Filmmaker Interview: Rolla Selbak!!

Rolla Selbak is an award winning filmmaker who grew up in the Middle East and is currently based in San Francisco, where she is part of the San Francisco Women’s Film Institute Leadership council.

Rolla’s work includes the film “Three Veils,” which tells the story of three Middle-Eastern women living in the U.S. as they face issues such as arranged marriage, homosexuality and love.

Her newest project, “Kiss Her I’m Famous,” is a satirical story about two friends attempting to achieve fame by creating a celebrity sex tape. The Real L Word’s Tracy Ryerson and The Violent Kind’s Ilea Matthews star in this web series, which can be viewed on tellofilms.com.

Please view the trailer below:

In our interview, Rolla discusses her inspiration for “Kiss Her I’m Famous,” the challenges she faced in filming “Three Veils,” her favorite female directors and more.

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How did you become interested in filmmaking?

My love affair with movies began when I was a young girl in the Middle East. My parents would take me to the video rental store once a week, and I would just watch and study movie after movie all weekend long.

I never went to film school. My self-education began in middle school with my close relationship to the family-VHS recorder that I hijacked for making my short films.

Something about movies just completely enthralled me. I would get lost in the stories, and the characters especially. My dream was to be able to create the thing that I loved most. So, here I am.

What inspired you to make your web series, Kiss Her I’m Famous? What has the reaction been like so far?

Nowadays, gratuity and fake publicity seem to be able to catapult just about anyone into the spotlight, so I wrote the series as a satire that tackles the phenomenon in smart and entertaining way.

With a subject such as sex tapes, I could have gone really over the top, but in the end, I believe it’s the story that grabs audiences, even if the content is primarily consumed through the web. So it was very important for me to create characters that were interesting and a story that had a compelling arch.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception so far! I really couldn’t have envisioned the trailer alone gaining 2 million views. And teaming up with TelloFilms.com as an exclusive network distributor has been a fantastic experience. So much so, that we’re teaming up again for Season 2!

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In your film Three Veils, you explore often emotionally charged experiences such as arranged marriage and homosexuality as they are experienced by Muslim-American women. What was the most challenging part of making this film?

The whole project was a challenge, from beginning to end, but I was always determined to push through for the sake of bringing these stories to the screen. As you mentioned, it was an ambitious attempt to bring forth many subjects that hadn’t been touched upon in film, and so boycotts of fundraisers, financiers dropping, and even death-threats were not a rare occurrence.

Once the film was out of my hands and started making its way to audiences, that’s when I knew it was all worth it. The unbelievable outpouring of people connecting with the film, finding themselves in the characters and stories, or even being shown a point of view they hadn’t empathized with before, means everything to me.

And by and large, the amount of positive support definitely outweighs any negativity or controversy surrounding the film. I couldn’t be more thankful about that.

Do you think the film has helped create more of a dialogue about these issues?

I certainly would like to think so, judging from the fervent discussions at the screenings. I still get emails and messages from people who were affected by the film because of something they themselves have went through, or a family member or a friend.

Giving audiences a film to connect with that tells them, “your story is shared by others, and is now being told to the world” is the single most important goal for me with Three Veils.

As a part of the Women’s Film Institute Leadership council, you have been working to support young female filmmakers. What has this experience been like for you?

It’s been extremely fulfilling to empower these young, exceptionally talented filmmakers with the guidance and encouragement I would have loved to have years ago when I was in their position.

I feel that through such initiatives and programs, we will hopefully have an influx of brilliant, capable and proficient female filmmakers in the field, pushing content to a whole new level.

In addition to directing, you also write music for your films. What is your creative process like?

Music is so essential to my creative process. Even if I’m not composing music for a film project I’m working on, I will construct a playlist that fits the emotion of an important scene, and have that music playing in the background while I write or edit.

What are some of your favorite films by female directors?

Ooh, I love when people ask me that! I would say Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow are my favs. I love Kathryn’s rhythm and pace of storytelling, it’s so compelling to me. And Jane always makes such beautiful film. I binge-watched her most recent series “Top of The Lake” in 2 days, it was riveting.

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In what ways is your work feminist?

In every way possible, lol! I feel that just me existing in this male-dominated industry, and being very vocal about my experiences, and the work I do with emboldening our young female filmmakers out there, the spirit of my work will always resonate was being feminist, and I would have it no other way.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

I would say study films meticulously. Focus specifically on what you like, and what you don’t like about them. Write what you yourself would find compelling as an audience member, don’t worry about appeasing anyone other than yourself. You will find an audience if your voice is true, and your criticism of yourself is honest. And never let fear stop you. Just go out and do it. Then do it again. And do it better.

I also host a monthly live Spreecast called Grrl’s Guide To Filmmaking, where I interview influential women in the film industry. The idea is for aspiring filmmakers to get free and fun advice from the women who are making it happen. You can find out more information at http://www.grrlsguidetofilmmaking.com.

-Strike & Sem

Musician Interview: Lucas Silveira of the Cliks!

Before reading Underneath This’ interview with Lucas, featured below, read some more about him and the Cliks. There is also a link to vote for MTV to air The Cliks’ latest video, “Savanna.”

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Founded by front man Lucas Silveira in 2004, The Cliks have gone through the highs and lows that make an artist a true veteran of change…and in all things, including rock and roll, the only real constant, is change.

Almost nine years since the formation of the band, The Cliks are still standing. After a slew of line up changes, Silveira is the sole remaining original member of the band and, the Cliks, an extension of his personal vision. That vision is on display with the new album “Black Tie Elevator” due for release March 2013.

The Cliks’ first two major label releases, Snakehouse (2006- Warner Music Canada/Tommy Boy) & Dirty King (2009-Warner Music Canada/Tommy Boy) brought the band international recognition.

They caught the attention of pop music icon Cyndi Lauper, who invited the band to join her on two consecutive True Colors tours. Subsequently, rock veteran Ian Ashbury of The Cult, also asked the band to join them to tour the U.S and Canada.

SNAKEHOUSE garnered critical acclaim from mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Toronto Star, NOW Magazine. “Lucas Silveira, has an impressively consistent formula for writing catchy, stick-in-your-brain tunes that have all but perfectly translated to disc” Evan Davies, NOW Magazine.

DIRTY KING was the bands second release. The album was produced by heavy hitter Sylvia Massey (Tool, Prince, Johnny Cash) and displayed a topless, bruised and beaten image of Silveira as boxer on the cover, an image that portrayed the state of his psyche. The first “out” male transgender to be signed to a major record label drew publicity and controversy, but it was taking its toll on the band, and on Silveira’s personal life. Two weeks after the CD release, the band members left and Lucas was left with the choice to keep going or throw in the towel.

He also recognized that his personal life had to take precedent if he was to move forward in his music career. After 5 years of living as a man but appearing to most as a woman, the image in the mirror needed to match the image internally. The voice coming through the speaker never felt familiar. “It was the strangest thing really. I would sing a track then come out to the control room to listen back and I would think to myself “THAT’S NOT ME!” It just made no sense. I told myself it would be the last record I ever made with that voice because I knew that, if I couldn’t hear the truth in it, how could anyone else.”

In 2009, Lucas took the opportunity to take a hiatus from the band to follow a very personal life-changing venture and began the formal process of testosterone hormone therapy, something he had been told by Doctors could cost him his singing voice. Knowing that his current existence was leading him down a road of deep depression, he felt his only option was to venture into the unknown and not let his fears dictate his choices.

The result was a voice that was changed, deeper and huskier, but somehow more soulful, “I still can’t put my finger on it, but when I sing with this voice, there is a familiarity with it that feels more comfortable than the voice previous. Which I find strange seeing this voice is so new. But at the same time, it’s really not because inside, it’s the voice I always heard. When I hear my old recordings, I can hardly believe that this body created that sound. It was a completely different person and I hear a deep sadness when I hear my old voice. It can actually be very painful for me to listen to.”

In 2010, his rebirth landed him in Brooklyn, NY, a home away from home to concentrate on songwriting. He recorded a solo record Mockingbird and wrote new songs for The Cliks next music venture.

Lucas found his songwriting style growing and changing towards a more soul/blues/rock styling. “ I started writing songs that I didn’t know were in me. It was as though something in me opened up and didn’t allow me to feel that I couldn’t pull it off. I went along with what felt natural and what felt natural was all of these old soul influences. From Prince to Lenny Kravitz and Amy Winehouse. My deep fondness for the blend of soul and rock finally surfaced and now, with my new voice, I felt completely grounded in it.”

The result was a collection of songs that make up the new Cliks LP release BLACK TIE ELEVATOR.

BLACK TIE ELEVATOR (Scheduled for release in March 2013) was produced by Toronto based musician/singer/songwriter Hill Kourkoutis (Hill & The Sky Heroes, The Weeknd) who’s understanding of Lucas’ vision was integral to the final sound of the record.

While the songs on this album may be a surprise to many, loyal fans of The Cliks know that with Lucas, change is constant, though the foundation remains the same. Songs that are real and true, lyrics that speak a universal language and music that will move and bind you to those words.

No matter what the challenges that Silveira has faced, the vision he has had for The Cliks remains clear. When asked what that vision is, Silveira says “If it ain’t true, it ain’t worth it.”

Here is the URL to vote: http://www.mtvu.com/music/american-authors-breaking-laces-bridges-and-powerlines-max-gomez-the-staves/

Please note that voting is unlimited – you can literally vote all day long for the video but using voting robots will disqualify you.

Who have been your biggest musical and non-musical influences?

Musical, probably The Beatles as cliche as it may be. Also, Marvin Gaye, Ottis Redding, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and George Michael were big ones when I was a teen and then I slipped into the world of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, David Bowie,The Doors and Jimmy Hendrix. I’m all over the place with music. As for non-musical, I’ve always admired Johnny Depp because he’s never given in to the commercialism of acting and he’s as weird as they come. I connect to that.

The cover of Black Tie Elevator features a self-portrait that you painted. How did you become interested in painting? What are some of your other interests and/or projects outside of music?

I always drew as a kid and people used to tell me I was good at it so I went with it. In my late teens someone told me I should try painting. I think I fell in love with visual art when I decided to draw when I was on my first LSD trip. It was an amazingly insightful growing experience. One that I would rather not go through again, but nonetheless, mind opening. And so from there I just fell in love with it. As for outside of music, I truly and deeply enjoy writing.

Black Tie Elevator is very different from your previous work. How have fans reacted to your new music?

For the most part well but I’m having a hard time gauging it because I think my physical transformation has gotten in the way of my old female audience giving it a chance I think. It’s weird. People act like their open-minded until they figure out their mind wasn’t that open. Then they blame you for some kind of betrayal. I think this is the best record I have ever made and I truly think it’s a special record that will be overlooked by many because of who I am. Makes me a little sad sometimes but I can’t fight it. It is what it is.

Was it difficult transitioning while in the public eye? How have you been treated by fans and the press since your transition?

It was hell. Still is. For the most part people are nice to me but they’re sometimes weird in ways they don’t even know. I was asked by a fan at the merch table the other day if I had a real penis. I know it wasn’t meant in a malicious way but shit like that takes me off guard and I don’t even know how to react so I just freeze up and become totally deflated. I mean, how many strangers come up to you and ask you about your genitalia? And the press focuses on it a lot which I understand but it still gets annoying after a while.

What is your sense of the way LGBTQ+ artists are portrayed within the music industry? How has this relationship changed over time?

We’re not portrayed in the mainstream music industry. We’re excluded. Outside of very few acts that have seen success because of their attachment to a heterosexual mainstream situation, LGBT acts are ghettoized. Lady Gaga isn’t an LGBT act for those who would like to use her. Tegan and Sara are and I think they’re awesome but I think it’s sad that their was mainly recognized in the mainstream because they worked with Producer Jason Mcgerr of Death Cab For Cutie. They’ve been making amazing music for years and it was that piece that truly pushed them over. And oddly, they still get minimal radio play. No mainstream radio wants the correlation of “supporting” an act like them because it means they suddenly have an affiliation to the LGBT community.

What has your experience been like recording independently?

The best ever. I recorded this album in a basement studio with my best friend. I have never felt more connected to my music or more in control. And the funny thing is I handed all the control over to someone else. But that someone was someone I trusted. It wasn’t about money or making commercial art, it was about making a good record with someone who saw me and understood my vision. Hill Kourkoutis is a brilliant songwriter, artist and producer and I know in the future she will be making huge records with other people.

What songs are most meaningful to you and why? What is like playing them live?

Cerise is important to me because it hit a personal spot. I wrote it for a friend who was dealing with some bad luck but it was a big brother moment for me giving kudos to a woman for staying away from a bad man. Something I wish I could have done for my own sister.

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Don’t do it for the money. There’s none left. Do it because you love it and if you happen to make money then you hit the jackpot. The music industry is not what you think it is. That’s an illusion. It’s shit loads of hard work that you never imagined.

Artist/Educator Interview: Rebecca Kling!

Following Rebecca’s biographical statement, please read below for an interview:

From http://www.rebeccakling.com/about:

Rebecca Kling is a transgender artist and educator who explores gender and identity through solo pieces and educational workshops. Her multidisciplinary performances incorporate conversational storytelling, personal narrative, humor, movement, video projection, and more. Kling takes the position that sharing accessible queer narrative with a wide audience is a form of activism, and that understanding combats bigotry.

Rebecca has performed her material around, in nine states and at over a dozen festivals. Some highlights include Chicago (The Athenaeum Theatre, Temple Gallery, Links Hall, About Face Theatre, Center on Halsted, the DCA Storefront Theatre, and more), the 2010, 2011, and 2012 Chicago Fringe Festivals, the 2011 and 2012 Kansas City and Indianapolis Fringe Festivals, San Bernardino, California, and elsewhere.

Rebecca has received praise from The Chicago Tribune, TimeOut Chicago, Newcity Stage, and Centerstage Chicago, and more. Rebecca regularly speaks at high schools and universities, including Northwestern University, Columbia College, Roosevelt University, Loyola University, Harold Washington College, Butler University, Smith College, Bucknell University, and elsewhere. She has been a recipient of the Chances Dances Critical Fierceness grant, an Illinois Arts Council Grant, and Chicago Community Artists Assistance Program funding. In 2013, she was named as part of the inaugural Trans 100, a list of transgender educators, activists, artists, and more who are working to further trans rights and support the trans community.

Rebecca’s writing has been published at Jezebel, in Chicago IRL issues 1 and 2, Bodies of Work, the Center for Classic Theatre Review, and elsewhere. For a behind-the-scenes look at her writing process, check out her blog. She also occasionally contributes to In Our Words, a queer Chicago blog.

A graduate from Northwestern University’s Department of Performance Studies with an Adjunct Major in Animate Arts, Rebecca Kling is also an instructor at the Piven Theatre Workshop, and on the Pride Films and Plays board of directors.

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What was the process like of becoming a performance artist and an author?

Honestly, it was kind of gradual. I’ve been involved in theatre for much of my life, taking classes and participating in shows from a young age, but I didn’t plan to be a theatre artists when I was growing up. My junior year of high school, however, one of the founders of the workshop I attended passed away. I certainly didn’t have a revelatory epiphany, but as I processed his death – and thought about applying to colleges my senior year – I realized I’d much rather work in theatre than not. I still didn’t know what that would mean for me, as being a professional actor didn’t hold much draw, but I knew I wanted to be in the arts in some way.

In college, I began blogging as a way of keeping track of my experiences and emotions. I was in the process of transitioning, and starting to come out as trans to more and more people, and wanted to be able to look back on where I had been.

It wasn’t until after college that I had my first performance opportunity to explore my trans identity, and that was a revelatory experience. For the first time, I was taking text about my experience – some from my blog, some newly generated – and sharing it in front of an audience. It was incredibly validating to have others respond positively to my experiences as a trans woman, and it made me crave further artistic and emotional outlets.

Since then, I’ve quit my full time job and struck out as an artist and educator. As part of that, I’ve continued blogging and recently put together some of that written material into a book. The motivation for the book was twofold: to capture people’s excitement after a show or performance and give them a chance to continue our relationship, and allow people who might not be able to make it to a performance of mine to still share in my work. I see the book as an extension of my performance and education work. Continue reading

Author interview: Tommy “Teebs” Pico !

Tommy “Teebs” Pico is the driving force behind birdsong, an antiracist/queer-positive collective, small press, and zine that publishes art and writing. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in [Pank], Barrelhouse, theTHE poetry blog, and Bomb magazine. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now lives in Brooklyn.

For more information about birdsong and to help with donation efforts, please check out these links:

and

http://heyteebs.tumblr.com/

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What was the process of becoming a writer and editor like for you?

I first started writing in kindergarten, when my teacher asked us to make book marks with drawings on the front side and words on the other. I drew mermaids, and on the back I just wrote words that I knew, which were “THE AT IS THE THE THE.” I became an editor in fifth grade when I asked friends and cousins of mine to draw comic strips for me, which I copied and bound and sold as “Tommy Gunn Comics” for a dollar. I don’t know why I added the extra “n.”

How are you inspired when writing? Who and what have been your influences?

I am most inspired by film, because it’s this thing that starts and finishes in an hour and a half, whether you are paying attention or not. At the moment my primary influences are Sherman Alexie, Ariana Reines, and Jean Seberg.

How did you decide to organize Birdsong Collective? How has the experience been so far?

I started Birdsong because I knew (and know) a lot of really talented people who were (and are) making a lot of really incredible work, and I wanted us to be making it together. So far it’s been like a souffle or something. It’s really delicate and it keeps rising and I want to be careful and make sure it’s just right. Continue reading

Musician/Activist Interview: Logan Lynn!

Logan Lynn is a musician who is gay-identified. He has been writing and making music for a decade and a half. His videos have appeared on LOGO and MTV and he has played across the globe. From 2010 until 2012, Logan took a hiatus from music to devote himself professionally to LGBTQ advocacy at the Q Center in Portland. Logan donated sales from his album, “I Killed Tomorrow Yesterday to the Q Center. In 2012, he returned with the single, “Turn Me Out.”

Logan’s latest music video, “Hologram” can be viewed and heard at http://youtu.be/_fa5WgqY6cA (it is really great!). To access Logan’s music videos, please visit: http://www.YouTube.com/LoganGLEE . Please check out http://www.loganlynnmusic.com for more information about Logan.

Underneath This recently interviewed Logan about identity, music, feminism, as well as the media’s coverage of LGBTQ artists. Check it out below!

Logan Lynn by Eric Sellers and Zaq Banton

What was the process of becoming a musician like for you?

It was a pretty natural progression. I was raised in a fucked up Christian cult that didn’t allow instrumental music, so I was trained as an A cappella vocalist from very early on. When I escaped as a teenager, I fell into the downtown Kansas City 90’s party/rave scene and started spinning records. Then, when I moved to Portland in ’96 I met The Dandy Warhols, Elliot Smith, and a immersed myself in the Portland music scene. I recorded my first record “GLEE” from 1998-1999 and it was released in 2000. From there, I slowly got my shit together bit by bit until I finally got signed to Caroline/EMI in 2007. I was on the label for 3 years and have only just last month regained the rights to the masters from that time. I’m going to be re-releasing “From Pillar To Post” and “The Last High” sometime this year, but for now they are out of print…and I am officially free once again! I released my new record “Tramp Stamps and Birthmarks” in December myself, and it’s been really nice to not have anyone telling me what to do, how to be, and who I need to be around. My major label experience was a fucking joke. It feels good to own my own words and likeness again.

How are you inspired when making music? Who and what have been your influences?

As a songwriter I have always been inspired by Karen Peris from The Innocence Mission, Liz Phair, Regina Spektor, Lily Allen, Elliott Smith…but I always work with different producers for each project, which tends to keep me moving forward…it keeps things exciting. Lyrical content and overall mood for my songs or records really depends on how miserable or in love or fucked up I am when I am writing. Continue reading

Author Interview! : Matthew Aaron Browning

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Please read below for an interview with Matthew Aaron Browning, an author of gay-themed YA fiction who lives in Charleston, W. Va. He is represented by Stephen Fraser at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. Learn more about him at www.MatthewAaronBrowning.com.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was the process like?

I was fourteen years old when I “knew.” I used to write and draw these little comic books about the students and teachers at my junior high school. They were quite inventive, and I still kick myself for not holding onto them. It was just something I did for fun. I also began writing poetry during that time. I was confused and lonely and in need of an emotional outlet. Writing provided that and helped me through a tough adolescence. Finally, I was blessed with some teachers who showed me the value of writing as an art form. So becoming a career writer was always this far-off dream I thought of while I went to college and worked a day job, writing in my bedroom at night. I didn’t really start thinking of myself as a “Writer” until I got an agent. That’s a mistake. You’re a writer the minute you start writing.

How do your identities influence your writing if at all?

I write fiction, but I focus on gay-themed fiction. So who I am and my experience bleed into my writing constantly. For instance, I grew up a lonely gay kid in a little coal town, and my first book is about a lonely gay kid in a little coal town! Granted, my protagonist’s journey is more exciting than mine was, but there’s a lot of me in there. You’ve heard the old adage “write what you know”? I used to think it was silly, because if we only wrote what we knew, we’d be awfully limited, wouldn’t we? But I’ve stopped saying that now, because it makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I’m always mining my past and present for inspiration and using pieces of my life in my work. I don’t want to box myself into a category, but I enjoy writing about gay characters. We need more good books about them. Continue reading

Sean and Heard

My birth name can be difficult to spell because it is not phonetic. Complicating matters is that there is another more popular spelling of it. My original name is not very gendered in that girls and boys can be called it without much incident. When I was five, a blustery travel agent insisted that my name was pronounced “seen” despite my mother’s protests. I sat there confused thinking of Sean Penn and Connery, wondering if they had ever had to explain their names. I think the argument ended in a stalemate.

Sometime around 2003, people of various walks of life and ages (including middle schoolers in a Saturday enrichment program) began to independently call me “Josh.” Several people remarked that I seemed like a “Josh.” I wondered what a Josh seemed like and why I did not represent a Sean.

Concurrently, people began to question by sex when they solely heard my voice. The admissions letter to graduate school read, “Ms. Sean…” and often when I would speak to a customer service agent, I would get “ma’amed.” Already beginning to feel fluid in my gender, I was not affronted. In fact, I was flattered. I do not think I ever corrected the person who missexed me because I was concerned that s/he would become embarrassed and perhaps even get in trouble by their supervisor. I started to wonder how often I had used the wrong pronoun when talking to people on the phone, even folks whom I thought I knew well. I felt guilty. Once during a winter holiday season, I spoke via phone to a customer service representative who referred to me as ma’am. She was very friendly and warm, and began asking me if I had children and a partner, what I was doing for Christmas, and if I was shopping. I answered factually and she seemed to pity me for not having kids or a significant other for whom to purchase gifts. I was convinced that if she thought I were a man, the same questions or sympathy would be not be sent my way, and this felt sexist. I felt too bad to correct her (him/hir?).

The language of pronouns can be confining especially when gender often is so fluid. In some settings, people can act and/or be perceived of as more feminine or masculine. I wish American society would think outside of dichotomies, stop conflating sex with gender; as well as more highly value gender queer identities, spaces, and most of all people.

In 2005, I began to go by “Sem” on professional list-serves. Despite the gender fluidity of my natal name, using my initials seemed to better reflect the gender queer space in which I was and am situating myself. I wondered if a name ever really belongs to someone if another person has given it to them? I have begun to use Sem with more ease and frequency. Though I am unsure if I will legally change names, being called Sem feels congruent with my being.

Recently I rejoined a writing group that I had not attended in about 2 years. When I was initially there, I was “Sean” but by being called “Sem” this time around, I felt more comfortable and as though I was communicating from a more authentic voice.