Film Interview 2018
Written by Corey Camperchioli
In 2016 we spoke with filmmaker Alden Peters' who brought his debut feature documentary COMING OUT Rejected to BFI Flare. Since its release, the award-winning COMING OUT has become a film that has helped countless LGBTQ+ people come to terms with their identity on their terms.
Alden's debut scripted short film FEMME, by writer/star Corey Camperchioli is enjoying its festival run whilst picking up a few awards along the way.
You can read Corey's interview here.
Hello Alden, it's great to talk to you again, how's everything been going?
Great to talk to you again, too! It’s been a couple years. I’ve been great! Things have been moving along nicely, so I’m very lucky. FEMME was just released on Revry, so it’s finally available worldwide, for free. And there are some other updates on the project I am so excited to talk about.
How long after the 'Coming Out's release and festival run did it take for you to relax and let it all soak in?
I’m not sure I ever stopped to relax. As COMING OUT was finishing it’s festival circuit and preparing for its distribution with Wolfe, I was already talking to Corey and Benno about directing FEMME. Corey wrote and starred in FEMME, and Benno produced it. When COMING OUT played at the Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney, we had already launched the Kickstarter campaign for FEMME. So it’s been nonstop since we last spoke!
Do you have a favourite comment or quote about 'Coming Out' that has stayed with you?
Yes, absolutely. It was the audience reaction during the world premiere at a festival in Utah called Docutah International Documentary Film Festival. The reaction was overwhelming. The community there needed a film like COMING OUT. People came up to me and told me their stories about LGBTQ children getting disowned from families when coming out, or entire families excommunicated from the church because they accepted their LGBTQ child. The film really resonated with them. There was one woman who came up to me after the screening, in tears. She looked me in the eye, gave me a hug, and then walked away without a word. It was powerful. It’s the thing I remind myself when I’m in the weeds with a project, or when I’m feeling frustrated by a roadblock in a project. It’s worth pushing through because of the impact it can have on an audience.
Your debut short film, FEMME, has already notched up a few awards during its festival run, did you ever imagine you'd get this positive reaction to your film?
I felt that this project was special from the very beginning. It was always bigger than a short film, it was a movement. It had a purpose. So I thought it would resonate with our audience. But the intensity of the positive response I did not expect. I have been absolutely blown away. There are legitimate fans of the film, of the project, of Corey. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think, Wow, I made that.
Did you have any apprehensions about taking on your first scripted short film?
Of course! The last project I did was COMING OUT, which is a feature documentary. So there were definitely conversations early on about whether I was a documentary director or a narrative director. But I consider myself a film director, no matter what format it takes. I directed many scripted shorts when I was in film school at NYU. I took extra summer semesters so I could take all the screenwriting courses NYU had to offer. I also took all the documentary production courses. I’ve devoted myself to a lifelong study of the story in all of its shapes and forms. So I knew I was capable, deep down. But on the surface, there was apprehension, yes. But I knew the apprehension meant there was room to grow. I’d never directed something I didn’t write, for example. The opportunity to grow as a filmmaker really excited me about the project.
How soon after reading FEMME did you know you wanted to direct it?
I’ve known Corey for a few years, so I already wanted to work with him. He’s the real deal not only in terms of talent but also in terms of heart and grace and purpose. When we first talked about the project, I was on board immediately. The script was hilarious but also had the heart to it. There was a vulnerability to Carson that especially intrigued me. I knew right away that I wanted to direct.
Tell me a little bit about FEMME what can we expect?
FEMME is a short film about Carson, who gets rejected by an online hookup for being too “femme.” He goes on a hilarious journey of self-acceptance with the help of his work wife/best friend and a fairy drag queen godmother. The film stars Corey Camperchioli, Aja from RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE, Stephanie Hsu from BE MORE CHILL and the SPONGEBOB MUSICAL (both on Broadway), Derek Klena from ANASTASIA on Broadway, and Johnny Sibilly from POSE. This cast is incredible, you will fall in love with all of them.
When did you first meet writer/star Corey Camperchioli?
Corey and I went to NYU Tisch together. We met on a rooftop party in Brooklyn and talked for ages about the work we wanted to do, what inspired us. We joke now that our interests could not be more different (for example I am a huge science fiction nerd), but our taste is aligned. I think that started when we first met. We both believe in the power of cinema and seeing stories represented. And we both wanted to work together immediately. It took a few years, but finally, I got a call that Corey had this film he wrote and was looking for a director.
What was it about Corey's screenplay that interested you so much as a director?
First, it was funny. Corey is a natural at writing good scenes. I was giggling as I read the script. The second thing was the heart of the story. Carson is vulnerable, with his heart on his sleeve. But that’s ultimately his strength, not his weakness. It drew me in. The humour also gets you in the heart.
Did the personal aspect of Corey's screenplay help you connect with his story?
I think the personal aspect of Corey’s screenplay helps everyone connect with the story. The authenticity shines through. You can feel it. The jokes organically arise from the characters. The experience of being considered too femme is something that has to be written from a personal place. By being so open and vulnerable on the page, Corey really made it resonate.
What was the process like working with Corey on this film?
Working with Corey has been a dream. Our perspectives and skill sets complement each other incredibly well. We both listen. We both work tirelessly. So does Benno. We are a great team.
Right away, I downloaded as much as I could from Corey. Not only the truth and nuance to the experiences that informed the script but also his goal with the project. I wanted to make sure I protected the story and vision and didn’t run too far away from its intended direction. This made the production a dream. Corey was able to let go and perform. I was able to confidently direct.
As I read the script initially, I was imagining a BROAD CITY tone. I find app culture and gay dating (in New York City especially) to be absurd. I wanted to explore that absurdity to find an authentic truth. I think BROAD CITY does that with New York City — by highlighting the absurdity, you get a really accurate representation of the city. So I wanted to explore the more problematic parts of our community through a lens of absurdity instead of a harsh calling out. It keeps the humour alive but keeps the message clear. So I pitched this to Corey and Benno, and they were on board.
Another experience on this project was talking to Corey about sharing a personal story with the world. COMING OUT documented really vulnerable moments in my life and my family’s life. Sharing that and talking about it, and having it critiqued, was intense. I was able to be there and prepare Corey for what it’s like to put your life and soul on the big screen.
What is next for FEMME?
We’re adapting FEMME into a series! It’s incredible. Rachel Brosnahan, who just won an Emmy for her starring role in THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL signed on to executive produce. Corey, Benno, and I are back in the saddle again. We’ve got our first season in the works and I am so excited about how the project has grown and evolved. The fans of the film are going to freak when they see the series. We can’t say much yet, but definitely follow me (@aldenpeters) or FEMME (@femmethefilm) on social media and you’ll be getting the updates!
How much was your approach to FEMME different from how you approached 'Coming Out'?
For me, the process of directing a documentary is like sculpting out of marble. The process of a fiction piece is like building with Legos. So they’re very different approaches in terms how to get from concept to finished product. But in both cases, I’m looking for an authentic story. Everything on FEMME was collaborative. Corey, Benno and I all signed off on major creative decisions. I did a lot more explaining concepts and outcomes and visions and trusting departments to make them happen. With COMING OUT, I was functioning in basically all three roles me, Corey and Benno fill on FEMME. So I made decisions and then they were done. As you can imagine, it was a really helpful process to be forced to justify creative decisions and how they service the story. But at the core of both projects, I was searching for truth on set, and an authentic, heartfelt story in the editing room.
What has been the most valuable lesson you are taking from making FEMME?
Wow, there are so many. FEMME is a reaffirmation of the importance of telling a personal, authentic story. Being open and vulnerable resonates with audiences. It starts conversations. When you see authenticity on screen, it’s refreshing every time. Corey himself has been inspiring. Both on screen and behind the scenes, he’s on a quest to spread the lesson of self-love. It’s so wonderful to be surrounded by a team on that mission because it helps you lift yourself up in a really powerful way. Rachel Brosnahan has been so gracious and selfless in a way that’s been so inspiring. She’s really put her weight behind Corey and FEMME, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that, especially with all her success.
"You are enough. You are worthy. You are unique, and you are powerful."
Moving forward what are you currently working on?
Well, you know how I never took a break between COMING OUT and FEMME? The same thing happened here. In addition to the FEMME series, I have two projects in the works that I’ve been writing. One is a queer sci-fi pilot and the other is a pre-Stonewall queer history feature. Both of these projects are personal in very different ways. Both are extremely crucial and necessary in the world in different ways. I can’t wait until I can talk more about them!
With an award-winning feature doc and now an award-winning short film what advice could you offer an aspiring filmmaker?
As a director, you’re there to usher the story into existence and guide your team in the right direction. You’re not there to be a dictator. Every time someone asks you a question on set, your answer must have the story’s best interest in mind. If you’re a director or writer or actor, you get so much credit for a film. But it’s a massive team of people who make your ideas a reality. Producers, cinematographers, PAs, editors, colourists, sounds designers, composers, and especially production designers — all of these people make a film a film. And the advice there is to be humble. This team will really save your ass, so be sure to listen to them. Give your department heads space to bring something of their own to the table. It’ll make your film so much stronger.
Then you have to keep doing the work. You’ll have to try just as hard on the next project as you did on the last one. It doesn’t get easier. I’d even say it gets harder because life happens along the way. It becomes more and more difficult to make the sacrifices necessary to do this crazy thing we call filmmaking. So focus on why you’re making the film. Keep faith in that purpose, because no one else will be that torchbearer.
Then, if you’re fortunate to achieve success — whether it’s playing at festivals, winning awards, or getting distribution — remember that it is fickle. Success isn’t an achievement, it’s a temporary gift. Be a steward of success and wield it to lift your community up. It’s all about the people around you.
And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from this film?
FEMME is about self-love. It’s about looking at yourself and loving yourself, even if society tells you something’s wrong with you. You are enough. You are worthy. You are unique, and you are powerful. None of us deserves to be treated like we aren’t.