Reeling The Chicago Gay & Lesbian Film Fest Part 6: An Interview with Sheldon Larry
Photo Credit: BRAD and PRINCESS at the first ball! Ephraim Sykes and Phillip Evelyn in LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR production sills
Producer/Director Sheldon Larry’s excitement about the ball culture began more than twenty years ago when he saw Jenny Livingston’s PARIS IS BURNING. The ground breaking documentary took a look at the New York City ball culture that existed in the 1980’s through the early 1990’s and its African American, Latino and transgender participants.
Half a decade ago Larry found out that the ball scene still existed so he did some research which resulted in the film LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR, a PARIS IS BURNING meets Glee uplifting musical drama set in the modern day Los Angeles ball scene. Larry has an outstanding career that includes work on stage, film and television for all the networks and cable outlets. The Canadian-born thespian perfected his craft while working with the British Broadcasting Corporation. After many attempts PrideIndex finally sat down with Larry to discuss his 20-year gestation, fan reaction and his hopes for the ball scene in the future.
PRIDEINDEX: I understand your film LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR was inspired by PARIS IS BURNING, how is your film different?
SHELDON LARRY: PARIS IS BURNING is a documentary, our film is a narrative musical with 11 original songs and original characters. PARIS IS BURNING took place in NYC more than twenty years ago while my film takes place today in Los Angeles. And while a lot the issues remain the same in terms of acceptance, a lot other issues are different.
PI: I noticed there were real houses mentioned in LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR, were the characters in the film all fictional or were they based on real people?
SL: It’s all fictional. We spent 3 years developing a screenplay based on the time we spent in Los Angeles attending balls and doing research on the ball culture. The resulting film is based on several stories and several people in the ball world, not one specific person or house.
PI: You film has gotten rave reviews and the response has been very good from the ball community, do you anticipate there will there be a Part 2?
SL: We have opted to do Part 2 but first we have to get this film out there and played in theaters, and get our initial money back. The ball community is such an interesting world full of superior talent, I love honoring them in his film.
PI: LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR’s Press Kit mentions that you have Off-Broadway experience; would you consider making a stage version of this film?
SL: Most definitely! When I first saw PARIS IS BURNING over twenty years ago I was working Off-Broadway in New York. I thought back then that something like this could conceivably work as a stage piece. I have been talking to a few people about bringing LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR to the stage because I’ve always thought it would play well as a musical and because the story would be wonderful to do.
PI: And Speaking of music, tell us about the decision making processes used in determining what to include in the music soundtrack?
SL: It literally took 3 years for Glenn Gaylord and me to work on the screenplay and the lyrics. We tried to create lyrics that were organically connected to the piece. We included a lot of Top 40 stuff, there’s a gospel song, a rap song, a Broadway/R&B type ballad. It’s a very eclectic mixture that celebrates every contemporary music genre; and that’s what we wanted it to be, as rich, diverse and fascinating as a ballroom culture. When Kimberly Burse came aboard she helped to ground the music and make it an authentic experience.
PI: In terms of the cast I see that your film includes many female illusionist, actors and professional dancers; did you include any ball walkers from the ball scene?
SL: Any ball kid from Los Angeles who wanted to be in the release is in the release from voguers to ball walkers. One of the principal characters is Phillip Evelyn, he plays Princess an actual ball kid that has acted and sang professionally. We opened the casting process for any of the ball kids who wanted a specific speaking part. There’s Halley Rode’o, she may be an Allure now, and a few Chanel’s and others are in the film. So “YES” we really did reach out to all of the kids who wanted to be in the movie.
PI: I’m going to put you on the spot with this next question. Who is your favorite ballroom legend?
SL: I think Willie Ninja was an extraordinary talent who had great skill. He had a great capacity for love, understanding and a great intelligence. He was an inspiration. And there’s Pepper La’ Beiga. Willie and Pepper were serious; they were true statements and bedrocks for the ball scene.
PI: Your film takes place 20 years after PARIS IS BURNING; where do you see the scene 20 years from now?
SL: In terms of the creative part of the scene, I see it constantly reinventing itself for example they used to vogue old way, now its new way. They bring different designs; talents, model and runway categories and that will not change. And when you talk about designs and talents you have artists from popular culture like Lady Gaga, her designs come from the ball community. That’s interesting because popular culture has always followed the ball scene, and that will continue to do so.
In terms of the community as a whole, 20 years ago these kids were virtual sexual outlaws; there was a high level of rejection, fear and homophobia that existed. Just like there was a level of rejection in the African American and Latino community’s by society as a whole. My hope is that there will be a greater degree of acceptance and celebration of these kids’ talents so that there won’t be a need for houses as a place of refuge. Society will embrace these them and they will be accepted at home by their biological parents. My hope is that 20 years from now these kids will be accepted for the extraordinary human creations they are wherever they are!
PI: LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR is playing in Chicago and Indianapolis tonight; in fact you’ve had a successful run in many gay film festivals across the country. Where will it be shown next?
SL: We have played in many gay and regular film festivals, we are returning to Chicago for the second time we were there last month for the Chicago International Film Festival. We’re playing in Berlin, Germany next which is an important film festival in Europe. But what I think is really nice is where this film plays, for a gay or straight crowd, the audience walks away with a special love and affection for these kids. I feel like I have accomplished something.
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