Many many years ago, in 2009 to be exact, I was struggling through a relationship. Looking back it’s very easy to see that it wasn’t a relationship I wanted to be in. At that moment in time, I didn’t know better. To keep the peace, my boyfriend was adamant that we try opening our relationship. The queer landscape was very different then, and I knew almost nothing about how this should work. As part of my own process, I wrote a screenplay for a short film about a couple struggling with opening their relationship. I had a vision for something serious told with a camp sensibility and plenty of motion graphics. Even though our world was yet to go fully digital, I wanted to show a physical representation for conversations and connections happening digitally.
For years I sat on this project and periodically came back to it to edit the story and send it to friends for feedback. Enough time passed since I had worked on a film and I was eager to get something going. In the summer of 2015, I pulled the trigger and decided to move forward on shooting Open Season. Luckily, I had a group of friends who were willing to help out and work on the project with me.
From the get go, I had issues casting for the film. I booked two days at a studio to have actors come and read for me. Unfortunately, no one showed up either day. I was gutted but it didn’t break my determination. Through a mix of single in-person and online reads, I was able to put together a strong cast. A week or two before filming, I invited them over to my house for a rehearsal. The actor playing Chase wasn’t able to show up because of a conflict with another shoot. I was okay with it, but it definitely was a red flag. He was MIA the weekend of the shoot. We sprang into action to adjust the schedule, shuffle one of the actors to play Chase, and I had to step in to play the boyfriend, David. There’s plenty of acting in my past, so I wasn’t uncomfortable taking on the role. But it was upsetting because I was looking forward to focusing on directing. Not to mention, the final scene with David is pretty emotional and I wanted to make sure everything was done right. If I intended to act in the film, I would’ve rehearsed my scene more intensely and recorded rehearsals to direct myself better before actually shooting.
What I Learned
Filmmaking is one of my passions and sadly one that I don’t explore more often. I’m not working professionally in film and I’ve yet to make something that’s generally praised so it still comes with many lessons. Open Season was no different.
An important piece of feedback that is still an issue with the film is the unclear boundary between reality and digital conversations. It’s hard to grasp that these text exchanges aren’t flashbacks. My original vision was to play with those blurred boundaries and maybe add a digital glitch as a transition between the two worlds. Through multiple edits, I really came to love the idea of making text exchanges seem like they happened in person and decided to use match actions to transition between scenes. This confusion was key to the film, I thought. To keep the distinction subtle, I planned to add motion graphics in the background to show other conversations these characters could be having at the same time.
Honestly, while I love the graphics they do very little to serve the narrative. We originally shot Natasha’s scene so that a clothing rack was in her living room, showing that she was online shopping while she talked with Jason. This scene stood out way too much since no other scene had surreal elements like that. We reshot it to remove the clothing rack. If I could do this film all over, I would’ve set the text conversations in surreal worlds and never would’ve played up these blurred lines. Chris’ conversation can take place in a Call of Duty war zone, Chase can be lying on a bed of shirtless men, and Natasha can be in a dressing room at Forever 21. It would add that camp sensibility I was looking for and make it clear these conversations weren’t happening in person.
The message of the film, I think gets a bit lost and it’s definitely something I wish I could clean up. Over the years, I had several gay friends react differently to the story. Some felt it was a great reminder that online dating apps are terrible or that open relationships are terrible. Neither of those are the message of the film as I intended. The main story is about a couple failing to communicate or truly understand their needs. Jason struggles with even finding a way to discuss the relationship with his best friend. Another part of the story is the need to make connections. Sure, Chase is on the app for a good time but Chris is trying to find a real relationship and Jason is trying to make sense of his own.
While I entered a handful of festivals, Open Season failed to gain any traction. Womp womp. It’s really upsetting but aside from my own criticisms it’s still a wonderful project that I’m proud of. I’m happy to share the story wherever I can. And if you’re putting together any kind of film showcase, please let me know! I’d love Open Season to be a part of it!