When most people think of Nashville, they think of country music and cowboy boots. Over the past decade, however, director Matt Riddlehoover has been working to add LGBT filmmaking to that list.
Riddlehoover, who was born in Bermuda and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, moved to Nashville ten years ago to attend Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film. “I had gone to a small arts high school,” Riddlehoover explained. “I looked at bigger schools in Tempe and New York, but Watkins, like my high school, was small and focused on the individual. That drew me [to Nashville].”
Like many young filmmakers, Riddlehoover headed for Los Angeles after school. “I got out there and worked on a couple of projects, but, you know, it’s day and night. When I wasn’t busy with work, it was apparent that LA wasn’t for me. Nashville had become home to me.” So Riddlehoover returned to Nashville and started working on some of his own projects. To date, most of his features have been filmed on site in Nashville.
His first feature, To a Tee (2006)—about a playwright chronically attracted to the wrong type of guy—set Riddlehoover’s course as an independent filmmaker and was his first big break. “It’s funny now,” he said, “but it was MySpace that really helped me find my audience and get exposure for To a Tee.” His second feature, Bookends (2008), solidified that fanbase and established Riddlehoover as an up-and-comer in LGBT filmmaking.
Scenes from a Gay Marriage (2012) marked a second major break in his career. “Scenes was a combination of a couple of scripts that I’d been sitting on for a couple of years,” Riddlehoover explained. It centers on a recently single young man who looks to his upstairs neighbors as role models of a great relationship, until he begins to suspect one of them is having an affair.
“The fans of my earlier work helped me fund the film through a Kickstarter campaign,” Riddlehoover said. That continued support has helped Riddlehoover continue his independent filmmaking, but it was also a sign that his movies had a market. “Scenes performed better than anything I’d made, and it was released by TLA, which helped!” Crowdfunding, he said, provides more than money: “It’s a great way of connecting with people. They get excited about the project, invest in it; they message me and offer support. It’s a great boost!”
While making West Hollywood Motel (2013) in California, Riddlehoover received some fan feedback that made him do something he never planned. “I was shocked to read in customer reviews and online film reviews that fans experienced the ending of Scenes as a cliffhanger!” he said. “The sequel isn’t something I ever imagined writing, but, hearing the audience, I decided to explore where it would go.” So Riddlehoover returned to Nashville and answered his fans with More Scenes from a Gay Marriage (2014). In the sequel, a filmmaker decided to make a movie about how Darren and Joe, from the original, fell in love, but in the process this complicates their relationship.
More Scenes, released theatrically in August, has already begun to have success at film festivals: on September 21, 2014, it was awarded Best Feature (Non-Genre) and Best Feature (Overall), among others, at the 2014 Imaginarium Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. While feedback so far has been limited, Riddlehoover reported, “It has sold out multiple screenings already, and Jared Allman [who plays Joe in Scenes and More Scenes] described a Q&A at one festival as ‘epic.’ So people seem excited.” More Scenes is set for release on DVD and download in December.
But Riddlehoover hasn’t taken time off. He’s just finished shooting his next project, Paternity Leave. The movie, co-written with his fiancé (now husband) Dustin Tittle, is about a man who becomes pregnant. Paternity Leave builds on the reality-bending concept of a male pregnancy in some quite traditional ways. “Basically what Paternity Leave does,” Riddlehoover explained, “is co-opt the traditional family and some of its roles. There’s a total blurring of the lines. I don’t think it was intentional, but watching the footage it’s easy to forget it’s two men.”
This film is thus a bit of a departure from his recent work. As Riddlehoover put it, “Scenes and More Scenes are about loners that meet people and make families out of friend groups. Paternity Leave is explicitly about family: a couple having a biological child, one of the men’s half-sister and her kid are prominent. It’s a more traditional family, however non-traditional it seems.” The movie is written to highlight family, despite the strange concept of male pregnancy: “A quarter of the way through, we find out the pregnancy wasn’t isolated. This cuts out the news frenzy: It's not a movie about a side show.”
Even behind the scenes, Paternity Leave is about family. Riddlehoover and co-writer Tittle have been together officially for about 14 months, though they first met on a blind date seven years ago. Riddlehoover laughed as he explained, “We were both young and we both left thinking, ‘If he liked me, he’ll call me!’ But we did keep in touch. When I moved back to shoot more scenes we fell in love.” By the time of this printing the two will have married.
So how did the two love birds manage to fall in love and work together? “At first, it started with him sending me pieces to edit,” Tittle, who grew up in a family of writers and honed his own writing at Vandy, explained. “He ended up liking [“Loving,” Riddlehoover interjected] what I was doing, and gradually yielded more input to me. It was an amazing way for us to bond. The running joke when we were shooting the movie was that it was our baby and it looks like both of us!” Tittle was quick to point out, though, that this doesn’t work both ways: When he’s working on his web design, “I have to tell him to go away!”
Aside from the co-writers’ love affair, the cast and crew also jelled. Tittle joked that “our cast and crew was just like a real family, the only difference being that everyone got along.” Most of the crew, including Tittle’s best friend Lori Puryear, are from Nashville. But even out-of-towners and the bigger names—Charlie David Dante’s Cove) and Chris Salvatore (the Eating Out franchise)—pitched in with the behind-the-scenes work and helped pull the movie, and their little group, together.
Riddlehoover’s Nashville films do depend on donors like Californian David Peters, who not only helped crowd fund Paternity Leave but also came to Nashville for the entire filming. Peters wasn’t above getting his hands dirty, either, and Riddlehoover said, “He quickly became a part of the movie making family. He was there longer than most of the leads.”
But Nashville gets a good deal of credit. One of the downsides of being an independent filmmaker is a lack of resources. But, as Tittle pointed out, “the scope of Matt’s work is such that we can work on less. And people believe in his work, so resources become available.” Nashville has been generous, Riddlehoover said, adding, “For this film I thought it would be hard to get locations we needed, a doctor’s office for instance, but in the end people offered everything we wanted and more!"
“We are so incredibly proud to have all this happen in Nashville,” Tittle, a Nashville native, said. “It feels right, it feels natural to do this kind of work here. It’s not something that happens here all that much, so it feels good, in my small way and in Matt’s much larger way, to put our mark on this already diverse and thriving city.”
A crowdfunded campaign to cover post production costs raised $7241, which is $2241 over the goal. The monthlong campaign that ended October 9 can be found here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/paternity-leave-post-production-funds
All photos courtesy of http://www.ethanjamesphotography.com/