We’re excited to announce the kick-off of AfterFest at Ace Palm Springs — we’re hosting DJs, late night screenings and really, really late night dining at King’s Highway all throughout the Palm Springs International ShortFest. We’ll also feature interviews with some of the festival’s directors over the next week or so. First up: Melissa Osborne, director of the short film Change, which screens Friday, June 24 at 5:30pm.
Change is a about a gay Black teenager on the eve of Obama’s election and the success of Prop 8, wherein California voters banned state-sanctioned gay marriage. Can you talk about the film’s inception and how much the final cut reflects your intentions?
The film came about because I wanted to make a short film that I hoped would do more than entertain -– that would get people thinking. I was astounded by the irony on November 4th when Obama was elected and Prop 8 passed and I knew I wanted to tell that story. So I started imagining what that day might have been like for a black, gay teen. What did we — older and “wiser” adults — teach teenagers on that day? I was also aware of my blind faith that Prop 8 wouldn’t pass. I naively assumed that because we lived in California — a “liberal” state -– there was no way the voting residents would let the prop pass. I was wrong. So, those points became the starting blocks for the script CHANGE.
I am pleased to say that the final cut really does reflect my intentions. Perhaps because I was the writer/producer and director I had the luxury of over-seeing every detail. We also had a wonderful cast and crew that bought the project to life with great skill and integrity. This past weekend we played at two festivals in San Francisco –- to a black audience and to a gay audience. I was thrilled that CHANGE was so warmly received at both. One question that was asked at both places was how we managed to make the film so authentic? (If you don’t know, I am white, straight and British, so audiences were intrigued.) It was such a compliment that I wasn’t sure how to answer. But I think it was because we didn’t try to make it a gay story or a black story. It’s simply a human story about prejudice and prejudice affects all of us no matter who we are or where we are from.
Tell me about your auditions and why you chose the actors you did.
We held several days of auditions in Los Angeles and advertised through the usual channels. It was tough to find actors that would look authentic together as a family –- the grandmother role was the hardest to cast. Luckily enough the actor that plays our lead (Sean McClam) was one of the first people we saw. He gave such a good audition and we knew he was our Jamie immediately. So once we had him, it was easier to decide on the supporting roles. One of the most important points for the character of Jamie was that he didn’t look or “act camp/gay”. The character is hiding his sexuality from everyone and it was vital that this looked real. We didn’t ask Sean if he was gay and it didn’t matter to us if he was or not. As it turns out, he isn’t, but he whole-heartedly supported the message of the film and really opened himself up to give a beautiful performance.
And how does the short film format serve the film’s content and message? And on that note, what, in your own words, is the message of the film?
My dream would be to have CHANGE play in schools and the short film format would certainly lend itself to that. Also, I think it makes filmmakers crystalize what is important in the story. You don’t have the luxury of 90 minutes so you better throw out everything that’s superfluous and get down to the nitty gritty -– and fast!
CHANGE is about prejudice, in all its forms, and standing up for what you know is right.