Wedding-day jitters and a friendship-jeopardizing crush are at the heart of a new indie-romantic comedy.
“Don’t Marry Griff” is the latest independent film by Color of Love Production Studios, an award-winning production company that specializes in creating stories about LGBTQ communities of color. The film tells the story of Lyodell and his best friend Sutton, whose friendship is tested when Sutton confesses his love to Lyodell — just as the latter is about to wed his fiancé, Griffith.
Color of Love founder Steven L. Coard wrote and produced the film and stars as Lyodell. He said he never intended to be in front of the camera for this film.
“Originally, I wasn’t going to play the role,” he said. “I had another actor but he quit on me two weeks before. I couldn’t take the risk of finding someone after I spent all that time working with the other actors. So I put my acting abilities back to work and I played the role.”
Coard said he has a personal connection to the story, as one of the characters is based on some of his life experiences.
“Griff is molded after my younger self,” he said. “I was in a relationship and I was a little bit of a hothead at the time. This was before I really became an adult and learned to get my emotions under control. I had a disagreement with my partner and I just kind of lunged at him. From that moment, I had a wake-up call that I need to put that in check. So that’s why it was important for me to bring Griff to life because there are people that have emotional issues.”
Coard said writing that less-flattering side of his past into the script wasn’t challenging — but seeing it brought to life was.
“It was easy writing it,” he said. “As far as the filming, I kind of got emotional a couple times because I saw an actor playing me when I was younger. It’s really weird to see yourself the way you used to behave. Just to see it in real time is an eye-opener.”
As a filmmaker, Coard said he wants to put his own stylistic stamp on the kinds of films created by and featuring gay characters of color.
“My style of producing and directing is very different,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Robert Townsend and Christopher Guest. I’ve always wanted to create films in that mockumentary style. I feel my films are different because my characters actually sit there and talk to you in real time and you get the other side of their story. I want my audience to be connected with them. I also try to take a serious issue and play it over the top because I want to get that laughter in there. I don’t want to force it because a lot of time you take a serious issue and you put it in someone’s face and they are not really welcoming to it. I never wanted to be like anybody else. I don’t want to tell my stories like anybody else. I want to bring my own comedic twist. I don’t write my scripts in the traditional format. I write it the way that I want the actors to really get inside the head of the characters — as opposed to you’re getting the script and you have to pretend you’re this character. I definitely want to shake things up. I want to make it entertaining and engaging at the same time.”
Coard added that the success and critical acclaim of movies like “Moonlight” and “Pariah,” which feature prominent LGBT characters of color who break the mold of stereotypes, suggests that the audience for a film like his is growing.
“You have these stories that need to be told. We as gay individuals, we all have a story and I love going and seeing black stories with gay characters who I can identify with who are well-rounded and not your typical coming-out or ‘I’m on the DL [down low]’ characters,” Coard said. “I love stories that give that empowerment, not to just young black gay men, but to older ones too. Now is the time. Right now we see a lot that is changing. Watching shows like ‘Empire’ where you have a gay character who is black and isn’t put there for comedy relief … He has his funny moments. We’re seeing characters like this pop up, even when we had ‘Noah’s Arc.’ We’re not all just here to be the butt end of a joke or the overly flamboyant type of guy.”
After “Don’t Marry Griff,” Coard will focus on the February release of “Raye,” about a struggling model who moves to New York City.
“You see his rise to the top and you’ll see if he continues to keep his balance or if things take him down,” he said. “It’s a fun project.”
He added that he hopes Color of Love Production Studios will attract other like-minded writers and filmmakers.
“Right now I’m just solely focused on my projects,” he said. “I’m open to young writers and filmmakers, and collaborating because I believe, as Hillary [Clinton] is saying, ‘We’re stronger together.’ If I have the talent that is submitting to me, I will give it my attention. I’m open.”
“Don’t Marry Griff” will be released nationally Nov. 18. For more information, visit https://colorofloveproduction.com.