LGBTQ skaters shine at CineYouth

Poster+for+the+short+film+music+video+%22Only+Love%2C%22+directed+by+DePaul+student+Bridget+Johnson.

Courtesy of Bridget Johnson

Poster for the short film music video “Only Love,” directed by DePaul student Bridget Johnson.

Bridget Johnson wants to put good energy into the world with her films. Her music video for the song “Only Love” by Gem Tree is featured in the category “Lights, Camera, Lockdown” in the 16th international CineYouth Festival.

Johnson, a senior at DePaul, wanted to subvert some of the stereotypical LGBTQ+ storylines in film by creating a feel-good music video following a budding romance between two female skaters. Local musician Gem Tree’s sweet voice serenades over the couple as they skateboard around Chicago and fall in love.

Originally created for Johnson’s music video production class at DePaul, the film grew into a bigger project as it was sponsored by the fashion brand L Oliver Designs and New York City makeup company We Are Fluide.

Johnson’s production company, Dare to Dream Productions, centers around telling “stories from marginalized voices including the LGBT community, BIPOC and nontraditional [stories] from nontraditional filmmakers and voices.”

“Only Love” is the first music video that Johnson has directed. You can get tickets to the CineYouth Film Festival today. The festival runs from May 6-13 and admission is free.

The DePaulia interviewed Johnson to hear more about her work. The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Q: Can you start by telling me a little bit about your film and the inspiration behind it? 

A: Bridget Johnson: I never star in my films normally but the other actress, Claire, and I decided to collaborate and make a music video with positive representation for the queer community because there’s a lack of happy endings in LGBT storylines. When lesbians are portrayed in music videos, [they are often] sexualized. We wanted to change that and create something that would be cute and kind of simple too. Skateboarding is something that I’m very passionate about, and Claire and I have that same love for skateboarding that we share. 

So you drew a little bit of inspiration from your own life to put into the music video. 

Yes, it’s definitely based on our experiences that we’ve had together.

How did you connect with Gem Tree and decide to use the song “Only Love” for this project?

Gem Tree is a local artist that I actually found on SoundCloud. I chose her because I really connected with her lyrics and I like how she’s also trying to put positive energy into the world. That’s what I’m trying to do as a filmmaker. 

Did you reach out to Gem Tree at all? What was her reaction to your film being put into the festival? 

I did reach out to her and her management company and they were very excited that CineYouth is playing the music video. There’s going to be [an official] release of the music video on her YouTube channel. She’s going to promote it on social media and make some Instagram videos, so I’m excited for that too. 

I did some digging and I found your YouTube video pitching your concept, and I was wondering how that concept changed and evolved into the music video that it is today? 

Wasn’t there a boy in it? Yes, there was going to be a boy. We had a little problem with finding an actor to play a love interest because of Covid and also [finding] someone who skated. We wanted to have real skaters in the music videos; everyone you see on screen is a part of the skate community in Chicago. We’re a part of this skate crew called Onward, which is like a skate community for nontraditional skaters. But going back to the question of how things changed, it was definitely based on resources and time.

Were there any other ways that Covid impacted the filming or the general production of the music video? 

We had to wear masks, and as an actor it’s hard to show your facial expressions when you’re covering your mouth, especially when it’s a [romantic] music video. Eye contact with Claire was super important to get across that we were starting to fall in love in the video. At the skate park, we wanted to stay six feet away, everyone had masks on, we had a hand sanitizer on set — all the protocols that filming asks for. 

Could you talk a little bit about what directors do and what your process is as a director? 

The main responsibility of the director is to work with actors [to] help them get to their emotions to achieve genuine performances to make the audience feel these visceral feelings and connect with their characters.

Directors manage everyone, but their main responsibility is to work with actors and to create the overall vision of the film and to collaborate. I think a great director is someone who will listen to everyone on set.

There’s a hierarchy in the in on a film set and P.A.s, production assistants, are kind of at the bottom. I think a good director will work with everyone and ask even a P.A. like, what do you think about this or how are you doing? I think it’s really important for a director to make everyone feel appreciated, because you’re on [set] for so long, like 12, 14 hours. There’s got to be that person that brings up the energy and makes sure everyone is feeling good about everything.

Are you working on any projects right now or is there something that you’re looking forward to doing in the summer? What’s next for you as a director or a filmmaker? 

Yes, so right now I’m doing a Zoom film. It’s an LGBT romcom about two older lesbians in their 60s meeting for a blind date on zoom. In the summer, I’m hopefully going to Greece to help out a director that I have an internship with on her second feature film.

I graduate this year. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s also very exciting because I’ve worked hard, and I know what I want to do and the impact I want to make. It’s all about putting in the action and probably moving to L.A. [For what] I want to do, narrative features, you most likely have to be in L.A. That’s the big dream of mine. I’ve had that dream since I was 12, so now it’s all about making it happen.