Lena Beug Shares Insights on the Filmmaking Craft Behind ADC Award Winner “What’s Love,” RPA’s Powerful PSA Series for the Los Angeles LGBT Center
“The task at hand was to capture the feeling of heartbreak, to let the viewer in, let them feel something, let them connect with these teenagers in a way that is altogether vulnerable, soft, loud and powerful.”
“What’s Love,” a campaign directed by Station Film’s Lena Beug for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, shines a light on teens coming out and the importance of compassion and acceptance. Those themes resound this LGBT Pride Month and also coincide with the recent historical Supreme Court ruling that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination. “What’s Love” first debuted during National Coming Out Day, October 11th. The PSA series from agency RPA centers around several teenagers who are struggling with the challenges of coming out, and conveys the important role their family plays in the process. Part 1 features their parents as unaccepting of their sexuality, neither loving nor supportive, while Part 2 is a sharp juxtaposition, depicting the world of difference their parents’ love and support makes when their teens come out. “What’s Love” was honored recently with a Silver Cube at the ADC Awards in Design for Good, Motion/Film Craft. Lena shared some insights about the filmmaking craft that helped bring these important stories to life.
Q: What were your objectives creating the art direction for “What’s Love,” including color, props, costume design, shotmaking, etc.
LB: When we make films, we’re telling stories with pictures. It sounds obvious but we are crafting an image – one that hopefully makes us feel things. It’s a bit like a painting, we use light and shadow, color (or lack thereof), composition, movement and the objects we choose to see – to create a narrative or an emotion.
So all those decisions – the location, the wardrobe, the props – they really matter, especially for a spot like this, and with a less than huge budget, you need to be judicious; to use your dollars wisely, it forces you to think about what’s really important. The task at hand was to capture the feeling of heartbreak, to let the viewer in, let them feel something, let them connect with these teenagers in a way that is altogether vulnerable, soft, loud and powerful.
In terms of location and color palette, I immediately thought of a house I’d shot in about ten years ago. I knew it had that hallway – not an easy find as it turns out – but such an important shot for the narrative of loneliness, and it also had a very particular quality of light. Having said that, when we got there the hallway had been painted white which just wasn’t going to work, so we found the money from somewhere and painted it green again. And aged it. Because a white hallway doesn’t make you feel the same as a dark dusty green one does.
On the surface this is such a simple spot, but it was really important to me that there be a lot under the surface, a hint at the bigger feelings just out of reach. These are complicated stories, complicated moments, full of yearning and heartbreak and confusion and pain and it was important to me to recognize and respect that.
Q: How did these elements shift with the mood for the spot with the parents who were understanding?
LB: In a way this transition was very simple. It was about letting some light in. Not just contrasting the darker more somber heartbreak scenes with actual light coming in through the curtains, but also with a sense of lightness, humor and compassion – that which can only come with honesty and acceptance. The idea that there is help out there, and that really the only thing you need to do when your LGBTQ teen comes out is Love Them is a simple message, but also a powerful one. And showing this in a visceral way, somehow makes it feel possible.
Q: Were these real people or actors? What were the casting calls like? Where is the casting pool from?
LB: We did the casting with Shane Liem (Shane Casting) and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. It was a combination of real people and actors. They self-taped and told their personal stories (after which we brought them in for callbacks). I think it’s fair to say that most of us involved in the project wept our way through a lot of the casting tapes, the stories were heartbreaking and eye-opening. We had so many submissions and so many real and personal stories – you sort of know you’re on to a good thing when there’s such an active desire from all these people to participate.
Q: What led you to engage with RPA on this cause-related campaign in the first place?
LB: [RPA Creative Director] Krystle Mullin who is a champion of the LGBTQ community, came to me with the concept while we were on another job. It is a story that is close to her heart, something she truly cares about – and listening to her talk about it and hearing the song – there was something really powerful there. She and [Creative Director] Ariel Shukert and I had done a couple of jobs and really enjoy working together. Isadora Chesler, head of production at RPA, was another force in terms of bringing it to life; between us all and our connections, we made it happen. It was old school, lo fi – we had photographs of everyone’s car, to try and find the perfect one for our shoot. (It ended up being generously loaned by our gaffer.)
On a personal level, I grew up in rural Ireland, in the ‘70s which was a very different country from the one it is now. Being different in any way was frowned upon. It was a homogenous and ultra-Catholic community. While Ireland has, in the space of a generation, changed from being an overwhelmingly conservative country to being a very liberal one, legalizing gay marriage in 2015, there are many parts of this country that feel as close-minded as the old Ireland, the one I grew up in. If I can play a tiny part in changing that, I consider it to be a privilege.
Mostly in advertising we sell things. But we also have the power to do so much more, we have the power to move people, to make them think, pause and reassess. That is an amazing opportunity. So when this came along, I immediately wanted to engage.