Plucky Magazine : Forum : Behind the Scenes of “Fr..

Behind the Scenes of “Freak” with Creator Eric Casaccio

10 Years Ago

“It was like a dream come true.  Shooting was like magic.  I had the time of my life filming this movie.  And I will never forget the joy that I’ve had on it, and the other self-discovery I guess, ’cause I really found my self as an artist.” – Eric Casaccio

For anyone who knows film festivals, no doubt you’ve heard of Freak.  For those of you who don’t know film festivals, you are in for a treat.

Picture Mulholland Drive in 15 minutes.

I had the privilege of talking to the writer, director, and producer ofFreak, Eric Casaccio, and I got his perspective on his award winning short, and life in general.  The story of a lonely, disconnected man, who dresses in drag, or perhaps a queen who just happens to be a man, is one that has touched the hearts of many, including Eric himself.

“I’m so thankful, and I feel so in-the-zone with what I’m supposed to be doing in my life right now.  I never would have ever thought that this film, that I did in my own apartment, on my own, would have made it this far.  It just makes me think, ‘wow, this is who I am and this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”

The main character, “Randall/Sophia”, is a struggling actor who has found the pressures of being oneself to be a bit much.  Isolated and disconnected in his/her last refuge, a single bedroom apartment in Hollywood, “Randall/Sophia” struggles with his/her own inability to face reality.  But then the phone starts ringing, and reality breaks into his/her fragile world, only adding to the inner conflict.
“There’s such an emptiness and compression within ‘Randall/Sophia’, and within his home with the objects that he looks to for help or for enlightenment, there is this silence that is empty while he looks at these objects for help or for inspiration.  And I think that the silence stands for the way this character is kind of silencing his/her self from the outside world.  That is one thing the phone represents.  The phone can represent a bully, and I think that this character has definitely been bullied his/her entire life, not just within childhood, and that was the primary thread of direction I gave for Aaron Merken, who played the character brilliantly. That was the thread that we used through the whole story.”

Aaron Merken, who Eric met on the set of another film, Psychic Glitter, was made for the part.  Or rather the part was made for him. “Aaron played a character named ‘Glitter’ who’s the complete opposite of ‘Randall/Sophia’ – a very crazy and manipulative, wannabe psychic drag queen, and he was incredible in that.” 

However, “Randall/Sophia” had been the victim of bullying his/her entire life, and had no sense of self-esteem, and as time goes on, life begins to imitate art.  “I always said to Aaron while we were shooting and in rehearsals:  ‘Even in your adult life no one wants to understand you or care to understand you.  You isolate your self from the world, and the only time you feel like you’re worthy is when you’re performing, because you’re on a different planet.’  When this character comes into the picture, this character ‘Freak’ that ‘Randall/Sophia’ is trying out for, as he rehearsing these lines, over and over again, he’s starting to feel like what the dialogue is saying.  I think a lot of pain comes out in those rehearsals.”

Whether its Randall/Sophia’s mother or his/her neighbor “Dale”, “Randall/Sophia” 

can’t get no respect, and through a chance conversation with “Dale”, played by K.C. Morgan, “Randall/Sophia” must face all the laughter of the past. “You have this person who’s about to lose their mind, who sees this guy that’s very attractive and ‘Randall/Sophia’ is being really really nice to him, being very genuine and being very innocent, and this person is like ‘why are you even talking to me’ and then calls ‘Randall/Sophia’ a ‘freak’.  And that immediately brings him back to that moment, a wretched childhood of abuse and ridicule and bullying.  That’s exactly what goes into his mind at that moment.” 

Even though the main character is a transvestite, the main theme of the film is not centered around the LGBT community.  “I don’t really consider Freak a ‘gay’ movie.  I think it’s a movie about self-acceptance.  I think it’s very important that people embrace who they are, no matter who they are or where they are.  I think Freak definitely has that message.  It’s not just about a man that dresses up as a woman that happens to like other men, it’s an overall statement for any human being.”

The art born of personal experience is the best kind, no matter how harsh it may be to experience it at the time, and Eric understands this.  “I really learned that within my own life that I’ve lived a lot of my life feeling like an underdog.  I always felt that I wasn’t good enough, stuff like that, where i was constantly apologizing for who i was as an out and proud gay man, and I don’t need to do that as a human being or as an individual, and that it’s ok to be who I am no matter where I am.”

The filming of Freak allowed Eric to explore his own self, and find some amazing things.  He has a sincere empathy and longing to help those who have suffered because of who they are.  The short is dedicated to Lawrence King, an 8th grader shot by another student for being homosexual.  And Eric’s own personal experience is the source of “Randall/Sophia’s” misery, and his/her triumph.  “I was bullied a lot as a kid, and that behavior can wire an individual a certain way to think they’re not good enough in life.  And that definitely happened to me.  It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I really unwired my self.  Life is beautiful, and I don’t need to hold onto anything that’s happened to me in my past life.  I think Freakdefinitely has that symbol within it, as well, and I think a lot of that does come from me.”

Part of a growing tide of socially aware media, Freak is only one of Eric’s ways of reaching out, and making a difference.  “Everything that’s been in the news since 2010 with all the teenage suicides, that’s been going on forever.  That has been going on for far too long.  We got a lot of awareness, but we have a long way to go.  I feel like I am part of that movement.  I think “Freak” has been part of that movement to a certain degree, and it’s definitely something I want to do more of as I grow.”  Eric has also raised almost $2,000 through his personal onstage charity projectPsychic Glitter, in honor of Lawrence King.

But the movie isn’t all about drama and heartache.  There also finer points that one can appreciate. “There’s not a lot of dialogue in Freak, other than the phone messages.  I think that’s the majority of dialogue.  It’s more or less the subtext of what you’re seeing and hearing and what’s going on in the scene versus the actual dialogue. That’s what as an artist has really been wonderful being able to tell a story like that, versus dialogue, dialogue, dialogue telling a story.”

Not everything in Freak is born of Eric’s own experience.  For example, Eric has never dressed in drag, but “I did a lot of research on friends of mine that do it regularly, just for fun or they do it as an act.  They do it because they really see themselves as both, and I think that’s beautiful and amazing.”  And Eric’s mother is nothing like “Randall/Sophia’s”.  “My mother is an amazing woman.  She accepts me the way I am.  She’s been there for me through thick and thin.  She’s a very strong woman, and I love her with all my heart.  I am very blessed to have someone like her in my life.”

Then there are the awards and recognition “What’s been really cool aboutFreak as an artist, out of everything that’s happened with this movie, every award, everything, this is what I’m the proudest of:  Freak is screened in underground film festivals, international film festivals, mainstream film festivals, and LGBT film festivals.  To be able to attend all these different venues, including the more conservative venues, and having the only movie that is remotely LGBT in any way, shape, or form.  And I’ve gone to these venues with nothing but my self, the out and proud artist, and have won awards.” In fact, Freak has won 15 Awards in all, including “Best Drama” at the Burbank International Film Festival and “Best Actor in a Short” at the Action on Film International Film Festival.  “To be able to take my self out of my comfortable West Hollywood bubble, that I love, and put my self in interactions and venues with artists that I’m not used to being around has been the best reward, the most self-growth, I have had as an individual.”

This, in part, is a reflection on Eric’s ability to surround himself with people who genuinely care, and understand what it means to be human.  He was once given a bit of advice, “Be responsible and have fun.”  Eric has taken this to heart.  “I learned that when I moved out here.  Because I wasn’t out of the closet til I moved out here.  I moved out here when I was 24, and I came out within 6 months of that.  And it wasn’t until I became comfortable with who I am as an individual that I realized that.  I met this guy years ago, and he told me that, and I was just starting to get back in my art again.  He said, ‘Just create real projects and have a good time and things will happen for you.’  Ever since he told me that, that’s all that I’ve been doing, and it’s been tremendous for me.”

The end of the film is cathartic, and perhaps not what one might expect. “When ‘Dale’ says, ‘maybe we can hang out sometime’, and ‘Randall’ turns and looks at “Dale’, ‘Randall’ could have sunk to his level and destroyed him, but doesn’t.  He just looks at him, gives him a kind of a smile, and says, ‘yes, maybe we can’ and is a better person, and moves on.  That moment is such a stunning moment.  That is success in and of itself right there.”

In parting, Eric left this advice for all who are hurting and are willing to listen:

“Always hold on for another day, and to be who you are no matter where you are.  And if you ever felt like you were less than, or not good enough, or if you’ve ever been made fun of, or have been picked on, or feel that you are worthless or nothing, that you are worth something.  You are here for a purpose, and you deserve to be loved.  You are an incredible person and you were created for a huge reason.  Never let anybody put you down, or believe what they are saying about you because you deserve to be happy.”

© 2012 Plucky Magazine