‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ Team on How Vulnerability Led to “Painful” But Important Truths Behind Kevin Smith Film

‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ Team on How Vulnerability Led to “Painful” But Important Truths Behind Kevin Smith Film

Sav Rodgers’ documentary feature debut, Chasing Chasing Amy, is at its core a transition story. Not so much about his own transition, though it is addressed in the 95-minute movie examining the cultural and personal impact of the 1997 Kevin Smith-directed Chasing Amy. But the transitory process that is coming of age; being in love; being a fan; and perhaps most significantly, the realization that under its glitz and glamour, Hollywood is not inherently the romantic place it’s sold as onscreen.

“My mom would always say this thing to me when I was a kid, which is, ‘I need you to understand that I am just a person and your parents are just people. We’re not exceptional. We make mistakes,’” Rodgers recalls, while discussing the takeaways of his doc with The Hollywood Reporter during the film’s 2023 Tribeca Festival run.

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That transitory through line is not just present in the doc’s themes, either. The film watches almost like three separate movies, guiding viewers into a new understanding of one of cinema’s more controversial “queer” films. What starts as an examination of why Smith’s film was criticized for perpetuating the idea that lesbians could be “turned” straight becomes a look at growing up, fandom culture, the #MeToo movement and what it means to have agency over one’s identity and narrative in Hollywood, queer culture and more.

That end result is a byproduct, Rodgers says, of his evolving relationship with a film — produced over half a decade — that he initially wrote and performed a viral 2019 TED Talk, “The Rom-Com That Saved My Life,” about. As Rodgers sits down with members of the movie’s creative team, including director Smith and star Joey Lauren Adams, as well as other notable artists and experts in queer cinema like Guinevere Turner, Andrew Ahn and Kevin Willmott, he unpacks previously unknown details about the making of the film. That includes its personal origins, connections to Harvey Weinstein, the relationship between its director and star, and inequity in Hollywood — all the while asking himself and viewers what it means to separate the fan from the art from the artist.

Following its Tribeca run, Rodgers and producer Alex Schmider spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the movie’s many transitions, getting honest — if unexpected — answers years after Chasing Amy was released and why he might never watch the film again.

You transition over the course of making this film, but you don’t really address that until the final third of the film. And once you do, you don’t spend much time on it. Why did you make that decision?

SAV RODGERS Full credit to Alex Schmider for allowing me to consider what the possibilities were. Over the last 100 years of cinema, we’ve seen transition portrayed in a very specific way. Not from the point of view of trans people for the majority of it. And even sometimes when it comes from trans people, it’s kind of regurgitating the same messages that we receive about how to feel about ourselves. Right. Because Alex is such a brilliant story producer, in addition to his work at GLAAD, he’s had a lot of experience considering how can we tell transition stories in a different way? So he challenged me at the beginning of the project. I was thinking about the ways that I thought I was supposed to talk about it — the ways that I thought I had to talk about it as a director. He asked, “Why would you consider showing a hormone injection? Why would you consider disclosing your private medical information to the audience? How does this serve the story?” To get that permission from a collaborator who I admire so greatly and who has a ton of experience with stories like this was amazing. So what you end up seeing in the movie is very purposeful. I set a boundary with the audience that I have come out as trans. This is how you should refer to me. This is who I am. That’s about where it begins and ends. We try to answer questions I think for the audience. At the end with my interview with Riley. “Hey, I came out as trans. How’d that go from your side?” (Laughs) It’s telling people all they really need to know is who I am and how to speak to me. The rest isn’t germane to the story. I’m coming of age in way more ways in this movie than just coming out as trans, though I think that’s the shiny thing that people latch on to.

ALEX SCHMIDER It’s a credit to Sav as a director, who is so open to feedback, difficult conversations and collaboration. It is not easy to be challenged or to challenge other people when you don’t have an established trust of, “We’re on the same team. We’re trying to tell the best story possible. That means proper tribute to what you’re trying to say with your point of view and your filmmaking.” I appreciate all that credit, but also the credit is shared, and it’s a two-way street of I could give feedback. I could give recommendations and guidance, but if it’s not received, then it sort of just lives out and doesn’t manifest in the story that’s told. It is one of my favorite stories of transition because of how central we’re talking about the many ways that we come of age and that’s not just physical; that’s emotional, that’s mental. It’s getting to know different people, perspectives and integrating that into how we then show up in the world. That’s how the filmmaking process was as well.

Sav Rodgers

Sav Rodgers

Courtesy of Film

This feels like three separate movies, but also one single film because of how the threads go from one chapter to the next. How did you handle weaving this into one cohesive narrative?

RODGERS My initial approach with it was to make a documentary about the intersection of Chasing Amy and the LGBTQ community. This idea of representation was what I started with day one, 2018. Then quickly the people around me were like Sav, you should really consider putting yourself in this. I very much did not want to be in it. But you hear a note once, it’s like OK. You hear it 20 times, and you feel compelled to listen. That’s how I ended up being in the movie at all. When we were in the editing room, we could have made 20 different versions of this movie. There was so much rich material in the edit that it was overwhelming. We could make the movie I set out to make. We could make a movie that’s just about me. We can make a movie that’s just about Kevin, Joey (Lauren Adams). But at the end of the day, the call was: every scene had to be about my relationship to Chasing Amy and how it evolves over time to get the version of the movie that we have now. Through that we found four really key parallel stories. My relationship with Riley; Joey’s relationship with Kevin; (Chasing Amy producer) Scott (Mosier) and (Go Fish director) Guinevere (Turner)’s romantic friendship; and Holden and Alyssa in Chasing Amy.

Sharika (Ajaikumar), our editor, helped to thread the needle the way that I was asking for. We needed some connective tissue to tie these stories together, so we’d often go back to the archive and talking head interviews. Everything felt like it really needed to be seamless or else you end up with three different movies in one, and it doesn’t feel like one movie at the end. So full credit to Sharika for helping sort my brain out during that process because it was incredibly challenging to be the filmmaker, the primary participant in the movie, and also to unpack my own coming of age. It’s very daunting when you’re sitting in an editing bay, and you’re faced with mistakes you’ve made — naïveté. Also disclosing to the world all those personal things you’ve ever gone through that under ordinary circumstances are nobody else’s business. At the end of it, it is a process of relentless collaboration. It’s doing a lot of revisions in the edit. It’s fine-tuning everything. I was especially sensitive to this idea of unearned sentimentality. If it didn’t pass my litmus test for this moment, it didn’t go in the movie. It didn’t matter if I thought it was funny or if it had the potential to be cute if we spent another two weeks working on it. If it felt even remotely self aggrandizing, and it didn’t fit into the central premise of every scene has to be about me and my relationship to Chasing Amy, it was out.

SCHMIDER In order for the film and the interviews that came about, Sav had to be extremely vulnerable and open. That’s what allows then Joey, Guinevere, Kevin to be honest. it’s often uncomfortable and painful, but it’s that risk reciprocity, of sharing an openness, that allows for the interviews to come as they do.

One of the moments you just spoke about Alex is an interview with Adams. She talks about the position she was put in while making Chasing Amy and having to work with former producer Harvey Weinstein — now a convicted rapist and with whom Smith had a professional relationship with. That was not an expected story turn but feels like one of the most critical and substantial moments of how your doc explores the theme of truth. How did you get that moment with Adams, and why it was ultimately important that it be in there for your larger narrative?

RODGERS Joey was one of the first people to agree to be interviewed in February 2019. We had a phone call through a mutual friend. I explained to her before the TED Talk even came out that this is the movie that I’m making. This is the talk that’s going to come out in a little bit. This is the impact that this movie that you were in had on my life. Would you be interested? The first interview that we did was the joint interview with her and Kevin. Then the next day, I did the solo interview with Joey. Our rapport was good, and continued to be good. We set up at her house. She invites us in and immediately there’s a different energy than there was the day before. I had unknowingly kind of kicked a hornet’s nest. How I got the interview is really a testament to Joey feeling like she could be honest with me. Anything good about that interview really is a credit to her being vulnerable with me, and trusting me to listen to her story. I had researched Chasing Amy for 15 years up to that point. I couldn’t find any interviews that shared this point of view. I’m very grateful that she opened up in that way and told her truth.

I’m similar to Kevin in that way, in that I’m romantic. I was like, “This is my favorite movie. It means so much to me. This was so important to me at this very vulnerable period of my life. You must have had so much fun making it, right?” To be given that truth — feedback is a gift. When somebody tells you their truth and is honest with you, that is a gift. Why it was important to show in the movie, it’s because Joey trusted us with that truth. Guinevere trusted us with her truth. Kevin trusted us with his truth. Yeah, that moment was difficult. It was surprising. It was the most intense test of me as a director that I’ve ever had. But that moment is not about that. That moment is about her finally being able to share her truth, which she talks about extensively in that interview. Does it hurt the ego a little bit to see your naïveté on screen? Yeah, but this movie is nothing if we’re not honest about these things. There’s no story if we can’t be honest about where the story goes.

Joey Lauren Adams, Sav Rodgers and Kevin Smith

From left: Joey Lauren Adams, Sav Rodgers and Kevin Smith

Courtesy of Film

SCHMIDER To add on to that, it was a decision. As we were in the production process, we kept encouraging Sav to be a part of this movie. You are the emotional core for so many of us who have no relationship to Chasing Amy. I had none prior to this other than seeing that movie in Blockbuster. But one of the things that I think is so amazing about Sav is that in those moments that he is talking to Joey, there are cuts to his discomfort. His rapid growth spurt is coming into consciousness. This is not what he imagined or expected. That is not easy to put on screen, but it’s in some ways necessary to understand that this is a moment that she is not just offering this truth, and it being in the wind. It’s not about to go away. It’s actually affecting how Sav relates to this movie and hopefully how the audience is also having to be uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable. It’s really powerful in so many ways in terms of what happens when you are honest with yourself, and feel like you can be honest with others.

RODGERS The movie obviously has me as the primary participant, but all the people in this movie are real people and these are their real lives. I don’t take any of that lightly. So we’re showing my discomfort, but we’re showing I’m listening. This is Joey’s experience in her truth. The only thing that really matters to me in that scene is that her story gets out there because she did trust us with it.

That moment underscores the initial premise of the film, which is that people all see a moment or a thing in time from very different perspectives based on our personal experience — particularly fans. Because of that, I’m curious if you were prepared for so many people to be so honest about the more difficult truths around how this movie got made and how Hollywood has treated queer and female artists in relation to white men?

RODGERS I was fully prepared to just roll with the punches. (Pauses) Fully prepared might be generous. I was not expecting any of this. But the first crack in the dam, so to speak, was my interview with Guinevere. So the order in which we see things leading up to the climax of the film is very purposeful. We have Guinevere Turner telling her truth about how Kevin got an empire, and they were “just some d****.” That was the first crack in the dam for me in terms of maybe this movie is going to be something different. She was the first interview that we got that challenged me in that way. Guinevere is a brilliant, smart, wonderful human being who I respect and admire so much. A pioneer of lesbian cinema who has written some of the greatest movies that have ever come out or are culturally relevant. For her to sit there and share that truth with me was not lost on me. The next interview in order was Kevin’s, in which we talked about his rapport with Harvey Weinstein. It’s a second crack in the dam. That’s information I knew coming into it, but getting to hear about his point of view, it’s yeah, this is not this is not what I thought it was, especially with the gift of hindsight. Then Joey was next. There’s a reason it’s a 1-2-3 punch. Joey is last because that’s the order in which things happened. So I think any romanticizing of Chasing Amy went out the door pretty quickly in this process. I wanted to show the journey as it happened. It’s taken until now to premiere the movie. We’ve been working on it for a while. But there’s been a lot of growing that happens between those interviews and what you end up seeing in the third act.

SCHMIDER Through the process, there were breaks in the dam about your relationship with this movie, with media and uncovering what Hollywood can be or has looked like. What you often talk about is where you then found the ultimate meaning.

RODGERS I was so excited to go on this journey. This is my dream movie, even still. When I was a kid, I just wanted to talk to people about Chasing Amy, which made me very bad at being closeted, for the record. (Laughs) But I got to grow up and do that. All the things that I was chasing in this movie, so to speak, were the things that I thought would make me happy, when the thing that made me happiest was at home the whole time. Not that I ever lost sight of that, but I think when you go on a journey like this, and you’re meeting the people that made something that was so important to you, you realize how much of everything is a facade? What’s actually real, talking about fandom, was that Riley was in my corner the whole time. That’s really all that matters to me. Not to say that I don’t still love Chasing Amy, and don’t appreciate and respect Kevin, but Riley is my best friend. The people I made this movie with are the people I talked to every day. Those are the important things, and as a result of this process, I can let go and don’t feel the need to defend myself as the No. 1 Chasing Amy fan. Somebody else can have that.

Kevin Smith and Sav Rodgers

Kevin Smith and Sav Rodgers

Bill-Winters

Another thing that makes this a really queer film, is how it’s grappling with identity and who gets to define that — especially for a community that has had it in larger society and in Hollywood defined not by themselves. How did you think about situating that conversation — starting with other people who are telling lesbians who they are, and then that conversation among fans and artists? Were you concerned at all about how people might, again, decide for other people in this film?

SCHMIDER As a storyteller and as a producer, I want to tell stories that reach outside of communities that may be more receptive or interested in watching stories about us. So I’m always thinking about who is this talking to beyond the people I know or the people that I agree with or the people who may have preconceived notions about who we are as queer people. Both of us come from a place of we want to make movies that are accessible to very wide audiences. We want people to be able to feel and relate to something in the story. Maybe it’s not in terms of identity. Maybe it’s about being uncomfortable, wanting to belong, having people that support you and see you. Those are human experiences. Those aren’t specific to any one kind of identity. For me as a storyteller, and why so admire and appreciate Sav, is we’re both in it for the humanity. What can we show and share about ourselves that may not be one-for-one relatable, but there’s something to take for everyone from what we’re sharing and how we’re being open. I think something that is shown through this film, specifically because transition is the C-narrative, is that we’re all relating around one piece of media, so people are sharing their own personal relationships to that piece of media. And what’s underrepresented is how actually supported and loved we can be, but often not seen in the media that we consume. That exists in all sorts of different ways. It’s not perfect. It sometimes takes time. What I also love about this film is you see different ways that people come together and have different understandings about whom each other is, but those narratives, we’re not seeing nearly enough of as I think they’re actually reflective of reality.

You talk about narrative control through the queer community and their labels, but you also do it through the talking heads who have different opinions about the film and the team’s different recollections of how that film was made. Did you want to intentionally say, “It’s actually not my job to determine the truth or how you feel for you?”

RODGERS It’s quite intentional. I knew from the beginning, I have my own relationship with Chasing Amy and that is my relationship and mine alone. Nobody has to share this opinion of the movie. I wanted to create space for how there are multiple truths at once. Not just in the talking heads, but in the rest of the movie. How Kevin’s truth and Joey’s truth are not the same. My truth with the movie is different from a lesbian who had this movie used as a weapon against her to say you can be turned. It is not my job to tell anybody how to feel about Chasing Amy. I’ve never been interested in that. It’s this fandom question again. We feel so compelled to defend to the death this thing that is not ours. It’s just — it’s not my job. My job is to tell this specific story and to represent the truths that are at play here, which are much larger than my personal opinion on Chasing Amy. It’s a catalyst to explore all of these other things with all of these brilliant people who agreed to participate in this movie. I still love Chasing Amy. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again in my life. If you make something your job, it’s hard to just watch it for pleasure again. Kevin loves Chasing Amy. A ton of the people who were at our (Tribeca) screening love Chasing Amy. There were also probably some people in there who don’t like it. That’s fine. Movies have subjective meaning, and this is an exercise in surrendering control. Nobody wants to be told how to feel about anything, but if I put people’s truths out there and allow people to make up their own minds, I think that’s a way more interesting movie than if I’m like, you’re wrong and here’s x, y and z as to why I love this.

There’s some tough and very personal stuff in this film, not just with Weinstein or Turner, but between Adams and Smith. Did you talk to anyone about what was going to make it in the final cut before it premiered?

RODGERS I always try to do right by any participants who give me their time, stories and generosity. Kevin is the person who I probably communicate with most, and so I did tell Kevin from the outset of this that before you participate, there will be people who do not like Chasing Amy who will be speaking in this movie, and he said that’s fine. I did not have to deal with any defensiveness with Kevin as it pertained to other people’s opinions about Chasing Amy. He already knows them all. He has his own Twitter account, people can tell him everything. He doesn’t need me for that. In regard to other people, we tried to do right by them and tried to give them as much of a heads-up as humanly possible, sent out screener links. But people are busy. There’s no contractual obligations to show up or do anything for this movie.

You mentioned earlier that you could do multiple versions of this movie. What movie would you make, if you did something else from this material?

RODGERS I don’t know if I have another one of these left. I will say the stuff that I’m most drawn to out of the material that we have is talking about queer cinema and that period of time for movies. That’s the stuff I’m really drawn to. There’s a lot of stuff left on the cutting-room floor that is heartwarming, incisive commentary, and maybe after I’ve had enough space from this, I can figure out something to do with it in the future, but probably not as a movie. Maybe in some other medium.

SCHMIDER Everyone keeps asking if there’s going to be a Chasing Chasing Chasing Amy. (Laughs)

RODGERS Maybe if people are interested, I’ll write a book about it someday. I think the behind the scenes of it all is pretty interesting, too, and there is another coming-of-age story beyond even what you see on screen.

Interview edited for length and clarity.