Tristan Scott-Behrends, a resident of Los Angeles, has been working in the film industry for the past decade as an actor, producer, writer, director, wardrobe stylist and waitressing, appearing in feature films such as Electric Slide & Pester. His film Curtain Down, which he wrote and starred in, was a great success on the film festival circuit. He is currently developing the script for a Feature Film version of Only Trumpets.
One of his film’s world premier was at Nashville’s DEFY Film Festival in the event’s first year. This year, he will attend again, as the program’s Queer block presents three of his works. His work explores themes of identity, gender, isolation and sexuality. Scott-Behrends spoke with O&AN in advance of his trip to Nashville to discuss his life and vision as a filmmaker.
Grady: Tell us a little about how you got involved in filmmaking?
Scott-Behrends: Well, I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to pursue a career as an actor and really felt kind of torn between having to hide my my sexual identity or betray it entirely by playing characters that were one dimensional or shallow portrayals of superficial cliches. And so I went on a different path for many years and gave that pursuit up… But I always loved filmmaking and I always loved film, but wanted the power to pick and choose.
So as I got older and started to have more of a visual style and to tap into work of artists, I realized that I could make works that could actually have a conversation about what’s going on in the world instead of contributing as an actor to portrayals of gay identity that I didn’t want to participate in.
Grady: How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
Scott-Behrends: I had an idea for a film that I wanted to make that tackled gender and gender roles, and I wrote it and I reached out to my community of friends and people who make films and know what they're doing and looked to them for support and guidance and cooperation… And we made it, and it gave me the confidence to keep going forward.
I’m still in the fairly early stages of this journey and this process. My next steps are going to be going to be making more feature length work... But I'm still learning, I'm still in the process of figuring out … honing my voice and figuring out how to effectively communicate on the stories I want to tell…
Grady: Do you have any feature-length projects coming up or that you're currently working on?
Scott-Behrends: Yeah, I have three different ones that I’m working on writing... The way that I work in this in this medium is ... well, I’m not really interested in just sitting down and just writing. I'm really interested in doing work that I really know I can make, and so I tend to really put my focus on the projects that I feel can actually be brought to life.
I'm kind of doing things that are a little bit outside of the Hollywood box ... like I’m more connected to an art world sensibility in terms of my approach so the money is definitely a part of it... In my dream world I’d make a big gay big-budget movie musical, but that’s not really a realistic next step.
So I'm working on something I think that I can raise money for, and I have the actors I’d want to cast already in mind... I try to think about it as practically as possible, because I think that having a script that can't get made—for me—is kind of useless. My real intention is to be able to communicate with other people about ideas and exchange ideas and thoughts. And so if nobody gets to experience the work because it's just sitting on the computer for like five years, I feel like I’ve not really done my job.
Grady: So you have a history with the DEFY festival in Nashville... You were there in its first year, is that right?
Scott-Behrends: Yeah! They world premiered the first film that I wrote and acted in, so we have a nice long-standing history.
Grady: This year, they're running all three shorts that you submitted, so you're sort of the centerpiece of the “queer block.” Tell us a little bit about your work, and what we’re going to see.
Scott-Behrends: All of my work kind of tackles certain themes of identity and gender presentation, or sexuality and relating to it and reacting to it... And, also, in terms of vanity. Living in L.A. and seeing this world and this culture that’s hung up on looking a certain way—my work is really kind of a backlash to saying that you have to look one of two ways in order to be sexually desirable...
So all of the pieces that I have in the festival really took those themes in some way, either taking back sexuality or making commentary... They're all kind of representative of those same ideals. All these pieces and all the works that I’ve done kind of come back to those themes.
Two of them are music videos—one of them was a pretty even collaboration conceptually, and the other one was my concept and the artist went along with it. Then the third project is a short film that’s a narrative that I wrote. In terms of the works presented, that’s most one that is most representative of me singularly. It's really in collaboration with other people involved, but it’s my work, it's my vision and voice pretty much across the board.
I’m really interested in also creating worlds that are elevated or that look better than our day-to-day lives do, so I use a lot of color and a lot of bold design choices to kind of elevate us out of the mundane day-to-day. I use some magical realism and animation and different tools to kind of make it feel more magical.
I think especially with gay cinema we've seen so many stories of tragedy and so many stories of how our lives and our identity and our experiences make life harder on us. And I'm kind of coming from a place where, even if we're talking about those darker issues, I want it to be more universally about our humanity and less about our sexual identity or gender identity.
I also want it to look more beautiful than the world is. I think that the gay/queer experience is one that is really vibrant and full of fun and life. And in cinema I think it can be reflected that way. I’d like to paint visual concepts of what our world could be and what it could look like, instead of sitting and marinating in the tragedy of what we’ve already experienced, and the hard lives we’ve already had to live.
I want to kind of want to paint a world that kids can look at and imagine their life actually being. I think for all of us, but particularly young, queer kids, The Wizard of Oz is always kind of like a universally appealing idea. And it's because it's the first time we get to see the concept of another world, one that’s more beautiful and more diverse and more unique than the one that you're born into. Historically, the gay world has kind of latched onto that fil as a beacon of hope.
I would like to start seeing more queer stories, and queer films, that takes those principles of Oz and incorporate them into our daily lives, because I think that if younger generations see their lives being portrayed with optimism and hope, then they’ll get to grow up feeling like the world can look like that for them. And I think it can.