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Crowdfunders Forum: Maura Anderson and Velinda Godfrey On Their Coming of Age Tale ‘Heartland’

Crowdfunders Forum: Maura Anderson and Velinda Godfrey On Their Coming of Age Tale 'Heartland'

Crowdfunder’s Forum is a new regular feature on /bent (and a sibling to our Filmmaker’s Forum features) that allows LGBT media makers to offer first person accounts of the projects they are currently pitching to potential funders through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. 

When we started developing “Heartland,” it was a coming of
age tale that began as a vague desire to tell about the life of a young woman
in Oklahoma who wasn’t straight. I didn’t know at the time that over the next
three years this film would carry me and others on our team through our own
rights of passage.

I wanted this piece to be based on my background. It
didn’t need to be a story of my life, but I wanted to convey the world that I
came from with all its warmth and quirkiness, but all of it’s hidden faults
too. I knew when I approached Todd Waring, in a creative workshop led by
Jeffrey Tambor, that I wanted him to help me say something about that world,
but didn’t yet know exactly how or what. I was 25 and convinced I was unscathed
by the hostilities in my family and immune to the sorrow of any past loss.  After all, I had escaped the horror stories
I’d heard growing up of being disowned for your sexual orientation. I had it
together, so what story could I
possibly tell? 

In the first year of writing “Heartland” we decided the central
conflict would be sibling betrayal in the form of an affair. But it wasn’t
until I found myself embarrassed in a coffee shop that we realized the deeper
theme.  I was busy explaining how steady
my seven-year-old self had remained during my grandmother’s death and funeral
process. How I had learned that if you looked up at bright lights, it helped
combat tears; that fighting with my sister and enduring the subsequent
punishments provided episodes of mini relief and then excuses to sob. It was
during this recounting that Todd pointed out I was crying and what a rarity it
was to watch me feel something fully.
I hadn’t realized I was. I hadn’t yet realized how lonely it was to always be
‘okay’. Todd, I discovered, understood this. He too had forged his way through
the loss of his sister and mother in his early years- his coming-of-age time-
and had believed himself to be handling it well, only to realize later it
wasn’t so. The toxic legacy that denial causes became a central theme. Its
effect became a story we were eager to tell. And suddenly, I realized denial
was also keeping me from my own voice within the piece.

Growing up with my family in Oklahoma, where pleasantries
were valued above sincerities, I had learned to appease and please others with
expertise. I had yet to realize the confusion being caused by being ‘tolerated’
by my self-proclaimed tolerant parent, while never actually being included. We
gave that same trait to the character Lauren, who moves into her mother’s stifling
home in Oklahoma after her girlfriend dies but convinces herself, with the help
of her avoidant parent, that she is ‘okay’. Even after losing her girlfriend of
four years earlier in the day, Lauren knows the importance of keeping up a
persona- one that fits within her mother’s world. And since no one else is
there to help her cross the foreign expanse of grief, she completely regresses
back to an obedient, more acceptable self. I think it was then we discovered
how when surrounded by intolerance and laden with denial, our character’s
initially unforgivable acts might seem a little more understandable. 

We found where our story began- the damage caused by
unacknowledged pain. But we also found we couldn’t leave out the fun. The
escape.  Enter Carrie! Here, the script
led the way. Lauren and Carrie’s unity and playfulness took on an almost
magical element as Todd and I took a break from some of the heavier aspects of
the writing. The conflict posed by Lauren and Carrie’s relationship becomes
easy to brush aside amid the much-needed adventures they share, adding more to
the impending destruction.

And aas if
timed with that looming third act break, in the second year of writing, Todd
and I had to tackle loss once again. But this time, as adults. While Todd
handled the sudden passing of his stepmother, I sat with my sister on the night
shifts caring for my second dying grandmother in tiny-town Oklahoma. Then Todd
lost his father at the same time I was enduring an unwanted breakup of a
4-and-a-half-year relationship. We put the script on hold for a while. When we
eventually returned things were different. We had again experienced something
that had previously crushed our younger selves but this time we had managed to
face those unavoidable truths head on. We had found a new strength. After those
passings, we re-examined earlier scenes, re-writing them with the new seemingly
mundane details that had come to mean so much and a desire to enrich all the
relationships. We continued work on the third act and while I won’t give more
away before the thing is shot, I can say it took our own ‘rites of passage’ to
figure out our ending.

We are excited to have a multifaceted woman as our central
character. Her complexity can be partially attributed to her flaws and her searching-
something maybe not seen enough on the screen. “Heartland” tells the story of
ordinary people trying their best and messing up profoundly, much like the
people we know. Much like us. The last few years of developing this piece have helped
us remember that it’s sometimes impossible to be ‘okay’ in the face of what
life throws you, and probably better to not be.

Find out how to support the film here.

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged


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