Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Best Film Yet to be Made? Miranda Sajdak Certainly Thinks So

Written by Mia Henley
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Miranda Sajdak is on a mission. The up-and-coming, award-winning filmmaker is doing everything in her power to promote and fundraise for her new short film, Gone, a film about grief, loss, and dealing with issues of identity. I had the chance to sit down and talk with Sajdak about her inspirations and aspirations for Gone, her future filmmaking ambitions, her thoughts on the LGBT film community, and on LGBT films in general.

Miranda Sajdak is on a mission. The up-and-coming, award-winning filmmaker is doing everything in her power to promote and fundraise for her new short film, Gone, a film about grief, loss, and dealing with issues of identity. I had the chance to sit down and talk with Sajdak about her inspirations and aspirations for Gone, her future filmmaking ambitions, her thoughts on the LGBT film community, and on LGBT films in general.

Sajdak realized she wanted to make films for a living when she was eight years old. “When everybody else was saying, 'I want to be a ballerina' or 'I want to be a firefighter' . . .I wanted to be a casting director—I think because I thought you got to work more with the cast if you were the casting director . . . Eventually I realized I actually wanted to be directing and [making] movies,” she says.  

Originally from the New England area, Sajdak moved to New York to attend Columbia University (where she majored in film studies); and to pursue her dream of working in the film industry. After graduating from Columbia in 2006, Sajdak stayed in New York for a couple of years working as a PA on large commercial films like Cloverfield (2008) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). The 2007-08 Writer’s Guild of America Strike hit Sajdak hard and propelled her to move to the West Coast in 2008.

But before she made her West Coast move, tragedy struck Sajdak's life. One of her close friends died very suddenly, leaving everyone who'd known her reeling in pain and grief. Sajdak shared with me that this friend had been gay but had been uncomfortable coming out to her friends and family. Sajdak says her inspiration for Gone came from the series of events that took place as a result of her friend's passing. “I met people following her death that I would have never met otherwise.” Experiencing a struggle with identity and what that means also inspired her to make a film as something of a tribute to her friend's death.

While the concept and idea for the film were Sajdak's own, she reached out to her friend C.C. Webster, an esteemed screenwriter, to write the script for Gone. She and Webster were friends from Columbia, and Sajdak contacted Webster to pitch her Gone's premise because she'd loved Webster’s past work and knew her script would establish the right tone for Gone. As it turns out, Sajdak's instincts were correct. She repeatedly calls the script “brilliant” and “awesome” and divulges that they are using one of the first drafts because it is so perfect.

When asked to articulate in her own words what Gone is about, Sajdak answers, “Gone is primarily a film about grief. We meet Pen, a woman whose ex-boyfriend, Jimmy, has recently died in an accident. She is on her way to a meeting with Marcus, who was Jimmy's fiance.” Sajdak enthusiastically tells me that Tom Lenk, the breakout star from the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been cast as Marcus and that it's been exciting to get to conceptualize the character of Marcus with Lenk as the lead. Sajdak continues with her synopsis: “[The audience sees] Pen trying to deal with her issues of grief and loss, and when she meets Marcus they go for a walk and chat and he ends up giving her a keepsake that helps Pen move towards closure with Jimmy's death, and also with his having come out to her as gay.” She adds, “For Pen, her loss is a two-pronged issue because she is dealing with her grief from Jimmy's death, but also the loss of her relationship and the love she had with Jimmy.”

Sajdak believes that the issues we see Pen deal with in Gone are universal. Grief is obviously experienced by everyone at some point, but the more delicate topic of how one deals with a friend or family member coming out to them, or the more omnipresent questioning of self, or another person's identity are themes that Sajdak wanted to tackle with Gone. “I think everybody throughout their lives is struggling with the issue of identity. And what it means to be who you are in the context of the world—what it means to your friends and family . . . I can't tell you the number of people I've talked to who say they are different people depending on which group of friends they are with. I think those are issues we all struggle with, whether they are minor issues or whether they are more politically or socially charged on a larger scale. And [they are] also [issues] we all deal with whether or not we're gay . . . It's more that human journey of trying to figure out who we are.”

Snapshot, Sajdak's last short film, a collaboration with Savannah Dooley, was featured at Outfest in 2010. In Snapshot, Sajdak explored the complex relationship between a mother and her teen daughter's female prom date, whom she meets for the first time on the night of their prom. While Sajdak loved making Snapshot, she confides that she thinks it didn't get into a lot of festivals because it was “such a queer film.” And she is quick to say that Gone is less so. “[Gone] has those elements, but I think that the general human populace is going to see it much more as a film about grief than as a film about gay issues.” Sajdak believes this will be Gone's key to winning audiences over.

Sajdak and I got to talking about LGBT films, and when I asked her if she thought there was an LGBT film community, her answer was somewhat conflicted. When Snapshot premiered at Outfest, she felt warmly embraced by the small group of queer filmmakers and directors who also had films in that year's festival. She muses, “I think the opportunity for there to be an [overarching] LGBT film community exists, but I think it is still very scattered . . . It's one of those things where there's obviously a filmmaking community (because film has been around for one hundred years), but as for LGBT films, they haven't really been around for as long. And . . . for a long time they were being made sort of quietly—in the company of one's own home and one's own friends. And I think if you look at a lot of the [queer] films from the ’70s, ’80s, and even the ’90s, the quality is very poor. And that's unfortunate—but I think it's because . . . the resources weren't there.” Sajdak tells me this is something she would really love to see change: “First of all, [I would love] to see the resources really be there, and second of all, to have the LGBT film community really be there embracing these new filmmakers.” 

Sajdak fears that the poor quality of these old films may have had deleterious effects on LGBT film culture. She notes, “Oftentimes you'll see an LGBT film and it won't have any straight characters, or you'll see an LGBT film that, like any other early films, is highly clichéd, and it'll be very one-note, or the characters won't have a lot of depth . . . ... And I think that is a big issue, because it can be very hurtful to the film.” Sajdak presumes it is equally important to get a queer audience for your film as a straight one. She expounds, “Because the only way that you're going to get any change—and the people during the civil rights movement knew it too—is to affect everybody, not just [one] community. And I think that's true today—the only way we're going to effect any change is by reaching out to everyone, not just the gay community.”

Sajdak believes that with Gone, because it deals with a post-coming-out story in a novel way, the film will be able to touch a wider audience. The coming-out story is usually presented as something that primarily affects the person who's coming out. Sajdak observes, “We often see that [in films]: the main character’s struggle to decide whether to come out, who they come out to, whether they get kicked out of their home, etc. But we don't as often see the struggle of the person who is come-out to. What does the girlfriend feel like when her boyfriend tells her he's gay? What does the mom feel when her son says that? Those are things that I think need to be explored as well because it doesn't [all] happen in a bubble . . . It's not a singular experience.”

Sajdak is excited to show a new kind of struggle. She remarks, “As hard as it is for the LGBT individual to come out, I think it's also really difficult for [the person on the receiving end of that news] and the LGBT individual's community . . . It can be just as traumatizing and difficult for that person (the receiver) to cope with their own reaction to [the new information]: 'How do I react to this? How am I feeling about it? Can this person still love me?’” And in Gone, watching a character go through this experience, as we do with Pen, is illuminating and remarkable.

If you'd like to know more or help support the making of Gone, please visit the project's Kickstarter Web page. Any and all contributions, large or small, will be immensely and deeply appreciated by all involved.

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