Q & A With Swan Song Director Todd Stephens

Todd wrote, produced and directed “Another Gay Movie” and “Gypsy 83” and also wrote and produced “Edge Of Seventeen.” All four of his previous features won numerous festival awards and were released theatrically all over the world. Todd is currently a Professor of Film at School of Visual Arts in NYC.

Can you talk about how your past works have led you to “Swan Song?”

“Swan Song” is a return to the more serious side of my Gemini self. After the wacky world of “Another Gay Movies”, I wanted to go back to my roots and finish what I think of as my “Ohio Trilogy” (started by “Edge of Seventeen”, then “Gypsy 83”). Honestly though, it took me years to find the courage to reveal the more personal/autobiographical side of myself again. But after many false starts and several amazing therapists, I finally got up the nerve to reopen my heart. In many
ways, the character of Pat is me, telling myself it’s not too late to do what I love.

Was this film written with Udo Kier in mind?

I should make Udo happy and say yes, but I actually had Gene Wilder in my head when I wrote the first draft. But after spending more than a year searching for the perfect Pat, it became clear that the only human being on this planet who could fully do him justice was Udo Kier. Watching Udo’s performance on set every day was like witnessing a master class in acting.

What was Udo’s first reaction to the screenplay?

Udo called me right away, and said he loved it. I jumped on the first plane to Palm Springs to meet him, and the rest is history. Udo was very gracious with helping to get the film off the ground – I later returned to Palm Springs to shoot a Kickstarter video in his fabulous living room. One of the biggest bonuses of making “Swan Song” has been making a new best friend in Udo. He’s family now.

Can you talk about your attraction to small-town in America?

Sandusky, Ohio is where I was born and raised, and will always be a huge part of who I am. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my hometown over the years – it’s like I couldn’t wait to leave and now I can’t wait to return. Times have changed since we filmed “Edge of Seventeen” there in 1997 and felt like we needed to keep the film’s gay storyline in the closet. In fact, when Producer Eric Eisenbrey and I arrived back in town to start preproduction for “Swan Song”, Sandusky was celebrating it’s 3r d Annual Gay Pride Festival. My queer inner child almost couldn’t process it! After years of being down and out, Sandusky’s reawakening helped inspire Pat’s rebirth in the film.

If you could choose anyone living or dead, who would you choose to do your hair for your funeral?

The late, great Mister Pat, of course! But, assuming he’s all booked up after the film comes out, my second choice would be the late Sydney Guilaroff, whose genius Hollywood creations inspired our final look for Linda Evans. Who am I kidding, though? In reality — I told my husband Tim he as to personally style my hair in the casket because he’s the only one who really knows how I do it haha.

What’s your drag name and what song do you perform?

Lazy Susan. And probably something by Stevie Nicks. But only if I feel like it.