You may already know Adam Baran from his work with Butt Magazine, or from one of his acclaimed short films like Jinx or Love and Deaf, or from his status as the co-curator of IFC's monthly film series Queer/Art/Film. If you don't — you should. His latest project, the comedic short film Jackpot, has already been hailed as "a giddy send up of all the teenage movies we gays never got to see ourselves in" and "delightful, moving, and hilarious." His Kickstarter project to fund production just crossed the finish line, which we figured was an appropriate milestone to celebrate by asking him: "What inspired you to make this film?"
There are many quotes I use to inspire myself as a filmmaker, but I hold no quote more dear than legendary Citizen Kane director Orson Welles’ gem, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” For the most part, this perfectly sums up the filmmaking experience as well as the experience of making art in a broader sense. Limitations force you to be more creative. You’re told that you don’t have enough in your budget to do that big scene the way you see it in your head, and so you think and come up with a solution that suddenly seems more exciting and vital than the first way. You don’t have any money to buy paints and canvases, so you create work using unconventional materials and become more inspired by this new way of working than ever before. Limits. We hate them, cry over them, but sometimes we need them. Without limits, I never would have written Jackpot. And without Kickstarter’s framework and their limited fundraising period, I never would have funded it.
I had the idea for Jackpot one morning just after waking from a weird dream that I’d had many times since I was a teenager. In the dream I’m my younger teenage self – frustrated, bullied, secretly gay, and horny. Someone tells me about a big stash of gay porn hidden behind the dumpster of my local convenience store. I go and find the stash and am very excited. But on my way home, things keep getting in my way – like they do in most dreams – and I find myself frustrated and determined to make it home. When I finally avoid the antagonists in my dream – bullies and teachers and authority figures, I arrive home, take the porn out and start to look at it. Then, before I can do anything, I wake up. When I woke up that morning, something clicked and I wrote down my idea “A 14 year old boy in 1994 is on a quest to make it home with a stash of gay porn before anyone finds out. Along the way he has to overcome bullies and other obstacles in order to make it home with what he wants.” Like the limits of the artistic process, my character would have to get increasingly creative to make it home unscathed – and that would be fun for any audience to watch.
The idea mulled around in my head for two years while I wrote a step outline, added characters and constructed a feature length script that paid homage to my favorite films of the 1980’s – the John Hughes comedies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles , as well as films like Stand By Me, where teenagers go to extreme lengths to get the object of their desire over the course of a day. I knew I’d never seen a gay film like those films I loved – which was part of why I wanted to write Jackpot. I’ve always been committed to trying to find new ways to present queer stories beyond some of the classic ones we see repeated over and over.
Part of my commitment to telling these stories comes from my feeling that queer people are often deprived a very vital experience that straight people have – a right to see themselves represented onscreen, and learn, in the same way straight people do, how to deal with the basic questions that are posed to us each day in our lives. How do we have relationships? How do we deal with adversity? How do we survive our darkest moments? The core of cinema attempts to answer these questions, but unless we transpose our experiences onto straight characters, we have nothing to learn from them about our own lives. Instead, stereotypical or tragic characters often informed us of our unwanted place in society throughout history – one instance where Welles’ limits theory falters slightly. Would I have fought back against my bullies, come out of the closet, and been a fearless gay teen if I had seen, as a 13 year old cinephile, a gay character fighting back to get what he wants? You bet. Instead, I hid myself, ran away from fights, and to this day I regret that, even if I know that there could have been very dire consequences for fighting back.
I wanted to make a new queer movie that would illuminate my experience growing up as a bullied gay teen without any outlet to figure out who I was besides the underwear section of the Sears catalog. I wanted it to speak to kids about fighting back and how far we’d come and how far we have to go. What I didn’t expect was that after writing the script so many people – both gay and straight — who have read it or saw our staged reading at Outfest 2010 in Los Angeles have come up to me to tell me that this experience, —of finding porn discarded somewhere and going to great lengths to hide it, and fighting back against bullies — was their experience too. There’s nothing that feels better than that. To know that I’m making something that is going to connect with so many people, and that over 300 people have backed our Kickstarter project so far, fills me with an unbelievable sense of fulfillment and confidence. Maybe the teenager I’m making the film for is my younger self, and what I’m trying to tell myself is that it’s not too late. That by making this film and doing what I want to do I’m helping kids all over the world who need what I needed – and becoming as strong as I wanted to be when I was a kid. When I step on to my set in three weeks, there’ll be physical and monetary limits, sure — but no limits to what I can achieve.
There is still one more day to pledge! Check out Adam's project here.