Shatterbox Director Robin Cloud Talks The True Story Behind Her Film Out Again

No two coming out experiences are exactly alike. While some people prefer (and have the privilege) to announce their sexuality in a super casual way (such as Kristen Stewart informing Donald Trump that she's "so gay, dude" during her Saturday Night Live monologue) others prefer personal, one-on-one conversations, heartfelt letters, or, for the more theatrical among us, skywriting. But no matter how you decide to come out, there is one thing that is pretty consistent across the board. No one wants to have to relive their coming out experience over and over again — especially when one has been out for years.
This is the premise for Robin Cloud's new short Out Again, one of Refinery29's Shatterbox Anthology films. In the new short, Cat (Cloud) and her new wife Liz (Shakirah DeMesier) visit Cat's parents to inform them that they just got hitched. Cat's mother (Madeline McCray) is living with Alzheimer's, making it difficult for her to retain certain information — like, say, the fact that Cat is gay. Cat's father (Jay Potter) tells Cat that she may have to go back in the closet for their weekend visit — but, instead, Cat decides it might be time to come out... again.
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I spoke with Cloud — who wrote, directed, and starred in the film — about the inspiration behind Out Again, and what makes this movie so personal.
What inspired you to make this film?
"I was inspired by an experience I had with my grandmother, who had Alzheimer's. We used to talk on the phone, and we would have a conversation, and she would ask me some questions, and then there would be a little bit of a pause and she would ask me the exact same questions all over again. I understood what was happening to her but she didn't. That went on for quite some time, and it made me think 'Wow, what would happen if she forgot that I was gay? Would I have to have this conversation with her all the time?' That was the inspiration for the film. She never did, thank God."
Was it challenging directing yourself on camera?
"It was my first time directing myself, I had done some comedy shorts, but those are just one three-minute videos. It was definitely challenging. I knew the script so well, which helped. Having two producers... to watch my performance was really key. We would do a rehearsal with a stand-in, and I would watch the action, and I would go ahead and do it, and we would watch the playback together, and the [producers] would give me notes if necessary. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do as a character."
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What was the hardest part of the film venture?
"I would say being a director, you have to have your eyes and ears open to every single aspect of the film. So you're not just looking at just performance, you're looking at the set, planning ahead for the next scene... You have people physically interrupting you, as much as your [assistant director] tries to stop them... Your mind is working constantly. I guess that was the biggest challenge I found. I loved that about it, I got to have an opinion about everything."
Any plans to revisit Out Again in a different format?
"I would love to turn it into a feature, I would love to collaborate and write a feature, and give the film fuller, bigger life. That's definitely my goal."
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You included a scene in the film in which your character explains to her mother that just because she's a lesbian doesn't mean she's "the man" of her relationship, or the husband to her wife. Why was that important to include?
"I've been out for a long time, since high school, and since I'm a more masculine-presenting person, people often say 'Oh, so you're the man.' It seems like that's a way for straight people to identify with a lesbian relationship, by putting [people] into categories that are relatable to them. I wanted to show how frustrating it is to be asked that question. My dad has actually asked me that question when I was in my 20s, and I was like 'No, it doesn't work like that.' Or people would ask 'What do lesbians do in bed?' But it's not my job to explain that to you!"
Do you have any films about coming out that inspired you?
"The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love. It was the first portrayal of the struggle of having a lesbian relationship and coming out. I must have seen it a thousand times."
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What advice would you give filmmakers — specifically female and/or filmmakers of the LGBTQ community — when it comes to making their first project?
"Tell a story that's really true to your heart and your experience. I think it helps writing a piece that's so personal. [For me,] I felt like I knew exactly what I wanted out of the characters and out of the film because it was so close to home. I think when you're really honest on film people who wouldn't typically relate to you... they'll relate to the story. They'll still relate to the humanity. That comes with starting from a place of true honesty."
What's next for you as a filmmaker?
"As a filmmaker I'm in development for a docu-series called Passing While Black. It's a story about examining race in America through the lens of family members of mine who left Harlem in the 1940s, moved to Nebraska, and decided to pass for white in order to have a better life. It's a personal exploration of their descendants, and they met their Black family for the first time over the summer. We'll explore what it means to be Black in America, when you didn't know you were fully Black until I came along and told them... I'm also writing some scripts and pilots, things of that nature."
What do you hope audiences take away from Out Again?
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"I hope they take away a feeling of compassion. Compassion for themselves, whatever they're struggling with, and compassion for your parents. Coming out at a young age, I had a lot of conflict with my mother specifically, and now that I'm older I'm able to see her as an adult, an individual who had her own struggles. It sort of softens my heart around the struggles that we had. She was coming from a place of being an overprotective mom, and not wanting me to have a tough life, or one that was scary for me. It's allowed me to be more compassionate towards her experience of me coming out."
Check out full film below:
Refinery29 is thrilled to be showing this Shatterbox Anthology film. Just 7% of 2016's top films were directed by women. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox and Comcast Watchable.
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