On Location: The Making of “Beholder”

On March 16, out director Nisha Ganatra‘s new film, Beholder, will premiere as part of the ITVS/ PBS series FutureStates. FutureStates is a modern day Twilight Zone series for which ten filmmakers were selected to each make an episode that takes place in the future and explores a political idea in the realm of a fictional film. Beholder stars Jessica Paré (of Mad Men and Lost and Delirious)  Elaine Hendrix (from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Superstar) and Michael McMillian (True Blood), with Rupak Ginn (Royal Pains and Private Practice). In this article, the first in a series that takes readers behind the scenes in the making of the film, Ganatra writes about developing the screenplay for her episode and the obstacles faced when predicting an anti-gay future for a publicly-funded channel based in San Francisco.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the fortune to direct a film with a majority of gay content. Since Chutney Popcorn it seems it’s been even more of an uphill battle to get a movie about lesbians made. So when ITVS called and told me that they were doing a modern day Twilight Zone series and asked if I had any ideas, I let my built-up gay frustration get the best of me. I immediately set my tale in a world where gays were the majority and we were voting on taking away the rights of straight people to marry, to adopt and to just exist in general.

OK, I have to admit that it was just really raw revenge fantasy and not a well-constructed story. The point I was trying to make was “Hey straight people! This is insane that you think you can vote on our civil rights!”  But the point that seemed to be coming across was “F–k you, straight a–holes that took away my rights!” So I set about writing another draft.

If you care about this journey, please read along and I promise to lead you to a place where you can see the final film, Beholder, and what I ended up with after network notes, gay feedback, lesbian processing, anger management and a lot of rewriting.

I have to say I’m really proud of the final product. So many times we hear a snippet of how this movie was conceived, but I thought maybe the readers of AfterEllen.com so many of you being artists yourselves   might enjoy riding shotgun with me on the road from conception to delivering a finished movie. 

Nisha Ganatra

After realizing that the old switcharoo concept was wearing thin even at the script stage, I had to set about cracking the story in a different way. The story broke open when I thought “What if Prop 8 isn’t the worst thing to happen? What if it was just the beginning?” From there, the future became a world where we had gone back to the 1950s, because the Palin Dynasty had ruled America for generations.

The central characters were a lesbian couple living intricately constructed closeted lives. (Think Far From Heaven but in the future) and when the couple finds out that the child they are expecting carries the marker for the gay gene – their relationship goes into crisis. One partner believes that they should get the inoculation and change the fetus to ensure it will be heterosexual. Why, she reasons, subject their child to the kind of secret and fearful life they have chosen to lead?  The other partner just can’t bring herself to deny the fetus the right to be who it is supposed to be just because our culture isn’t a welcoming place for people that are different.

That draft was better it was getting to the heart of the issue but it was still really not reaching the straight audience. And while I normally don’t give a crap about that, I also didn’t want to waste time preaching to the choir, so to speak. Especially since if I was just going to preach to the choir, I would have stuck with my revenge fantasy!

So I thought about how to include the straight audience. Let me be clear, I don’t think it’s our job or responsibility in any way  to educate or include ignorant audiences. I like to live in a world where people educate themselves and take it upon themselves to understand an issue without asking me banal questions about it. But that’s not the world we live in, not right now. And PBS has a largely non-gay audience, so this was a “teachable moment.” 

The problem is this: who the hell wants to be taught anything by a movie?  How can I get across the incredible hurt and frustration I was feeling without causing the movie to devolve into a preachy mess? I decided to get back to focus on the story if the story is right and the characters are true, then all of this other stuff usually falls into place. So I must have a problem with my story. And I found it. There had to be suspense. You had to wonder if the main character was going to get the shot or not.  And if the main character was a lesbian, I found that almost no one believed she might actually turn her fetus straight.

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