MASQUERADE was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the August 2018 LGBT FEEDBACK Film Festival.
Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
Andrew Hawkins: I was inspired by the true story of the slave couple William and Ellen Craft who escaped in the same fashion. Ellen was light-skinned and posed as a sickly white male, while her husband posed as her slave servant. They miraculously made it to Boston and eventually had to flee to London while slave catchers came after them and threatened their safety in the North. So I wove their story in with a fictional story of a homosexual man living in a time when the word “homosexual” didn’t even exist. As a gay man from Virginia who struggled on a personal level to come out in the 2010s, I was fascinated with the history of gay people in early America. There are only a small handful of scholarly books on this topic, which paint a very bleak existence. I drew a parallel to these two stories to illustrate the intense high stakes of that time. Part of the title “A Story of the Old South” was drawn from the subtitle of Gone With The Wind to wave a flag and say “these stories were part of the Old South too!”
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
This short film originated as a ten minute play I wrote in college in 2006. I revisited the play and had the idea to adapt it into a short film in 2013. My friend, writer Mauricio Mena, helped me with that. In 2013 my team did an indiegogo campaign and then started pre-production in 2014. We shot the film over 4 days in January 2015 in Alexandria, VA. Post-production took about 2 years… I worked with two editors over two years as the vision kept shifting. We premiered the film at the DC Independent Film Festival in February 2017, which was very special since northern VA is my hometown, and the hometown to many involved in the film.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
Short and surprising.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Making this film felt like a series of obstacles, one right after the other. I don’t know if I can pinpoint 1 major one. There were lots of big-little obstacles during production, like below freezing temperatures during the train station shoot. This was my first film, so I guess I could file all of my big obstacles under “first-timer’s learning curve.” It took a long time to prep, and even with all the prep, unexpected things happened on set with actors, set pieces, lighting. You can never prepare for everything. Never. Then in Post, it being my first time, it took several attempts at editing and scoring before I felt like we got it right. And that took quite a bit of time. Patience was key. I look back now and think, geeze it took 2 years for post?? Yep, it sure did. Wow!
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
My initial reaction was “whoa – look at all of those people!!!!” I had a big smile on my face. I was also impressed and touched at the moderator’s clear preparation and ardent support for the film.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
I first learned about William and Ellen Craft while reading James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom in 11th grade history class. I highlighted and circled the paragraph ferociously! I was just absolutely floored that they pulled off an escape like this and I knew from that moment I had to make a film about them. The gay aspect of the story evolved as I evolved as a gay person. I drifted more and more into wanting to learn about gay life in these times and researching what Molly houses were, which were secret meeting places for gay men in 18th century England. It wasn’t too long before I drew a correlation between Sam and Ninny’s passing and George’s concealment of his sexuality (another sort of passing). Weaving these two stories together felt very exciting and relevant and urgent, so I went for it.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Probably the 1989 Batman or The Little Mermaid.
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
FilmFreeway was delightfully simple and user friendly. The filmmaking process itself is so arduous that it was honestly such a relief to have the application process be such a cinch!
9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?
Probably a Madonna song… maybe Like A Prayer or Vogue. Big Madonna fan over here.
10. What is next for you? A new film?
I run a production company with my husband Jeff Marx and we’re currently building a new video project about phone addiction. I won’t say more but it’s totally different than Masquerade and it’s going to be a blast. As for another short film, yes, one day, hopefully soon. I have an idea that’s been cooking for a few months but it’s not ready to come out of the oven yet. I keep telling myself: Patience.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.