Two-4-One film delivers unexpected twists

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February 13, 2015

Film producer, director and media educator Maureen Bradley’s new feature film Two-4-One has its debut, hometown screening on Feb. 14 and 15 at the Victoria Film Festival, and CineCenta on March 25 and 26. This romantic comedy delivers promised laughs along with entertaining, unexpected character and plot twists. Montreal-born Bradley has directed more than 40 short films and videos, four film installations and two web art projects. Her award winning productions have screened at galleries and festivals around the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Bradley recently answered Hannalora Leavitt’s questions about her life and work.

Maureen, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was delighted by the unexpected narrative twists and my own shuffling of gender assumptions. For instance, as a female viewer, I had to rethink the depth-charge moment when Adam (played by Gavin Crawford of This Hour Has 22 Minutes) slapped the debt collector, another male character, who is shocked when he is slapped, not punched, by another man. There’s also the scene when Adam (a transgendered character who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand) is examined at his ob-gyn’s office. The male presence in that typically feminine space is hilarious and challenging to the viewer.

Thanks for such thought provoking questions, Hanna. I’ve noticed the real comedy comes in putting people in awkward spaces—and what’s more awkward than being in the wrong place for your gender. It’s what many trans and gender non-conforming folks feel on a daily basis but without the humour. Bathrooms are really challenging spaces for trans people. By putting Adam in those uncomfortable situations, I hope all viewers think about how we are positioned every day by our gender presentation. Sometimes it’s easy, often it’s not. While rewriting the script, I tried to think of every possible human interaction Adam could have that foregrounded his gender. I’ve never punched someone and I would have no idea how to! I suspect Melanie (Adam pre-transition) was not a scrappy girl and lacked this experience as well.

As I pondered one major theme—how to become a man—I kept adding opportunities for Adam to learn the ropes of masculinity. When the film opens, he already looks like a man, walks like a man and talks like a man. He’s a stealth trans guy but there are still some experiences left to explore. The first time he hits the punching bag, he does so incorrectly. When he returns to the punching bag later in the narrative, he has actually learned how to throw a punch. I had to rely on a martial arts enthusiast on set to show me the difference since I know nothing about boxing!

The scene with Adam in the stirrups was a hoot to film. It is hilarious to female viewers in particular, but there’s also an intentionally creepy vibe to the scene. Adam leads a very medicalized existence. It’s the doctors and psychiatrists who call the shots in terms of his transition. They hold the power. The doctor really does not need to do this exam. There’s no doubt Adam’s pregnant. But he puts Adam through this humiliation. Female viewers relish seeing a pregnant man, that much I’ve learned from festival screenings so far. However, I was surprised that male viewers could relate to Adam as much as they do. I’m not sure male viewers have the same reaction to stirrups, but every woman I know cringes at the idea of an internal exam. So I threw in the prostate joke to widen the audience. Off the top of the scene the doc says, “Well, I guess I don’t have to tell you to cough.”

Can you talk about the origins of and your decision to go with a transgendered romantic lead? What, if any, barriers or surprises did you encounter in terms of your own creative practice, assumptions and expectations because of this decision?

When I first read about the famous pregnant man, Thomas Beattie, I knew it was only a matter of time before Hollywood made a film on the topic. But his story is the stuff of tabloids and reality TV. It’s not a movie. I read about a trans man accidently getting pregnant in exactly this way—sharing sex toys during a home insemination—and realized that scenario was indeed the stuff of drama. As a hero, Adam has a strong goal—to be a man. In fact, he discovers the pregnancy on his way to arrange for phalloplasty—a great dramatic reversal. So this story only makes sense for a transgender man. I’d been hearing more and more about trans male pregnancy in the last year and I wanted to create a story that was respectful and comedic before Hollywood did. The story is unique and one that I haven’t seen told in the form of a romantic comedy and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s reaching a broader audience than I expected. While it’s about an unusual path to masculinity, it’s also about learning to accept yourself. We reach the universal through the specific. Filming it in Victoria was also important for many reasons. First, the community was incredibly supportive. I wanted to create a film set in Victoria. While there so much production here, the films and TV shot here are never set here. Second, the landscape supports another theme in the film—fertility. And finally, this is a small town story. I doubt Adam would struggle so much with acceptance if the story was set in San Francisco, Seattle or Toronto.

Adam’s mother is a strong character in this story. I appreciated her eccentricities and fleshed-out character. Her home mirrored her personality. I was particularly intrigued with her home. While the film is set in Victoria, where did you find such an interesting location for the mother’s residence?

So glad you asked about this. It’s one of my favourite aspects of the film. That shack is on Gonzales Bay. It’s in my neighbourhood and I basically knocked on the door and asked if I could film there. The owners get this request frequently and they always say no, but since the film was local, they said yes. It’s mostly used for storage and no longer lived in. The shack was decorated with art almost entirely from Ladysmith artist Sally Mann, a friend of mine. I wrote the script with her artwork in mind but with a Quebecoise earth-mother eccentric character in mind. When I couldn’t find a francophone actor in the area to play Marie-France, Gabrielle Rose came on as Franny. It was her idea to take the original bits of French dialogue and turn it into her Alzheimer-defying French lessons. The shack was only about 250-square-feet in size so it feels very full—there’s a lot of art crammed in there. But that reflects Franny. She’s a Buddhist hoarder. What didn’t come from artist Sally Mann, Gary Varro, our brilliant production designer, created.

I watched the film twice but did need to ask a friend to fill me in on what took place during two “non-dialogue” scenes because of my visual impairment. For instance, the scene where the mother is looking through a box of photos of Melanie (Adam pre-transition) as a young girl and woman contains no dialogue. I realize that “film” is all about the visual. As a writer and arts consumer with a visual disability, I wonder if you, as a working film professional, are actively aware of how differently consumers, the visually impaired, for instance, experience your art. And, do you feel that directors and producers should play a role in creating a more inclusive viewing experience or does that task belong to others through closed captioning and descriptive video?

What a great question! All the screenwriting gurus insist you “show don’t tell’ and that the most compelling story device is the visual reveal. I personally like “talky” films, Woody Allen being my biggest influence. But the orthodoxy is that deft writers and directors get the job done through visuals. That directive excludes many in our potential audience.

I must say, I feel pretty ignorant about what happens when the movie is done and it goes for closed-captioning or interpretive audio. I would very much like to be involved in that process or consider it more in production. With these low budget productions, we focus so much on production, anything that comes after is left with the dregs of the budget—if anything. When I travel to Québec, I often get called on lack of French subtitles on my ultra-low budget films. I wish there was a fund for translation—both subtitles and interpretive audio. So often you have no control with these services. One director was just telling me about his French film getting mediocre English subtitles then the Mandarin version was translated from the sub-par English version! I appreciate your question. It will broaden my approach to writing and get me to consider about audience accessibility earlier on. Many years ago, I attended a screening in Vancouver and was mesmerized when I saw sign language interpretation of one of my shorts. It was illuminating.

In terms of your film career, how does Two-4-One fit in with your previous works? Is it representative of the wider social issues you would like to pursue in future projects?    

A lot of my earlier movies and docs were overtly political. I do see Two-4-One on that continuum but in a strategic manner. The content and tone make the subject matter accessible. And I’ve reached a much wider audience with this film than anything I’ve done since coming out on national TV in the CBC series Road Movies way back in 1992.

All the projects I’m currently writing have politics subverted into the narrative in a similar manner to Two-4-One. I’m working on three series concepts right now. One is a series version of Two-4-One called Who’s Your Daddy. Another is a series about a band of midwives in New Brunswick fighting for inclusion in medicare and a third, also infused with politics, is top secret.

And I’m flirting with two web series right now that meld comedy, drama and politics.

I really enjoy writing and I’d like to focus on writing TV or web series because you get to delve into character in a more sustained manner. I haven’t ruled out directing, but it’s a slog! I do hope to collaborate with Two-4-One’s brilliant cinematographer Amy Belling again.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robert Clipperton March 8, 2015 at 7:49 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie when I saw it at the Victoria Film Festival. The audience there obviously enjoyed it too as it was voted Best Canadian Film, and it was up against some pretty stiff competition. I also thoroughly enjoyed this article about the making of the film and some of the thoughts behind it. Hopefully there will be many more opportunities for the public to watch and enjoy it.

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