“After publicly coming out as gay, a Hollywood star returns to his hometown to oppose Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and faces unexpected opposition from religious zealots.”
That’s the logline of Levi Morris’ film, Pride of Indiana, which he wrote and will direct. Morris, who graduated from Aitkin High School in 2006, was inspired by proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in many states. “A number of states proposing these bills had no language protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people from discrimination,” Morris said. “I decided to take a satirical approach to the issue and began writing the treatment for this project. Once Indiana actually passed Senate Bill 101 in 2015, I had a setting.”
According to Morris, Pride is inspired by the Christopher Guest films Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, which are mockumentaries about zany characters and the comedy is such wonderful satire of each given subject, and Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback, an HBO mockumentary series that satirizes a celebrity obsessed with fame and the lengths she is willing to go to stay in the spotlight.
Pride follows the story of Samuel Hicks, a recently-out Hollywood star, as he returns to his hometown in March 2015 with a documentary film crew in the hopes of bringing attention to the new legislation (or at least to himself ). However, it quickly becomes clear that he’s in for a very different homecoming than the one he was expecting. While the law may be amended, one thing’s for sure: this town will never be the same!
Pride is a mockumentary which offers a satirical treatment of the effects of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the residents of a small town. “I knew before I even started writing that the story would best be told as satire,” Morris said, regarding his decision to make the film a mockumentary. “It allows a character like “Ted” (the documentary filmmaker) to push the subjects to say more, giving the characters the chance to reveal layers they might otherwise hide. I also knew that we live in a society that celebrates ‘reality’ and ‘celebrity’. What better way to tell the story than as a (fictional) celebrity documenting his own journey?”
With the mockumentary genre, improvisation is often encouraged, and Pride is no exception. “I think allowing the actors to improvise the dialogue gives them a real freedom to create the characters within the mockumentary format,” Morris said. “Overall, I want the actors to be in creative control. In allowing a high degree of improvisation, we’re giving the actors the ability to create the stakes and plot the journey organically. It’s an exciting experience for everyone involved.”
Morris has previous experience with acting. Apart from his roles in multiple Aitkin High School productions, he also starred in Son of a _____!, a one-man show written, directed, and performed by Morris. “My background is in theater performance and directing this film so far has been a really exciting learning experience,” Morris explained.
Regarding the difference between stage and film acting, Morris said, “They’re two very different beasts. The emotional journey of stage acting is very external. You have to emote in such a way that the audience can feel it from fifteen rows back. If you act the same way on camera it looks melodramatic and unrealistic. In film acting everything is internalized. The journey is more personal for the actor and you have to be aware and in complete control of every muscle movement happening in your face. An eyebrow twitch can make your character look suspicious, and if the scene doesn’t call for that it can confuse the audience.”
As an independent film, the project has no backing from any studio, but the artist believes in the story/film so much they get it made, by whatever means necessary. “Sometimes we have to film ‘guerrilla’ style (without permits) and get the shots quickly and inconspicuously,” Morris said. “A lot of filmmakers have filmed this way or do film this way. It just adds an element of stress.” Morris added, “I don’t want you to have the misconception that I am a huge success story living in the Hollywood Hills with assistants and a fancy car. The reality is that I’m doing what I love with other independent filmmakers because we feel strongly about the content we are putting out.”
The project isn’t quite finished yet, though. “We’re currently working to raise the necessary funds through Kickstarter and are looking for backers to support the project,” said Morris. “Once our campaign is complete we’ll go into principal photography in September 2015.”
Morris has a plan when Pride is finished filming. “More than anything, we want this film to be seen. Pride of Indiana will be submitted to as many film festivals as humanly possible, to ensure that its message can reach a wide audience. After the festivals run it, it would be great to find a video on demand resource to make it available for purchase or rent.”