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FilmOut: Q&A with Nathan Adloff, director of “Nate & Margaret,” having its world premiere in San Diego

(Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News will be previewing the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival, which runs May 30 through June 3 at the historical Birch North Park Theatre. Look for Q&A interviews with celebrities and directors as well as film reviews.)

San Diegans get a rare opportunity to attend a world premiere, when “Nate & Margaret” closes the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival on Sunday, June 3.

Director Nathan Adloff talks to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about his new film, which is loosely based on his own life as a young gay man. Adloff talks about the creative process, how he and co-writer Justin D.M. Palmer hand-crafted a role for actress Natalie West of “Roseanne” fame, and how he found the perfect Nate in fresh-faced actor Tyler Ross.

SDGLN: How did you and your co-writer Justin D.M. Palmer arrive at the plot?

Nathan: Justin and I met in 2008, working the same day job. We became friends fairly quickly after finding out we shared the exact same sense of humor and the desire to write together, and make our own films. After a handful of much smaller projects, we began conceptualizing an outline for our first feature. It was a very different idea early on in the process.

Originally, the idea was that the movie would primarily be based on true stories. Nate was always based on me in college, but the female character was originally much younger and closer to Nate’s age (19). We began fabricating the female character from responses to Craigslist posts asking for “strange & crazy true apartment stories.”

We started getting some pretty great stuff from total strangers, but it all changed when Natalie West came aboard. Justin knew her through the theater community here in Chicago. We met with her a couple of times, pitched the idea of writing the female character for her and began writing the script shortly after. Because Margaret was almost completely fictional, we ended up having to fictionalize Nate more to be able to harmonize their friendship.

SDGLN: This is certainly another Odd Couple pairing of a young gay boy befriending a middle-aged eccentric woman. Isn’t much of the plot based on your own life’s experiences?

Nathan: I suppose I just answered this question, but yes it started to feel right when we switched gears in writing Margaret to be much older than Nate. In our original outline, many more true stories from my college times were in there. ... When I invited a homeless man into my trailer (yes, I lived in a trailer for a while in college), later finding out he was the man who broke in a couple of weeks earlier and took all of my DVDs. I think we’ll be keeping that little gem for a future film project. No stealing! Haha.

There are still many true pieces in “Nate & Margaret.” I made bad decisions on who I dated, got burgled more than once and studied filmmaking.

SDGLN: How important was it to the plot to have a gay angle? Do you consider the film to be mainstream or the LGBT niche?

Nathan: It really never came up as a discussion between Justin and me. Nate was always, at least in fragments, based on myself. And I’m, like, gay ...

Justin and I wrote this film for both gay and straight audiences. The last thing I wanted the movie to be was a typical gay movie -- the kind that has a group of shirtless jocks on the poster ... or where they all end up sleeping with each other ... or having a big Lifetime moment of coming out of the closet. There’s certainly a big audience for those types of movies, some of which I enjoy. We wanted to make a film that had gay characters in it, but didn’t necessarily fall under the LGBT category.

We’ve been getting positive responses from both gay and straight audiences. Our world premiere is in a gay film festival [FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival] and we’ve been accepted into some others. On the filp side, we’ll be playing theatrically in both Chicago and New York City at theaters that don’t primarily screen queer films.

SDGLN: How did you arrive at the casting of Tyler Ross as Nate and Natalie West as Margaret?

Nathan: I had seen a rough cut of my friend Stephen Cone’s “The Wise Kids” a few months before we began casting. Tyler had a lead role in that film and I immediately thought of him for the role. I was in a zone where I was thinking about young male actors in that way while watching movies and TV shows. We auditioned quite a few actors for the role, but he was just so right for it.

We didn’t need to hold auditions for the role of Margaret, since we had the honor of writing the role for Natalie West. As stated earlier, we pitched the idea to her and the rest is history.

SDGLN: Tyler Ross has relatively little acting experience, yet he sunk his teeth into this major starring role? How much coaching did you have to do, or is Tyler a natural?

Nathan: I knew he was extremely talented after seeing “The Wise Kids.” He has actually acted quite a bit, primarily in theater, which I’ve also seen him in. His audition sealed the deal.

SDGLN: Natalie West is a veteran of stage, film and TV, and many folks will remember her as Crystal on “Roseanne.” How did Natalie, with her vast experience, perceive her role on the set, working with such young talent?

Nathan: Natalie is just the coolest. She was on board from the beginning. Justin and I would meet up with her for coffee, update her on what we were writing for her and she totally embraced it. She got to meet with Tyler only a couple of times before we began shooting. They got along really well from the get-go and I am so thrilled with the result!

SDGLN: Were Margaret’s comedy skits improv or scripted, and why did you choose this method?

Nathan: Great question! They were actually all scripted. A good friend of ours, Kristen Toomey, is a stand-up comedian and she wrote most of the jokes for Margaret. We did allow Natalie (and the whole cast) to improvise lines in some scenes, but it was really important to us that we saw a clear progression in Margaret’s stand-up career. She needed to totally bomb and be awful in the beginning and slowly improve and get more laughs throughout the rest of the movie.

SDGLN: Landing Gaby Hoffmann (“Field of Dreams,” “This Is My Life,” “Now and Then,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “13,” among others) was a coup. What did she bring to the table?

Nathan: Working with Gaby was a dream. I was so lucky to have been able to cast her. I’ve been a fan for a long time and she was so lovely and giving on set. She was up for anything I threw at her and there was absolutely zero ego. It was a wonderful experience and in a small way, she kind of steals the movie!

SDGLN: The June 3 screening at FilmOut San Diego will make the world premiere. Have you shown the film to test audiences, and if so, what have their reactions been?

Nathan: I am very excited to be premiering as the closing night film in FilmOut! Michael and Ana at the festival have been so kind and gracious getting everything set up. We did have a test screening of a rough cut last year, where I was able to hand out surveys. The response was tremendously positive! The feedback we got was indispensable and I’m so grateful we had that chance to make the final version that much better.

SDGLN: From concept to finish, how long did it take you to bring “Nate & Margaret” to the screen?

Nathan: The writing process began in the summer of 2009. The original concept evolved quite a bit compared to what’s in the final film. Meeting my producer, Ash Christian, at a film festival in late 2010 was what really started this whole thing becoming a reality. After lots of planning over the course of the next year, we were able to shoot the film in just two weeks last summer -- almost exactly a year ago!

SDGLN: How important is it to you that you are based in Chicago, which appropriately is the setting for the movie?

Nathan: It was really important to us that the story takes place in Chicago. Most of the locations were only a few blocks from each other in West Town. It was originally written to take place in Humboldt Park. We do see Nate and Margaret riding their bikes through Humboldt, but after living in West Town for almost three years, it started to make sense to shoot it there. Many of the locations that were written into the script, we ended up getting to shoot there, such as The Breakfast Club and Green Grocer.

SDGLN: With this film, you surrounded yourself with some folks you worked with before: Justin Palmer (co-writer) and Brian Levin (director of photography/editor). What makes this important to you?

Nathan: It was important to me that we all felt comfortable and that I felt confident the film would turn out the very best it could be, within our means. I had no doubts that Justin and I would come up with the script I wanted to shoot and that Brian would shoot it beautifully. Brian is also an amazing editor, colorist and special effects guru.

SDGLN: You and Justin have another movie project in the works, right? What else is on your horizon?

Nathan: We do! We have a few projects brewing, but the next one we are currently writing is called “Miles.” The story is, again, based on my life. This time, it’s based on my junior high/high school years in small town Illinois. I suppose it could be seen as a prequel to “Nate & Margaret,” but we aren’t going about it with that mind-set.

The story centers around a young, openly gay high school student who is the only guy to join the girls volleyball team. Growing up in such a small town, there wasn’t a guy’s team so they had to let me join. We’re also including other true happenings such as meeting guys in AOL chat rooms, working at the local movie theater and trying to go to college in Chicago but not being able to due to my father dying and leaving a giant debt with my mom after buying his secret mistress a $30,000 car no one knew about.

SDGLN: After starring in “Blackmail Boys,” with its steamy sex scenes, do you plan to continue your acting career as well?

Nathan: Absolutely! I’ve been busy writing and directing, but love acting and hope to do more of it in the near future.

SDGLN: What is something that your fans don’t know about you?

Nathan: I was the only guy on the girls volleyball team in junior high! OK, I already gave that one away ... Here’s a really embarrassing one. When I was younger, I was a hardcore Beanie Baby collector. Oh lord, that’s out there in the world now. No turning back. I sold them all, by the way. I’m over it. I am. I promise.

SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, how would you use them?

Nathan: I really like Michael D. Akers’ response. Can I use that one too? Ok, how about being able to stop time, eradicate disease and the ability to fly! Honestly, I’d ask for infinite wishes, but that’d be a copout, yes?

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.

The details

Sunday, June 3 – 8:15pm – CLOSING NIGHT
Sponsored by SD PIX and SDGLN
Co-presented by CICA

“Nate & Margaret” (2012), directed by Nathan Adloff, 80 minutes, USA
World premiere

Nate is 19, an aspiring filmmaker. Margaret is 52, an aspiring stand-up comedian. Their quirky friendship is put to a test when Nate reveals to his spinster friend that he has his first boyfriend. Tyler Ross plays Nate and Natalie West plays Margaret.

Closing Night Party

The Closing Night Party will be in the lobby between North Park Theatre and West Coast Tavern. The restaurant and bar will provide complimentary food.

Tickets for the Closing Night film cost $10, and the Closing Night Party is free.

Where: Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104

Tickets: $10. Order online HERE.

Festival Pass: $125 – providing access to all movies and parties Click HERE to purchase a pass.

Tickets are also being sold for Opening Night film, the Opening Night Party and the combo pass. Click HERE.