Chicago-based filmmaker Harley McKabe spoke to Solzy at the Movies on a rainy Wednesday last week in advance of The Other Guy Part: .37 premiering on Friday night.
Thank you for joining Solzy at the Movies today. How are things going?
Harley McKabe: Things are going well. I enjoy the rain.
You recently wrote and directed The Other Guy Part: .37, which is premiering on July 21st during a punk rock concert at Reggie’s Music Joint. Where did you get the idea for this short film?
Harley McKabe: The main characters in the short are from a feature screenplay that I wrote awhile back. Characters like them pop up a lot in my work. The short film came about when I was considering applying to some graduate film programs. As an exercise, a couple asked potential students to write a short script where one character wanted to go out and the other wanted to stay in. While I ended up not going, I had the script lying around. It was less complicated to film than the other proof of concepts and seemed fun. It would’ve been much easier to film if Sean didn’t say “No shirt shindigs are the shit.” but I liked the line. I still do, even if it put me through a wringer.
When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker and who are some of your influences?
Harley McKabe: I started making films when I was a little kid. My first was a knock-off of Godzilla staring a giant stuffed polar bear. That might have been pre-grade school. In terms of influences, Kevin Smith is the most obvious influence on my comedic work, but I’m a fan of the old National Lampoon movies, stoner films and quirky indie comedies that I used to find at Hollywood Video back in the day. Old action films definitely influenced some of the dialogue. There are references to a lot of movies hidden in my work.
I’m also big into horror. Slasher flicks, John Carpenter, Predator/Aliens and the Evil Dead films are some of my favorites, but since I saw Deadgirl, Inside and other independent horror films I’ve been hooked on indie stuff too. I’m a published horror author under my old name, so I see no reason not to continue my work in that genre as well.
You’re a trans filmmaker. What thoughts do you have on the current state of transgender representation in the media?
Harley McKabe: It’s slightly better than it used to be, but I’m not happy with it. Most of the time trans women are still portrayed as sexually deviant men in dresses, convicts or prostitutes. Some of that is changing, but Orange is the New Black is still set in a prison. Outside of comedy, where trans women are usually walking punchlines, we don’t appear outside of message films very often. I’m very much against cis men playing trans women, regardless of how talented Jared Leto and Hilary Swank are. If anything, that’s part of the reason it took me so long to pull the trigger on my transition. It was hard to see myself in characters that were obviously men or ultra feminine stereotypes. Estradiol patches haven’t stopped me from pooping. I still like dirty jokes. It’s sad to see trans women stereotyped as sissies, flamboyant drag queens or girly girls. Needless to say, I wish I’d seen Carlotta much sooner. Even then, she’s still a drag queen of sorts.
That’s not to mention trans men. Aside from Boys Don’t Cry, they’re rarely included in film.
What about behind the camera? I only mention that as I’m writing my own screenplay with a transgender lead to be played by myself, which I hope to also produce on location in Chicago.
Harley McKabe: It’s difficult to tell because much of the trans community hide their identity, and for good reason. It’s a safety issue. For all I know, I’ve worked with plenty of trans, but never knew because they passed. I’d guess there aren’t many, though, in part because of the way trans are portrayed in media. It wouldn’t surprise me if many feel like they can only make LGBT films. If they’re not into that type of film, they don’t have role models. That’s ignoring discrimination and other barriers to employment. Transitioning is expensive, in particular without familial support. Working crew gigs involves buying the requisite equipment, expensive stuff. It’s difficult to manage that kind of purchase while prioritizing medications, hair removal or transplantation treatments and more invasive surgeries that should not be cheaped out on.
Now that I’m out and in transition I’ll include more LGBT characters in my films, since I’m not afraid of hiding anything, but the content won’t change. There’s only one film idea I have that fits strictly into the LGBT “genre.” The rest are Smith-ian comedies or gritty horror films.
How often do you experience transphobia on set?
Harley McKabe: Haha. It’s funny that you don’t ask if I have, but how often it occurs. Sad, but aptly-phrased.
It’s difficult for me to gauge because I’ve only presented as female twice while working in film. I wouldn’t call it transphobia, but there are times were I was misgendered and disrespected on a project recently. The filmmaker knew what he did was wrong and apologized, but not before having a five minute conversation with a crew member about how I looked like one gender from the front and another from the back. He also pressured the other production assistant to buy supplies for the film at a checkout, spent most of the day on set drinking after asking us to sign waivers stating it would be a drug and alcohol free set and overall didn’t conduct himself in a professional manner, which shows in his previous work. Needless to say, I didn’t come back after that day.
The cast and crew I’ve worked with in the past have been supportive, despite being a bit surprised. I expect the occasional mess up from past collaborators, but they continue to want to work with me so I consider that a good sign. Breakdown Services won’t let me use their site until my legal name is Harley McKabe, which means no Actors Access, but there are ways around that. Facebook is a good tool and Craigslist has been helpful.
Thanks again for your time.
Harley McKabe: The pleasure is all mine.