Pit Stop takes a subtle and eloquent approach in telling the parallel stories of two gay men in a small Texas town. There’s Gabe (Bill Heck): a contractor who’s getting over an ill-fated affair with a married man and finds solace in the relationship he still harbors with his ex-wife, Shannon (Amy Seimetz), and their daughter, Cindy (Bailey Bass); and there’s Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda): a Hispanic lumber yard worker in the midst of splitting up with his live-in boyfriend, Luis (Alfredo Maduro), as he receives news from the hospital that his former love, Martin (Rob Conner), is in a coma. At the end, when Gabe and Ernesto meet for a one-nighter – having endured all the struggles and heartbreaks and wondering if they’ll ever find love again – they face the possibility that they might just be meant for each other.
As a gay Asian-American filmmaker, I always desire to see a broader and more complex range of LGBT characters in cinema. I’m also drawn to stories that delve into the heart of underrepresented communities. Pit Stop is a character-driven drama that revolves around the lives of two gay characters in a red state small town. In today’s climate where there’s so much discourse over gay rights and marriage equality, Pit Stop is my endeavor in diverting that debate into something less political but more emotionally grounded: the meaning of love, the meaning of family, and the meaning of connection. The playwright Adam Bock once said, “In being specific in my work, that’s how universality happens. Everybody is lonely, everybody is afraid. As artists, as we get more specific, the universe appears.” This is precisely what I seek to achieve with Pit Stop.” – Yen Tan
Q&A with Yen Tan
How did the story come to you?
The idea for Pit Stop came about in 2002 when I was commuting between Dallas and Houston (where my editor was based) for the post-production of my first film, Happy Birthday. I made “pit stops” for gas and coffee in the small towns in between the cities, and I started to think about what it’d be like to live there as a gay man. My curiosity led to some research online, and I corresponded with several gays and lesbians who live in small towns. They were people who chose to be in places that may not be accepting of their lifestyles. Yet, they managed to blend in seamlessly with the rest of their community, holding jobs as conventional as everyone else’s. They were mechanics, teachers, construction workers, business owners, or law enforcement officers.
Nevertheless, these small towners are not as “out” as the average gay urbanite. Being gay is part of their identity, but it’s not necessarily something they’d talk about openly. A few of their close confidants may know, but for the most part, DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t-Tell”) is the prevailing attitude. This all brought back another distant memory I had in college. I was studying at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and used to frequent a gay bar called The Garden. One cold winter night, I met Larry, a farmer who lived near Ames. Since his place was too far away and I had a roommate in my dorm, we ended up spending the night in his truck at a secluded residential area. He was closeted and had an ex-wife who doesn’t know he’s gay, and they had a kid who was about to attend elementary school.
This provided a foundation for me to work off from, and I started to write the script with Larry’s story as a starting point. Little did I know I was gonna be working on the script for close to ten years, and eventually co-wrote it with David Lowery.
When did you begin production? How long did it take?
We shot the film in Texas – Austin, Bastrop, Dripping Springs, Lockhart – in the summer of 2012. Production took about a month.
Did you face any difficulties in making the film?
It took so long to get the script off the ground, and it was nearly impossible to find financing for the film. I must have shelved the project more than a dozen times. Being accepted by the Outfest Screenwriting Lab in 2009 was certainly a confidence boost, and once we received a production grant from Austin Film Society in 2011, that very quickly led to more grants (i.e. Vilcek Foundation) and funding opportunities.
Casting was occasionally frustrating. There were times where I wondered if I was making the film twenty years ago, where actors would balk at the gay content and gave ridiculous reasons to back out of auditions. There was a nice counterbalance: actors who didn’t care and who responded to the story and characters were incredibly passionate. Production went fairly smoothly, self-inflicted mental torture aside.
What do you want the audience to take from the film?
I wasn’t interested in making anything sensational or had a “message.” My intent with Pit Stop is to always focus on the characters’ humanity and their way of life. My hope is that the integrity of this approach enables the audience to fully empathize with their emotional journeys and their plights in finding, losing, and rediscovering love.