You produce, direct, and are the head writer for the series Dyke Central, currently streaming on Amazon. Can you tell us how the show came together and what compelled you to tell this particular story?
There are many ways to answer this question… The short version is that, after considering doing a series for a couple years but deciding against it, I finally decided to put the effort towards creating something when my girlfriend at the time said she would do it with me. I had such a lack of self-confidence, especially in my writing skills, that doing it with someone else seemed like a good idea—even though she had no filmmaking or screenwriting experience at the time. So I was working out the characters and loosely developing some storylines with her for fun.
Then a friend inherited some money and gave me 5K towards my next film project. I knew I could make the pilot for that amount, so I shifted gears to a serious writing and pre-production timeline, and directed and produced the pilot a few months later. That pilot premiered in October of that year (2011) at a sold-out screening with more than 500 people at Oakland’s historic Grand Lake Theatre, and the response was so overwhelmingly positive, there and at eventual film festival screenings, that I started plotting how I would manage to film more episodes.
All those people that really connected with the pilot, that kept asking me where they could see more episodes—those people, the Oakland queer community, were the original inspiration and drive to make Dyke Central. We have such a vibrant, diverse, and huge queer community in the Bay Area! And of course everyone knows about the gays in San Francisco, but what we don’t see depicted in the media is the queer women’s, trans*, and gender non-conforming scene in Oakland. This is a community that does not see itself represented on screen at all. Being able to capture just a little bit of what life is like for us here is what kept me inspired and motivated year after year as I struggled and sweated to crank out Season 1.
One could easily envision the characters in Dyke Central living in a feature or short film. Why did you choose to create Dyke Central as a series instead?
I had just come off of making my first feature (Fiona’s Script), and was frankly flattened by the enormity of that process. I was energized by the prospect of making something that I could do in small chunks instead of all at once; but what most excited me about the format was the possibility of cultivating several characters and developing their arc over a much longer time period than a film allows.
Often, mainstream films with lesbian protagonists are directed by men and acted by straight women, such as Blue Is The Warmest Color and Disobedience. Do you think those films can realistically portray the lives of queer women?
I think it depends on the level of research that the director and actresses do: how much respect they have for the material, whether they decide to conjure things up from their own imaginations, or go to learn from and study actual queer women. It is, after all, the job of a director and the job of an actor to inhabit many different lived experiences; it would be antithetical to the nature of the craft to demand that people only work on projects that embody their own specific lived experiences, or to think that that’s the only way to achieve emotional authenticity. So yes, I do think those films can realistically portray the lives of queer women if the intent is there to be humble, listen to real queer women, and to receive guidance from them.
THAT SAID: women, let alone queer women, are grossly under-hired as directors. And queer actors that are out are often shunned from straight roles (and then passed over for queer roles that are given to “bigger” straight names). To me, the demand to have more queer women hired to write, direct and act in lesbian, bisexual or otherwise queer films is about bringing a necessary leveling to the film world and ending the sexism and homophobia that are so glaringly pervasive in this industry.
Dyke Central showcases Oakland and the Bay Area. Can you talk about the personality of the neighborhood and why you chose to set the series there?
As mentioned above, the city’s bustling queer and trans* community was in fact the original inspiration for the story, so setting the story anywhere else was never an option. Oakland is currently undergoing rapid, intensive gentrification, so the Oakland of today is not quite the same Oakland you see in Dyke Central. But it is still a very special place to call home; there are dykes/trans folk/queers everywhere you go. It is also the birthplace of the Black Panther movement; it’s not only a historically black city (although the aforementioned gentrification is displacing a lot of black Oaklanders), but it’s also proudly politicized. At the same time—and I say this as someone who was born and raised in a city of 13 million people—it is and feels like a small city, whether you go to the lake or the farmers’ market or a bar you will inevitably run into someone you know.
For the filmmakers reading who would love a little insight, can you share with us how you came to feature Dyke Central on Amazon?
Amazon actually has an arm called “Amazon Video Direct” through which filmmakers can put their content on Amazon. I believe the content has to meet certain quality standards and requires approval by them, and I don’t know how they make decisions, but for us it was a fairly simple process once all the deliverables were created (including closed captions for every episode).
With Dyke Central, you chose to bring a vision to life. We see people of all genders struggle with commitment, identity, and honesty as they navigate the tricky waters of love. As a producer, what attracts you to the projects you choose?
I am the creator, writer, and director. I end up producing my projects simply because someone has to do it, and at this super-low-budget indie level, that someone has to be you. It took me a while to embrace that and let go of the yearning to be able to “just write and direct” without also taking care of getting the funding, assembling the team, dealing with locations, coordinating all logistics, etc, etc. I have had some wonderful co-producers and assistant producers taking on some very important pieces of work, but ultimately, if it’s my baby, no one is going to care for it like I will.
In terms of the content I create, I am drawn to inquiring into our everyday experiences of joy, lust, sorrow, confusion, hope, and growth. I’m not someone who seeks to tell stories of extraordinary moments and extra-ordinary people. Screenwriting and filmmaking are ways for me to understand myself, my friends and lovers, my experiences, and life in general. All of the stories in Dyke Central stem from something either I or someone in my life has gone through.
It has been incredibly encouraging to hear from live and internet audiences that the that the stories I tell (not only in Dyke Central but in my other film projects), that stem from my experiences and environment resonate so much with others. To me, this affirms that the personal is universal when expressed with authenticity and emotional honesty, and it keeps me committed to seeking the (subjective) truths in each storyline and character.
In the spirit of sharing lessons learned with the filmmaking community, if you could go back in a time machine to before you produced Dyke Central, what advice would give yourself?
Ha! There is so much I would say to myself, because hindsight really is 20-20. Before I started producing Dyke Central, I had very low self-esteem both personally and creatively. And I therefore made choices that, from my current perspective, deeply reflect my lack of self-respect and self-worth as an artist and person.
For example, I allowed myself to partner creatively with someone who had no skill or experience whatsoever in screenwriting, nor any particular talent for it, either, simply because I was in a romantic relationship with her. All that mattered to me was making my partner feel good and pleasing her, regardless of how I might get harmed, or whether my needs and value were disregarded in the process. So, in traditional femme fashion, I did 90% of the work on the creation of the project, but still agreed to share creator credit.
Therefore, If I could back and do it all over again, I would try to infuse my younger self with the faith that I do have the capacity to carry the writing and production of the series by myself, because ultimately, I did! And I was capable of it even before the show’s inception. I’d already made a feature film, and worked on dozens of sets, but I didn’t trust myself enough yet. My lack of confidence proved to be more damaging than I could have imagined, as I surrendered my creative skill and capital, and that ultimately affected the show’s growth possibilities. That said, things unfold according to who we are at the time of their unfolding. Dyke Central is really where I cut my teeth as a screenwriter and director, and where I eventually developed that inner confidence that no one can provide from the outside (not even you-from-the-future!).
Confidence is a very tricky issue, because internalized sexism has made many of us very insecure in our worth as artists, and often we are the ones holding ourselves back because of it. On the other hand, I don’t ever want to be arrogant or cocky, or delude myself into thinking that my work is better than it actually is; I don’t subscribe to the American imperative of overconfidently selling our work and convincing ourselves that whatever we make is genius simply because we made it. So I guess the advice would be: Guard your creative work and process like an overprotective mother. Do your best to separate your work from your personal relationships, knowing that many relationships will dissolve (or change drastically), but your relationship with your own creative process is for life. Surround yourself with a group of peers/creatives whose opinion you truly trust (i.e. they will be totally honest, albeit constructively) and 100% want to see you progress as an artist. Turn to these people time and time again for a reality check, particularly when you feel your insecurities might be clouding your judgement. And finally: make work to grow as an artist and for the sake of your creative expression, without regard for how that work might be received by others or what rewards you hope it will bring you.