Film Scouts Interviews

"The Celluloid Closet" Press Conference
at the 1995 New York Film Festival

by Henri Béhar

Monday, October 9, 1995

Present: ROB EPSTEIN and JEFFREY FRIEDMAN, co-directors

QUESTION: Any of you knew Vito Russo, who died in 1990 and on whose eponymous book "The Celluloid Closet" is based, and was he aware of the project?

ROB EPSTEIN: Yes. We came up with the first outline in 1986.

QUESTION: Some of your interviewees as well as some of the performers in the film clips you selected are gay, although they are assumed to be heterosexual. Why are they not identified for what they are?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: The film is not about outing, but about the evolution of gay stereotypes in Hollywood movies. As far as Rock Hudson is concerned--a gay man playing a straight man playing a gay man ("Pillow Talk")--we just found Armistead Maupin's telling of the story irresistible. Harvey Fierstein presents himself as gay. People here are either gay, or not; they simply have an insider's--or incisive--knowledge about the productions they're talking about.

ROB EPSTEIN: We asked them to speak from their own perspective.

2. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (a budget)

QUESTION: Budget at the beginning and at the end?

ROB EPSTEIN: The budget evolved over the years it took to make the film, since at the beginning we couldn't know how many clips we'd need to dupe or we'd be able to get. The final budget was $1.5 million. We could have done it on video, or as a "guerrilla" movie; we felt it should be a big screen movie.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: Videowise, we'd raised $ 500,000. Then we sort of hit a wall, until HBO kicked in.

ROB EPSTEIN: (England's) Channel 4 came to us and gave us development money, then (Franco-German channel) ZDF-Arte came in, based on the written project and assembled footage.

QUESTION: The end titles also mention a series of individual donors, which is an original way of financing a movie. Was it the result of a fund-raising campaign?

ROB EPSTEIN: Yes, and that brought us close to $150,000. We sent a letter signed by Lily Tomlin telling about the project; 4000 people answered.


QUESTION: Are there still pockets of homophobia in Hollywood, and particularly in at the studios, that may have denied you access to any crucial material?

ROB EPSTEIN: Charlton Heston! (Laughs)

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: We were refused some footage from "The Agony and the Extasy", because Charlton Heston insisted Michelangelo was not gay. Richard Burton's estate denied us access to "Alexander the Great". We were not allowed to use "Hans Christian Andersen" because they thought we were out to "out" Danny Kaye when our purpose was to deal with Andersen's homosexuality. Some lawyer was worried about Cole Porter...

ROB EPSTEIN: The studios actually gave us great cooperation.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: Howard Rosenman, one of our producers, helped a lot: he knew exactly whom to call. It's true, the studios gave us unlimited access to their vaults.

QUESTION: Why is there no mention of "Midnight Cowboy"?

ROB EPSTEIN: The film was already too long.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: And we never found way to really do it justice.

ROB EPSTEIN: Sometimes we had five films to illustrate one point. That's how we discussed it.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: A good example is "Looking for Mr. Goodbar", in which all of a sudden, the killer is gay. It's not in the film because we felt the point was already made by "Freebie and the Bean" and by "Cruising".

QUESTION: Are there gay subjects that still cannot be presented in a Hollywood picture?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: Love scenes between two men, even if they're shot the same way a heterosexual love scene would be in a PG-13

ROB EPSTEIN: And gay movie stars. Not that many are out.
QUESTION: Would a studio finance a gay narrative film?

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: Yes, of course. Ours was trying to reach out beyond gay audiences, but I think it has to do with how you approach the material, rather than "doing a gay film".

ROB EPSTEIN: I think we're on a threshold of change now. Hence the cautious optimism at the end of the film.

QUESTION: What would encourage closeted gays in the industry to come out?

ROB EPSTEIN: It's an ongoing discussion. "They won't buy an openly gay actor in a heterosexual scene" Maybe actors beyond love scenes...? I don't believe it's true personally. If you believe in the character and in the scene, it should work.

JEFFREY FRIEDMAN: There's a difference between "actor" and "movie star". Actors are supposed to take you into the character they portray. Movie stars are presumed identical in real life to their characters on screen. Variations on their own personality... The ending is hopeful, but it's not a happy ending. Certainly progress has been made. But the last bit of interview you see still indicates conservatism in H'wood.

ROB EPSTEIN: Based on historical momentum, as the line says, "New voices gay have emerged, not apologetic". That's going to move forward, not backward.


ROBERT EPSTEIN has been honored with two Academy Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Peabody Awards and three Emmy Awards for his film and television work, which includes "Word Is Out" (1975) and "The Times of Harvey Milk". JEFFREY FRIEDMAN has worked as an editor in film and television since 1972, and has acted professionally in New York and San Francisco. Co-directors of "The Celluloid closet", the two men had already collaborated on "Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt" in 1990.

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