Film occupies a special place as an instrument of art for social change. Perhaps no other medium is as effective at demonstrating what it is like to embody another person’s life.
That is the animus that drives Kim “Rocco” Shields’s work. The director, whose short Love is All You Need? (see below) has collected more than 30 million views across various platforms, including use as a classroom tool in schools across the nation, is headed into production on a feature adaptation of Love is All You Need in October.
The feature, like the short, is to be set in a world where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuals are shunned. But Shields, who sat down with me to talk about the project, is approaching the concept somewhat differently than others have in the past. “This ‘gay world’ thing has been done and done, but always on a comedic basis,” she says. “They flip stigma and they flip stereotype in order to create comedy. That’s not what I want to do.”
Certainly not, if the short film is any barometer. The film contains depictions of some decidedly vicious bullying that were taken directly from real-life stories. “Although I was bullied, it was never to the extent that Ashley [the main character of the short film] was,” said Shields. “My co-writer, David Tillman, this is pretty much his story. He got beat up by kids at school, they wrote ‘faggot’ on his forehead, sent him home.” Which doesn’t make the film autobiographical; the feature version of Love is All You Need? will expand the storyline significantly, moving the primary focus away from the 11-year-old Ashley (although her character will still be present) and onto college senior Jude, a football player about to win the Heisman Trophy who’s caught up in a “Romeo & Juliet-type romance” with a sports journalist named Ryan.
If that at first seems to conform to the homosexual norm of the film’s world, that’s because you haven’t yet considered the more passive commentary the film is making on gender equality. Jude is a girl. Yes, a girl is about to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest personal honor. Shields explains, “If you flip [the world], women would probably play football. Why? Why wouldn’t they. Everyone would be equal.”
Going even a step further, the Catholic-raised Shields plans a discussion of institutionalized religion. Commenting on the Westboro Baptist Church imagery in the short film’s opening credits, Shield told me, “In the feature, that’s a huge, huge topic. One of the lead characters is Fred Phelps in a woman.” While reiterating her Catholic upbringing, she added, “I’m not trying to push anything, but what I am saying is that religion is probably the cause of more death in this world than anything because the way people blindly believe is so powerful…I wanted to bring that overt [religious] imagery to the forefront.”
That’s very quickly adding up to a lot conceptually. So what is the plan of attack? “There are several main characters and main storylines, and they’re kind of woven together Crash style.” “Prejudice starts with something so small, and it can ripple into something very, very large. That’s through and through what I’m showing in the film, and how the different storylines actually affect the others.”
Shields is currently casting Love is All You Need? with the intent to start principal photography in October. No one has signed on yet, but I was told she is hopeful for both Bruce Dern and Elizabeth Banks as pieces of the ensemble cast.
And what else is in the pipeline? Shields exclusively told us about her next project, Exposure, which is still in development. The film will focus on a soldier who loses her leg in Iraq and develops a romance with a photographer upon her return home. Shields plans to explore the roles of women in the military, as well as challenge notions of beauty – the photographer “convinces her to pose nude,” which will play into the main character’s reconceptualization of her own body.
I asked her about her propensity for personal, grounded, socially conscious stories. “It is what I’m drawn to – the tale of human existence.” “I want to use [the tool of film] to change the way people think about everything.”