Exclusive Interview with David Scala: “Representation matters!”

A topical and nevertheless, a very eye-opening short, Engaged tells a funny, romantic and important tale about a man whose insecurities catch up with him every time he tries to propose to his long-time boyfriend. A film that will be screening at Palm Springs International ShortFest this Friday and at Frameline: San Francisco LGBTQ+ Film Festival this Saturday and next week Sunday, we had the chance to talk the mastermind director David Scala about his film, asking him where the inspiration for Engaged came from, why LGBT themed films are important, the cast of Engaged and whether he is developing a feature film.

Hi David, how are you doing?

I’m great, thanks! It’s been a whirlwind past few months since the film premiered in March, and we’re gearing up for a really exciting summer.

Congratulations on the wonderful short film “Engaged”. How did you come up with the story?

Thank you very much. The story for ‘Engaged’ was inspired by many things, but it’s primarily based on my own experiences living in New York. The idea came about after a friend of mine got engaged, and when they asked if I ever wanted to get married, I responded with my gut reaction, which was no. Later, I began to realize this reaction was actually coming from a place of fear – a fear of being seen, a fear of “disrupting the norm,” which would almost become a different type of “coming out.” The story evolved a lot over the writing process, but ultimately it stems around this notion. How does an LGBT couple’s relationship fit into the larger culture of marriage? And how might their own internal insecurities affect that process? But above all this, it’s a romantic comedy, so it’s a love story at heart, and we see these large comedic moments that stem from these internal anxieties – as it so often happens these days.

One of the elements that make from “Engaged” such a beautiful film is the impressive acting performances of Daniel K. Isaac and Ryan Jamaal Swain and the chemistry between them. How did you come across them?

Both Daniel and Ryan brought so much to the film. Since I’m of Filipino-American descent, it was really important for me to have an Asian-American in the lead role. Not only is it something we rarely see, but it also is true to the source material, which is – well, my own life. For Ryan, he had just begun making a ton of waves in the industry with POSE. We actually reached out to him before the first season finale had even aired last July – and this was just the type of story he was looking to tell. It couldn’t have worked out better with the timing, and I’m so glad they both were moved by the script and came on board to make the characters their own.

One of your previous films Grotto is also LGBT themed. Why is that such an important topic for you?

It’s funny. Just like with our casting, I mainly see my films as just “stories.” The ones that are influenced by my life end up being “LGBT films” – but to me, they’re just films. If I write about my life, and it ends up having an Asian-American lead, in a gay relationship, with a mixed-race partner – to me, that’s my every day. All my films really start with character, and story, and plot, and if these films end up having an LGBT aspect, and also end up breaking new ground, or being something that’s not seen that often, I think that’s an incredible bonus. Representation matters, and the more diverse stories we see, the more communities can champion their own voices and stories. If I’m one part of that, then it’s a double win.

In the film, there are some stigmas about gay men such as “one of the men is the female in the relationship” or having to explain why you’re gay. Do you hope that those stigmas might disappear after people watched this film?

One of the main topics in the film is the idea of “micro coming out.” That’s when an “out” LGBT person has a small moment where they have to clarify their sexuality to someone who assumes they are straight by default. One of the goals with the film was to cast a spotlight on this notion. So far, some of the audiences who are most taken with the film have actually been general audiences of all backgrounds. It’s almost like this film is a window into another world, a new perspective they might not have thought about before, and the idea of micro coming out is almost educational. I also haven’t seen it represented in film very much, and I hope by people being exposed to this, it will continue to expand their perspectives of what different communities might face, to help foster new understanding. And I think understanding and exposure are two important things that help to break down stigmas and stereotypes across all cultures.

Soon, Engaged will screen at Palm Springs International ShortFest and at Frameline: San Francisco LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Are there any other film festivals the film is selected for?

Yes! We have actually been accepted to KASHISH: the Mumbai Queer Film Festival, where we screen mid-June, as well as another festival in Canada I’m not sure I can mention by name yet, and the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival in August. I try to travel to as many festivals as I can, but I wish I could make more. This is our 16th festival acceptance in just 4 months – I only have one old little black suitcase, but I will still make it work! Completing any film in itself is its own honor, and getting to screen and travel to festivals is really the cherry on top.

You already made a few short movies over the past few years. Where did the passion for film come from?

Very early on I knew I had to do something creative with my life. Creativity just came naturally, and it’s something that when I do it, it’s unlike any other feeling in the world. I started a little on the acting side, but then quickly found myself behind the camera writing and directing. It always started with writing for me actually, telling a character’s story, getting inside their head, hearing what life for them is like. That’s the basis of film for me, being able to spread understanding and open perspectives, and of course, entertain people along the way. No one like watching a movie and being bored – especially now, they just turn it off! You have to really work to make something engaging and powerful because the stakes are high. There’s so much content out there, you need to make something worthwhile, or it might get lost in the crossfire.

During the making of those films, you worked as a director, writer, editor, and producer. Do you have any advice for filmmakers out there who are looking to get their foot in the door of the film industry?

That’s a good question. There are a million paths to take to end up in film – there’s no one right way to do it. I think the key is following your heart and your own path. No two film directors ended up doing what they do by following the exact same method. At the end of the day, you have to have a passion for it, so if you let your passion be your guide, you should end up right where you need to. But it does take a long time!

One last question: Do you already have upcoming films? Maybe a first full-length feature movie?

Absolutely. That is what I am working on right now. I’m planning to begin a kind of ‘cinematic universe’ – but without any superheroes – where stories and characters exist in their own films, but then begin to clash and collide. I also write/direct for theater, and I could see myself writing/director for episodic content, so it has to start with the story, and then you find which medium fits it best. But overall, yes, I have many ideas I am developing, a few in particular, and once I get them ready, I can’t wait to get behind the camera and start making them. I’m really excited to share these stories with the world.

Liselotte Vanophem, Film and Celebrity Reporter – Just Celebrity Magazine

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