Q&A: Director Eric Schaeffer Looks At Love from All Angles
Whatever one’s sexual orientation, filmmaker Eric Schaeffer believes there’s just one way to label it and that’s “human.” Schaeffer’s latest film, Boy Meets Girl, provides the most honest depiction of a coming-of-age transgender you’re likely to see on the big screen. It’s also a love story you won’t soon forget.
Ricky (Michelle Hendley) is an endearing and totally enchanting transgender girl who just can’t seem to find an eligible bachelor in her hometown of Kentucky. When Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), a pretty young debutante, walks in the coffee shop where she works one day, their budding relationship turns into a serious flirtation and something more. Nobody’s more surprised about this unlikely union than Ricky’s best buddy Robby (Michael Welch of Twilight fame), who finds himself suddenly jealous about the transgender pal he’s known since he was six. Schaeffer has managed with his sensitive yet down-to-earth script to turn our perceptions about love and how it should be played inside out. Even in today’s more open-ended times that’s quite a feat.
In a recent telephone interview, I found Schaeffer to be not only generous with his time and responses, but spot-on about why he makes the kinds of movies he makes and why it’s important to him.
GALO: I had a chance to see the film yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. In reading the press notes as well, I know it’s important to you to create a sense of unity with various forms of sexuality, and that we’re all human. But specifically with this film, it’s a difficult subject to tackle. What drove you to make one about a transgender character? What was the genesis, would you say?
Eric Schaeffer: To be honest, thematically, it’s very in line with many of my previous films in that it’s a story about people struggling with and desiring to live a life born of their innermost desires, regardless of society’s constricting views about how they should live — and that’s kind of what I’m interested in writing about. And the best way to do that is to have characters that mirror our own…sort of our own pervasive sense of feeling alienated to some degree, fractured from society’s belief of how we should live and how we really want to live. In keeping with those themes, a story about a transgender girl from the South would be a fresh lens to see through, to look through, and to have a plot and story for those themes. So [for] people familiar with my films or [those who are] not, [they] could get into that story in a fresh way. So that was my genesis for this particular story.
GALO: I congratulate you for being able to do that — to see how we’ve come a long way and in terms of how subject matter is tackled on film. My next question to you is: How exactly did you find your heroine — was it like what came first, the chicken or the egg? I’m curious because Michelle gives a wonderful performance. She has a very interesting quality besides being a beautiful person cinematically. How did that come about? Was that a difficult casting choice?
ES: Well, I very much wanted to cast a transgender woman in the part, but it certainly couldn’t be at the expense of the quality of the performance. Hoping to find an actress that would be that good… But it’s hard to find an actress [like that] because the traditional route — casting directors, agencies — [it] doesn’t really offer that up — there just aren’t that many transgender people [in the business]. So I went on the Internet and Googled actresses. I sort of investigated and found this YouTube channel of Michelle’s. And she was doing these blogs about her life, just talking to the camera, and she really looked the part. Her personality was of the part. And so, I got in touch with her. She had never acted [before], and she was very excited about the prospect and I worked very sensitively with her over Skype, actually auditioning and rehearsing [with her via Skype]. And then I flew her to New York and work-shopped the entire script with her and some actors. And she kept getting better and better and worked really hard, and [it] finally got to the point where I felt confident she could deliver that performance. And she did, so I finally cast her.
GALO: It’s a wonderful progression. I’m sure you were thrilled when it all came together. That gets me to my next question — the interrelationship between the three leads. In almost all the scenes on camera, they seem so natural in interacting with one another. Did the script evolve at all through your collaboration with the cast or did you begin shooting with a finished product?
ES: Good question. I wrote the script, it was entirely written before I cast. So that story, 99 percent, was written. And then what I do in my rehearsal process — certainly if there are moments that don’t feel in any way organic, either verbiage-wise (literally the words coming out of someone’s mouth) or content-wise — I’m into conversation in the rehearsal process with actors. But quite honestly, what we ended up shooting was 99 percent what I wrote, so there wasn’t much of a change from the original script that I wrote to what ended up on film.
GALO: Right. Well, the dialogue is very natural and very believable and it worked so well with that trio of actors — I was curious about that. Have you written your scripts in the past, pretty much as a complete endeavor before the process of trying to make the film?
ES: Yeah, you know, I appreciate your saying that. I take it as a compliment. It’s been said a lot before that my scripts feel almost improvised in nature, and they couldn’t be more opposite than that. Because in making an independent film, time is money — and you have to shoot so quickly that it’s all about preparation for me. And coming from the theatre, I’m big on rehearsal. So I spend a lot of time [rehearsing], in terms of what’s normal for movies, you know. Days in this case, weeks and months with Michelle rehearsing… And as I said [before], in that rehearsal process, there can be discoveries. But once we set it, we set it. When we show up to shoot it, it’s absolutely “paint by numbers.” It’s really setting down on film what we’ve rehearsed for days and weeks and months. The conversational quality is born from a lot of rehearsal, but also casting people who to me are going to make sense and are going to work well together — that’s why, obviously, casting for me is super important. So that’s where that’s born from, and it’s not born from anything we’re doing while we’re shooting.