In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s guilty verdict, and him being the man who sparked the #MeToo movement, there is a film that captures precisely where we are today. Women like Melissa Stephens and myself, and many other women, are reassessing our past histories with a #MeToo lens. Melissa’s film “Travis” is unflinchingly raw. It’s about a man who confronts the girl he sexually assaulted in college at a coffee shop. In this short film, we feel the awkwardness, and we hear with resounding clarity what remains unsaid. The film is brilliant in its portrayal of how women are navigating this particular moment. Melissa and I also talked about her collaboration with her friend, “Russian Doll” director and writer Leslye Headland, who was the co-creator of this film. “Travis” launched on Vimeo today, and is linked at the bottom of the page.
Rebecca Martin: Loved your film! Very powerful, a lot was expressed and felt during that film, and I was so moved by it.
Melissa Stephens: Thank you so much. I’m really touched that it impacted you.
Martin: I couldn’t help thinking about what #MeToo has done to our culture, and the way it has woken up women about their past experiences, and how they would redefine them. I know for me, personally, I have thought back about some encounters I had and now with the #MeToo lens, I feel I could have said more about some things. I didn’t feel like I had a choice at the time. What led you to approach this subject?
Stephens: I started working on this piece as part of a television show I was working on. The idea ended up being scrapped but what I ended up writing and creating with the help and encouragement of Brett Goldstein and Leslye Headland was something I wanted to bring to life fully. I feel like the below statement adequately summarizes the lens to which I approached this project.
I didn’t think what happened to me was sexual assault for a long time, no matter what anyone else said to me–police, friends, therapists. Women are assaulted in a variety of different ways and have a variety of different reactions. Mine was not an uncommon one.
When I finally accepted the truth of my experience, it was a revelatory moment, and a starting point for recovery for me.
I wanted to write a female protagonist who undergoes that same journey, in real time and in one shot. The piece isn’t about forgiveness, even if one of the characters is seeking it. It’s about Brie coming to an understanding and hopefully beginning a journey of repair.
Martin: The script is amazing. You and Brett brought an awkwardness that was very revealing. For example, the uncomfortable pauses, your walk to get your coffee, and back. Can you share more about the approach to this performance and the script?
Stephens: The awkwardness and pauses come from how both characters came to this coffee in very different mindsets and with different objectives. It was important for both of us to not play the ending at the beginning and let the characters react to the information they are getting in real time.
Martin: What was the intention of choosing one scene, and one conversation for the film? To me that was a perfect choice.
Stephens: Thank you so much for saying that and I couldn’t agree more. It organically developed once I knew what the female protagonist was learning.
Martin: Can you share more about your collaboration with Leslye?
Stephens: Leslye has been my best friend for over a decade. We have been collaborating for years. Something really shifted when I started writing and directing, and she started to become a mentor to me. She supports what I do and always pushes me further and asks questions that make the project and me better. It was her confidence in this piece that helped me make it. She is a very selfless, honest, incredibly gifted and hardworking woman whom I admire and love. I learn from her every time I talk to her. Our collaboration is the best kind of collaboration, it’s very easy.
Martin: Anything you’d like to add about the camerawork and the crew?
Stephens: The camerawork I am very proud of and my DP Christine Adams is a genius at Steadicam. I really love her and her work. The crew was all excellent and heavily female, which we set out to do. Every single person came to set that day with an energy I can only describe as selfless.
Martin: What’s coming up for you?
Stephens: I’m developing a show I created with Tom Detrinis and Leslye Headland is producing. I’m developing a show with AMC Studios and I’m hopefully going to be directing my first feature. My one-hour comedy show, “Some Assembly Required,” directed by Deanna Cheng is going to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August.