you to maintain more creative control, rather than passing it off to a larger studio machine?

Susan Turley: The very first draft of Changing Spots was completed in 2001. Although the script has had a number of superficial revisions, the major themes of the story remained the same and I always knew that the material was just too special to me to hand it off to anyone else to create. When we started talking about making Changing Spots I entertained, for a very short time, taking it out to other studios and production companies to produce it. But in my heart of hearts, I always knew I couldn’t be comfortable with anyone else but me interpreting my vision for this piece, and I have to say, to date, it’s been one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve had.

JK: As a successful veteran filmmaker, you have other gay-themed films under your belt. Do you have a preference for working with gay and lesbian subject matter?

ST: As a filmmaker, I’m drawn to stories that I feel haven’t been told yet, and have a very definite and strong point-of-view. As a gay filmmaker, I do feel I am drawn to examining stories that move me and relate to my life on some level. Although I have made several gay-themed films, I would have to say for me, the gay aspect of the film is secondary to the story – which is always about wonderfully interesting and flawed people and just the human condition in general. That’s what’s fascinating to me as a creator.

JK: As a writer, you've created some very complex characters. Was it ever a concern for you that actors wouldn't be able to bring the characters to life, as you had envisioned them?

ST: As a screenwriter, I think there is always a concern that the actors cast might not bring to life the characters as you have envisioned them. And since the screenplay is really the first component – the first draft of a movie, there’s always that concern. But in my experience as a writer/director – when I’ve cast well – I’ve been very pleased with what the individual actors bring to my characters. I look forward to what the actors are coming up with in terms of their character interpretation. It’s very rewarding and I’m always so fascinated with the actor’s process of creating their character’s back-story, their character habits, secrets, and nuances. Actors make so many choices about their character that you as a writer may have never written – but I believe it’s a testament to how well you’ve captured a character and their world, when a talented actor takes your two-dimensional work on the page and creates a living, breathing three-dimensional fictional person that is so real, you forget this is someone you’ve created on paper first. To me, as a writer, this is the most satisfying part of the moviemaking process.

JK: There are quite a few lesbian films coming out this year. How do you feel Changing Spots fits in with these films?

ST: Very well, I hope. (Big smile) I don’t know about the other lesbian films that are coming out this year, but there are quite a few? Well, that’s tremendous, isn’t it? I don’t know about these other films, as I’ve been a bit sequestered over the past months making Changing Spots. I will say, though, that I didn’t set out to make a lesbian film, but rather, to just tell an honest story about relationships and what happens when communication breaks down between two people who are crazy about each other but just can’t get it right and what we’re all capable of when faced with hard choices and the possibility of losing someone you love. You know, the stuff of great movies, in whatever genre they fall. I hope Changing Spots will be widely received by everyone and that my work won’t be categorized only by the narrow prism of genre, but rather by the material itself – does it move you? I want Changing Spots to land with people. I believe it deals with very universal themes and whether it’s with a gay audience or a straight audience – I don’t want to make that distinction with this film. My hope is that people will watch this film and make the distinction that this is a great story with a lot of great moments being discovered about the human condition and why we do the things we do in our lives.

JK: Lane, you play Molly Brite, a former child star. Molly is a very intense character. Does playing such a dramatic role ever bleed over into your personal life?

Lane West: When you live with a character like Molly, there's bound to be some bleed over in the way of residual energy, especially after an intense day of filming with extremely emotional scenes. It takes a bit of down-time to let it filter through you.

JK: Do you ever worry that playing a lesbian in a film where the two lead characters are gay women will pigeon-hole you as a lesbian actress?

LW: I'm really not concerned at this point in time, of being pigeon-holed as anything. I welcome any and every opportunity to bring fascinating characters to life and I love every minute of the process.

JK: You are also a Producer on Changing Spots. As a female producer in the boy's club of Hollywood, do you find that it is harder for women to be taken seriously in the film industry?

LW: I think it's much more important for you to take yourself seriously first. As a producer, I try to get behind projects I'm passionate about and do whatever it takes to make it happen. We had such a talented and hardworking cast and crew on Spots and we made a beautiful film. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters.

JK: There were some intimate scenes in this film between you and your co-star, Danielle Egnew, that required closed sets. How do you feel about the use and portrayal of sex in today's lesbian cinema?

LW: The more the better? (Laughs) Seriously, sex in any genre of cinema, with obvious exceptions, should always be an organic part of the character's process and germane to telling the story. I'm sure many would disagree, but I think gratuitous sex is boring.

JK: Danielle, you play Peg Franklin, who in the film is a musician. Since you already have quite a name in music, were you ever worried that playing a musician would affect you being taken seriously as an actress?

Danielle Egnew: Oh no, I’ve never worried about that. My background was in acting long before I was ever a rock star! (Laughs) I’m actually very honored that Susan and Lane wanted to feature as much of my music in the film as they did! Music is a huge part of who I am as a performer, and I don’t think that it negates my effectiveness as an actor. That’s like saying a tri-athlete’s ability to run the 20 mile marathon takes away from their ability to swim the English Channel! It just doesn’t make any sense. One creative aptitude feeds the other.

JK: You are also a Producer on this film. Did you find that your role as a Producer interfered with the process of simply being an actress?

DE: Not at all. I’m used to multi-tasking. In fact, I sort of break down if I don’t. Producing is all about organization and follow-through. There is also a time and place for that organization, and when you’re sitting in the make-up chair with your eyes closed focusing on your character before one of your biggest emotional scenes in the film, that’s not the time to worry about how the Dolby version of the DVD is going to be mixed. Discernment is 9/10ths of being an effective actor/producer.

JK: Director Susan Turley requested a large amount of music from your Pope Jane album catalogue for use in Changing Spots. In addition, you are also composing the film score?

DE: Yes, and I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled that I have a chance to do that. One of my greatest joys is composing orchestral scores, and there isn’t much room in pop radio for that! (Laughs)

JK: You, Lane West, Susan Turley and Executive Producer Cynthia Rush all seem very unified on this film, and that team chemistry is very hard to find in entertainment. What is your secret?

DE: I don’t think there is a secret past the fact that all of us have a profound respect for one another as professionals, and that type of respect is the breeding ground for terrific, successful art. Not to mention, we’re all extremely good friends, so we knew what to expect from each other’s temperaments going into the picture, and that helps enormously when in the throws of the sometimes freakishly stressful environment that filming creates. We all have such different strengths. That type of camaraderie reminds me of being in a band! (Laughs) I would do ten thousand more films with these gals, and each one would be a tremendous joy.

Changing Spots is scheduled for release in June 2006. For more information, to view film photos or the trailer, or to watch for a listing of release dates in your area, make sure to bookmark the official website in your browser,


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