Steven Greenstreet is a filmmaker. More specifically, he’s a jack-of-all-trades film mercenary who writes, directs, shoots, produces and edits. Whatever it takes to get the film made, he’ll do it. In addition to producing dozens of shorts, Steven has three feature-length documentaries under his belt that explore a range of explosive social issues. But his latest film, “8: The Mormon Proposition” is arguable the most incendiary yet -- exploring the role that the Mormon Church played in passing Proposition 8 in California. The film is being released nationwide this Friday, June 18.
Steven took a few moments out of his hectic, cross-country, film-festival-attending schedule to share with us what it really takes to produce and release a feature-length documentary.
“In ‘8′, we attempt to show the public the man behind the curtain and expose the truth of this very powerful political machine.”
ReadysetDC – How did you get to this point in your career?
Steven Greenstreet – I got here because of an overwhelming fear of being caught not doing what I love. “8″ is my third film and each of those films was born in a primordial bubbling soup of raw fear. I was presented with a possibility to turn on my camera and capture an amazing story that would hopefully resonate, some how, in the halls of history. However, I was also presented with every logistical obstacle imaginable. While making my first film back in 2005, there was a moment where I had to decide to either use the last $40 in my bank account to buy more tapes for my camera or pay my electric bill. I bought the tapes and used candles in my apartment for 3 days until the power was turned back on. With my last film, I lost my job one month before Sundance. Do I frantically seek out a new job? Or do I pour all my energy into taking my film to the biggest film festival in the world? I chose the latter because I fear not living up to my own personal expectations. I choose art and filmmaking over everything. And I admit that such a mind-set is irrational and frightening. But I love it.
RSDC – Why do you think gay marriage is a particularly important topic to bring to the public through your film?
SG – The nation is at such a unique time when it comes to LGBT rights. We’ve come a long way since the days of “The Mayor of Castro Street” and the Stonewall riots. People like Harvey Milk set a precedent for not only for civil equality, but also a celebration of the LGBT community. We tend to fear the unknown. And those barriers of anonymity and shame have been torn down not only by those at the fore front of the equality movement, but also by many citizens of a more modern American society. In my experience, the nation’s younger generation (and thus the future of this country), are so accepting of their gay and lesbian peers that they almost cannot imagine it any other way. “8″ exposes that, despite much progress, there still exists a deep rooted fear of gay rights by those clinging to the past. And these folks are willing to throw time, effort and millions of dollars to ensure gays receive little to no progressive acceptance as equal citizens. Because of that, we need to stay attentive to the political dealings of these groups and individuals. They will lie, fear-monger, and stir up hatred to keep mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors, athletes, performers, writers, architects, etc from receiving equal rights all because they are gay, lesbian, or transgendered. In “8″, we attempt to show the public the man behind the curtain and expose the truth of this very powerful political machine. But the truth that resonates louder in our film, is that LGBT citizens are full of love and hope, pain and suffering, joy and celebration. In essence, all the basic elements that define us all as human beings.
RSDC – In “8″, you go up against some pretty powerful forces. Have they tried to prevent you, and have you ever felt like they’d succeed?
SG – As a filmmaker, Proposition 8 encapsulates so many elements that intrigued me: a story of love, of struggle, loss, and redemption. It just so happens that the main antagonist to those seeking equal rights in California was the Mormon church. And, well, I grew up Mormon myself. I served a Mormon mission to Venezuela and my entire immediate family are Mormons. So, not only was I going up against very powerful political powers, but I was literally critiquing the very culture that I grew up in. So it was a unique experience for me. On one hand, I offered a “insiders” knowledge into the workings of the church’s political dealings, and on the other, it was a cathartic examination of my own past. The church itself was very dismissive of us and refused an interview. We tried for months to offer them a chance to tell their side of the story. They told us, “We just want to ignore this and hope it all dies down.” Other than that, they have not actively tried to prevent the film from being made or from being seen. Yet.
RSDC – What was it like in the home stretch of post-production for “8″? How did you feel when you got into Sundance?
SG - The film, for months, lived in my apartment building and on my Mac. When Sundance called us and said we were accepted into the festival, I fell down the rabbit hole. In a lot of ways, I had to re-edit an entire feature film in 2 months. I completely poured my soul into the final weeks. I began chain smoking, taking Adderall and Redbull to stay awake, I started talking to myself during the edits, I didn’t eat and lost a lot of weight… basically I went absolutely batsh*t insane. There was a final deadline, which was delivering a final, color-corrected HD print to Sundance by January 11th. And it basically all was on me. My best friend John Kinhart and my girlfriend Emily Biondi came in to help and they probably prevented my death (just kidding, but seriously though). John and I started editing 24/7 and Emily made sure the world around us didn’t crumble into oblivion. I’ll never forget the moment we dropped the film off at Fed Ex on January 10th for overnight delivery to Sundance. It was truly the most intense moment of my filmmaking career.
RSDC – You’ve been attending a lot of film festivals lately. What’s that actually like? What’s been the single biggest “WTF, I Can’t believe this is happening” moment?
SG – Going to a film festival is, in essence, a justification of my very existence. Sure, it’s great to TALK about making films and even MAKING a film is fantastic. But what good is it if no one sees it? So, I go to film festivals to enjoy what it’s all about: the audience. When the lights go down and the horrible mess that was once being edited on your computer screen comes up on the big screen and you hear that first laugh or groan from the audience, it suddenly comes full circle. I had tears streaming down my face after the first sold-out Sundance screening. The audience gave us a standing ovation through the credits. I suddenly thought, “Wow, I’m really a filmmaker. I haven’t just been wasting my time on an unreachable dream. My pain and suffering did have a point.” So, the most incredible moment was each and every screening of the film in which the audience took away from it everything I had hoped. And the biggest “WTF this is awesome” moment came during the last screening of “8″ at Sundance. I introduced the film to the audience and then walked back to my seat. As I was walking up the aisle, a hand stuck out to “high-five” me. It was Robert Redford. The Sundance kid himself.
RSDC – What’s your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
SG - I’ve really learned the enjoyment that comes from letting a film develop inside your brain. In many ways, it lives there for months and months. All the characters, the edits, the music choices, the emotions, all live inside my head. I’m sitting on the DC metro, staring out the window, and suddenly I’m overcome with emotion because I’m playing out the scene where characters tell their stories about attempted suicide. I can see their faces and hear the music. People around me must think I’m crazy. I enjoy letting the film into me. All of me. And it becomes a very personal appendage to my self.
RSDC – Why is DC a great place to make films?
SG – Why? Because DC has one of the greatest foundations of filmmaking support. I had a preconception of what the “DC scene” would be like when I first moved here: politicians, wonky poly sci students, and Georgetown douchebags. That all went away my first day working downtown. I met Lagan Sebert, a documentary filmmaker and video journalist for The Huffington Post Investigative Fund and instantly felt a rush of relief. Since then, I’ve immersed myself amid a swarm of filmmaking talent in the DC area. Brandon Bloch (that would be you, you silly pirate) is a great visual artist who has taught me a lot about paying attention not only to story and character, but to color palettes, designs, and atmosphere. And there are so many others in DC that have inspired me. I not only feel enabled by the DC film scene, but enlightened. I’ve learned so much in the last 2 years and I have DC to thank for that.
RSDC – As you know, DC recently legalized same-sex marriage. Thoughts on this historic decision?
SG – Fabulous! DC started issuing same-sex marriage licenses back in March and it feels so amazing to have made a film covering this topic and then have your city implement it into law. I’m straight and kind of a hermit, so I’ve never attended a gay wedding, but I’d love to. If you read this, and you’re getting married to your partner in DC, feel free to invite me.
RSDC – What advice do you have to filmmakers who want to make a feature film? What does it take to be a filmmaker? How do films actually get made?
SG - My God, I could literally write a novel to answer these questions. So, I’ll be brief: Grab a camera and make film. If you want to do it, then just do it. Most everything you’ll ever need to learn will come to you during that first try. And don’t think you’re going to make a feature film. Start small. Shoot anything and everything. Edit it into a story. Look at it, learn from it, and then move on. What does it take? A sponge for a brain, a volcano for a heart, and a dash of crazy ambition. But the most important thing is having a camera for an eye. Use your eyes to record the story of the world around you. When I’ve started looking at everything around me as an ever evolving motion picture, then it all suddenly makes sense to me. How do films get made? By picking up a camera, recording a good story, and then editing it together. You can have $15 or $15,000,000. In essence, that all it is. Now, don’t even ask me how films get seen. That is a whole different monster. But you’ll figure it out. Like I had to.
RSDC – What can we expect from Steven Greenstreet in the future?
SG - I am currently working on my “baby project”. Meaning, the film I’ve wanted to make for years now. It’s about robots and how the future isn’t what it used to be.
For more of Steven’s work, visit www.stevengreenstreet.com