By Hans Pedersen, May 2015 Issue.
Eric Schaeffer is receiving a round of acclaim for his most recent project, Boy Meets Girl, a warm and refreshing charmer he wrote and directed. The film stars Michael Welch (Twilight) and introduces trans actress Michelle Hendley as a trans 20-something whose life in a Southern town gets complicated when she falls for a wealthy debutante (Alexandra Turshen) who is engaged to a Marine.
Schaeffer has written and directed for film and television for more than two decades, and his work includes the indie hit If Lucy Fell starring Sarah Jessica-Parker and Ben Stiller, and the FX television series “Starved.”
His most recent work, which busts through boundaries of gender identity and sexual orientation, screened earlier this year at the Desperado Film Festival and is now available on DVD and online.
Schaeffer spoke about how his movie communicates its important themes during a recent phone interview with Echo Magazine.
Echo: What first prompted the idea for this story you wrote?
Schaeffer: It’s in keeping thematically with pretty much all my previously made films and my television shows actually, in that it’s the story of people trying to find love and family and friendship organically, based on who they really are and what their natural desires are, regardless of the very limiting constructs that society puts on us.
But I wanted to make a film that attacked those themes through a new lens … And then making a story about three people in their 20s, and setting it in a small rural town, those elements would certainly make the film feel markedly different than my previous films.
I thought making a film centered around a transgender girl would be a way into that subject matter … and instantly it would be a way into a story about someone wanting to be taken for who they are, and love who they want to love, without condition. It seemed like a pretty obvious way into that kind of story.
Echo: Can you talk about how you found Michelle Hendley for the role?
Schaeffer: It’s hard to find transgender actresses through traditional roots – calling agents and casting directors – so I took to the great internet to research and poke around, and I just Googled “transgender actress,” “transgender woman.” And after some investigation I found the YouTube channel by this beautiful, young transgender woman who seemed very natural and perfect for the part and personality-wise and looks-wise and her name was Michelle, and she had this YouTube channel where she was doing these blogs, talking about her life.
So, I got in touch with her and she had never acted and was in cosmetology school in Missouri … She read the script and really liked it and auditioned over Skype, and while she had a tremendous amount of raw talent, she had never acted traditionally. That’s a skill set that’s a very unique one … so you can have all the raw talent in the world but you have to learn to be a film actor, so that’s something we worked on and rehearsed. We rehearsed over Skype and worked in New York … and it was really four or five months before I felt like she was really at a place where she could really knock it out of the park, and so I cast her.
Echo: Did you encounter any resistance from sources of funding or distribution in terms of having a trans star? Or was everyone on board with the idea?
Schaeffer: It’s a very smart and understandable question … people ask me why don’t we have more transgender actors who play transgender characters. And it all comes down to money. The Hollywood business is money – Hollywood distributors and financiers, they don’t care who plays any part, they care if that person is going to make them money …
Stars give you a better chance that your film will succeed financially. So, whether Michelle was transgender or cisgender was immaterial, she wasn’t a star … nobody, because Michelle was transgender, was at all put off in any negative way in the financier or distributor department. They looked at the film strictly with an eye toward, “can we make money back with the cast that’s in it?”
Echo: Even though this qualifies as an LGBT film, can you talk about how it feels like there’s something for everyone to relate to in this movie?
Schaeffer: I’ve been asked this question in the reverse before, which is, did I just make this film for just LGBT or transgender audiences, and the answer is unequivocally no – I made the film for everybody.
It’s the story whose heart and themes lie close to anybody who’s ever felt alienated for any reason, who’s ever felt that they’re unable or disallowed from loving who they wanted to love, from having the emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual life that they want to have, that’s not harming anyone, because of the constructs that are often very limiting that society puts on us by our gender identification, our sexual orientation.
That’s why I made the lead a transgender woman, because I felt that was a very obvious window into this theme for most people, having that be a more unique experience than a story about a cis gender person.
I think people could imagine, “wow, that must be an interesting and challenging life.” But then by doing that, they can see themselves in her, in her soul and in her character, and that can go toward uniting us all … And that’s the point of art, I think, is to unite us all through identification with the human spirit.
Echo: Do you think our society is starting to become more accepting and embracing of the trans community?
Schaeffer: Certainly. Shows like “Transparent,” Laverne Cox’s work and the wonderful skyrocketing celebrity of “Orange Is The New Black” – and hopefully the people that will see Boy Meets Girl – [provide] more positive portrayals of the trans community in film and television shows, which I think is certainly helpful. It goes to educating and demystifying misconceptions that many people have about the trans community and helps integrate the trans community in a way that’s very important and necessary.
That’s again what the movie’s about; by realizing there’s nothing threatening at all in this movie about a sweet, beautiful, smart, 23-year-old transgender woman from a Southern town.
Echo: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Schaeffer: What’s equally important to me to get out is we’ve had this tremendous support from the LGBT community, and I just want to make sure everybody who’s in earshot of hearing about Boy Meets Girl understands this is a film that all audiences, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender, have an ability to identify with… I think the movie is valuable for all audiences.
Look for Boy Meets Girl via OnDemand, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and DVD April 28. Read Hans’ full review of Boy Meets Girl here.