Director and producer Carolena Villavicencio talked to us about her new film project, Location Share, and her mission to put the LGBTQIA+ community at the heart of her work.
Location Share began as a sudden burst in my mind: flashing images, a vague storyline, and a few spatterings of dialogue. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the concept as it flew through my brain. I texted a friend and said, “I have this story idea that I don’t quite know what to do with.” she emphatically responded, “WRITE IT!” A few hours later I was looking at the first draft of Location Share.
It was longer and a little clunkier than the script we have today, but it was solid, and I was thrilled by how quickly it manifested. Earlier that week I had been watching Good Girls, a show where Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman play moms who decide to rob a grocery store to feed their families and make ends meet. In the show, Whitman’s character is the mother of Ben, played by Isaiah Stannard, a trans boy who begins his gender journey around the age of 11. I was most intrigued by Ben, and couldn’t help but wonder what Ben might be like at 16 or 17. Would he follow in his mother’s criminal footsteps or choose a straighter path?
Who knows? Maybe he’d find himself with his childhood best friend, riddled with the anxiety and self-awareness that Gen Z seem to carry so effortlessly, dragging a body through the woods in the middle of the night. Maybe.
Once I was happy with the script I started looking high and low to find the perfect cast to play Sarah and Jay. But for some reason, no one seemed to line up quite right. That was, until I sent the script to my then best friend (now partner) Larsen to read. I suddenly imagined him reading a few of Sarah’s lines, and couldn’t see Sarah played by anyone else. As exciting as this was though, it pushed against my filmmaker’s integrity. Sarah was meant to be a trans man, and Larsen is cis. This is when I realised something beautiful: either character, Sarah or Jay, could be played by a trans person, because the story wasn’t about their transness – it was about the conflicts that could arise between two teens trying to quietly dispose of a body.
Larsen and I began reading over the script and tightening up what we could but ultimately realized we needed to get it on its feet with another actor. The problem was that COVID cases in L.A. were climbing higher and higher and we were approaching the holidays. It just wasn’t a good time to bring someone new onto the team.
Cut to spring 2021. It had been months since I first wrote the film and I was itching to get it made. After weeks of being unable to find the perfect Jay, my impatient ego drove me to enlist Lestonja, a close female friend and talented actor, to play the role of Jay. Of course, this meant changing Jay from a trans man to a cis woman and discarding the original source of inspiration. The rehearsals were rewarding and engaging. Working with two actors like Larsen and Lestonja was phenomenal; it brought the script to new heights and fed my thirsty director’s heart. In this time Larsen also found a passion for producing and became a creative partner both behind and in front of the camera. We raised the money, changed the location from the forest to the sand dunes and set a shoot date.
On the five hour drive out to the sand dunes to scout for the film I found myself shaking with fear that it would all go wrong and crying from a place I couldn’t name. Despite these feelings, we pushed ahead. It was 10 hours before our 5am call time and cast and crew were all settled in for the night, except for the sound woman who was planning to drive down from L.A. in the morning. It was then that my phone pinged with a text that let me know she would not be able to make it. Her flights got delayed and the timing just wouldn’t work out. We weighed our options but there was no way we could rent sound equipment, let alone find another sound mixer before the shoot. I was devastated. In the morning we rallied and shot a trailer with no sound, hoping to use the footage to raise funds again and finally get Location Share made.
About a month after the failed shoot we were ready to launch our second Indiegogo campaign. But as I looked over the campaign, I couldn’t see the original story or myself as a filmmaker reflecting back at me. From the beginning, all of my films have been fuelled by a passion to represent the underrepresented and amplify the voices of those rarely heard. And I just didn’t have the passion to tell the story of two cis, white, tall, thin people. I wanted to tell the story I originally wrote, about two teens: one non-binary and one trans, one full and one thin, one tall and one short, both anxious, both smart, both honest, both earnest in their task, and both just a little awkward and silly.
So, looking at the Indiegogo campaign with my mouse hovering over launch I looked at Larsen and said, “What if the casting is wrong, and that’s why it failed?”. He took a minute to thoughtfully consider my question and said, “Do you wanna recast?”. I said yes and we went back to the drawing board. In circling back to the beginning we’ve also realised it’s important to us that everyone on our crew be members of the LGBTQ+ community. We believe that representation should be reflected not only in what is seen on screen, but also in the people who make it happen.
It was while we were brainstorming how we would find Jay that Larsen mentioned August, a trans man he met back in New York. They studied at the same conservatory but hadn’t been in close contact since. Larsen sent me his Instagram and I immediately knew I was looking at Jay, but not wanting to act too fast or get my hopes up I decided to wait to confirm anything until we’d seen his audition and done a chemistry read. Both the audition and the chemistry read confirmed my instincts, August was Jay. Looking at him was like taking a picture out of my mind from that first flash of images. I could see him walking through the woods in a Hawaiian shirt with his phone flashlight in his pocket, calling anxious questions back to Sarah about how the Location Share app works.
We still don’t know how everything will come together to make this film a reality, but we do know that as long as we move forward with integrity and authentic creative passion, we’re on the right track.
Guest Writer: Carolena Villavicencio