Meet The Filmmakers Tackling The Anger Behind LGBT Suicide
It isn’t easy to create beauty out of tragedy. Every year, thousands of teens attempt or commit suicide because of their sexual identity and, as a whole, LGBTQ teens are two or three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. It’s a crisis that has played out across television and movie screens for years as characters struggle and fail to overcome the circumstances they’re stuck in. When Zachary Kemper, 20, and Brandon Zuck, 33, came together to create what would ultimately become the short film A Song for Your Mixtape, their focus didn’t fall back on the familiar trope of a gay teen trying and failing to overcome their suicidal thoughts—they were more interested in what comes after.
The short film, directed by Zuck and adapted from a short story by Kemper, jumps around the Los Angeles valley and delves into the emotions that follow sudden tragedy, in a style that’s equal parts Skins and The Place Beyond the Pines. As the anger and frustration of Boy, played by Kemper, pours out in a monologue spanning the length of the film, scene after scene shows him grappling with love, loss, and the most depressing birthday gathering he’s ever been to. It’s for his friend and lover, played by David Brookton. Along the way, he meets Blair, played by Warehouse 13’s Allison Scagliotti, who’s that girl on the roof of the party you’ve always wanted to talk to.
Despite featuring what could’ve been the ultimate pity party, the duo elevated the story past the familiar narrative typical of teen suicide stories and focused instead on the anger of what comes after. “Okay, it gets better sometimes, and it does get better if you want it to, but in the moment, in those two weeks or two months or a year or whatever, it’s hard,” Kemper told me. “My character was angry and upset that he didn’t see that in time. How sad is it that he didn’t even see it with this boy that’s right in front of him and in love with him?” Zuck agreed, adding, “It’s about these thoughts that you don’t know what to do with. You don’t know what you’re supposed to say or supposed to do. Yeah, of course he’s pissed. He’s pissed about a lot of things and I think he’s allowed to be.”
Besides Blair, the boys in the film remain nameless because, for Kemper and Zuck, the story they’re telling is universal. The feeling of being the one left behind is one that millions of LGBTQ teens can relate to and, for the duo, it came straight from the heart. They’ve experienced firsthand the darkness that comes naturally to teenagers struggling to navigate sexual identity, and put their heart and soul into the project to create a story that’s entirely unique to their own lives. “This is a world your mind goes through at one point or another,” Zuck explained. “The degree to which you go through it is different, but I think that everyone who grew up gay can kind of relate to having dark thoughts and hard times.” For Kemper, the film that began as a story written for himself touches on something bigger than himself or Zuck.
“It’s a scary subject. I think it’s really important, but then, on the other hand, when it is talked about and when someone does do something like write a story or stand up for themselves, people are drawn to it and maybe even see it in a new light,” Kemper explained. “People don’t realize that depression is the second leading cause of disability in the world—especially for kids. Millions of teenagers are going through this and if millions of us are going through it, why is there a stigma?”
After working together to bring the script to life with the help of their friends, and the support of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the GLBT National Help Center, they’re hoping to end some of the stigma surrounding mental health. A Song for Your Mixtape isn’t about it getting better and it’s no happy ending—but that’s okay. The film is about screaming from the rooftops about being left behind by the one you loved, and it’s exactly what we need.
If you or someone you know needs support, help is just a phone call away. Go to the “A Song For Your Mixtape’ website for more information on LGBTQ suicide hotlines you can call right now. You are not alone.
Stay tuned to Milk for more emerging filmmakers.
Images via A Song For Your Mixtape.