Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?
Brad Bong: In a nutshell: it’s about following your instincts; trusting your voice and understanding that the limitations of your life are only as real as you make them. Obviously, the story is told from the lens of what felt like an oppressive system like the Army and it’s “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy, and yes that out-dated policy became an obstacle for thousands of service men and women; but how LGBT people personally navigated that arena is rife with nuance and ultimately the story was written to depict the prices gay soldiers paid, as well as the rewards of trusting the value of their voices.
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
Indie, Coming-of-Age, Drama
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
There are no films on the market, currently, that put the “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy into the center of its narrative. Many films have addressed the issues surrounding gays in the military, both before and during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. But, I think that “Private” moves beyond that well-worn trope.
“Private” combines a “coming of age” story with a “coming out” story against the backdrop of an America coming to terms with its war footing after the 9/11 attacks. In uncertain times, an audience will certainly relate to a lead character who faces uncertainty about his future, his family, his talent, his sexuality, and his country.
The script also shows the complications that soldiers, recruiters, and administrators faced when dealing with the policy. The handling of these issues helps story move beyond the “gay cinema” genre or the “military basic training” niche.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
A Star is Born (1953). Closely followed by The Net (1995)…I know, I know. But sometimes you want mindless action to whisk you away.
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
I started writing the opening scene on a whim while I was performing in Australia and Southeast Asia on a cruise ship. That was in 2017. I put it away for about a year because I was afraid of it. I had only written the opening scene. Then in February of 2018, I got back to New York and wasn’t performing. I was waiting tables and miserable so I poured over it and banged out another 120 pages in two months.
7. How many stories have you written?
This is my first full length screenplay. I’ve never really written stories fully in this kind of capacity. And, in full disclosure, I think like many writers experience, I’m uncertain if there are other stories in my mind to tell. And, if they are there in my mind, are they good?
8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)
“The Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg is currently a big go-to for me. Also, “I’m Tryin’ My Best, Los Angeles” by Mandy Moore (again, I know…but she just writes lyrics in a way that cut me to the quick).
9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
Using reality to then stray from reality. This script is based on my experience in the Army. And in the last several years I’ve really come back around to that period of my life and faced some hard-hitting questions about why I’m telling this story, and what I’m hoping to say. And in doing that, I’ve had to fabricate things that aren’t totally accurate to my own experience for the sake of a cinematic approach.
10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?
So far? Fantastic! The LGBT Toronto Film Festival was the first festival I submitted the script to, and it was—by sheer luck—a selection. I’m beyond honored!
12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
Well, as a gay ex-military member I felt that the LGBT festival circuit would be a strong avenue. I don’t see many films representing people like me, and I certainly don’t see any of those films that do represent me depict a fuller experience like mine. I wanted to showcase that to the community I felt would be most accepting. My feedback was quite surprising. I’ve since made several edits, and re-written many many times. But I was shocked with how well-received it was. This is a very challenging topic to unpack and to distill into 110 pages. So, thank you LGBT Toronto Film Festival! From the bottom of my heart.
Watch the Screenplay Reading:
A young man faces a defining year when he leaves his world behind, joining the Army to support his family and dying father; and grappling with his own identity during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. Based on actual events.
Narrator: Allison Kampf
Avery: Geoff Mays
Drill Sergeant: Bill Poulin