Why Representation Matters, Advice to Our Younger Selves, How to Make Your Stories Transformational
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A Focus on Trans Artists // Why Representation Matters // Advice to Younger Selves // How to Transform Your Script
Dear Storytellers,

Have you watched the Netflix film Disclosure yet? If you had, you’d have seen an extremely well-researched and compelling example of a discussion we’ve been having across the industry and frequently here at Collab: why representation matters.

In Disclosure’s case, the subject matter is transgender depictions in film and television, but the principles and underlying questions should be applied to media representation of any disinvested community. In short, including people in your process who come from the communities you’re depicting in your work at least makes your stories more authentic and at most can literally save lives.

What you may not get from watching the documentary is that the filmmaking team, led by Sam Feder, practiced what it preached, designing their entire production model around trans inclusivity so that each and every part of the process behind and in front of the camera was touched by people who identify as transgender.

As journalist Tre'vell Anderson said in our recent event Beyond Representation: Tools for Expanding Trans Awareness in Media, Disclosure’s production model proves that you can "balance passion [for your story] with intention and with thought about how something you create could have real life impact with folks."

This happens to be the end of Transgender Awareness Week, and I encourage you this and every week to think about how your creative process can be inclusive of the folks whose stories you’re telling, from the writing process all the way through post. Not sure where to start? Fortunately, the Disclosure team has released several toolkits and a free discussion guide that may help.

Meanwhile, read on below for insights and creativity tips from some of the trans-identifying storytellers of the Sundance network.

See you on the page,

Director of Content
P.S. For further resources and info and on Sundance Institute’s activities around transgender awareness, check out our Beyond the Tipping Point conversation and read about our first ever Trans Possibilities Intensive.
Throwing Muses
Writers on their sources of inspiration
Contributed by Shaan Dasani, Actor/Writer/Producer (These Thems, Razor Tongue)
My sources of inspiration really depend on what I'm working on. I primarily work as an actor these days, and I find it's helpful to turn to music as inspiration for characters. For the character of Asher who I play in award-winning digital series These Thems, I actually listened to some Bollywood music—the deeper, more soulful stuff, from artists like Atif Aslam & Arjit Singh. Though Asher's cultural identity isn't really explored in the first season of These Thems, in the world of this comedy series, he's the one character that's carrying something that he has a hard time sharing with his community [He is not yet "out" as trans]. There's a depth to Asher, and I imagined these are the types of artists he might listen to when he's on his own.  


Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Pau S. Pescador, Writer/Director/Documentary Filmmaker (Brick and Mortar: Stars and Stripes)
I start by surrounding myself with materials and objects that give me pleasure. I can then start to open my thought process on how I want to begin exploring the topics and concerns I will be working on. These can be small talismans gathered through my studio and home, often cheap colorful detritus, dollar store knick-knacks, small tchotchkes I gather from outdoor markets in the regions I am exploring.
Seeing these objects, I am reminded of wandering through the plazas of Mexico City in my film Greetings Friends (2017) looking for the reminiscence of Walt Disney or the Tongva tribe in downtown LA in Founding of Los Angeles (2018). I use these materials to help me create the world I want my projects to explore. Similar to interviews and conversations I gather in my filmic process, I allow my materials to build and begin to sort through them. Listening and examining. Creating potential logics and the connecting of stories.
When Inspiration Struck
How creators came up with their most notable ideas
Contributed by Emory Chao Johnson, Documentary Filmmaker (F1-100, Shu Mai Online)
I got acquainted with H, the featured artist in F1-100 [a short, mixed media documentary], on another project and at some point I was introduced to their animation work. As I watched one of their animated shorts, I was captivated by the depth of emotion it conveyed through its abstract, geometric protagonist. Guttural voices interjecting a video game-like soundscape produced a visceral viewing engagement.
As I became an admirer of H’s art, I started to learn more about their experience of being a trans, international art student, and how they were going up against an F-1 visa system in the United States that could not assure any certainty about what post-graduation life might look like for them. The stressors of restrictive policies, legislation, borders, healthcare, and social climates contribute to a palpable sensation of being squeezed. As I lived through my own unforgettable moments where I became intimately familiar with how a trans existence is relative to one’s geography, sharing H’s story was on the forefront of my mind. I feel so honored and grateful that H welcomed the collaboration that led to F1-100.
Advice to My Younger Self
What do you wish you knew earlier in your career?
[Editor’s note: Since we’re introducing this brand new section in this issue, we’ve included a bonus of two entries here!]
In our culture there is a lot of pressure to achieve "success" by a certain age and I think I would just remind my younger self that the work is the joy and the success and the achievements come when they come.  – Silas Howard, Writer/Director/Documentary Filmmaker (Dickinson, Transparent)

It's easy to feel insecure about the work you make or think that what you want to say doesn't matter. People from communities where this is the dominant narrative about their existence often internalize this idea. What has been most helpful to me as a filmmaker is the reminder that I'm in control of what is important and what matters. This belief imbues the stories I tell with importance and a right to exist.  Faye Ruiz, Writer/Director (The Lights Are On, No One's Home, Falling into the Sky)
Top Fives
Writers on their favorites from across the world of cinema
Contributed by Roberto Fatal, Writer, Director, Producer (Fluid Bound, Class Order Family Tribe)
Top 5 Biopics of My QTPOC and WOC Inspirations (That I wish someone would make and accurately cast so I could watch them)
1. Ana Mendieta
Cuban American performance and photography artist
She’s one of my most influential Latinx art inspirations in terms of both performance and photography. This film is about preserving her legacy and establishing a call for justice for how her life ended.
2. Yolanda Lopez
Chicana arts legend, trailblazer, and activist
Her work is a cornerstone of the Chicano arts movement and she stayed in the game as an artist and activist until her death a few months ago. Yolanda is a legend whose story needs to be out there in a vibrant, cathartic film that does her 60 year arts legacy justice.
3. We'Wha
Zuni peblo lhamana, or what we would in English call a Two-Spirit or non-binary persxn
When I was coming out as non-binary, I found so much comfort in my Indigenous lineages and my Two-Spirit community here in the SF Bay Area that showed me that being NB was not a recent white western thing as much of queer and trans studies and representation tells us. Being non-binary was an ancient and Indigenous thing for my ancestors and a normal way of life until white European colonizers eradicated our ancient practices and identities. A We’wha film would be such a beautiful reminder to audiences that, on Turtle Island, trans, non-binary, queer people are ancient and essential.
4. bell hooks
Black author, professor and social activist
bell, to me represents my highest aspirations for transforming a world that’s in a lot of pain. When I first started reading her works in college something clicked for me: personal, connective, brilliant writings about love, feminism, defeating patriarchy by liberating men from the roles that patriarchy has forced them to play, compassion, empathy. Oof. bell’s writing has so much medicine in it, I’d love to see a biopic showing where it all came from, made with the same ideals she strove to have in her writing.
5. Xandra Ibarra/La Chica Boom
Chicana performance artist, activist, and educator
This one’s weird because we’re the same age and Xandra is an acquaintance, but her life story, the way her mind works, her multiple journeys of discovery as an artist are the stuff of legends. She’s funny, brilliant, a fiery force, provocative, powerful. She’s been a mentor and inspiration for me to come into my own as an artist and queer / NB persxn. Someday, with the right director and actor, this movie will knock everyone’s socks off.
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script
Contributed by Deborah Goodwin, Sundance Collab Advisor (Justine to a Fault, The Pastor)
If I was telling the story of my life, it would start with a little bi-racial girl who began to read and believe that she was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and Jim Hawkins, the fictional protagonist in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Because I could read and imagine, I believed any world and story—and any starring role—was available to me. No boundaries, no borders.

We transform when we enter worlds that speak truthfully to who we are and who we know ourselves to be regardless of the constraints or "realities." In my opinion, social normatives are just a construct for the unimaginative to feel secure. Storytelling has the power to cross ALL norms and boundaries and embraces our free and willing imaginations in ways we can’t even yet conceive of. That’s the real creative journey in a nutshell: Transformation.

Below are FOUR ACTIVE things we can try in our scene writing and storytelling to make it transformational. Take a look at your current narrative and see whether you can apply any of the following strategies:

  1. Start with an EVENT that sparks transformation in your characters. Does the event spark from within or is it fueled by something outside your character’s control? Either way, remember that with a transformation storyline, it’s important that we clearly recognize what your character has had to "overcome" to stand where they are by the end of your story.

  2. Focus on your character's desire for change: and the active STEPS they take, physical and psychological, across your narrative, to achieve that change. The ultimate goal of your story is almost like a series of before and after snapshots that can track your character’s transformation.

  3. Drop "late-breaking " news or unexpected TWIST into your narrative that can result in a re-defining of the result for your character’s transformation

  4. Every transformation figurative or real, has a COST, which is emotional or physical or sometimes both. Ask your narrative: what is your character willing to pay for their transformation?

For more prompts in a live setting, join our free Writers' Cafe each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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