“I had the idea when I was an ambassador at Los Angeles Pride in 2010,” Smith, an out actor, director and producer, said about the film. “I was one of the first young Disney Channel stars to ever come out of the closet. We were doing this program and meeting all these different people. I remember it was 2 a.m. and we were in our hotel room eating pizza not really partying or doing anything crazy. I was thinking, God we are so boring. I wish people knew what it was really like. Flash forward two years later when I started my production company. We were in development on another film and the idea for ‘Out in the Open’ came up last January, and my writing partner Ben Milligan and I decided to go for it.”
The Philadelphia native explained that his story ended up being the backdrop for the documentary, which takes a revolutionary look at what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community.
“We started shooting interviews back in February of 2012,” Smith said. “What ended up happening was we had amazing interviews from Carson Kressley and Greg Louganis and all these different celebrities and politicians, but we really didn’t have a storyline. So around July of this past year my team here was talking, and I didn’t want to be in this movie at all at first. Ben, who is one of my best friends and a producer at the company, insisted they start filming me and my boyfriend because our relationship was blossoming and becoming really serious. That ended up being the backbone of the story. So through all these amazing celebrity interviews, we were able to weave that together with my own story.”
Smith said it took some adjusting to go from being behind the camera at the beginning of the project to being one of the film’s main focal points.
But the end product made the transition worthwhile.
“It allowed me to be in a vulnerable place,” he said. “We got very real moments. We have the first time our parents met on camera and that was not staged. We have the first ‘I love you.’ It became very personal. We talk about experiences we had in the past being bullied, abused and all sorts of things. It was hard. The producers said that was important. I feel very fortunate to be able to share that with the world.”
Smith added that he hopes the tone of this film will distinguish it from other documentaries that deal with issues of the LGBT experience and bullying.
“It’s really different,” he said. “When I first started piecing this together, I wanted it to be different because most of the documentaries out there that you watch, especially when it’s covering LGBT topics, they tend to be very down. It feels to me, as a young gay man, that every movie out there is about dying. Everybody has AIDS. We’re all dying. It’s all miserable. Or we’re all out in the streets naked wearing rainbow feathers.
“The focus of this film wasn’t as much for the LGBT community as much as it was for our straight allies and the straight community in general. I wanted it to be upbeat. We opened up the movie with a mock of these 1950s student films that they would show to schools where they would talk about the dangers of homosexuals. We spoofed that in the opening credits of the film. The whole idea is to make the audience laugh and show them that we are normal and that we do have normal lives and that we are like everybody else. We aren’t these creatures to be examined in a zoo. It’s a funny film. There are a lot of comedic moments.”
Another thing Smith said will make “Out in the Open” different from other documentaries is that it will be available in a number of formats simultaneously.
“Right now we’re organizing a nationwide tour,” he said. “It’s one of the first films ever to have a multi-platform release, which means it’s being released in select theaters, on DVD, on Amazon and Netflix all at the same time, which is exciting for us. It means it’s going to be accessible to everybody. And that’s one of the big goals here. It’s for the at-risk youth who maybe are afraid to go to the movie theater or ask their parents for money to buy this DVD. They can go online and watch it. We’re planning screenings all over the country, including in Philadelphia. The movie is sponsored by GLAAD and Lifeworks so we’re working very intimately with them to arrange screenings. We’re doing a school tour of high schools and colleges all across the country and it’s my boyfriend and I and some stars from the film, depending on which city. We will be going around to every event.”
The film’s first step is Sundance Film Festival, followed by a tour that includes Philly, a number of schools in the Northeast, the South and then back to the West Coast.
Smith said he believes his documentary has the power to open minds to the commonalities between the LGBT and non-LGBT communities.
“I hope the people that watch this film who maybe had different opinions or stereotypes in their heads of what it means to be an LGBT personare changed,” he said. “One of my best friends watched the film and she said for the people who live in the Midwest or don’t have any gay friends, what this film does is it gives you the feeling of having a gay best friend and it makes you realize it’s normal and not something crazy, scary and weird. I really hope they take away that feeling that gay people are not to be shunned, that we’re just like everybody else. We’re normal and we have jobs and we’re funny and we’re sad and we’re scary and we’re happy. We’re just like everybody else. It’s not this super-political, supercharged film. It’s a film that is groundbreaking in this simplicity.”
“Out in the Open” will be released nationwide Jan. 29. For more information, visit www.outintheopenmovie.com.