Memoirs oftentimes are the best source material for a great film but leave it to out filmmaker Michelle Tea to go a step further and put a different spin on the film adaptation of her memoir, Valencia.
Tea had 20 different filmmakers (including Cheryl Dunye and Jill Soloway) each take a chapter from her book, cast their own actress to play the role of Michelle and then, with the help of director Hilary Goldberg, bring the pieces together to make Valencia, the film, which is screening at Outfest on Sunday.
We grabbed some time with Tea to talk about bringing her own life to the screen as well as whether there are more books – memoirs or not – in her future.
AfterEllen: What were the origins of the film and the way you took it from your memoir?
Michelle Tea: I just was hanging out with a bunch of filmmaker friends of mine who were all part of it. You know, Hilary Goldberg, who wound up being the producer, as well as a filmmaker. Silas Howard and Michelle Lawler and Peter Pizzi. We were all hanging out at Frameline (the San Francisco LGBT film festival), and I just had this idea brewing in my head for a while of having Valencia made into a film.
And I know so many filmmakers but they’re all sort of struggling. They’re able to put together a short but feature film is a different story and I couldn’t imagine going up to anybody and being like, “Will you make a feature out of my book? “I thought, ‘Oh, but everybody knows how to hustle a short, and maybe we could do it this way.’” So I just kind of mentioned it to them and the four of them just jumped all over it, and they’re like, “I want to do this chapter.”
I’ve never done a film before so I needed some help. I met with some producers to see if anyone wanted to jump in but nobody wanted to touch it. People just thought it was going to be a mess. And it just wasn’t. Everybody did what they said they’d do. Everybody made their film. It was actually a really peaceful, awesome process. It was great.
AE: Did you have any input into the various Michelles in everybody’s films, and did you agree with the Michelles you saw?
MT: I didn’t have any creative input. I didn’t want any. I feel like I got my creative say with the book and the book is out there and the book will always be out there. But it was more interesting, to me, not to have my vision put onto the screen but to see all these different filmmakers, who I totally respect and so interested in their work and their vision, to see what they would do with the material. And how it would come out on the other end. That’s what was really exciting and interesting to me.
After all these films came in, we’d watch them and were in love with all of them and they were all perfect. And then when we kind of strung them together into a feature, we realized it was kind of a mess. Even though they all worked individually, we were going to have to do a little bit of work, me and Hilary, to make it cohere and be something that somebody could sit through at a theater without wanting to kill themselves. So we did end up having to make some edits, and people were great about it, thank God.
AE: Did you assign chapters, or did people put in their wish lists for which ones they wanted?
MT: People just picked the chapters that they wanted until it got more towards the end and then it was just like those last latecomers kind of got what was left. Everybody seemed to really like the chapters they got.