Sunday, 29 January 2012

'Going Down In LA-LA Land' to open Belgium's 26th LGBT Film Festival - Interview with director Casper Andreas

Actor and director Casper Andreas
© Mark Odgers
Next week, Belgium's LGBT Film Festival (Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique) kicks off. The 26th edition opens on February 2nd with the screening of GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, a romantic drama about a struggling actor with big dreams, trying to survive in Hollywood. The film was written, directed and produced by Swedish-born Casper Andreas. 

Another one of Casper's films, the comedy VIOLET TENDENCIES, will screen during the film festival's opening night as well. In addition to producing and directing, Casper is also an actor and he stars in both films. 

ESJ talked to Casper about what it is like to act in your own films, about adapting the screenplay for GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, the industry in Los Angeles, and his next project – a period film about a Swedish king and his male lover.

Are you excited that both GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND and VIOLET TENDENCIES are screening at the opening night of the Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique? 

Naturally I'm thrilled! It's a great honor to have two of my films on the festival programme. 

The screenplay for VIOLET TENDENCIES was written by Jesse Archer, whom you also worked with on A FOUR LETTER WORD. Did he ask you to direct this film or was it you who proposed the collaboration? 

Originally he asked me to co-write the script with him. It's kind of a spin-off from A FOUR LETTER WORD that we wrote together, which is a spin-off of SLUTTY SUMMER. I was busy making another film at the time so I told him to go ahead and write the script himself, and that if it turned out any good I'd direct it. This offended him greatly, naturally, so once the script was finished I had to beg him to let me direct it [laughs].

Jesse Archer (Luke) and Mindy Cohn (Violet)

VIOLET TENDENCIES is about a 40-year old fag hag trying to find love, does Jesse Archer hang out with a lot of 40-year old fag hags or where did the idea for the film come from?

He does indeed! The film was inspired by his friend Margaret Echeverria, who plays the character Audrey who gets married in the first scene. Audrey also had a supporting role in A FOUR LETTER WORD and Jesse's idea was to take a character like the fag hag who often is so marginalized even in gay culture and put her front and center. Jesse also useed to say that he wouldn't have survived high school if it wasn't for his fag hags who were there to protect him. So, the film really is a love letter to these women everywhere -- though just in case someone takes offense at the portrayal of Violet -- she is an over-the-top character in an over-the-top comedy and certainly not supposed to represent all fag hags.

Casper Andreas (Marcus) in VIOLET TENDENCIES

Marcus and Luke, two characters from SLUTTY SUMMER, reappear in this film. Why were they brought back?

Well Luke, played by Jesse Archer, is making his third appearance, probably because Jesse wrote the script. My character Marcus from SLUTTY SUMMER was not in A FOUR LETTER WORD since I wanted to focus just on directing with that film. But we both thought it would be fun to bring him back in this one. The three films are all about a group of New Yorkers, and for each film we have introduced a lot of new characters as well. It was a lot of fun bringing back some of the earlier characters and see what they would do next.

Do you think people can relate to the story?

Yes absolutely. And I'm not just talking about straight women who spend all their time with gay men. Though Violet is front and center in the film, the other storylines include gay men dealing with monogamy and whether or not to have kids. Ultimately the film is about being true to who you are and about how we as gay people often have to create our own families.

Mindy Cohn (Violet) in VIOLET TENDENCIES

The role of Violet seems perfect for Mindy Cohn. Whose idea was it to cast her? Did she agree right away?

Originally we had planned to cast Margaret Echevierria, who inspired the script in the leading role. But then we were encouraged to go after "name" actresses. We approached a few people before a friend suggested Mindy Cohn in the very last minute. Mindy was a teenage star on the American TV show THE FACTS OF LIFE and a lot of gay men in the US, having grown up with her on that show, LOVED the idea of her in this role. So casting Mindy certainly helped getting the film more attention in the US. Though we did some rehearsals via Skype before Mindy arrived on the set in New York (she lives in Los Angeles) I didn't get a chance to even meet her beforehand. So of course I was a little nervous about how it would  turn out. But Mindy just threw herself into the role and we could tell right away that she was just perfect as Violet.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Michael Medico (John)

How is GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND different from your previous films?

I'm mostly known for my romantic comedies, such as THE BIG GAY MUSICAL. I've made one film though that was quite different: a pretty dark relationship drama called BETWEEN LOVE & GOODBYE. I call that my European film [laughs]. GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is somewhere in the middle -- it still has a lot of comedy, but mainly of the dry and black kind. It also has a lot of drama so I think of it as a dramedy.

You wrote the screenplay for GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, which was based on a novel by Andy Zeffer. When you read the book, did you know right away that you wanted to adapt it into a screenplay?

I liked the book and I did think right away that this would lend itself well to a movie. It had a lot of great characters and an interesting plot. Since I myself have lived the life of a struggling actor in Los Angeles for a few years about a decade ago, I certainly could relate to a lot of the struggles Adam is going through and what it's like being a starving actor in LA, where being an unemployed actor makes you feel like the lowest of the low. The leading character, Adam, ends up dabbling in porn and prostitution and I also thought it was interesting to explore why this handsome young man, whose goal it is to establish himself as an actor, would go down that road? Why would he think it would be a good idea? So I tried to depict his gradual descent into that world in the film.

Did you ever receive any proposals to get into pornography?

No, I didn't. I had a neighbour for a while, though, who was giving massages with happy endings out of his apartment, and who tried to convince me that it was a much better day job than waiting tables. I was also offered a job doing nude house cleaning for guys who liked having someone being naked while cleaning in their apartments! I declined.

Do you think it is common for gay male actors to end up working in the adult entertainment industry?

Well it certainly happens. The book is actually based on a true story. But I think most people who are serious about an acting career would know to stay away from it. I think Adam in the film ends up getting some of the attention and adulation that he is seeking -- and that, probably, is part of the reason for why he wanted to be an actor in the first place -- from the adult entertainment industry. I think that is a major reason actually for why anyone would get into that business.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Allison Lane (Candy)

Did you have to make any major changes to the story in order to adapt it into a screenplay? What did you have to leave out or change?

Well, I told Andy Zeffer right away that I only wanted to do it if I had full creative freedom. Having lived in LA myself I also wanted to incorporate some of my experiences in the film, so sometimes I added things that were not in the book. Granted, a lot of the plot of the book had to be excluded, but that is always the case when it comes to book-to-screen adaptations. I ended up focusing on the story-lines that were the most interesting  to me. And although I certainly didn't have to change the ending -- the book has a great ending also -- I came up with an ending that I liked even better. Despite the many changes I  still feel that the film captures the book well and many people who have read the novel have also told me so after screenings.

GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is the first film that you shot in Los Angeles. Is the work environment in Hollywood different from the one in New York?

Well I don't think I ever will make a low-budget film in LA again. It's not a very film friendly town for independent films. In New York, the city and state gives you lots of incentives for shooting there -- tax breaks, free permits, free parking, free access to many city locations and parks etc. In LA they charge you for everything. Plus no one is excited about helping out making a film just for fun. In New York we have been able to scape together so many resources from friends: they would show up to be extras in a scene, lend us their apartments to shoot in, lend us clothes or props and so on. So I much prefer shooting in New York. It's also easier since that's where I live [laughs].

Just like in VIOLET TENDENCIES and SLUTTY SUMMER, you are not only the director but you also act in the film. I imagine it to be quite difficult and time-consuming to direct yourself. Why did you decide to act in your own films? Will you do it again in the future?

My first love is acting so the actor part of me wants a part in my films. But it is very stressful to do double duty and it makes my job as director much harder. That is also why I made three films that I'm not acting in. I really loved playing Nick in GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, though. It was a great character to work on and I had a lot of fun; so yes, I might consider casting myself again sometime if there is a role I'm right for.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Bruce Vilanch (Missy)

I spotted Bruce Vilanch in the trailer. I love him! Did he write his own lines or was his dialogue already in the script?

Bruce is so funny! His dialogue was in the script but he also ad-libed a lot of fun stuff. Some of it we were able to keep but some of his funniest stuff we actually had to cut out because it was too over the top for the tone of the film. It will certainly end up on the DVD extras though.

Would you ever consider coming back to Europe to make a film here?

I love that question because I actually just got the film rights to a Swedish novel based on a true story about a former Swedish king and his male lover. You are actually the first person I tell about this! I plan to make this film in Sweden if I can get the funding together. It's a period film so I will need quite a big budget, and it might take a while to make it happen, but I'm very excited about it.

What else are you working on right now?

In addition to my Swedish project, I'm looking to get hired to act and to direct some bigger budget stuff; Film or TV. So far I've been producing all my films myself and I have made them all on very small budgets. I'm kind of burned out with that. I would like to just come in and direct something and not worry about all the business stuff. I'm attached to directing a wonderful script called OVER THE RAINBOW but not sure when it will happen since the producers are still looking for funding.

If people only have time to see one of your films at the Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique, which one should they go see; VIOLET TENDENCIES or GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND?

Well GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is my newest film so that is the one I'm most excited about. Plus, since I also wrote the screenplay, I think I'm a little bit more attached to it, compared to Violet Tendencies. Shh,  don't tell Jesse [laughs]. But I would highly suggest that everyone makes an effort to go and see both of them. They are both a lot of fun!

By Eve Beurskens