I wrote a review today about a movie called Being Ginger (you can read my Being Ginger review here). Along with a free screening of a new (very good) movie, I also got the opportunity to spend some time with the man behind this unique project – Scott Harris.
I arrived at the theater about half an hour early. I was curious about a lot of things. I wanted to know how Scott was feeling, how he’d prepared for the screening, and most interestingly what kind of people were showing up for the film. The moment I walked into the AMC at Barton Creek Mall in Austin, I saw Scott and there was one thought that popped into my head: “This dude looks exactly like the kind of guy who would make a movie called Being Ginger.”
He’s a pale guy with BRIGHT red hair (full disclosure I’m a pale guy with a bright red beard). The lighting in the lobby definitely added to the effect. Bright whites made the pale come off paler and the red look brighter. I introduced myself and immediately noticed a lot of energy in Scott’s pale blue eyes. We talked for a little while about our respective filmmaking experience and how this movie came about. The focal point of our conversation was the clear anxiety he was feeling before the screening. Beyond the regular jitters of showing a very personal work to a bunch of strangers, the blu-ray wasn’t working either.
After a little bit, I felt like my questions were just adding to the anxiety, so I started talking to the people who were there to see the movie. Most of the people I spoke to were redheads who were excited to see their story told on the big screen. I also met a couple that referred to themselves as “ginger allies.” I even spoke to a pair of blonde women who just wanted to see a different perspective on the world.
The audience was definitely more diverse than I expected, but still trended heavily ginger. I had to know how they’d found out about this movie. It turns out in Austin there’s a sizeable redheaded community. Not only that, but they tend to hang out and have events. I met a man named AJ who organizes a pub-crawl called Gingerpalooza (if you’re interested in redhead events, there’s a list here). It was a bit of a surprise to me that this was a thing. According to Scott, such groups exist all across America.
That news, coupled with all the different sorts of people that had showed up gave me a new sense of interest in the movie. What was this going to be? I was super curious about what the audience response would be. At 7:30, the film started. At about 8:45, the film ended. Everyone loved it. Myself included. After a lengthy Q+A with questions ranging from South Park’s influence on the ginger community to the origins of the phrase. One lady didn’t even ask a question and just told Scott that she loves gingers and thinks he’s a beautiful man. After a photograph was taken with Scott and all of the other redheads in attendance, I got a moment to sit down with the filmmaker and ask a few questions. What follows is our conversation edited for length (but still kinda long).
Lux: So it looked like the technical difficulties played to your advantage a little bit on that one.
Scott: How do you mean?
Well it was such a personal movie, and it looked a little bit low-fi. It really gave it that home video aspect.
When we did the animations, I asked specifically of the animator… I said to her, “I want it to look low tech.” The whole film is raw. I didn’t hide the boom. I wanted it to look raw because I knew emotionally it was raw. I wanted it to look like I did it at home.
When did you realize that this movie was about more than just redheads? That it was for anyone who was singled out?
At the beginning, it was just supposed to be light and funny. Then on the first day of the shooting Lou asked me the question, have you ever been bullied in school? We’d been just standing there for an hour and a half before I asked the first girl… I didn’t plan for it to be in the film, but I answered it anyway. In the edit, it was just off to the side, and it was like do I put this in or, not and if I put it in how do I put it in and where? … When we did the thing with the tape, afterwards I thought about stopping the film (the tape he’s referring to is old footage of when he returned home several years before making Being Ginger to interview some of the people who had antagonized him in his youth). I was such a wreck after watching the tape since the day I shot it ten years ago. The last decision I made was to go ahead and put it in and everything else just kinda built up to this is not just a film for redheads. It really isn’t… the biggest headache is when I tell someone about the film they always say “oh I have a redhead friend I’ll let them know,” and it’s like no no no you can come too. It’s not really about being a redhead it’s about being different… My intention was to make it universal. If I just show everything, if I’m completely honest then other people will relate to it who don’t have red hair, and I think I got it for real at the redhead days at the screening when non-redheads were coming up to me and saying thanks for telling their story in the film.
Have you ever had a room react like that to the film?
Every screening. On my website on the screening page right at the bottom are two clips that are about four minutes long that I shot at the redhead days. It’s the build up is anyone gonna show up, how many people are there, and then the audience reaction. To me tonight was actually mild. The thing I love the most is the gasps at the bad stuff … I don’t want sympathy, but I’ll take empathy.
What were the logistics of making this film like for you?
The first twenty minutes were my graduation film at university. I lived in a backpacking hostel the first two years I was working on it to save money. I was working there, so it was free for me to stay there. I work, teach film, worked every manner of job and every penny I made went into the film… It was the good grace of going to a good school, with good classmates who believed in what I was doing and wanted to help me… The first day of shooting was March 19th 2011 and I wrapped it June 2013. It was over two years of shooting. Shoot, edit, shoot, edit, shoot shoot shoot; edit edit edit.
When you were in Austin at UT, was the idea floating around in your head all the way back then?
Well, I think for myself my hair has always been an identifying thing for me. Every nickname I ever had was associated with my hair. I think no matter what field I’d gone into I’d do something with my hair at some point… I notice every redhead in every painting. We were at Musee D’Orsay, and I noticed there were only two redheads in any of the paintings. One of them is the Satan, and the other is a Van Gogh self-portrait. I have no doubt that if I’d been a PHD in art history I would’ve written my thesis on redheads in art. I’m not obsessed with my hair, but it’s been a part of my life the whole way.
I started making a short film when I was a student at UT about a guy who hates his hair and he shaves it all off and becomes a skinhead who hates redheads. He forms a group to kill redheads because he hates them so much because he hates himself, and I had no crew. I had nothing… It didn’t work. The idea was a lot like the episode of South Park, but nothing ever came of it.
That kinda gestated into this in a way.
Yeah, well I got a grant from the Austin Film Society in 2003 for a film called Once Upon A Time In Kentucky… That’s where the archive, the interview with the teacher comes from… That film Once Upon A Time In Kentucky was about me going back to where I grew up to try and find my second grade teacher. I took the camera, and I tracked a bunch of people down and interviewed them and tried to put it together. The truth is that, at the time, I had no experience with production, so it was terrible… A lot of the issues I worked out in that film are then issues I talked about in this film, when I knew what I was doing. This was my way of applying what I did ten years ago.
When was the first time you watched the full length thing with people?
I showed a rough cut to some people about a year ago this week. That was when I told people about this tape, and they said ‘why isn’t it in there?” And I said it’s not about my hair, and they go ‘no we need to see that, we need to see that guy.”
I guess my real question is, when did you screen it for an audience of strangers though?
A real audience would have been in August for the Irish Redhead Convention. I sat in the back of the room and cried the entire time. They were tears of joy at having spent three years working on this film, and really it’s been a twenty-five year journey, and so there’s all of that and dealing with rejection from all of the film festivals. All of those rejections built up and built up. I know the number it’s 336, so yeah it was all of those things. Hearing them laugh at the things that are funny, hearing them be shocked by the things that are shocking, just hearing them respond and when the credits come up hearing the applause. Knowing alright, not only I may be ok at this, which is a nice thing to discover, but also they accept me and they understood what I was doing. That’s the most important part for me.
Totally, well what did it feel like right before that screening started?
Terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought … That’s the way I feel before every screening. That screening in particular, I got on the stage to introduce it and just broke down in tears and couldn’t say a word.
It was a really interesting interview, and I had to leave out a lot of really good parts. What comes through in it though is the real heart of the movie, and that is Scott’s emotional honesty. Talking to a dude he met a few hours ago, he was really willing to share his feelings and his experiences with me, and in the film the same thing happens. You can’t help but root for him, and before you know it whether you’re ginger or not you realize that this movie is about you and your life in a way you’d have never expected. Big thanks to Scott for giving me this opportunity, and thanks to AJ as well for telling all about the redheads here in Austin. The movie is available on Scott’s website http://watch.beingginger.co.uk/by