Wednesday 3 July 2013

Interview with Brina Healy

Monika: Today’s interview is with Brina Healy, a remarkable woman, talented film director, and photographer from Boston, Massachusetts, USA. She began her film career in 1978 as "Brian" filming a student short in Kansas while working as a Yearbook photographer on campus. After doing some TV background work in Boston, including children's shows: "Major Mudd" and "Boomtown", she was featured in Happy Madison's film "Grown Ups". Brina is known for producing the hilarious 50's spoof film "Transsexuals from Space" (2012). She holds a second-degree black belt in Shotokan karate. Hello Brina!
Brina: Monika: thank you for the honor and the respect to appear in your publications. Your interest in my career is appreciated.
Monika: How would you define yourself? Are you more of a film producer, paste-up artist, model, or photographer?
Brina: I'd classify myself as a “Creative” (want fries with that burger?) type, so I enjoy spending time in all of these areas. “Paste-up” work is relatively dead in the digital age. Film production is something that sways me greatly—although it's difficult to make a legitimate living at it as a career move.
Basically, many areas that involve the Creative process do not require state or federal licensing, so those markets naturally get flooded. I've been involved with Imagery my entire life and consider Photography/Large Format my first love. One of the most exciting job positions I held involved trafficking building “wraps” for Broadway, Madison Square Garden, and the World Trade Center Concourse.
Seeing the files you've worked in an exciting city scene 40-feet tall is a real rush. Being Trans, but older, I find very limited opportunities in modeling. I began my modeling career as a male model for the department store chain “Jordan Marsh” with Runway and Print work. I embraced being behind the camera more, so my early modeling career lasted for only several years and was not elaborate. I do continue to enjoy the attention and can still ROCK the runway!

On the Red Carpet.

Monika: Which film directors or movies are your inspirations?
Brina: I've always enjoyed off-beat, alternative, and Cult movies and producers and derive a lot of inspiration from them. The Mel Brooks', Tim Burtons', Roger Cormans', Quentin Tarantino's and Wes Andersons' of the film world give us FASCINATING work.
Also, more mainstream directors like Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and Robert Zemeckis bring us elaborate production value and elaborate on a world of both fact and fantasy.
Monika: You started acting as a child appearing in shows for kids…
Brina: Those appearances were more of a childhood rite than a penchant for acting. They did, however-give me my first taste of what an interesting world a video studio is and sparked the interest that still fascinates me.
Currently, I'm auditioning for a range of roles that pique my creative interest as well as feed my ego. I've had the amazing opportunity to have either appeared in or crewed on nearly fifty Feature/Indie films and TV movies/episodes. 
I'm still Non-union, so my opportunities for significant work in Studio film work are limited, but I get more Indie work that way. Actors not cast in principal Studio roles are always hoping their lines appear in the final edit. My lines in “That's My Boy” (a Happy Madison/Adam Sandler film) were cut—although my character does appear in the film in another scene—so that was still promising. Such are the conditions of Studio work. 
There's a huge difference between Indie films and Studio films. They both have their minuses and plusses. You have more input on an Indie and can go “off-book' as an actor more often.
Studio films have the perk of working on a major production with Industry notables, a greater range of different historical times available, elaborate costuming/make-up, and a more grandiose production value. Meeting the starring principles can be a thrill as well. I was doing casting work on the film “Moonrise Kingdom” and spoke with actor Bill Murray on-set. I approached him and greeted him as “Bunny Breckenridge” from his role in “Ed Wood”. He responded to me in character and stated that he was “... not personally Transsexual, but I do have many Transsexual friends - and I see that you're Transsexual...”.
I've also met stars that are no longer with us: Chris Farley on the set of “Wayne's World”, Lloyd Bridges on the set of “Blown Away” and Bobby Urich from “Spenser For Hire”. Both film levels are enjoyable for their own reasons and contrasts.

A screengrab from "That's My Boy" (Adam Sandler film).

Monika: You can boast a solid movie and art education …
Brina: My formal Art education began in the '70s at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston where I audited photography classes and Imaging basics. I was then working as a staff photographer for a college yearbook manufacturer. They noticed my natural ability for Portraiture and exploited it for me.
From there, I began traveling the continent and the Hawaiian islands doing freelance/magazine/photojournalistic work. I was a staff photographer for “The Patriot Ledger” (Boston south) and a 'stringer' for “The Boston Globe”. All of these assignments helped me hone my eye and develop my personal style. I continue to enjoy a journalistic approach to my shooting and continue to receive favorable reviews of my work.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories and actors which have been featured in films so far?
Brina: I'll be pleased when Trans actors are routinely cast in Trans roles. For example, Felicity Huffman performed an amazing role in “TransAmerica”, but that role really should have gone to an actual Trans actor. Other films have been correctly cast: such as Cillian Murphy's role in “Breakfast on Pluto”.
In contrast, “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” was a funny romp with straight men portraying Drag performers. I enjoyed the casting in that film. I've been turned down to play female roles and it's unfair and upsetting—as my female person is quite strong and well-constructed.
Although I'm 'out' in my film career, feel I can portray a natal female well. So much for double standards! Actually, the only role I've played as a Transsexual was my own film “Transsexuals from Space”. 

Monika: Some critics say that the contemporary film industry does not provide many opportunities for women or male-to-female Transsexuals to showcase their talents and stories to a female audience. Would you agree?
Brina: My experience in film is that although male roles span every age bracket, females 40-60 seem to have mostly disappeared in major roles—save for the Susan Sarandon's and the Meryl Streep's.
Younger females from 20-35 years old get the majority of female film work—then the roles seem to jump to seniors 60 and up. That's the continuing state of filmmaking. The film industry has long been dominated by male studio moguls that promoted men. That's what men have always done.
Monika: Do you place any autobiographical elements in your movies?
Brina: HA! I do. In my film “Transsexuals from Space”, I get to be my natural Trans nature. In the Indie film “10”, my role was an apparition risen from the dead that killed off several of the cast, so I was given the opportunity to go “off-book” and express my darker side.
Monika: What inspired you to produce and direct “Transsexuals From Space” (2012)?
Brina: It's tiring having people laugh AT Trans people, so I wanted them to laugh WITH us. Trans people are basically the same boring creatures like the rest—so why the hate? Our cast and crew include lesbians, transsexuals, cross-dressers, Transgenders, cross-dressers, and straights. We wanted to have a full spectrum of players. Being involved in local film work on a weekly basis, it was time for me to reach out and create my own Opus.

Monika: The movie is about “...transgender troublemakers from planet Transmotivia traveling through space; being pushy, prissy and pugnacious to everyone they meet. When they reach Earth, they get more than they bargained for from the hormonally-driven dwellers of the water-covered planet…”. Sounds like a Transgender Star Wars :).
Brina: Actually, a bit more like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. That work is nearly 40 years old and time for some new laughs. Our film shares the concept of “movie kits” and audience participation in a “Cult” way. I wouldn't mind sharing the bill with “Rocky” from time to time.
Monika: How would you describe the ideal land called Transmotivia?
Brina: On Transmotivia, gender is neutral and all types actually get along with each other.
Monika: Could you say a few words about the whole crew of the movie?
Brina: Our crew was all-volunteer and was a mix of rookies and experienced actors/crew. My BFF Sandra Jack Shaw was my right-hand girl and assistant director. I bounced ideas off her. She helped build the sets, juggle details and wrangle the cast & crew.
Our sound designer John Gage is well-known in the northeast for his quality capture of on-set dialog as well as his talent as the film editor for TfS. This film would probably still be in post-production without his talents. Between writing, set-building, casting, and what-not, I personally put 400+ hours into the film. John added perhaps 200 hours.
Monika: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
Brina: A new script for “Gay Frankenstein” is in the writing stage. This one will be different in that it's a “rom-com” for gay men. Basically, men look at Frankenstein and he morphs into their ideal lover. It will require a lot of editing, however.

Modeling Ad from 1978.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Brina: My first time “out” was at Max's Kansas City rock club in NYC in 1972. I was working as a stock boy in a famous Boston music store. My older friends there knew I was 'in the closet' and they introduced me to a drag queen that got me all glammed-up for the New York Dolls show. There were so many other Trans people at the show I fit right in. Even Steven Tyler was there. In drag.
I went full-time about eight years ago when my sons were old enough to understand. I had always been femme in many ways around them, so they both wished me luck and wanted me to be happy. As is the case with many other people in transition, I had my share of critics.
Friends that had known me for 25+ years turned their backs to me while others embraced the fact that I was physically and emotionally becoming the person that I was meant to be.
It's sad that you're the same person—except happier—with just a different appearance and your long-time friends can shun you.
I had been working part-time for three years at a local radio station doing archive, production work, and some 'on-air' when they decided they didn't need me anymore, so yes-employment can be tricky.


All the photos: courtesy of Brina Healy.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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