Hobbes Ginsberg walked out of Sunday Gallery in Los Angeles on what was supposed to be the final day of filming.
“There's literally one shot left,” said Ginsberg, wearing a fitted white T-shirt that was plain except for a hot pink applique on the front that spelled out “Hollywood” in sparkly bold cursive.
“But it's so teeny tiny—can we get rid of it?” said Chloe Feller, with a faint air of hope in her voice.
“Uh, no,” Ginsberg said. The remaining shot will be left for one more day on set.
After dropping off camera equipment at their car, the two founders of Red Lighter Films production company join me to debrief under a sliver of shade cast by a tiny taqueria nearby.
“When I moved to LA from Seattle, I moved in with her,” said Ginsberg, when asked how she and her now girlfriend, Feller, first met.
“That's where she got that shirt, at the end of our street,” Feller pointed at Ginsberg, who at this point was glowing in glittery fuchsia reflected from where the afternoon sun touched the applique.
Ginsberg had moved into Feller’s apartment located in the heart of Hollywood in January 2014 and by that March they were in a relationship.
“I didn't really need another roommate but, to be honest, I said yes anyways because I thought she was really cute,” said Feller, “Then she, like, lived on our couch for a hot minute until she lived in my room.”
Chloe Feller and Hobbes Ginsberg
Ginsberg is a queer artist best known for her photography—her series of selfies feel cinematic, moody with an ease about them—and soon after moving in with Feller, the relationship grew into a creative one as well; their still-life series Still Alive is an early collaboration.
“I think, for me personally, being queer both with gender and sexuality is a lens which informs everything I do,” said Ginsberg.
Another lens, or perhaps series of lenses, is her childhood: Ginsberg was born in Miami, Florida, grew up first in Texas, and later moved to her mother’s home country of Nicaragua to finish middle and high school before moving on her own to Seattle after graduation. She finally landed in Los Angeles a year and a half later.
Feller grew up in Irvine, California, the epitome of Orange County suburbia. “It was pretty gnarly to be honest,” she said, speaking to the blatant racism and prejudice she saw her peers learn from previous generations. As an emerging actor who identifies as queer, she realized early on that attempting to cater to a misogynistic industry was not working.
“I love acting; this is what I've trained for, this is what I'm so passionate about but the space in which I'm told is the place I'm going to be successful is painful for me to exist in and it doesn't want any part of me, it doesn't want any part of my friends, it doesn't want me the way that I am; it wants me to change completely in order to fit in with it and get work and I don't think that that's acceptable and I don't think that's the way things need to be and I'm not about to wait for anything to change if I have the means to do it myself.”
All-Encompassing and Everywhere, 2015. Directed by Mackenzie Greer & Hobbes Ginsberg. Produced by Chloe Feller & Hobbes Ginsberg
All-Encompassing and Everywhere is their “everything,” according to Ginsberg, who said she and Feller conceptualized their first short film in an attempt to explore the realities of living with mental illness and dealing with intimacy after trauma—realities that are personal to the artists and are not often treated with a human approach, in their view.
“I feel like mental illness isn't something that's truly touched upon in popular media outside of ‘inspiration porn’ narratives, and we really wanted to tell a story that felt realistic to the way it feels to live with depression,” said Ginsberg.
“Chloe was talking about making a production company for a long time and then we just came up with this idea for All-Encompassing and Everywhere, like, Summer of 2014, and then it was a year long process from original conception, and then getting it written, and then producing, and then filming until it came out,” said Ginsberg. “Through the process of making that film we were like: you know what, we should just make the company now too.”
(both) Chloe Feller in All-Encompassing and Everywhere, 2015
Red Lighter Films is now the “production company with a purpose” that marries intersectional feminism with film, seeking to create and produce works with dynamic, complex media representation for the marginalized groups who don’t get it often enough. According to their mission statement, the team is determined to dismantle the institutions within the entertainment industry that exclude women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and other oppressed groups from excelling in the field of cinema. RLF believes collaborative efforts yield the best products, and stress the importance of community in filmmaking.
“It's a production company with a purpose but a little more punk,” said Feller. “I think there is some sort of like irreverence to us because a lot of this does stem from a rebellion and from being angry and dissatisfied with what's available to me, even more what's available to other people who have more complicated identities than I do who probably have even worse experiences than I do that I can't even conceive. And something needs to be done about it. That needs to be somebody's priority because it's obviously not a lot of people's priority.”
“One thing we're hoping to do with RLF is broaden the narrative of what ‘marginalized representation’ means,” said Ginsberg, “As a trans filmmaker, this is something I think is incredibly important because I’m tired of only being able to exist artistically through the lens of my own gender identity slash the ‘suffering’ that comes along with it.”
We're directly fighting against an industry that wants nothing to do with us by giving ourselves a place instead of asking for one because people have been asking for years and nothing happens. We're taking things into our own hands and recognizing that there's a problem we're facing: content is not diverse; it's also really boring, stale, repetitive; there's nothing being done creatively within the medium as far as mainstream cinema and film is concerned, and we feel that there needs to be a space within film that caters to people who aren't catered to.
(above) Wynter Eddins and Julia Morizawa (below) Julia Morizawa, Revenge of the Flower Gang, 2015
Lack of diversity in mainstream media, especially film, seems particularly poignant this week considering an encore of the #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon. For a second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated only white actors in the top four categories, male and female, prompting some black actors to boycott this Sunday’s awards ceremony.
“Industries aren't going to do what you want. They're not going to give you anything, and so you kind of have to come to a decision where you can either assimilate to what the industry is making successful so that you can be successful, or you can try to create a new path,” said Ginsberg.
“Yeah, exactly,” agreed Feller, adding, “I think a large part of it is that assimilation is painful and it takes a toll on you.”
Ginsberg mused about pervasive systems of representation:
I think a lot of people are realizing and getting tired of mainstream systems, whether it's systems of film industry or systems that are more all-encompassing and more sinister. In many senses people are sort of realizing more that the systems exist and that what's against them is a system and not the world, or something…I think it's about making new systems, and RLF is supposed to be a new system for media to be created that empowers the people who aren't getting pushed through in the current systems.
Revenge of the Flower Gang, 2015. Written and Directed by Amanda Kang
After All-Encompassing and Everywhere, Ginsberg and Feller were hired to use the RLF social media platform to promote and release a second film called Revenge of the Flower Gang written and directed by Amanda Kang as well as organize a screening in LA. Kang, as a queer, Korean-American woman, brought a fresh perspective to the male-dominated exploitation genre and told a story about female empowerment with a diverse cast.
With every new project, with every new collaborator comes a new set of challenges along with new roles to fulfill. Says Feller:
Sometimes you put aside your own creative things and you just put all of your effort into getting something made because it should be made and no one else is devoting the efforts into getting it made. Other times we express ourselves underneath RLF as our own creative entities and Hobbes maybe will come up with a film that's more her idea and do it on her own, or maybe I'll do the same. Sometimes we'll do it together. So it's very fluid and I really like that about it, that we can have very adjustable roles and some things aren't so rigid. I think that keeps everything in balance too.
RLF is well underway on their third project with writer and director Alice Lee, producing someone else’s story for the first time. According to Ginsberg,
As two basically white filmmakers, if stories about people of color are going to exist, we aren't going to be the ones to make them; we're going to use the company that exists to do whatever we can to let people of color tell their stories so that, speaking within film specifically, who's behind the camera—directing, writing, producing, DP, etc.—whoever is benefitting from the existence of this film is just as important as who's in front of the camera and having people of diverse backgrounds in all of those positions heavily informs the final outcome of whatever piece of media you're making.
Lee is an undergrad student at Wellesley College studying Cinema and Media Studies and flew in from Boston to work with RLF and make a project together about her own personal experience with racism and self-discovery as a first generation immigrant from South Korea growing up in Ottawa, Ontario, and Metro Detroit. The working title of her directorial debut is The List—official release date TBD.
Wynter Eddins, Julia Morizawa, and Chloe Feller in Revenge of the Flower Gang, 2015
“With this film, I think, we're exercising the part of RLF where we are helping other people achieve their goals and using all of our resources to make a film happen for people who have identities that are often neglected or not helped in the film industry,” says Feller, “We're not really taking the field creatively, we're not telling a story that isn't ours to tell—we're helping to facilitate autonomous content however possible.”
“It was a surreal process to be working with so many talented people,” said Lee via email. She is already back at school in Boston, leaving the pick up filming days to RLF producers Ginsberg and Feller. “Every single person had some type of insightful point of view…and it worked really well because I feel like the film is truly a reflection of the team,” she said.
“One of the most important pieces of advice I have received is to defend myself,” Lee continued, “Finding people who validate you is a rewarding thing, and rare at that. But also, resistance isn't just about fighting back, but taking care of you and finding worth in yourself. That is resistance: to believe that you are equal to your white counterparts against all odds of what history and media tells us.”
“I think in doing this, I've realized so much,” said Feller, “For a while I thought I could only do one thing, I could only be passionate about one thing and all of my attention needs to be devoted to that and I don't have the freedom to explore other horizons, and then it was just kind of like, well why?”
“I think you just have to do it,” said Ginsberg, “I feel like we're committed to just doing it and not having any other option besides being successful at it…there's nothing else you can do besides just make something and put it out there as aggressively as you can and make people watch it, make people realize that it's good and do that over and over until people stop ignoring you,” Ginsberg paused—
“Because I'm not going to stop making stuff, so.”
Lauren McQuade is an LA-based writer, photojournalist and editor with interest in social issues and the representation of culture in the city of Los Angeles.
(Image at top: Chloe Feller and Lexington Vanderberg in All-Encompassing and Everywhere, 2015. All images courtesy of Red Lighter Films)
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