Q&A with Filmmaker Israel Luna
Published on September 27th, 2010 | by Carlos J. Segura2
Amidst a crowded slate of films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival one film managed to stand out thanks to a combination of audience appreciation and good, old- fashioned controversy: “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.” The film’s most vocal opponent, GLAAD, managed to (as controversy tends to do for a movie) bolster interest rather than abate it. Its side of the fence claims the film to be, basically, offensive and harmful to members of the transsexual community while the opposing side feels its a fun and campy take on the revenge film along the lines of “Kill Bill” meets John Waters. Fortunately, you’ll soon get to decide for yourself with the film premiering at midnight screenings in Dallas, New York City, & Los Angeles, followed by a DVD release on November 9. Cinespect sat down with Israel Luna to talk about the film and the controversy surrounding it.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your current movie, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives,” and give us the nutshell version of all the controversy surrounding it.
I’m Israel Luna, I live in downtown Dallas, and I’ve had my company where we’ve been doing little indie films for a few years now so this was pretty cool when this [controversy] just kind of blew up and got so big. This is really new for me so it’s kind of cool. The nutshell version of the movie, and the controversy, is that it’s about a group of transgender women that have the unfortunate experience of being bashed one night by crazy rednecks and these two Mexican guys. But I didn’t want to do another, sort of, hate crime message movie. I wanted it to be just be a fun, revenge flick where they live out the fantasy that I think me and a lot of other people have of getting revenge, so I have them turning the tables on the guys, getting revenge, and I guess after all the controversy it has turned out to be this big message movie. There you go!
GLAAD seems to be the most high profile opponent of the movie and yet according to a statement released by Tribeca Film Festival, GLAAD initially supported your film. Why the about face, do you know or if you don’t know then what do you think is the reason?
It is true, GLAAD had a copy of our film that I volunteered to give them and they took it two months before we got accepted into Tribeca. What I think happened is GLAAD didn’t think anything of it, they probably didn’t bother with it too much but then the moment certain members of the LGBT community started complaining, saying that it was offensive to them, I think the president of GLAAD did a knee-jerk reaction saying that we should boycott it. A lot of the things he listed in his call-to-action made it kind of obvious to me that this came from somebody who had not even seen the movie. So we let Tribeca know that they [GLAAD] had a copy of it so that’s why Tribeca issued a statement basically saying “well, you’ve had a copy of it for two months now so why are you complaining about it now?”
What is your overall opinion of GLAAD?
I think GLAAD is a much needed organization, I’m glad they’re there. I think the problem is their president because while we were at the festival at Tribeca we had a few conversations with GLAAD representatives and they all seemed really nice. They were easy to talk to and we were getting somewhere and the moment he would step in the conversation would go downhill. He steps in and the conversation gets aggressive, nothing gets accomplished so probably if he hadn’t stepped into any conversation, and I had just talked to other GLAAD representatives, we probably would have gotten a lot further and came to some sort of compromise. So I do like the organization, it’s him personally that I have a problem with.
Perhaps he has a more conservative agenda?
I’ve seen a lot of videos of him online and I’ve had a few conversations with him on the phone and he’s very much a politician where nothing feels sincere from him. Everything seems to have some type of agenda, there is an agenda in everything that he is saying where you have to read between the lines.
I just posted on YouTube and on my Facebook page a short film parody that I did called “How to Win a GLAAD Award,” you should go check it out. I based it all on my opinions of him and how they reacted with their call-to-action and my film and everything.
How much of the transgender community has liked the film versus those that haven’t?
The amount of the transgender community that has liked the film is much larger. It’s only a select few that have come out against it. There was even, when we where attending the QFest Film Festival in Fort Worth, they had a panel discussion afterward and this one transgender woman made a public apology to me saying that she, originally, was against the film but she thought she’d give it a chance because she had heard so many different things and she ended up loving it and is now telling all of her friends to get the word out that everybody needs to see this film. So I’m glad that that’s happening, especially with people that are unsure. So it’s only a select few that hasn’t liked it.
What do the transgender people in the movie think of all this?
That was another thing about the GLAAD call-to-action. Three out of the five main characters identify as transgender. When GLAAD came out with their call-to-action they said I’m misrepresenting transgender women and making them look like caricatures of real women which was sort of a slap in the face to me and my transgender actors because that’s who they are and they perform in real life, just like in the movie, as showgirls on stage, they dress up really nice and cute, have fun offstage, and it’s really offensive all these things that GLAAD was saying about the women. In the short film parody that I did I sort of cover that topic, about how they view transgender women. I can’t wait for you to see it!
Was the content of the movie (i.e. the transgender leads, the violence) much of an obstacle in getting made and getting it out there?
No, getting it made was not a problem at all. It was very much a community effort. We had a lot of people donating locations, their services, so it was kind of, well, it wasn’t an easy shoot because it was hot and with all the actions scenes and stuff but as far as obstacles with people having a problem with content, no, it didn’t even start until we got accepted into Tribeca. It was only then that I first discovered that some people thought that “tranny” was an offensive word. I knew that a lot of people didn’t use it but I saw it as the word “queer”, some guys use the word, some don’t, some people like the word faggot and some people don’t. So I didn’t think it was that big a deal. But during the film everything was smooth sailing.
I’ve read that Tarantino was an influence on you during the making of this movie. Could you name other influences either on this particular film, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives,” or your filmmaking vision in general?
I do like Quentin Tarantino because I like his dialogue. I’ve been really flattered that people have mentioned the dialogue in the film, “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.” One of the compliments I got was, “Oh my God, I see all of these gay films and none of the people on the screen talk like me and my friends talk. Everybody in your film talks exactly like we do.” I really remember that because it was a huge compliment so yea, the dialogue was inspired a little bit by Tarantino’s dialogue. Other influences have been, of course, John Waters, I’m a huge John Waters fan and his early films especially like “Desperate Living,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble,” and “Mondo Trasho.” But a big influence on “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives” was a late seventies movie called “I Spit On Your Grave.” That was the ultimate revenge flick and I thought, oh yes, this is amazing. And they did it in a way that was very controversial because people had never seen it that extreme before where they just tortured this girl for half the movie. It has no mercy on the audience so that was a big influence on me with this current film. Another one was a really cheesy movie that starred Linda Blair called “Savage Streets,” where she and her friends are being beaten and killed by these thugs and then Linda Blair comes back looking hot in leather and she kicks their ass. So that was another big influence.
What it’s like to be an independent filmmaker in Dallas versus being one in bigger cities like New York City or Los Angeles?
I find it pretty easy because Dallas isn’t a filmmaking city so it’s not that a big of a deal if you want to shoot on a street corner or in an establishment or in a club or in a restaurant because nobody really cares. But if you were in L.A. or New York you’d need permits and all kinds of paperwork so I think it’s easier because of that and also because it’s not a filmmaking town you get a lot more people wanting to help because they get so excited that a movie is being shot. So I’ve found it preferable to shoot here for those reasons.
Name some recent, or even not so recent, films that shook you up, made your jaw drop, pushed your buttons, etc. Could we stand to see more films like that?
Good question. There was a horror movie I saw this summer. It’s called “Dreamhouse” or “Dreamhome.” I saw that and I thought, “Oh my God, I have to step up my game with my death scenes because all of the death scenes are completely original, shocking and had my adrenaline going and it’s been a long time since a film has done that so that was one. Another one that I have to admit that kind of scared me a bit was “Paranormal Activity,” I don’t know why but it just worked for me. A lot of people have opinions on that movie but I have to say I was entertained throughout the whole thing, it was kind of creepy. Other than that I can’t really think of anything that’s really blown me away.
Finally, tell everyone when and where they can see your current movie.
We’re going to have a limited theatrical run at select theatres starting October 1st, midnight screenings. Our distributor is still figuring out which theaters it’s going to be in but we’re going to keep everyone updated on tickedofftrannies.com. We’re going to have a DVD release at the beginning of November.
Is it going to be on-demand?
So far as I know, I don’t know the specifics but the distributors are planning on doing that. For the last two weeks I’ve been editing all the special features that are going to be included on the DVD and we’re going to have a lot of goodies.