Writer, director and producer Michelle Ehlen who made the critically acclaimed films Butch Jamie and Hetrosexual Jill, is at it again. Ehlen, a Best Feature winner at the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, is in the process of making a new film, S&M Sally. The satire about gender, identity, sex, love and relationships focuses on those who who fear going outside their comfort zone and the ramifications of losing a partner. Yet they learn that doing so leads to a richer experience for themselves. "I like to think there's an underlying theme in my films of living a more authentic life," says Ehlen. "Once you get over the idea of who you think you are or should be, you can begin to move toward a more genuine and three-dimensional experience."
In fact, S&M Sally explores new territory in dealing with gender, identity, sex, love, and relationships. And, says Ehlen, "this is the first film of its kind to explore erotic practices in a comedic yet realistic way. It's the first film to explore the pinker shades of the butch spectrum."
Ehlen talked to me about her new film.
Q: What is S&M Sally about?
Michelle Ehlen: The film is a character-driven comedy about people pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones, while poking fun of the insecurities within all of us. The plot revolves around lesbian couple Jamie and Jill, who start going to S&M clubs after Jamie's insecurities surface about lagging behind in the bedroom. The story unfolds as they play around with roles of dominance and submission in the club, and it starts changing their relationship dynamic at home. All in all, I think the film tackles topics that many consider taboo but in a very charming and accessible way. I call the film a satire on relationships, as the underlying themes are quite universal - insecurities, power dynamics, intimacy issues, and authenticity.
Q: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Michelle Ehlen: I've always loved creating and telling stories. I started acting when I was a kid as a way to express myself because I was shy. Then as I gained more life experience, I had a greater desire and passion for writing and directing my own ideas.
Q: What inspired you to make S&M Sally?
Michelle Ehlen: I love exploring issues of identity and authenticity, and how those two things relate to one another. Mostly I'm inspired to show a diversity of choices on-screen - choices in your relationships and choices in how to life your life. Since most on-screen portrayals simply reiterate the status quo, I love being able to present a different point of view. And it's exciting to follow these characters through their journey of self-discovery after they start exploring unchartered territory.
Q: You appear in your films. How challenging is it to direct yourself?
Michelle Ehlen: I really enjoy it. I give myself a sort of carte blanche so I can dive in and do what feels organic in the moment. I actually prefer it to acting for another director since I'm less self-conscious about trying to please someone and it's easier for me to get out of my own way. As an editor, I can review the footage later with a more critical eye. I think the greater challenge for me is directing the other actors and assessing what they need, since every actor works differently, although I think that would be a challenge even if I was only behind the camera.
Q: What's the great joy making this film?
Michelle Ehlen: I've loved sharing the script with others who are surprised by how much they connect with it. I think the comedy really helps people resonate with the material, as it's one of those stories where you can laugh at the characters and identify with them at the same time. I'm most looking forward to shooting the dungeon scenes, including a fireplay scene which I think will be beautiful on-screen. We plan to shoot this Fall and are currently raising funds on Kickstarter. My first two films were self-funded, but the market has changed so much that it's getting harder to do that. We're offering perks like advance copies of the film and on-screen credits in exchange for contributions. You can find us by searching for "Sally" on Kickstarter's website or click here.
All photos used with permission.