10 Most Commonly Asked Questions of the Writer/Director of Queer and Southern God - Melisse Tokic
1) Q&SG started off as a book concept. What made you feel like it should be adapted for film?
There are many reasons, I can't pick the best one. It was the idea of Merrill Farnsworth, who I wrote much of the book in her memoir circles. She always said it would be a great film. She passed away from breast cancer right before we started filming. Once the book was written, I thought the characters were so rich they would translate well to screen. I also thought that making a film would be easier than publishing a book. Ha. I had no idea.
2) What is it about?
It's a dark comedy, Southern Gothic, biblical, coming of age tale, set in rural Tennessee.
Hank finds himself pregnant and hasn't had a God to turn to in a minute. He’s got his Mama, but she’s too busy getting loaded on her Budweiser and smoking the Kools. He just can’t stomach his boyfriend’s pretentious world view anymore. It just may take the spiritual guidance of the town loon to show Hank another way of looking at the world and "God".
The film's pretty loaded. It explores the importance of having your own spiritual path, addiction, hope after violence, microaggressions and universal truths. We will bring the experience of being raised in the God fearing south to the rest of the world. On the flip side, we will bring the concept that spiritual journeys often have nothing to do with religion to the South. The film hopes to increase awareness between cultures, get a wider audience to start talking and addressing their own prejudices.
3) You were not a filmmaker before writing and directing Q&SG. Why this film? Why now?
I always wanted to be a filmmaker but it seemed way beyond my reach. Beyond my wildest dreams actually. I literally died having my son, spent a week in ICU, had a 7 month recovery period, still need to stay on top of my pain.... That was a huge wake-up call for me. I thought, you have this story that you are just sitting on. It's already written just go for it. Every time I was overwhelmed with the process something (other worldy, spiritual, serendipitous) would happen that would propel it forward. For example, I thought how am I going to film this? I have no access to a camera. I ran in to Schuyler Howie, the producer, who was working for Jason Denton, the DP. That happened with every aspect of this project. and still does.
4) Why did you decided to have a Trans character? Couldn’t this film be just as “provocative” without adding this dynamic? (Is it meant to be seen as provocative?)
I originally chose a Trans character because it was one way for me to convey the feeling of feeling like an outsider in your own family and community. Especially a community that you have chosen. I think every human has felt that way. I hope it's not just me. Once I had a Trans character and shared the story with a few people I realized how many misconceptions my non-queer friends had. This was mostly based on one dimensional characters in main stream media. I wanted to add to diversity in art. I think that in a small part this film can bridge the gap between two communities with misunderstandings of each other.
The provocative part of the film is that the aftermath of a person's rape doesn't need to be full of despair. The story can end in hope. Also, the choice Hank ends up making seems pretty provocative. I wanted to illustrate how much religion is immersed in everyday life of some folks to people not raised in church. That was a surprise to me when I moved to Nashville and some people raised in rural areas don't seem to understand my disbelief and interest.
5) Is this film only for LGBTQ audiences?
Nope, it’s for everyone. Christian audiences, stay at home moms, southerners, yankees, politicians. You name it. There are so many themes or what I call “Universal Truths”, I think anyone can relate.
6) If there was one line that could become a catch phrase what would you want it to be?
“Front Butt”. Everyone squirms with that line and puts their own meaning behind it. I had to fight really hard to keep it in the script and final edit. The only people who really saw the true beauty in that line were myself and the lead who delivered the line, Adrian Hill.
7) How did you find such perfect character actors?
It became a much bigger process than I ever anticipated. I thought my friends would just act in it for me. I then tried street casting. From there we moved on to local Nashville talent. We received a video submission from Kathy Lynn Sandvoss who played Honey Lynn. I loved her and offered her the job right away. She helped us get the rest of the actors. Mel who played Trampus has a long list of credits and is a huge pro. Adrian who plays Hank and Noelle who plays Mama found out about the audition from taking an acting class with Kathy. They have had training, but this was their first real paid acting gig. Adrian is of Thai descent and was not what I pictured in my mind for a person from rural Tennessee, but they delivered the role. I couldn’t be prouder of all of them. They took it so seriously and I think their performances show. Someone better win an award for their acting.
8) Why the Kickstarter Campaign?
I spent all my money and called in all my favors to make this short. I wanted to give audiences a taste of what I can do. I’m hoping if people like it they will donate to see more of the story. I can make future episodes and hopefully get the project front of someone who will give us funding to made even more.
9) What’s the next goal?
The feature length script is already written. My original hope was to use this short to get some funding to make the full film. After seeing how the short turned out, I switched gears and decided that the story would be conveyed best in cliff hanging episodes. The intention is to promote this short at film festivals in 2018 and then obtain funding to adapt it into a series or "Queer Soap Opera" in 2019. Raising money to do this is the next goal.
10) What’s next in the filmmaking world for Melisse?
I co-wrote and directed a film called “Percy and Bud”, which is about a heroin addict getting left with a toddler and his first 30 days of sobriety. It stars my 1 year old son. That is in the middle of editing right now. I’m in pre-production for a music video for Nick Woods. I’m writing a script about a suicidal therapist that will be shot by Emerson Caddell.
I’m waiting on on the IRS to send me a letter stating that the non-profit “Dialogue Films” is able to move forward with 501c3 status. This non-profit will award disenfranchised filmmakers the money to get their own projects made.