#65: Storytelling with Rolla Selbak - Award-Winning Out Filmmaker/Producer [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#65: Storytelling with Rolla Selbak – Award-Winning Out Filmmaker/Producer [Podcast]

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #65 – Rolla Selbak Interview

Jenn T Grace:

Alright so if you are ready, I can certainly kind of just hop into the questions and we can just kind of go from there.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

Alright, cool. So the first question that I want to ask you is if you could just share a little bit about your background. So if you want to talk about your personal background, your professional background, you know if it’s something you want to talk about your filmmaking currently, something else you might be working on. Just really I guess give the audience and the listeners a glimpse into kind of how you ended up doing what you’re doing now if you will.

Rolla Selbak:

So let’s see. So I grew up in Abu Dhabi and I completely fell in love with films and filmmaking and TV, and my parents bought us this huge gargantuan like VHS like tape- camcorder type of a thing. And originally they had bought it and they were one of the first ones in the neighborhood to actually have one, and originally they bought it so that they could actually- you know for birthday parties, and for special occasions and such. But I immediately hijacked it, and I dressed up my siblings in hilarious costumes, and I made videos and commercials, and you know and short films. And they were of course horrible and nothing I would ever show any of your audience members, or else it would be highly embarrassing.

Jenn T Grace:

And entertaining.

Rolla Selbak:

But that’s where I started. And then so when I came to the US after the first Gulf War, I ended up going the engineering path because you know, one has to kind of make money to support their film crack habit as I like to call it. And so I ended up doing both; both engineering and then I also was like writing scripts, and then finally I decided if no one’s going to be producing my scripts I’m just going to go ahead and teach myself how to direct, and shoot, and all that type of stuff. So I was just completely self-taught. My first short film was called ‘London Bridge.’ It was, you know, seven minutes and it was about- something about like loneliness in America. You know like that teenage angst that you get. And I invited all my family and friends, I rented out this theatre, and it was- it was really funny because everyone came. They didn’t really know what to expect, and they watched seven minutes of really depressing footage and then they left. And then they would pat me on the head and be like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “Yes I’m just expressing myself through film.” And so yeah, so that was my foray into actually directing, and filmmaking, and I just did another short film, another short film, another short film, and then went up to doing feature films, and series, and you know all that other good stuff. So yeah, so I had very, very humble beginnings, completely self-taught.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome.

Rolla Selbak:

But you know, that’s the fun of it, right?

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah. I feel like learning is so much part of that process, that’s just for me personally, I think it’s the most fun part.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, yeah, yeah for sure. For sure. And- yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So will you tell us I guess a little bit about your films? And I know that you have a web series that’s on Tello, and Christin Mell was actually one of the guests on here- actually it seems like quite a while ago at this point. But if you want to I guess just kind of give the audience a little bit of an idea. I’m sure your films kind of vary in background, but just a little bit because I do see- I’m on your website right now and it certainly seems like you have a lot of projects that you’re working on. And I just- I guess a little bit of glimpse of what interests you, what types of films that you’re kind of working on. Maybe what your future direction is, just kind of anywhere you want to go with that.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, I mean it’s funny because I get asked that a lot. Like is there a theme to films that you write or direct or produce? And I think that for me, it’s all about a few things actually. One, I usually will only delve into projects that I myself would want to watch. Like the only thing I can actually control, and contribute, is my taste. So hopefully I have taste, and people who have the same taste will enjoy you know, the work I’m putting out, right? But the second big thing is really representing characters and stories that people usually don’t see on TV. And that doesn’t- that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s my one and only goal, but I think that that’s extremely important and has been a very, very important thread like throughout all of my projects. And it’s very- especially when it comes to women, women in front of the camera, as well as women behind the camera by the way. I’m very big on making sure my crew is very, very balanced in terms of women behind the camera whether it’s grip, or electric, or wardrobe, or anything like that. I think it’s extremely important to give women the opportunity to be able to work on sets, and to kind of grow themselves as filmmakers in that way. Because I myself would have loved if someone did that for me.

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely.

Rolla Selbak:

You know, I kind of learned the hard way. But- so yeah I try to give back in that sense. So yeah, so I think really representing the female and the queer in my work is certainly something that’s a very common thread, I think throughout my work.

Jenn T Grace:

I was just going to actually ask you about that because I know- so I guess there’s two parts of the question. Is the first part, growing up in Abu Dhabi, and coming here to the US, and then also- so you had your cultural background, but then you’re combining that with LGBT. Because I feel like from what most people understand, just different cultures either embracing or not embracing LGBT for that matter. It’s really kind of different. So how have you personally- whether it’s been a struggle for you, or whether it’s just kind of been a non-issue. Like can you just kind of I guess share a little bit about how those two very different parts of your- of what make you, you, kind of colliding? What that looks like?

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, wouldn’t it be fun if I said it was a non-issue?

Jenn T Grace:

That’s me in a pipedream here.

Rolla Selbak:

Non-issue. No, very big issue. Yeah, you know what? I think a lot of- I think there’s been some amazing strides made throughout the world as far as LGBT rights, and visibility, and I think it’s so, so, so freakin’ important that we also recognize though that there are- most places in the world are still really quite cruel, and dismissive, and abusive to the LGBT communities in their countries. And so you know, I kind of have this guilt complex a little bit because I feel like I kind of ‘made it out.’ You know? And I’m lucky enough to be here in- I wouldn’t even say in the US, because there’s definitely places in the US that are quite atrocious when it comes to the treatment of LGBT folks. But I would say I’m very thankful to be in California, is as much as I would say. But I do know that there’s a lot of my sisters and brothers suffering there in the Middle East, and they certainly are trying to pave their own way over there, and express themselves through art and film, and push boundaries through activism. But it’s definitely not- it’s definitely not safe, and it’s a very sad situation. And I feel like we make- over there in the Middle East we make like two steps forward, like five steps back kind of a deal. Like sometimes you’ll hear fantastic stories of organizations, and talk shows that want to broach the subject, or films that might have a character that- you know especially coming out of North Africa, there have been some fantastic films that are really- showcased some great LGBT characters. But then you know, you hear about raids, and you know, and really big injustices happening over there. So it’s- you know-

Jenn T Grace:

I feel like that is really kind of where your opportunity lies though. Because even though you said you feel like you kind of made it out, at the same time you’re still probably a role model to people you do know, and then to many that you don’t know currently, just because you are out, and you’re not- you know you’re not trying to kind of suppress the queer nature as you- I know that you’ve referred to yourself as queer. I feel like that does put you in a position of- I guess not influence, but being able to inspire people to say, “You know what? If I can make it out, so can you.” So I feel like you’re- that’s just being visible I guess is really kind of more than half the battle. It’s really just trying to make sure that other successful women such as yourself are visible in these roles, so other people can kind of follow in your footsteps in some way or another.

Rolla Selbak:

Oh I would hope so, thank you for saying that. I would hope so. I mean with films like ‘Three Veils,’ it was like the first feature film that featured the story of an Arab Muslim lesbian, like in the narrative film. And with articles that I write, like you know coming out to a Muslim family, things like that, I really do try as much as I can to be as visible and vocal and outspoken as possible, so I can represent ‘my people.’

Jenn T Grace:

And speaking of ‘your people,’ I know that you specifically choose to identify as queer. So what makes you- and I just- I always find that there’s a generational thing happening here when people say ‘queer’ versus just ‘LGBT’ or saying ‘lesbian.’ What makes you identify as queer do you think? Or even if you don’t know I guess, versus one of the other terms that you could use?

Rolla Selbak:

Just the fact that it’s one syllable I would say. I don’t know, lesbian three syllables. LGBT, four syllables. I identify as all of that actually, I don’t really- I’m not really into like just one label. I do think labels are important in general to push like you know, political kind of initiatives, but I’m all of that. I don’t- there’s not one that I’m not, actually. So I’m totally fine with you calling me whatever you want to call me.

Jenn T Grace:

As long as it’s short and sweet.

Rolla Selbak:

As long as it’s short and I can pronounce it, we’re good.

Jenn T Grace:

So you don’t want to add LGBTQQIAA, and then whatever other alphabetical- alphabet we can add to it?

Rolla Selbak:

Alphabet soup. Alphabet soup, yeah I don’t really care. I really, really don’t. I think it’s more important to like just be who you are, and you know, let people know who you are.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, absolutely. And the reason why I ask is I was reading something somewhere that it said ‘queer woman’ somewhere in one of your bios or something, and I find that there’s definitely a generational difference where younger people are perfectly fine with the word queer and kind of embrace it, and then older generations are not fans of the word at all. So I feel like listeners listening to this, who maybe they’re allies to the community, would be- it’d be, what am I’m trying to say? Obvious that you were of a younger demographic would be my guess.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, I mean I’m not sure. I think that it’s also quite academic actually, right? The word queer?

Jenn T Grace:

Yes.

Rolla Selbak:

Right? Like the The Queer Narrative, and the queer this, and the queer that. So I don’t know, maybe I read it in a book somewhere and it stuck. I really- I don’t profess to really be up on all that. But yeah, I mean you definitely have more insight into that than I do since you do talk quite a bit to different- you know different identifying folks of all different generations.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, I just like to get other people’s opinions, and I think it’s like just the fact that you said the shortest syllable. Like that to me is funny. Like I think that’s- it’s a good different opinion for my listeners to hear, who may either be part of the community or aren’t part of the community. So it’s always good to have very diverse perspectives on things. So-

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, yeah and I think you hit on the fact which is the most important for me. Is that I’m part of the community, you know? So whatever it is I call myself, or whatever it is people call themselves. I mean I think that like I said, I’m not of the mindset that I don’t like labels. I actually do think labels are quite important. So it’s not like I’m saying, “Oh, I’m not anything.” It’s my whole point is I’m everything.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes.

Rolla Selbak:

Not that I’m nothing; you see what I’m saying?

Jenn T Grace:

It’s a big distinction. And I feel like just being part of the LGBT community is just one layer of many, many layers of your identity.

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely. That seemed like a nice accent, the ding.

Rolla Selbak:

You know- let me see if I could-

Jenn T Grace:

That was like perfect timing. It was like the lightbulb moment or something.

Rolla Selbak:

Oprah’s ‘Aha’ moment.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes.

Rolla Selbak:

Okay, I think I turned it off.

Jenn T Grace:

Alright, cool. So I guess one of the next questions I would love to ask you is if you would be willing to share a coming out story? So whether it’s with family, friends, in a work environment. Just is there any type of coming out story that you think you could share, that would somehow provide some kind of takeaway for someone listening to this? And the reason why I kind of ask these questions are because I feel like you can learn so much from someone’s coming out story; whether it’s the pain that they went through, or the acceptance that they went through in whatever that coming out process was. I feel like it’s really good for people to hear it to kind of get a sense of having more empathy toward the LGBT community. Because I feel like when you have empathy, it’s hard to dislike someone, or dislike a community if you have empathy toward that community. So I think it’s interesting just to kind of hear of a wide variety of different kind of coming out stories. I don’t know if you have one that’s more entertaining, or you know whatever you’re in the mood for.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, actually funny enough that you say that. I actually wrote a Huffington Post article called, ‘Coming Out to a Muslim Family.’ And it was all about my coming out story. So if folks just outside of this podcast, if you actually want to delve deeper apart from what I’m about to divulge, you could just google like ‘Huffington Post Coming Out to a Muslim Family.’ Maybe that might, you know, give some extra, extra insight.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah I’ll put it in the show notes for this episode, so they can just click from there, make it easy.

Rolla Selbak:

Oh, there you go, perfect yeah. Yeah I mean I think that- I think my coming out story was- I think it’s a good example of something that can be extremely- taking something very tragic and turning it into something empowering, and beautiful, and hopeful, you know at the same time. So it was definitely- it was definitely traumatic. So I came out a little later in life. I was 24 or 25 at the time, and yeah I mean it was really quite difficult. I think that at the beginning, my family- specifically my parents and some other family members were definitely, they were confused, they were angry, they were abusive, you know I got kicked out of my house and that’s when I went to San Francisco which is why I keep saying I’m so thankful for California really.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah.

Rolla Selbak:

And so- and so my whole point is to say I went from, you know, being from such a huge, loving family, to all of a sudden moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and then you know, taking a Yellow Cab to the hospital like when I was sick. I mean it was like from the high, high to the low, low. And that was my lowest point. But then after that, you know, as they say, right? As they say it does get better, and it was so important for me to just find my own voice, find my own identity, aside from my culture, aside from you know, being a lesbian, aside from anything. Just to find my own voice as a person, as a citizen in this world, and it just kept getting better, and better, and better. And it’s- I’m so thankful that I pushed through it, and I know it’s very difficult for folks to believe; especially in situations where you come from a culture or a community or a family where you know, being gay is worse than being dead, right? So yeah so in our culture it’s really more- in some circles of our culture it’s really more- they say like it’s better to have like you know, a dead child than a gay child essentially. Like it’s really that just- it could be that severe. You know I’m not saying it’s everywhere in the Middle East, there’s definitely some families that are not like that. There’s definitely certain communities and classes of people in the Middle East that this does not apply to at all. But for the most part, it really is that bad. And so, and so coming from something like that, I just want to let your listeners know that I did- I mean it absolutely, absolutely does get better. You just have to pursue it, and you just have to find who you are, who you are in this world. Forget about being gay or not being gay, you just really have to understand who you are and what your value is in this world. I mean all we have is each other, you know? All we have is each other, that’s all there is. That’s all there is. So I would just say I hope that, you know when folks actually read my coming out story that they take inspiration from that and hope from that, and see that I know it’s hard to see right now that things are going to be fine, or that you know, the world hasn’t ended for you. But it’s that fierce independence that you develop, I think specifically as a queer person in this world, that really makes you unique, and uniquely equipped to like take on anything in the world.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s I feel like really good advice for someone who might be possibly struggling with their own coming out right now who might be listening to this. That’s really, really inspiring, inspiring words. So in- I guess in terms of like inspiration. So since we all have days where it might be a little bit harder than others in terms of just kind of getting your business kind of chugging along, because as a filmmaker, filmmaking is a business in and of itself, and you self-taught yourself so you have all of these different kind of backgrounds, and different experiences and all this kind of great stuff. But in the times where you are- maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re just kind of in a cranky mood, whatever it happens to be. Do you have any source of inspiration for you personally that just kind of keeps you moving forward to kind of get you through that day and then kind of onto the next big hurdle that you’re going to go face?

Rolla Selbak:

Maybe chocolate? I don’t know. I have a big sweet tooth. I would say- I would say it’s really- it’s really important for me to feel like I’m moving. I think that- I think that being still is the worst thing that you could possibly do. And I think that even if I go back, even if I fail, even if I’m moving back instead of moving forward, at least I’m moving. And I think that I’ve really learned to find a gratification in at least moving. And so when I take the stress off of myself, you know it’s really that fear. It’s really that fear- a lot of people don’t- you know we see it all the time, right? Like oh fear is your worst enemy or whatever those phrases are about fear. But I think that until you really, really, really understand what it is like to let go of being afraid. Once you let that go, once you let that fear go, that fear, that worry, everything else- it’s almost like you’re just in a different- you’re just in a different channel, you’re just on a different dimension. Like it’s things- things matter in a different way, and in a more important way I feel. Because you’re not now just focused on winning, you’re not just focused on accomplishing, you’re just focused on being, and you’re focused on doing. You know? So, yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So in going I guess along those lines too, I know that when you kind of shared your story in the beginning, you were talking about your family having the giant VHS camcorder, whatever those things were called. I too had one growing up, so I remember they were just monstrosities how big they were.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Especially with like a seven year old trying to carry it around and you know it cost God knows how much money, and you had to like fear for your life if you broke it, so I definitely- I remember those days. I certainly didn’t go down a filmmaking path myself, but I also was making like talk shows when I was like probably ten with my sister who’s five years younger, and I too used to do like horrible things to her and make her do all these things she had no desire for. I so wish I had access to those VHS tapes, because they would probably be quite entertaining to say the least. I certainly never had an ‘ah-ha’ moment where I’m like, ‘Oh I have to be a filmmaker.’ I obviously went down a different path, but you clearly must have had like back in the day, like if you look back on your history, you’re like, “Oh this makes perfect sense that I would be interested in filmmaking,” and then of course having the engineering background now. But did you have a particular moment where it was just kind of like a lightbulb moment where it clicked; where you just knew that what you were doing now was exactly what you were supposed to be doing?

Rolla Selbak:

No, no I didn’t. I think it was only after the fact, you see? So it was really interesting because I think that I just kind of- it just naturally came to be, and I think it’s because I was just so focused on just- gosh darn it. I’m really sorry. I don’t even know how to turn this off.

Jenn T Grace:

Is it just like your iPhone?

Rolla Selbak:

No it’s- right it’s iMessage. Let me see if I could- I turned off iMessage, let me see if I could turn off the- maybe if I just turn off sound. One second, preferences-

Jenn T Grace:

Oh yeah I just opened up mine. I’ve never actually had mine play sound effects.

Rolla Selbak:

Really?

Jenn T Grace: That’d be so distracting.
Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, message- oh play sound effects. Turn that off, there we go. Okay. So I’m going to start from the beginning. Okay this should not- should be good from now on. So yeah, so I never really had an ‘ah-ha’ moment per say. It was only after the fact where I was on set one day and I looked back, we were taking a break and I actually remember it very specifically, and I got extremely emotional because I could have never imagined that I would have came where I am right now with my background, and with you know, where I was compared to where I am now. And I was just so thankful, and so overwhelmed. I really didn’t- I didn’t know, I didn’t know exactly what I was meant to do, and I don’t really necessarily think- believe in that concept, but I do believe in fulfilling something- fulfilling something inside you that- to be able to understand what it is you truly want, and to be able to go after that and get it, I think is the most beautiful human experience. And so I think that I never really had an ‘ah-ha’ moment like, ‘This is exactly what I need to be doing right now.’ I just take things day by day, and I’m just very thankful for the experiences I have, and I just keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing, and I keep asking myself what it is that I want. It’s such a hard question to answer; it seems very simple but it’s very, very difficult because as you go through life you find that you think you want something, you go get it, you’re like, ‘Well no, that’s exactly what I didn’t want. Why am I not happier? Why am I not more satiated?” And then you keep exploring more and more within yourself. And so yeah, so I wouldn’t say I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment by any means but I do think every so often you know, I wake up and I- and it’s kind of surreal where I am versus where I was and I’m just very thankful for it.

Jenn T Grace:

And it seems like it’s a matter of just kind of listening to your gut and your intuition, and kind of following the path that seems most likely at the time.

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

Like just keep chasing it.

Rolla Selbak:

Right, it’s most likely at the time. What you want today is not what you wanted ten years ago, right? So if you ask yourself ten years ago what you would have wanted, it’s completely- it’s usually very different. And so what does that mean? That means that you- like exactly what you said, you have to keep listening to yourself, and listening to your gut. And I think a lot of folks are really scared of just going with that gut instinct, you know what if it’s wrong? What if it’s swaying me wrong? Your gut can never be wrong. It just- by definition your gut is not wrong, your gut is your gut.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes.

Rolla Selbak:

So it’s your own- so yeah, that’s what I would say.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s a matter of how much you’re willing to pursue it despite your fears which was what you were talking about in the question before.

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

It all rolls up together. So do you have any piece of advice as far as just kind of running your business, that somebody may have given you at some point that really just kind of was a game changer for you? Or even if it wasn’t business advice per say, but was just some kind of advice that you got from a mentor that really kind of helped you kind of sort things out and figure out what you were doing.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah I mean let me think about that one. I think that I’m very thankful to have had lots of great folks around me that I was able to learn from whether directly or indirectly, whether through observation or whether through like direct mentorship. I really think- I really think the fear thing. I think it really goes back to that. I think I really didn’t quite understand what it really meant to be fearless, and to not be afraid. And I think that- I know this is going to sound completely hokey, and probably even very- what’s the word I’m looking for? Predictable. But Steve Jobs really- so I don’t know if you know but I worked at Apple. Steve Jobs is a really big inspiration to me. Not because you know he created the most successful company in the world or any of these things, but I think the biggest thing that I took away from him, and what his philosophies were, is that the world- what a lot of people don’t understand, this is what he says, is that the world was created by people. The world around you, everything that you see, everything that you are using or touching, or the community that you’re in, or the country that you’re in; everything created around you was created by people no smarter than you. It’s you, and I think that the ones who go through life fearless and not self-conscious, and just really boldly go through life; I think those are the ones who end up changing the world, and also the ones who end up experiencing the world in a much more- in a much more intense and beautiful way than if you were to have that fear, you know?

Jenn T Grace:

I think that makes a lot of sense. And I don’t think that’s hokey at all. I think it’s just really kind of true. I think it’s brilliant wisdom from Steve.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah. And it’s interesting because he says- he says this is another beautiful I love when he said, he said once you understand that the world is a sphere, but that when you actually touch the world, that when you poke at it, that a part of the world will stick out on the other side. That you can actually affect the world- you can actually affect things around you. Once you figure that out, once you figure out that you don’t- the world isn’t waiting for someone special, it’s you. You know what I’m saying? Like there’s no such thing as this person was smarter than me, therefore they were able to do something different than me. It’s not about smartness, it’s just about letting go. Letting go of that fear and just being yourself, and giving the people around you and the community around you, the world around you, everything- everything you’ve fucking got. Everything.

Jenn T Grace:

And it’s because everybody can make a difference, that’s exactly how I see things. It doesn’t matter how small you’re thinking or how large you’re thinking. Everyone can make an impact and make a difference.

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, exactly. Exactly, you just have to be able to bold about it, you know?

Jenn T Grace:

You have to take the risk, you have to be the one that’s willing to take the risk that the 90% of people around you aren’t willing to take.

Rolla Selbak:

Right, exactly. Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

And face your fears, right?

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So if we switch- or kind of go off topic for a couple of minutes, and talk about I guess as a- just putting yourself, putting the label back on as a queer consumer, LGBT consumer, lesbian consumer, whatever we want to call you today, and think of how companies are marketing and/or advertising to the LGBT community. Can you think of anything in particular that for someone listening to this- because the vast majority of my audience, they’re listening because they have an interest in marketing their products, their goods, their services to the LGBT community. But they understand that in order to do it they kind of have to approach it in a very different way than maybe some of their other marketing and advertising campaigns. So with that being said, as a just kind of from a consumer standpoint, can you see anything that companies are doing now that just kind of really resonating with you or just any kind of glimmer or piece of advice that you think would help some business person listening to this kind of market to us as a community better?

Rolla Selbak:

I think I really love the authenticity of some of the marketing campaigns of- I really love that at least some companies and in some jurisdictions, that touting your business as being LGBT friendly- or friendly is even the wrong word. It’s more like LGBT conscious and LGBT caring; is so, so important. You know companies that are trying to do- you know I think that it’s- I think it’s very different from where we were ten years ago, let me just put it that way. I think that ten years ago it was more- you know companies either just didn’t want to talk about it, or were very taboo about it, or they were very, very niche markets that were hyper-sexualized, especially for gay males, and it was almost insulting, and I think that it isolated a lot of us in the LGBT community. You know, I would hear the phrase a lot, ‘We’re not like that. Why do they think we’re like that? I’m not like that.’ And so I think you know, fast forward ten years to now, I think that it’s- I think the marketing campaigns that are extremely authentic and the ones that really understand what it is to be LGBT in America today. I think that those are the ones that are the most- that are the most successful. And I also think by the way, I know this may or may not touch on business but I think in the entertainment industry, we have made such amazing strides, amazing strides in terms of gay representation in TV and in film. You know when you think of even like shows like ‘Empire,’ or shows like- I mean we’re way past where we were with ‘Will & Grace’ for instance. It’s just- it’s just a more truer experience, it’s a less stereotypical experience- a stereotype of a stereotype, you know? It’s just more authentic, it’s more true, and you can tell that writers are doing their homework, they’re hiring more queer writers, they’re doing more research. I think it’s really beautiful and it’s really important. When you think of shows like ‘Transparent’ and how you know, how amazing that show has been for not just the LGBT community, but for the whole- you know for a whole culture. Even shows like ‘Orange is the New Black,’ shows like ‘Empire,’ shows- even ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ had a fantastic gay character on there. I think- I don’t know, I really do think that what we’ve done in the media to push ourselves, and to push our narratives to the forefront of America’s consciousness, is just absolutely- absolutely phenomenal. And it’s very authentic, and it’s very beautiful.

Jenn T Grace:

I think that you- I just the authentic piece is totally key, because like you said it’s not- it’s no longer a stereotype of a stereotype. If you look across the board, there’s definitely more- more representation in terms of the diversity of what makes up the LGBT community versus what typically was seen like you were saying ‘Will & Grace.’ Like that was ten- probably more than ten years ago at this point. But yeah it was very, very stereotypically done. So now like we’ve evolved far further than that which I think is really awesome.

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, yes absolutely. Absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

So in kind of getting- like wrapping up, and I know that we talked about this will be airing in probably late August, early September. Is there any one thing that you’re working on right now that’s just really exciting that could be timely as we’re talking about that timeframe toward the end of the summer? And if so, would you like to kind of just share what it is that you’re just exciting that you’re working on with the audience?

Rolla Selbak:

Yes, absolutely. So currently I’m producing a feature film called ‘Last Black Man in San Francisco.’ And it’s a project that’s very, very, very near and dear to me, and I think that it’s extremely compelling and very timely, and I’m so excited- I’m so excited about it. Actually before I talk about what the film is I just want to preface by saying this is the first time that I have produced a feature film, that I myself have not written or directed, that’s how much I believe in this film. And so the film talks about- it’s about two African American best friends living in the last black neighborhood in San Francisco. And it’s their adventures as misfits, you know throughout the city, and then trying to connect with a city that is turning their back on them essentially. And so it’s tragic but it’s funny, and it’s beautiful, and it’s not your stereotypical ‘ghetto story’ as they say. It’s actually a very nuanced, very beautiful film, and I think that- I think that anyone can connect with trying to find a home. Trying to find a place where there once was a place, there now isn’t. Kind of being nostalgic for a place that you’re still in. And so this film is very, very- we just literally, just closed our kickstarter a few days ago, and we were so humbled. We originally were targeting to raise $50,000; we were so humbled that we got $77,000.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah we blasted through that and it’s all because of- it’s all because of you folks out there, and you really you know, really wanting such fresh stories, and such fresh perspectives to be up on screen. And so we couldn’t be more thankful about the support that we’ve been getting. So by the time this airs, I believe we should already be in the throes of production hopefully; that’s our plan. So you know, so if you’re listening to this, you can just keep us in your mind and tell us to break our legs, and wish us luck, that would be great.

Jenn T Grace:

That is funny. And I was totally going to end on that, but now I actually have another question that I would love to just get your thoughts on. Is around just the crowd funding platforms, and how that has either been a game changer, or just kind of been an added tool in your toolbox as a filmmaker. How has that kind of gone for you personally?

Rolla Selbak:

I- here’s the thing. I love- I think that crowd funding is definitely a game changer for sure. And most not because of being able to raise money, but to be able to- the most important part of crowd funding, people think that oh it’s just a way to raise money. But I think the most important part of crowd funding is to get your audience involved way, way early on in your journey, and to have them follow you and be with you during that journey up until you create what it is that you originally were intending to create. And it’s that sharing of that journey. You know whereas before it was kind of a black box, it was kind of like oh a film comes out, you watch it, and then maybe you see behind the scenes features too. But you’re not really understanding what goes behind it, you’re not really invested in it as an audience member. But this gives the audience a chance to be able to follow along with the filmmaker, with the crew, with the cast, to be able to really experience the film from its inception to its fruition, I think is something so beautiful. And I think that you know, through social media and through kickstarter, I think that that has definitely been a game changer in that sense. So you really are able to like connect with your audience more, and the audience is able to connect with artists more in a more personal way, and I think that that’s always a great thing.

Jenn T Grace:

I think that that’s totally the beauty of anything that’s kind of in that crowd funding platform, is that you kind of get to see the- even the business kind of grow and evolve. Like there’s this- it’s called Phree, it’s this new like pen technology that lets you take notes by writing on any surface, and I am so excited for this thing, but it doesn’t come out until April of 2016 because they are in the crowd funding stage right now, and I don’t even know which- I think it may be on kickstarter. But to me it’s like really awesome to be able to see these two tech guys kind of come up with this idea and now kind of watch the- I guess watch the adoption and the acceptance of this idea, and kind of seeing how it evolves. So it’s even moreso when you’re talking about something that’s like creative, where you’re talking about films or- yeah I guess even just people writing books, like that kind of stuff I feel like is really cool on those platforms, because people can kind of share their journeys, and really make those strong real connections with their audience and the future consumers of whatever it is that they’re putting together.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s pretty cool stuff.

Rolla Selbak:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Well I want to certainly thank you for joining the show today, and we can thank Mona for hooking you up. Mona was a guest on the show a couple of months ago, and she was really awesome and gave some really cool tips too. So thank you for just kind of spending a little bit of time with the audience, and please let everyone listening to this know how and the best way to get in touch with you if they kind of want to follow your journey and learn more about you.

Rolla Selbak:

Certainly. So I’m on Twitter, Rolla Selbak; first name, last name. Also feel free to email me, I’m really big on email, so Rolla@rollaselbak.com. You could always go to www.RollaSelbak.com. So just basically just Google my first name, last name, and get at me, and I’d love to hear from you. I’m very- I love connecting with people. So- and I’m very responsive. So I’d definitely love to hear from anyone who wants to connect with me.

Jenn T Grace:

That is awesome, thank you again, I really appreciate it.

Rolla Selbak:

My pleasure, thank you so much for having me. Thank you.

Jenn T Grace:

You are welcome.

Rolla Selbak:

Okay, bye bye.

Jenn T Grace:

Bye.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published nearly 200 books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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