Project pinklight

For his upcoming ‘Pit Stop,’ Texas filmmaker Yen Tan tackles another gay romance

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THE BUSINESS OF SHOW Yen Tan hopes to raise money for a spring start date to shoot ‘Pit Stop,’ about small town gay life in Texas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/ Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Writing coaches often tell authors, “Write what you know.” But for Yen Tan, the more interesting assignment is, “Write what you can’t get out of your head.”
Back in 2004 — when he was still living in Dallas, Tan wrote a draft screenplay called Pit Stop, about two gay men in small-town Texas who begin a romance. It wasn’t anything he knew about from personal experience.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what drew me to the story,” he says. “I have a tendency to pick up on things that don’t register with others. Being gay and middle class in small-town America is very foreign to me — it’s odd there are gay people who choose to live in small towns. What’s the decision behind that?”

He liked the script, but he couldn’t seem to get it off the ground financially or creatively. Instead, he made Ciao, which became his biggest hit as a filmmaker (it scored an honorable mention at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival in 2008). But Pit Stop drifted around in the back of his head until 2009, when he submitted it to the OutFest L.A. screenwriting lab.

“Hearing the comments by other filmmakers, I knew I had something and had underestimated its potential,” he says. Tan immediately started in on rewrites, including making the cast more diversified.

“The big change in the script is that two major characters are Latino now. It was all-white originally, but that was not entirely accurate of the Texas landscape,” Tan says. He also consulted with colleagues to make sure he got the feel of Podunk, Texas right.

“Thankfully I’m a bit paranoid about those things,” he laughs. “I would verify and re-verify [what I wrote about small-town Texas and gay Latinos]. I’d ask my friends who know, ‘Is this right or just totally made up?’ And I usually rely on my actors to put it right — is this what an American would say or is it totally ESL [English as a Second Language]? But I am also trying to make these elements work within the framework of my ideas.”

The issue now isn’t the script — it’s getting the film made. He hopes to begin filming in the spring, either around Austin or in the DFW area, but needs to raise money first. Tan was lucky enough to snag a grant targeted to Texas filmmakers, but he also wants to raise money from individual investors. That’s why this week, he’s teaming with OutTakes Dallas and the Texas Theatre to showcase his movie and allow people to contribute via United States Artists, a high-prestige donation site that allows people to make tax-deductible contributions and comes with matching grants.

“We’ll be showing clips from Ciao and do a staged reading of some scenes from Pit Stop,” he explains. “We’re also trying to set up Internet stations so people can donate on the spot. But to me it’s not about raising all the money at one time — just to kick it off.” He’s still trying to set up his goals for the fundraising, but Tan estimates something less than $20,000 would make a huge difference. In fact, he’s learned how to do more with less ever since moving to Austin last year.

“People are doing stuff with very little resources there — they just make do. You kinda have to put less emphasis on monetary stuff because someone right next to you is doing the same for $10.”

He’s looking forward to finally getting the cameras rolling.

“After making films all these years, the most gratifying part is production itself,” he says.” Once a film is finished and you’re going to the festivals… it’s fun but it gets old quickly. I know enough by now that that’s really the part that makes me not want to make another film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fighting the normalcy bias

David Webb

Gas pump sticker shock brings home some hard lessons we all need to learn

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

After months of ignoring it, sticker shock at the gas pump has finally registered in my consciousness. And that moment of enlightenment has led me to do a little research about economics.

I now know that I’ve been acting exactly how the experts predict the average consumer will when faced with an unprecedented personal experience.

It all started when I filled up my gas tank at a service station in Oak Lawn the other day, and the tab came to more than $60 for just a few drops more than 15 gallons.

It occurred to me as I drove off that using a credit card at self-service pumps could lead someone to be blindsided in a big way when the monthly bills arrive.

I drive a modest four-cylinder sedan, so I don’t even want to consider what people who drive big gas guzzlers are paying to fill up — not to mention the shock that could be in store for them at the end of the month.

To put things in perspective, I started driving when I was 14 and at that time — I’m talking about nearly a half-century ago — gas cost about 33 cents per gallon. If I’m figuring correctly, I think that’s about a 1,200 percent increase in my lifetime of driving.

Admittedly, talking about price increases that have occurred over a 50-year period, the increase might not seem so radical. But just a little over a decade ago, gas cost less than $2 per gallon. It cost me less than $30 to fill up a similar car’s gas tank back then.

If it were only gas that had increased in price, it might not seem like such a big deal. But everything that we require to go about our daily lives, such as groceries and clothes, has increased just as dramatically.

Even the price of beer, which one needs in order to cope with the stress of all the other high prices, has skyrocketed.

We’ve all been warned for a long time by people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s that hard times could be coming. But most of us never took those predictions seriously.

After my gas pump experience the other day my research revealed that my delayed awareness of the seriousness of the situation is not abnormal. In fact, it is a condition that is known as “normalcy bias.”

Basically, what that means is that if a person or group of people have never experienced a type of disaster or other traumatic experience, they tend to discount the possibility of it ever occurring.

I assume that’s why — despite the repeated warnings that prices for gas and everything else that depends on energy for its production and distribution would be going through the ceiling — that so many of us have ignored the threat.

It’s clearer to me today than it was a week ago that all of us could be on the brink of making some pretty severe changes in our lifestyle to cope with the economic hardships that appear to be on the horizon. Considering the numbers of people who are unemployed, surviving on food stamps or even homeless, there’s a real crisis out there that most of us just don’t fully comprehend.

What’s really scary is that all of the states and local governments are bankrupt and are quickly becoming unable to help support people who are in trouble. The federal government is in the same shape, and the dollar is losing its value quickly.

An even scarier scenario is that many people live beyond their means and amass big debts that will crush them should they become unemployed or lose a paycheck for any other reason.

Again, someone who has never lost a job or been unable to find one may not realize that it could indeed happen to them as well, according to the “normalcy bias” theory.

One of the examples of “normalcy bias” afflicting a whole group of people reportedly occurred in Germany in the 1930s when Jewish people who had lived in the country for generations failed to realize the dangers they faced from Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party. These intelligent, affluent, accomplished and sophisticated people simply were unable to comprehend what was about to happen to them.

Some things are out of our direct, individual control as regards what could happen to the economy. But there is something that everyone probably needs to do in troubling times: I now remember financial experts on talk shows recently advising people to get out of debt, stay out of debt, start foregoing some luxuries, build a strong cash reserve to take care of basic needs and fill pantries with nonperishable foods.

Until my moment of awareness at the gas pump the other day, I might have considered such a plan to be a little alarmist, because like most people I know, I’ve never gone without anything. But that could change.

Now, it just seems like good common sense.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright