In Between the Gutter and the Stars
Written and Directed by Diana Lesmez
Produced by Charles Miller, Gabi Ilioiu, and Diana Lesmez
DIrector of Photograhy: Chuy Chávez (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0161636/ )
IN BETWEEN THE GUTTER AND THE STARS (the title is inspired by an Oscar Wilde quote: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”), is an offbeat, gender-bending, coming-of-middle-age, love story between two people who belong together, if they’d only learn how to get out of their own way.
Struggling actress, FANNIE (30s), suffering from deep-rooted personal disempowerment, knows that much more is possible in life, but she just can't quite figure out how to attain it. Therefore, she wiles away the hours, eking out a living from a variety of odd jobs, and failing to pursue her dreams of stardom. After hitting rock bottom, gradually she starts to realize that the only way to create the life that she envisions for herself is by taking small steps forward, which propel her toward conquering her worst fears. In the meantime, however, the object of her affection, DANIEL (30s), who symbolizes a balanced existence between his male and female personas, serves as a voice of reason, challenging her to become the person that she envisions herself being. They’re so naturally suited for each other, if it weren’t for Fannie’s overwhelming neuroses. Not one to give up easily, Daniel sees in her what is possible. The sparks that fly between them emanate not just from mutual sexual tension, but from their being each other’s best friend as well. Daniel can serve as a proper role model in Fannie’s quest, by being true to himself and risking her rejection when he finally admits his attraction toward her. Eventually, Fannie will have to do the same for him. Together, they make an unusual couple, but one that is perfectly suited for each other precisely because of their charming “oddities.”
Director's Statement by Diana Lesmez
This gem of a short film is an offbeat, gender-bending, coming-of-middle-age love story.
This project was born out of personal rejection. The idea emerged when I learned/realized that someone I was attracted to was not at all into me. Unfortunately, by that point, I had fallen into that trap that many women fall into–listening to girlfriends who, with nothing but the best of intentions, are only too eager to dissect his behavior and then feed a fantasy of possibilities. Deep down inside, however, I suspected the truth, which eventually he himself confirmed. Coping with rejection is a lot easier to accomplish if you're confident enough to recognize that his non-interest is not a reflection of your lack of worthiness. Quite simply: every person has a right to feel however he or she feels–I had a right to be into him, and he had a right to not be into me.
As I moped about, licking my wounds, I started to formulate the idea that I could channel into a short film how I felt. And I began the creative process by asking that limitless question, "What if?" knowing that there are an infinite number of answers to it....
Transcending personal rejection as the source of inspiration for the project, I then chose to connect it with what I believe to be a widening chasm between men and women. For quite some time, I have been observing the dynamics of coupledom, noticing that most pairings do not seem truly happy together. Spilling through the cracks of their happy façades is passive aggressive hostility aimed at each other. My personal observations led me to conduct some research on the subject matter. I found innumerable articles and books that corroborate what I have personally evidenced: that couples might choose to stay together for any number of practical reasons but most are not actually happy together. One recent study indicates that out of every 10 married couples, only 3 are truly happy in their relationships.
So then what makes the relationships of those couples in the minority (in terms of their levels of happiness), work so well? Very quickly, I started to notice one common trait amongst them. Couples who are happy together are mating with their best friends. Since we know that sexual chemistry can wane after a while, particularly if there's no other foundation to sustain the relationship with the passage of time, then there has to be a more grounding element to level out the ups and downs of being together for an extended period of time--perhaps a lifetime.
I also observed that happy couples, who are in love with their best friends, have a particularly organic way of comprehending the nuances of the opposite gender. The female might not understand the male as a whole, but she can identify with their mutual commonalities, while appreciating those traits that make him distinctly masculine. And vice versa. In these relationships, both males and females appreciate the other gender without overwhelming biases. And once those preconceived notions about what it means to be a man or a woman are removed from the relationships, the couples are left appreciating each other simply as individuals.
So I began to mull over the idea for a short film, in which a woman and a man belong together not simply because they're attracted to each other, but rather because they genuinely and wholly appreciate the opposite gender. He authentically loves women, ergo he is able to genuinely appreciate this particular woman in his life, and she authentically loves men, ergo she genuinely embraces this particular man in her life. The only obstacle in their way is when they allow the intrusion of outside influences to tilt them off balance and affect how they view each other and define themselves.
In selecting the cast, I wanted to focus on diversity and universality. A middle-aged woman struggling to find her way through life is not an organically ethnically centered “type.” In fact, almost any woman or man in any corner of the world could probably identify with Fannie’s self-created story of limitations and her very real need to overcome these, if she’s ever to become a happy and prosperous person. Similarly, women and men can identify on various levels with Daniel, the cross-dressing, self-confident paramour, who appears to take calculated risks. Thus, in the film, the characters are of a certain ethnic background that informs their identity but does not stereotypically overwhelm it. Above all, this is a human story.
In terms of the visual expression of the central theme, I chose to make a film that would be visually stimulating with the incorporation of a broad and vibrant color palette, which would reflect the essence of the two main characters. For Fannie’s character, her apartment is warm and colorful, but often also stark. She has an internal energy and passion that is fighting to be released upon the world, and in the meantime merely escapes a little into her immediate surroundings. Daniel’s color palette is an extension of himself, via his female persona. He has evolved into a space in which he celebrates his existence via the use of bright hues.
To capture and reflect the emotional and physical distance between Fannie and Daniel, as well as to serve the central theme of the exploration of the chasm that seems to permeate male and female dynamics, I chose a cinematic style of shooting in which the camera remains slightly afar. The close-ups come later in the film, once the intimacy between the two lovers is allowed to emerge in synch. In the first half of the film, there is a physical world that they simultaneously occupy together but at a safe distance from each other, for they have constructed barriers to keep each other out, despite their mutual attraction. By the end, the camera is intimately involved with their free and open expression of love, practically crawling onto the sofa with them. In those final moments, the camera invites the audience to experience the unabashedly and joyful celebration of whole-hearted loving.