Actor/director Ash Christian's "Fat Girls" center on Rodney (Christian) and his Rubenesque friend Sabrina (Ashley Fink) are valiantly suffering through the indignity known as high school. Both are outcasts; he's gay and she's overweight. Trapped in a small Texas town and having come to accept his "fat girl" within, Rodney is an aspiring Broadway star who musters up the energy to confront his fears and take life -- and the hot new student from England -- by the horns. "Fat Girls" won best feature at the North Carolina, Birmingham and Indianapolis gay fests as well as the "Coup de Coeur" at the Image + Nation Montreal gay fest. Regent Releasing opens the film in limited release Friday, November 2.
Please introduce yourself...
I'm 22. I live in New York City and love it. I don't have a day job, I never have. When I was in high school I was the rat at Chuck E. Cheese in Texas...I now make a living acting and spend the rest of my time writing/directing and fundraising for my new films that I want to make. I'm originally from Paris, Texas and moved to Los Angeles when I was 17. I wrote "Fat Girls" when I was 19 and made it when I was 20. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival when I was 21 and now I'm 22.
What lead you to take up filmmaking?
I was always interested in film and storytelling. I began in theater but soon fell in love with moviemaking. I love the fact that movies are around forever. You can never get rid of them...which could be a curse and a blessing.
I still love the theater, so I make movies about community theater hi-jinks. My next film "Mangus!" is about a small town Texas production of "Jesus Christ Spectacular" gone bad.
Did you go to film school?
I didn't go to film school. I didn't even go to college. I learned about filmmaking from making movies. I've learned a lot since my first film, so I'm excited to move onto my second feature and put to use what I learned on my first film. I made a couple of shorts before "Fat Girls" that played on the festival circuit, but I really learned how to make a movie by trial and error. Mainly error. But I learned from my mistakes...believe me!
How did the idea for "Fat Girls" come about and evolve?
It's loosely based on my life, growing up in Paris, Texas and always feeling like and outsider. I was a theater geek growing up and didn't really fit into the mold of a Texas boy at all. It's a story that I thought needed to be told. Growing up, I didn't really have a film to look to to make me feel somewhat normal... so I tried to make one for the kids in small towns who feel like they're on the outside.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?
Money, and the subject matter. Money was really hard to raise because it was my first film and because I was a 19 year old kid asking people to fork over their hard earned dough. I [eventually] got enough to make it and raised some along the way -- [raising] most of the money back in Texas where we shot the film. The subject matter, a gay teen growing up in Texas, wasn't a hit with the townsfolk in the small towns we were slated to shoot in, so they kicked us out. That was a major problem as we had already locked locations, hotels, food, picture cards, etc... We had to change it all in a day so that really set us back a bit.
It also took a really long time to close our distribution deal -- almost a year -- which was frustrating, especially when the deal is on the table and could be done within a short period of time.
How did you go about getting people's "hard earned dough?"
We financed the film through private investors, mainly from Texas. My producer and I made investor packages and sent them to people we knew or had been introduced to, and luckily, some people gave us money to get the film made.
What are your biggest creative influences?
I love John Waters and Todd Solondz. I think they make really interesting films that appeal to my sense of humor and sensibility.
What is your definition of "independent film?"
Films that aren't funded by a studio or made for over ten million dollars with A-list actors. I don't consider those independent films, even though most do if they don't have studio backing. I think an independent film is something you have to fight to make because it's a story that isn't mainstream, so the risk is higher.
What are some of your all-time favorite films and recent favorite films?
My favorite films are "Pink Flamingos," "Happiness," "Annie Hall," "Nashville," "Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Ghost World," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Manhattan," "Election" and anything by John Hughes.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I'd love to be able to pay my extremely high New York rent without worrying and make the films I really want to make without having to sell out. That's my definition of success. I'd love to make a movie a year. That's my goal as a filmmaker.