Yassss! Another film festival is happening here in town, right this minute. This weekend the 27th Philadelphia Film Festival is drawing to a close, but there are still a number of amazing films to see before the curtain falls. Oct. 26 is the premiere of “Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know me,” a thoughtful and thorough tribute to Philadelphia’s own Teddy Pendergrass. I became involved with the film when the director, Olivia Lichtenstein, contacted me about a former Portrait, Tenika Watson. As a result, the lovely Ms. Watson is among those interviewed for the film.
There are a number of films with LGBT themes this weekend — check out Gary Kramer’s roundup in PGN for a full list. One of the films on the slate is “The Dare Project,” a followup on the groundbreaking 2005 short film “The Dare” (the most-watched LGBT short on YouTube, with almost 13-million views.).
We spoke to the creator of the film, another Philadelphia native, David Brind.
PGN: What part of Philly do you hail from?
DB: I grew up in Society Hill.
PGN: Tell me about life as a city child.
DB: I didn’t have any other experience to compare it to, but I really loved it. At that time, we had a lot of freedom to explore the area around us. By the time I was 10, my friends in the neighborhood and I were taking SEPTA to get to school. I went to high school in the suburbs, so I got a little taste of that too.
PGN: Tell me about the family. Parents? Siblings?
DB: Both of my parents’ families came from nothing. They grew up very poor in Philadelphia. My dad was a businessman. The family had a small business, really a garage and gas station, which my father grew into a very large truck-leasing company. He sold it when I was a kid and went into business for himself. My mother was trained as a speech therapist and she spent time teaching deaf children how to speak. Her biggest passion was working with my dad to create the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Jefferson. She was way ahead of her time in her beliefs about holistic and integrative medicine. As for siblings, I have a brother but he was in boarding school most of the time I was growing up, so at times it felt like I was an only child.
PGN: Where did you go to school?
DB: I went to Friends Central in Wynnewood. In fact, we filmed “Dare” there. It was fun to go back and film in the place where I’d had a lot of the kinds of interactions that were depicted in the film. It was a little bit of a mind fuck!
PGN: [Laughing] Sweet! So was the film based on your own experiences?
DB: I think most things are in some way, whether it’s the plot or emotion or actual characters. That’s just the way I write and how I teach my students to write. But the film came about when I was a student. It was my first year of grad school at Columbia and we had to write, direct and produce a short film, but the kicker was that we could not direct the script that we wrote. We all had to swap. This script came out of a class I had with an amazing professor. I wanted to tell a story that was similar to things I’d experienced but tightened up with some twists and turns — a little dangerous and a little sexy in tone. [Laughing] I didn’t realize how hard it was to do all of those things at once.
PGN: Where did you go for your undergrad?
DB: I went to Yale for theater and American studies. I never wanted or planned to be a writer. It kind of happened by default. I’ve always been a good writer and when I got to film school at Columbia you’re not allowed to declare a major until your second year. I’m good at directing actors, but I wasn’t very good at the technical side of things. After I wrote “Dare,” I got a lot of accolades for the script and started getting singled out for my writing. As a result, I stated moving into that arena. Sometimes the world tells you where your skillset lies — you don’t always have to listen, but I did and that’s how I became a writer and now a teacher at USC [University of Southern California].
PGN: When did you come out?
DB: Well, I knew at 4 that I was different, and later it was reflected back to me by others around me, mostly adults.
PGN: In a negative way? Like, “Don’t be a sissy” kind of thing?
DB: Yes. As in, “You should be out with the boys, why don’t you like sports, you spend too much time playing with girls, how come you can’t kick or throw a ball?” I still can’t throw a ball. It’s not who I was. I had wonderful, loving parents, but they were of a certain era, and they just didn’t understand who I was. They were very supportive of me and my acting pursuits — even when I played a gay character at 15, there was no issue. But when it came to my actual life, it was a different story. I don’t know why; I guess they were trying to “normalize” me in some way. There was a lot of time spent struggling against who I was and I think it’s reflected in my work.
PGN: Was your dad a macho truck guy?
DB: No, he was never athletic himself. He preferred watching movies with me to going outside. My mom used to yell at us for being indoors all the time. I think they just weren’t sure what to do with me and did some harm without meaning to. I remember one Hanukkah, my father gave me every sports ball imaginable. I just burst into tears. It was very hurtful at the time.
PGN: What prompted you to do “The Dare Project”?
DB: It was the fans. When “Dare” first came out, it was a phenomenon. I was in film school and had no clue what would become of the film. It played in about 50 film festivals. It was on the cover of “Boys Life 5” and in 2009 we turned it into a feature — also shot in Philly with a great cast including Emmy Rossum, Alan Cumming and Ana Gasteyer. It’s hard to believe how far the film has come. At one point, we found that there were a lot of poor-quality pirated copies of the original short on YouTube, so the director, Adam Salky, decided to release a clean HD copy for free. We didn’t even announce it, just quietly made it available. Fast-forward four years and we have 13-million views. We have received thousands of comments on all sorts of platforms; many of them asking for a sequel. So I started thinking about Ben and John and who they would be today — the characters from the original short, not the feature. I wrote a script and contacted Adam Fleming and Michael Cassidy, who played the two main characters, and they were very quick to sign on. And here we are at the Philadelphia Film Festival!
PGN: The guys look great. They’ve both held up really well.
DB: Oh yeah, they starved themselves and worked out before the shoot, and it shows. And the natural chemistry they have is palpable, even though they couldn’t be more different in real life. Michael is straight with a wife and kids and Adam is gay — kind of like me and Adam, our director, who is straight. But we all were family on the set, and it was the same feeling the second time around. It was like an OG gay/straight alliance.
PGN: What were some of the challenges?
DB: The first time I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, though in some ways that was good, because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. On the good side, coming home to Philly, I got a lot of free help, from my high school’s support to the friend who let us shoot at their home. We got free food, my hairdresser volunteered to do hair — everyone pitched in. But then our make-up person had to leave, so I had to create fake blood on the spot. I scrambled in the kitchen cabinets and mixed jam with Kool-Aid and some kind of syrup just minutes before we shot. This time it was different — [laughing] we’re adults now, so we had to pay for everything. We had a crew of 30, and everyone on the set was very professional. Michael has gone on to do a lot of TV and films including “The O.C.,” “Smallville” and “Batman vs. Superman” and Adam has been a Broadway boy. He was in the original cast of “Hairspray,” he was in “Wicked” for about 10 years and has been doing a lot of dancing and choreography. It’s a privilege to be in the Philadelphia Film Festival and I’m honored that it’s being shown outside gay festivals because it is a film about the world we’re all living in now and I’m excited for people to see film and how it’s evolved. I plan to talk to fans and answer questions, to see old friends and to make new ones, so I hope everyone comes out!
“The Dare Project” will be screened 12:15 p.m. Oc.t 27 at the Ritz East. The lead actor Adam Fleming (Ben) will be attending the screening along with Brind and will be available for a Q&A.