Hollywood, CA —
Los Angeles-based out director/writer Elliot London is about to go the extra mile (literally) to raise money for his next passion project, a film he simply calls FRIEND.
FRIEND tells the moving story of a bullied gay teenager
The charismatic, Australian-born London is leaving in May on a 40-day, cross country drive to personally raise money for the film, which tells the moving story of a bullied gay teenager -- a story close to London's own heart.
London -- who moved to Rockford, Illinois as a young boy -- plans to visit 26 cities throughout the United States as part of his grassroots fundraising campaign and will chronicle his travels in a daily video blog, which will include interviews with members of the LGBT community on what it's like to be gay in America in 2012.
ChicagoPride.com along with RadarOnline.com has been following London's up-and-coming career in Hollywood and his mission to use his talents to break down barriers and end discrimination against the LGBT community.
Neil Woulfe: Tell me about your movie FRIEND. What's it about?
Elliot London: FRIEND is a narrative feature film about three teenagers (Brad, Alejandro, and Hannah) going through the motions of high school, dealing with daily bullying and ultimately finding self-worth. The story is told from Brad's perspective of high school life. His muse, best friend and center of his universe, Alejandro, shares the common bond of feeling different. Alejandro, who has the heart of a saint, but the wit of Oscar Wilde, is struggling to understand his gender identity at the young age of sixteen. Alejandro is exposed as being a transgender through social networking and publicly humiliated by his peers.
Unable to cope with being taunted by the entire school body he believes he has no other option and takes his own life. The loss of their close friend brings Brad and Hannah even closer together and helps them learn to accept themselves and face bullying head on. They use art as their tool and Alejandro's greatness as their inspiration.
I am really excited to have the talented cinematographer Sandra-Valde (Kaboom) on board. I need to thank everyone that has donated so far and believe in someone they have never met. Lastly, producers Andy Wells and Hilde Orens who have worked so hard to ensure that this project comes to life.
Q: What inspired you to make FRIEND?
Elliot: Every time another teen takes their life, it kills me. Like many others, I have had challenges to overcome that have shaped me to be the man I am today. Do I feel that the trauma changed me? Absolutely, I do. Being bullied in high school has affected how much I open up to people on an emotional level. I have been able to slowly trust myself to let my wall down more and more as an adult. That is one of the main reasons why I recently started to video blog. I admit I am taking a risk by telling a story of a teen who takes his life, but I believe it would be a disservice not to tell a story that can help invoke conversation and educate people about bullying.
Q: You recently returned from volunteering at an orphanage in poverty stricken Ethiopia. Describe that experience and how it affected you, both personally and as a filmmaker.
Elliot: Volunteering in Africa did two things for me. First of all, it made me grow up. I look at the way I was before and how it changed me. I am more conscious of my actions than ever before. I am guilty to falling into the Angeleno (Los Angeles) mentality. I look at myself a year ago -- I was a VP of a company, traveling everywhere, in a relationship, and dreaming of a buying a house in the hills with a Ferrari in the driveway. You know "everyone's Hollywood dream," lol. I really understand now that it's about what kind of impact we have as individuals during our short time here. At what point does one understand that a bad day isn't being put on a wait list for a new iPad, but not being able eat, have clean water or proper shelter?
Secondly, Africa is what motivated me to create Alejandro. To be gay in Africa is to live in another century. I have never in my life felt the power of having no existence. Not only can you not be gay, you would never dare say the word G-A-Y for fear of being exposed. Can you imagine living in a place where there is no community to turn to for support? Shortly after returning to the U.S., I reread the script that was written prior to the trip and realized it needed a major rewrite. I contacted my creative producer Andy Wells, and we FaceTimed for hours a day to re-create the storyline. Our goal was to bring a character who had the least amount of voice and resources at an adolescent age. The character Alejandro is not only dealing with not understanding his sexual orientation, but also his gender identity.
Q: You plan on filming the movie at your old high school in Rockford, Illinois this fall. Why is it important for you to shoot there?
Elliot: That is my ultimate goal. I could not think of a better place to tell this story than the place I grew up. Rockford is great representation of American culture. It a city with has strong family values, hard blue collar work ethic, and the ability to evolve socially.
Q: Once a year you go back to talk to your school's GSA (Gay Straight Alliance.) How are the kids different than when you went to high school in the late 90s?
Elliot: There was no GSA in the 90s, which is the great thing about Rockford and its ability to socially evolve. I do not think kids have changed when it comes to survival of the fittest. I am very happy to see that teens have a safe haven to meet other teens and talk about what they are going through. Life becomes much easier when you have a support system.
Q: What do the kids ask you and what advice do you give them?
Elliot: I am always asked some really tough questions. Most questions are about the fear of coming out to their family. This is a very gray area for me to give advice. I really want to tell them to come out when they are ready, but I can not because I do not know if their home life is safe. However, I can tell them that they are not alone on this journey and to use the support system of the GSA to help each other
Q: Like you did with your 3-minute short, The Wedding Dance, once again you are using social networking to raise money for the film. Explain how people can get involved.
Elliot: It is so easy to be a part of this project. A simple click onto indiegogo.com/myfriend will take you to the campaign/donation page. A $10 donation will earn you a Thank You credit on the film.
Q: In addition to fundraising online, you're also preparing to drive cross-country to raise money for the film, an extraordinary undertaking. Tell me about that.
Elliot: I must be crazy, lol. I am so determined to make this film that I will come knocking on your door soon enough for a donation. I love people and I want everyone to get involved. I have always been old school when it comes to business. I rather get on a plane and meet in person than talk on the phone. I am hoping that talking to people face-to-face will help finish funding for this film.
Q: In the various cities, you're looking for members of the LGBT community and their supporters to house you for a day or two, and if they're willing, as part of a daily video blog chronicling your trip, you plan to tape them sharing their stories of dealing with bullying and what positive advice they have. Expand on that.
Elliot: This is such a great way to impact other people in the community who are dealing with being victims of bullying -- to showcase a common bond and understand what process helped these individuals overcome their bullying. We need to remember that bullying is not only focused on sexual orientation. I interviewed an incredible person with cerebral palsy who shares the common bond of being taunted. Instead of letting his bullies get the best of him, he became a huge advocate for the disabled community. These are the stories that need to be told.