The Rainbow Hub recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Karyn Ben Singer, writer, director, and producer of the upcoming feature Probable Robot.
TRH: First off, thank you for taking the time to sit down for an interview with us!
Karyn: Not a problem, I’m very thrilled to be asked to do this.
TRH: I’ll get right to it. I saw your campaign, I read the first line at the top of the page, and I thought finally. There’s been a surge of movies with LGBTQ content come out, but an overwhelming majority of them seem to deal exclusively with, as you mention on your campaign site, “the LGBTQ experience” and not anything else. What pushed you to want to write beyond that?
Karyn: First and foremost, as a writer and as a filmmaker, I just love story and character. I’m a fan of genre pieces: horror, sci-fi, all the good weird stuff… and I just like to entertain. So, it just makes sense to approach something like this that reflects who I am, but isn’t so centered around that particular aspect.
TRH: Right. As important as films like Prayers for Bobby are, it’s equally important that we get to see ourselves across the board. There seems to be a real lack of LGBTQ stories in genre films especially. So when we saw “Clerks meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers for generation Netflix, written/directed by a Ladygay”, we thought “BINGO”. That’s a story we want to see.
Karyn: It’s the story I want to see, too. I tend to create the kinds of things that I would tend to want to watch on a Saturday afternoon. We need goofy films, just as much as we need the serious important stuff. Laughter and an hour and a half of fun escape are equally as important and they’re a little easier to share with friends when everyone isn’t awkwardly weeping into their popcorn.
TRH: So we won’t be seeing The Fault in Our Robots with this story?
Karyn: Heh, no.
TRH: I see that our two main characters, ex-girlfriends working at opposite retail shops, are faced with an impending robot invasion. On your campaign page, you specifically say “They haven’t gotten along since their break-up, though the impending robot invasion may be slightly more important than their relationship drama.”
Now, personally I love a good awkward llama relationship between protagonists. What made you want to start from that stage in their lives as opposed to girl meets girl, robots attack?
Karyn: Because almost every single movie I can think of that features a lesbian/bisexual storyline starts at that early relationship stage. One of them meets the other and is intrigued and has to sort out their own life details while the other maybe pines for them or is oblivious or whatever. And it’s not that it’s a bad set-up for a story. Imagine Me & You is a favorite of mine, but it’s not where I wanted to start.
I want to show two people who know each other, who are settled into their identities, who aren’t dealing with coming out, and then let’s just add the delight of an awkward break up so they can’t stand being in the same room together, because that’s fun. And that’s life. Especially in my experience with a smallish town lesbian community. Everyone knows everyone else and you can’t particularly escape them, even if you’re split up.
TRH: So sort of “happily ever after honeymoon wore off, and now we’re dealing with the rest of the world.”
Karyn: Yeah, something like that. With the addition of, “I hate that you know me so well.”
TRH: That’s true. And I don’t see that explored very often. Part of the reason being around an ex is so awkward is because they know you so well.
Karyn: Yes, and you can’t just BS your way through something, because they’ll call you on it, in front of everyone else. In the case of our characters, there’s also the element of your ex still being friends with your family, as well. So it’s all those great boundaries being crossed. Which I don’t think we see much of that in general, let alone LGBTQ stories.
TRH: Definitely. And on top of that, Mona and Jules are going to find themselves facing down robots. That can’t make the situation any easier.
Karyn: That’s what makes it kind of the ideal story. What does it take to get two stubborn people to actually set aside their petty crap and understand each other? A robot takeover, apparently.
TRH: That would probably do the trick. And what of the invaders? Can you tell us anything about them? Are they trying to take over the world? Television airwaves? The local mechanic shop?
Karyn: They’re your typical creepy body snatching robots disguised as humans. They’re less invaders from another world and more like we should probably be careful with what we’re trying to invent. I’m a little obsessed with humankind’s inability to heed warnings from our own science fiction. My favorite description of them, so far, is that they’re kind of like Siri, but if she was one of those door-to-door evangelists. Super polite, but intense and she’ll pull up the wrong Google map and get you lost if she’s feeling sassy that day.
TRH: And Siri will inherit the earth.
Karyn: And she’ll probably do it quietly with the next mandatory update.
TRH: Sounds like Jules and Mona will will have their work cut out for them.
Karyn: They do. And they’re not alone in the fight. They have a team of friends/co-workers who rally together. And the retail employee aspect of this film is also important to me. In an age of the disappearing middle class, I want to let the hourly wage earners be heroes, because I’ve been there, behind the counter. And, really, killer robots may be preferable to certain types of customers.
TRH: As someone who worked in the fast food industry, I would have to agree. I might just take a Siri-overlord over an impatient customer. We kind of also see a tie-in with several in the LGBTQ community, who ARE working hourly jobs. It’s refreshing, because there’s a bit of a stereotype of wealthy to well-off white gay men.
Karyn: I mean, I watched my fair share of Queer as Folk and enjoyed it, but seriously. Almost all those guys were working amazing jobs or making good money somehow. Same with The L Word. That’s kind of a trope for a lot of mainstream flicks as well. Someone’s usually working for an ad agency or a magazine in some office in Manhattan. Which is fine. I love a good New York City romance. But I also want to see everyday people. That’s what the indie film movement in the 90’s tapped into, because filmmakers were forced to use what they had access to. I’m trying to tap into that same sensibility. Let’s take a look at people who maybe don’t have big city aspirations. That’s what frustrates Jules about Mona, actually. Mona works retail, she’s a supervisor and she’s okay with that. Jules is an artist and she can’t understand why someone would just settle for mediocrity. That’s something real people argue about.
TRH: Absolutely. And I can imagine Jules is especially frustrated with how we treat artists now and the expectation so many have for “payment by exposure” to boot.
Karyn: It’s also incredibly difficult to put a price on your own artistic expression. You want to be able to tell people what it’s worth, but how do you know?
TRH: Definitely. Like you say Jules, Mona, and their friends come together, so do a group of people to get a project like this made. You’ve got two other titles to your name, and you’re aiming for a bigger budget this time. Can you briefly lay out why the rest of the community’s support is so important?
Karyn: I think it’s important, in general, to support independent projects that are reflective of the community. Even if it’s not particularly tied into your specific identity, I think it’s crucial to encourage that expression. Because the only way the rest of the world is going to see and know and understand anything about the necessity of equality is if there’s material out there.
I think backing projects in the way that Indiegogo and Kickstarter have allowed within the last few years is brilliant, because it allows individuals to feel a sense of ownership of something. I want supporters of Probable Robot to really understand that they’re critical in bringing this project to life. That’s so important.
You know that feeling when you decide to go see a movie on opening night and you pay the full ticket price and buy popcorn and the whole evening probably sets you back twenty bucks, but the movie is really, really good? And you’re able to say, “I saw that in the theater!” when other people are discovering it on Netflix. That feeling of being a step ahead? Of taking a chance and feeling great about the outcome? That’s what I want people to feel. And I truly hope we can live up to that.
TRH: So outside of donating, what else can people do to help your project?
Karyn: Spread the word. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. My personal circle is only so big and reaching beyond that is only going to happen if other people share links and retweet things. I have a great campaign staff who are diligent about circulating info, but we’re still only about a half dozen people. So, the more people who talk about this film, the bigger that radius becomes and that’s more people who will probably support the film on the other side of things, once it’s released, because they’ve heard something about it, already.
TRH: Thanks again for setting down to speak with us, and we look forward to seeing Jules and Mona battling off Siri come 2015!
Karyn: Thanks so much for having me!