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How To Trust the Production Process With ‘The Mattachine Family’ Writer and Director

Many of us in the field of screenwriting, directing, and storytelling are driven by a desire to share meaningful stories with a wide audience. For Andy and Danny Vallentine, this passion led them to create their feature debut as a duo, “The Mattachine Family.” Right from the opening scene, it becomes evident that this film holds immense significance for both the filmmakers and their community.

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Many of us in the field of screenwriting, directing, and storytelling are driven by a desire to share meaningful stories with a wide audience. For Andy and Danny Vallentine, this passion led them to create their feature debut as a duo, “The Mattachine Family.” Right from the opening scene, it becomes evident that this film holds immense significance for both the filmmakers and their community.

“The Mattachine Family” presents a nuanced exploration of queer families and the evolving concept of parenthood. Following the journey of Thomas (Nico Tortorella) and Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace) as they navigate their roles as parents to a foster child, the Vallentines use the narrative to delve into what forming a family means for queer couples. The film’s powerful ensemble cast contributes significantly to the impactful and finely crafted message it conveys. Throughout the production process, the Vallentines formed their own close-knit support unit, adding to the beauty of the film’s creation.

Prior to the film’s screening at the Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA, Andy and Danny Vallentine spoke with No Film School. They discussed the project’s inspiration, the dynamics of their creative partnership, and shared essential advice for indie filmmakers working on set.

THE MATTACHINE FAMILY (Clip) – Frameline47

Andy Vallentine explains that he and Danny have different creative backgrounds, with Danny being a writer and Andy being a director. Their collaboration in the film industry began about five years ago when they decided to work together. They wanted their first film to be personal and draw from their own experiences. Reflecting on their relationship, they found that discussions about their future and whether to have children were particularly contentious and meaningful.

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Danny Vallentine adds that while searching for films that depicted their experiences, they found a lack of stories about men becoming parents in the queer community. To address this gap, they decided to create their own film, drawing inspiration from their own conversations and experiences, as well as those of their friends who were forming families through various means such as fostering, adopting, surrogacy, and using sperm donors.

As they wrote the film, they realized that they naturally incorporated different types of queer family dynamics because of their diverse group of friends who had chosen various paths to parenthood. They wanted the film to explore the options available to queer parents and the merging of traditional ideas of chosen family with the new possibilities in the future.

Andy discusses how the decision to have children is often approached differently for queer couples compared to straight couples. Queer individuals have more discussions about the various paths to parenthood, and the film’s character Thomas embarks on a journey to explore these different ways that queer people can become parents. Through encounters with other characters like Annie and Oscar, who have experience with fostering, the film delves into this exploration.

Ultimately, their film “The Mattachine Family” evolved organically to encompass a range of queer family dynamics, reflecting their own experiences and those of their friends in the community. They aimed to provide a space where all types of queer families could be represented and understood.

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Danny Vallentine: Yes, we call them narrative narrated sequences, and they were present from the beginning. At some point, I decided that Thomas would be a photographer. I wanted to find a way to incorporate photography naturally into the film, and the idea of using photographs to represent Thomas as an observer and someone deeply connected to his past, friends, and family emerged. We used the photographs as a way for Thomas to express his thoughts and emotions.

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Danny Vallentine: Sean was actually my college roommate at Michigan State, and he is a talented wedding photographer in the Midwest. He photographed our wedding when we got married, which was a destination wedding in Paris. Sean has also captured the weddings of my siblings. For Thomas’s perspective, I didn’t want to use my own vision, which I share with Julia Swain, our cinematographer. I wanted a fresh and unique eye, so Sean came in and took the photos, setting up special moments that felt different and new.

Andy Vallentine: The principal photography lasted for 20 days, with an additional pick-up day in New York for a running montage with Nico Tortorella. It was a challenging process, as most indie films are, where you have to compromise and work with the resources and budget available. Some days allowed us to shoot exactly as planned, while on others, we had to focus on getting the necessary coverage due to budget constraints.

Andy Vallentine: Absolutely, and even big-budget films face their own set of challenges. Whether it’s a lower budget commercial or a higher-end project, each comes with its unique obstacles and creative problem-solving.

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Danny Vallentine: One challenge I encountered was transitioning from writing more theoretically to considering the practical constraints of production. Initially, I wrote the script with my dream version of the story, but when collaborating with Andy, we had to adjust certain scenes and let go of some elements. It was difficult for me to part with ideas I felt connected to, but I learned the importance of collaboration and compromise. Being able to “kill your darlings” and adapt the script based on input from actors and the director led to a better final version.

Andy Vallentine: From a logistical standpoint, we had a scene that required a beautiful mansion in Michigan as the location, but due to budget constraints, we had to change the setting to a motel in Los Feliz. This transition was challenging for me as a filmmaker because I had envisioned elaborate shots and movements throughout the mansion. However, we adapted and made the motel setting work, thanks to the talents of our actors, Nico Tortorella and Juan Pablo Di Pace, who kept the audience engaged during the scene. Shooting multiple pages in one day within limited space and resources was also a challenge to overcome.

Andy Vallentine: We’ve been together for a long time, almost 14 years, and we’re married for nearly 10 years. We know each other so well that when there’s a problem, we both tend to react in different ways. I tend to maintain a calm and steady presence on set, drawing from my experience, which helps Danny during moments of crisis. While he might feel overwhelmed, my pragmatic approach and ability to make quick decisions reassure him.

Danny Vallentine: Andy’s steadiness and experience on set are incredibly helpful to me during challenging moments. He remains calm and level-headed, which helps me stay focused. For instance, when the sun was setting, and I worried about not getting a shot, Andy assured me that we would find a solution, such as color correcting it later. He helps me see the bigger picture and not get lost in the stress of the moment.

Andy Vallentine: Yes, but sometimes I also find myself spiraling emotionally when we face challenges together. For instance, there was a moment when we initially couldn’t secure the rights to use the song “Moon River,” which had emotional significance for both of us. Danny was upset about it, and that made me feel even more distressed because I understood the importance of having that song in the film. I became determined to find a way to make it work and eventually, through collaborative efforts, we managed to include the song in the movie.

Andy Vallentine: Yes, exactly. We trust each other to be vulnerable and share our creative ideas, and that level of trust is vital in our collaborative process.

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Danny Vallentine: This screenplay was particularly personal to us. My advice to others would be to find a story that you feel compelled to tell, a story that resonates deeply with you. While others could have told our story, we knew that it should be us conveying it. When people read the script, they recognized its importance to us, and that connection made it touch others as well. Creating something that comes from your heart and soul will resonate with audiences.

Andy Vallentine: My advice is to keep creating and collaborating. Even before our first feature, we worked together on smaller projects, supporting each other’s creative endeavors. It’s crucial to continue making things and honing your craft. It took me 12 years to get to where I am now, starting from doing everything myself in my little shorts. Filmmaking takes time and effort, and many directors find their success later in life. Establishing yourself in the community and building relationships with fellow filmmakers and crew members are vital steps. Stay positive in this journey and remember that everyone is here to support each other in pursuing their passion for making films.

Andy Vallentine: People can follow us on Instagram at “Mattachine Family.” We are thrilled to have been accepted into 15 other film festivals, and we will be announcing all the details in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully, there will be even more film festivals in the future!

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