By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
The 2012 Long Beach QFilm Festival, which takes place Sept. 14 through 16, ends with a celebratory bang — well, at least an I Do.
I Do is a tear-jerker that begins and ends with a credo that morphs from wishful thinking to reflection and experience.
I do believe in fate. I do believe in family. I do believe in telling the truth and that your actions have consequences.
The rest of the film turns out to be about all of the above.
Good news turns into tragedy when Jack Edwards’ brother dies in an accident, leaving his pregnant wife a widow. Seven years later, Jack (screenwriter, producer and actor David W. Ross) is a surrogate father to his niece Tara (Jessica Brown) and sole support system to his sister-in-law, Mya (Alicia Witt).
Jack’s life gets complicated when Immigration and Naturalization Services denies his visa extension (Jack was from England), forcing him to marry his best friend, Ali, played by Jamie Lyn Sigler. Further complicating things is a new relationship that Jack forms with Spain-reared U.S. citizen Mano Alfaro, played by Maurice Compte.
Unlike many romantic dramas with similar themes, I Do is unpredictable. I Do is not another remake of The Object of My Affection, where the heterosexual woman falls for the gay character with which she is rearing a child.
In fact, Jack, the protagonist, is not the only character on a journey in this story. Each character undergoes a growth process in this film. Mya, perhaps, is revealed to have experienced the most growth in this film. Grief-stricken with the loss of her husband, Mya is shown as week and emotionally dependent woman. By the end, Mya is revealed as strong and independent.
Perhaps the film’s only weakness is the degree of wisdom assigned to Tara, when she gives Jack permission to move on. The scene requires a suspension of belief to such an extent that it renders Tara as unbelievable.
I Do takes a humanistic look at the unfairness of marriage inequality in the United States, and the toll it takes on not just one relationship, but families, friends and society. Set in New York, where marriage for same-sex couples is legal, the film tackles the need for a federal law to do away with the Defense of Marriage Act.
As Patricia Belcher, who plays Immigration and Naturalization Service worker Gloria, put it:
Your relationship is not the problem here. The problem is you don’t have the same rights as a straight couple. Your marriage may look and feel the same, but it’s not.
Ross, best known for his work in the 2006 film Quinceañera, recently took some time to speak about the film and his journey as both a screenwriter and an actor.
Zamná Ávila: Where did the storyline come from? Did it change?
David W. Ross: I was in a relationship with somebody from the U.K. and they couldn’t get their paperwork, so they had to go back to England. I thought it would be quite funny to kind of update the movie Green Card … I started shooting all of the Prop. 8 rallies… It was during those rallies and meeting people whose lives were complicated because of DOMA, when I realized that I should take the issue more seriously. And, that is how I started writing it the way it is now.
I developed the script for about seven years or so, and it is a completely different story. I got to the point where I really hated the script because it was too funny; it was too slapstick.
Production took about six weeks of physical production. I raised the money last May on Kickstarter, and then my producing partner, Stephen Israel, found more money. I finished the script a couple of years ago and caught up in the Hollywood system. I really wanted the film to come out in 2012 because I had a feeling that gay marriage was going to be a big issue for the presidential election. It turns out that it is very relevant, which is great.
The budget was less than a million dollars.
We filmed in Los Angeles for the interior but it is a New York film, so all the exterior was shot in New York, basically.
ZÁ: Why did you decide to take the leading role in this movie?
DWR: I just realized after doing Quinceañera … that I wanted to definitely continue doing acting, but I wanted to make sure that the roles that I took were something that I was proud of. And, I’d already started writing I Do. So, I had a meeting with Stephen, and I said, you know, “I really want to play Jack. I kind of know this character inside out. I think I’ve proven to people in the indie world that I can act.”
ZÁ: What is the overall message that you are trying to convey?
DWR: It is difficult to say one thing. There are so many things that I wanted to say with the character Jack, things that I wanted to say with the character Mya, and Ali. They all have a separate journey… For me the overall trait of the film was to kind give you a slice of life of what it is like to be living under this law called DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. It doesn’t just affect the couple it affects everybody around them. I just wanted to show how marriage inequality really affects people. And, it affects people in devastating ways.
A lot of people still don’t realize that the Defense of Marriage Act is stopping people from having full rights.
I thought long and hard about all of the stuff. A lot of times in the film there are turns that you don’t expect that, for me the writer, were exciting … I think much more interesting is showing how friends — You know, I’m not sure if this has happened to you, but a friend disappears off the face of the earth because they have a new lover … and all of sudden they reappear … Real people do this. They fall in love with somebody … and they have to focus on the new lover and everyone else kind of left in the dust. So, I thought that was much more real. Obviously, Ali did this amazing thing for Jack. She’s intelligent enough to know what is going on, but I just think she is very scarred because all of a sudden he doesn’t seem to care.
Mya’s story was a lot more difficult. What happens between her and Jack was extremely painful… It’s not a frivolous film about green card living. It’s a film that touches on quite a few different beings. In the end the film is about marriage. And, I believe that marriage is the creation of families and all sorts of privileges that go with it. And, each one of these characters is desperate for family. So, whatever their journey is during the film. It’s their need for family, their need for connection, their need to have a sense of belonging with other people.
ZÁ: What challenges did you have in making the film?
DWR: It was very hard writing the screenplay knowing that I was going to act some of the scenes, but I just had to forget that I was the actor when I was writing it and just write the story as I wanted it to be written. If you are writing that you think is going to stretch you as an actor, or if you are writing a scene that you know is incredibly painful or it is going to be painful for the actor to portray, then as the writer, knowing that your going to be the actor, it becomes this thing where you just have to fend it off. The way I work as an actor, I really go there. So, there really were a few scenes that were really painful for me… But the story was just too important to let anything get in the way.
Very little at this point (was actually me), which is great because it would be very weird playing myself. There was a time where the story was very different… There was a time when all of suddenly split and I realized, it’s not me, it’s actually Jack.
The challenge always for an independent film is budget. The challenge is going to be location; that is always a problem. If you are writing a script and all of a sudden in your mind your budget goes from $2 million to x amount, you have to start making cuts, at least in the location.
ZÁ: How has your experience in filmmaking changed throughout the years?
DWR: I’m a producer in this film as well, so I was privy to everything, from the beginning up until the end. We are doing a lot of festival stuff right now. I loved it. It was great. Glen is a fantastic director and accommodating because it is very rare that a lead actor is also a producer and a writer. It can be very challenging, but we had a great relationship artistically. We challenged each other and we came out with a really great movie because of that.
I like the indie world. I like having stories that you don’t necessarily see everyday … Right now it is really enjoyable to work in a world that is a little more free and a little more artistic.
I have the confidence to act. I get very obsessed with a project. That is just the way that I work. I kind of live and breath it 24/7. I can’t turn it off. So, it would be nice to be working on another story, — somebody else’s story perhaps.
I love writing. I’ve been writing since I was 12. I really do love performing. I do have two other scripts I’ve been working. But I think I’d like to tell other people’s stories. There is one story I can’t really talk about, but another that could be about my time either being in a boy band or after being in a boy band, and the fact that my mother had died of cancer. I’m still trying to figure out … I’m very interested about telling a story about fame and what it is really like to be famous, and what it’s like to be famous when something so earth shattering happens to you. Everyone thinks you are in this amazing place and all you can think about is the person that just died.