Hi David, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Engaged is a brilliantly funny short film, was it difficult to ensure that the humour was so strong in the script given the limited amount of run time available for the film?
Thank you very much! It’s funny, the humor in the script kind of came very naturally, and while writing it I really found myself just trying to stay true to it as best as I could. For me, the humor seems to stem from these awkward, insecure anxieties that we all tend to have during moments of great internal struggle. So in the scenes that seem to get the best audience reactions, I find that the main character Darren is having the most internal struggle – struggling to propose to his boyfriend, struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in increasingly abnormal situations, and from there it just escalates and get bigger almost like a balloon. In a way, maybe the audience can see Darren blowing up, almost about to “pop,” and that creates these hilarious moments of tension that maybe people can relate to, that ring true to life, which is where all great comedy comes from in my view.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
This film is very closely based upon my own life. I’m currently in a many year long-term relationship, and as friends around me began to get engaged, they began asking if and when I would get engaged. And instantly, my gut reaction to them was always no way, blowing it off, saying marriage wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until later that I began to reflect on that, asking myself why I was responding like that to these questions, that I began to see my reaction was actually coming from a place of fear – a fear of being seen, a fear of being judged, and almost this second “coming out” years after I had already come out. That realization then led me to this idea of “micro coming out,” which is highlighted in the film as well. Sometimes, for people in the LGBTQ+ community, we have all these small moments day to day where we are just fighting to be seen as ourselves, and respected for that, and that is sometimes our entire daily battle. Just to be ourselves, just to be comfortable in our skin, it isn’t something that we can take for granted and just existing sometimes is so controversial to others – it can really weigh on you. But what I wanted to explore in the film was this idea of self-shame, and how sometimes it’s not others who hold us back the most, but ourselves, based off of these other preconceived notions we’ve been told about ourselves. I really want this film to bring a positive light to LGBT relationships and show the struggles some of us might go through, as a way of potentially bridging gaps between communities and saying hey – we all have anxieties, we all judge ourselves and might be holding ourselves back – but that’s also how we might be able to conquer it and overcome those boundaries.
What was the casting process for the film like?
I feel so fortunate as a filmmaker to have worked with this entire cast, they’re all powerhouses. I’m Filipino-American, so when casting the film, I very much wanted to have an Asian-American as the lead because it’s true to the source material – which is my life! Daniel K. Isaac had previously met and been in contact with one of our producers after screening at previous film festivals, and when I told my producer I was looking for an Asian-American actor, maybe even one who was publicly out, Daniel’s name was the first one mentioned. For the role of Elliot, I was casting a wide net in my mind of who to cast, but I was also looking to cast a mixed race relationship, as it reflects our current times more than ever, which is exactly what I want to say with all my films. We were casting last June, and POSE was actually in the middle of its first season in the US, and when I was watching it, I saw Ryan Jamaal Swain, and was like – okay, he’s New York based, he has this show that talks about the same issues this film represents, I have to reach out. Fortunately his schedule worked out and we were shooting just two months later, so everything fell into place quite quickly and then we were off to work! The female parts are also a huge part of the film, and I have to shout out to Victoria Meade who plays the best friend Lara. She shot both her scenes in one day, and started with the later scene where she has her big moment, and just hit it out of the park completely.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
I hope audiences see this film as a window into a world they may not be familiar with, as a way of showing how much more similar we all might be than we initially think. At a time when our world is becoming more divided, I wanted to make this film not only to help others laugh – which is SO important nowadays – but also to say something about our culture, and how we see and treat other groups who might be different from us. I think there is so much good still out there, even today, in this world that seems to be falling apart more each day, but if we can promote and support love, above everything, I think that can remind us the best of what humanity can achieve.
What has the reception to the film been like?
The film has been getting such a warm reception around the world. We premiered in March 2019, and since then have played at over 16 film festivals, with international festivals like Seattle and the Palm Springs Shortfest, but also LGBTQ+ focused festivals, Asian-American and people of color film festivals. It really seems like people from many backgrounds are identifying and clicking with this film, which for me is the goal – it’s not just intended to be seen by one audience. I want it to have this global message, spanning across communities, and connecting people. And what better than a short uplifting romantic comedy film to do that?
This film has a lot to say about insecurities and the feeling of public pressure – do you think in the age of social media; we feel more under pressure to give a performance for other people rather than being true to ourselves?
That’s a good question. I think social media definitely highlights these fake, successful, superficial part of ourselves – and believe me, we all can have those parts under the right (or wrong) circumstances. I just try to stay grounded, and while people have their entire careers and incomes based off social media and their personas on there, there still is a real world. That world is still important. And it’s actually where I hope to put more focus, rather than in these superficial digital spaces. There’s fun to be had in social media for sure, but it also can be incredibly draining.
How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?
This film is the largest film project I’ve written, directed, and produced to date. We shot over just 4 days in late August in New York City, and on top of the heat and the weather, we had over 9 locations – bars, apartments, event spaces. We shot exteriors on the street in the day, at night, we shot in a moving car! – it has everything. It also has the largest cast with speaking and non-speaking parts. I have to commend our crew who brought such a professionality but also creative expertise to the film. We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of them, and we actually wrapped most days early, which has never happened to me on a film before.
What future projects have you got planned?
I’ve been developing a few feature projects for about eight years now, and after having scripts advance to multiple rounds of labs like the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, Hampton’s Film Fest lab, Sloan Science labs, etc – I really just wanted to get behind the camera and write and direct a project to completion again. Now I’m working on a new slate of feature scripts that are the same vein as ENGAGED, that talk about different voices that we might not have heard before. I’m also a playwright, and my first play AMONG THE FURIES, which actually started as a screenplay, won Best Play at the New York Theatre Festival in 2017, then played at FringeNYC last year, so I hope to continue developing that and I would love to see that on stage again soon, either in New York or London. Above all, I just want to get something made again soon, because there are so many stories that need to be heard at this time, both on film and on stage, and I can’t wait for the public to see some of these incredible stories I’m writing now as soon as possible.
With thank to David Scala?