Changing Times for Lesbians on Film


Use New Technologies

The growth of companies such as Wolfe, TLA and here!, which focus on LGBT-themed productions, is one part of a changing landscape of distribution options in Hollywood — a change has been driven by new technology. As director Angela Robinson explained in her column "Fringe Theory: Why We Don’t Need the Man," movies are now much more affordable to make. "Everybody’s got a DV camera lying around, get yourself Final Cut Pro and Pro Tools, and make a movie on your desktop," she wrote.

The internet is also beginning to offer more alternatives for distributing films. Though it is still difficult to stream a feature-length film online, it is relatively affordable to create shorter segments. "I think that’s really a great way to start," Sprecher suggested, "to think about taking some of your material and breaking your scenes down into 90-second or 2-minute chunks, shooting it yourself, editing it on your computer and putting it up on the web."

Another major force in changing the way that consumers watch movies is Netflix, which launched in 1998 to offer DVD rentals by mail. For the first time, Netflix gave consumers all over the country access to obscure titles that previously had little or no distribution. The company carries 75,000 titles, roughly 700 of which are LGBT-themed, shipping 1.6 million DVDs daily from 42 different distribution centers across the United States. "We have titles that have not seen the light of day," said Steve Swasey, Director of Corporate Communications at Netflix.

"Netflix is the great equalizer," he added. "You can select rather than settle on what’s available." Independent lesbian filmmakers who could not get major distribution deals can now solicit deals with Netflix directly. Netflix even has a form on their site where filmmakers can submit their films by clicking on a link that reads, "I am self-distributing my film and would like to make my film available for rent on DVD at Netflix."

Just Do It

So now that lesbian and bisexual filmmakers have the technological capability to make films themselves as well as more options for getting those films in front of viewers, what’s next? "Now is the time to jump on making lesbian film," said Disalvatore, but there are some things to keep in mind before rushing off to invest in the latest DV camera.

"For a women’s film to do well money-wise, there needs to be an additional issue at stake in the script," advised Thrasher. "It can’t just be a lesbian love story." Films such as Go Fish and the upcoming Itty Bitty Titty Committee offer political issues in addition to a queer tale.

All the women on the Q-Me Con panel emphasized the importance of storytelling. "We need to write good scripts," Thrasher said. "If you’re not a writer, hire a writer."

And what makes a good script? Disalvatore quipped: "I need my plot points; I need my conflict; I need a little comedy and a little skin."

Though all of the women on the panel acknowledged that many first films are less than polished, Sprecher also noted that "the only way you get better as a filmmaker or a screenwriter is by doing it." Even though there is a minefield of business details to get through — from acquiring the talent that will help raise funding for the film, to foreign rights, to distribution and marketing — "you just have to do it," said Sprecher.

Out screenwriter and actor Guinevere Turner, who launched her film career in 1994 with Go Fish, cautioned the panel to keep in mind what is truly important. "Let us not forget about art," she said at Q-Me Con. "We need to make the movies that come from our hearts, that come from passion."

Katherine Brooks said, "With DV and the internet, everything has changed, but the core and heart of filmmaking remains the same."

Malinda Lo contributed to this article.

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