Spots: Changing the Face of Lesbian Cinema
by Jesse Kramer
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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
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)
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?
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.
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,