DN last caught up with Director Beck Kitsis for her brilliant horror short The Three Men You Meet at Night, which took a subversive look at male abuse and how intentions can be just as deadly as actions. She returns to our pages today alongside partner Chris McNabb to premiere Valentine, a new short they’ve co-directed that also explores the intimate difficulty of human relationships, this time on a personal level between a couple. Valentine follows partners Corey and Mia who find themselves re-evaluating the state of their relationship when Corey begins to explore their gender and identity. It’s a tender, honest and important look at the value of their exchanges and is performed beautifully by Jacob Tobia and Sadie Scott. Watch it below, after which we speak with the filmmakers about the personal nature of their short, how they sought to portray trans experiences in a new light, and the importance of representation both in front of and behind the camera.

Valentine is such a beautiful exploration of a person’s identity and the place that has within a relationship, where did it all begin?

Valentine is about a couple named Corey and Mia who head to the Catskills for a romantic getaway. However, as Corey begins to explore his gender identity, he and Mia struggle to redefine their relationship. The film is extremely personal to me and Beck, as it’s loosely based on our own experiences navigating gender transition while in a long-term relationship together.

If it’s okay to ask, how did your personal experiences inform the film?

I didn’t admit to myself that I was transgender until I was 26 years old. No one had explicitly told me that to be trans was to be othered or hated or laughed at, but they didn’t have to, it was written into the media I consumed. When I finally came out as nonbinary, I had already been dating Beck, a ciswoman who identified as straight at the time, for two years. We’ve been together for eight years now, but that early period of transition was full of uncertainty. As I was beginning the process of rediscovering my identity, Beck was wondering what our relationship meant for her sexual orientation, in and of itself a fundamental part of her own identity.

We wanted to tell a more nuanced story, one that doesn’t shy away from the complexities of transitioning within a romantic partnership.

During this time in our relationship, we felt really alone. We didn’t have any friends who had gone through similar situations, and when we looked to mainstream storytelling for comfort, we couldn’t find a single story like ours to relate to. Too often do I see this type of film end in total rejection of the trans character. In our short, we wanted to tell a more nuanced story, one that doesn’t shy away from the complexities of transitioning within a romantic partnership, but that is handled with compassion and care to reflect our own authentic experience.

Did your desire to create a story centred on a trans character have any effect on how you approached aspects of production behind the camera?

Authenticity was also important to us in the production of the film. As we assembled our team, Scott Turner Schofield at GLAAD offered guidance along the way to help us achieve our goal of including other trans creatives both in front of and behind the camera. Ultimately, we were fortunate to work with an incredible cast of two nonbinary actors (Jacob Tobia and Sadie Scott), as well as a talented and diverse crew.

How did you tackle the visual language of this story? There’s an intimate warmth to the camerawork and colour grading.

Inspired by the tactile intimacy of In The Mood For Love and Laurence Anyways, we originally wanted to shoot Valentine on film. However, 16mm would have made it difficult to shoot inside of our small bathroom location, and 35mm was wildly out of budget. If we’re being completely honest, 16mm was out of budget, too! Really, neither was in the cards. Still, we’re very happy with the visuals that we were able to create with Cinematographer Adam Kolodny. He shot the film on an Alexa Mini with Kowa spherical lenses.

How long were you shooting for and then how much did the film change when assembling it in post-production?

After fundraising through Kickstarter, we shot the film in early June 2021 over the course of three days in West Shokan, New York with a small but mighty crew. While our first assembly was nearly 16 minutes long, we ultimately edited the film down to just under ten minutes. We weren’t intentionally trying to arrive at a shorter run time, it just so happened that this particular project became much stronger and more focused once we cut out certain scenes that distracted from the film’s main interests.

Authenticity was also important to us in the production of the film.

Given the personal genesis of Valentine, how have you found the process of going to festivals and sharing the film with audiences?

We were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with the film this year. We went to Florida for our world premiere at the 2022 Florida Film Festival, before continuing on to Baltimore, Palm Springs, and more. Having the chance to celebrate the film’s New York premiere at the Tribeca Festival with our cast and crew was an incredibly special experience.

How would you describe your working relationship with each other? Do you have a shorthand as directors or take on specific roles during production?

Throughout the process of making Valentine, we always tried to stay in sync in our direction of the film. Of course, that’s not to say we never had differing ideas on how to write or capture certain moments of a scene, but, as a couple of eight years, we’ve had lots of practice developing effective modes of communication and conflict resolution. These experiences in our personal relationship proved integral to our ability to collaborate as co-directors. For example, we made it a priority to resolve any creative disagreements ahead of time so that we could come to set with one unified approach. That level of preparation made shoot days run pretty smoothly. Since we each knew what the other one wanted, when department heads came to us with questions on set, we rarely had to check in with the other because we’d already had those conversations prior to production. We were both creatively in lockstep. And, best of all, there were two of us often working in two different places at once, which essentially allowed us to move twice as quickly.

When we looked to mainstream storytelling for comfort, we couldn’t find a single story like ours to relate to.

While we didn’t necessarily take on specific roles during production, it was nice to be able to divide and conquer. For example, in some scenes, one of us was able to focus more on blocking and performance with the actors, while the other was able to tackle camera and lighting setups. Because we had an established idea of what both of us wanted, there was an inherent trust between us when making decisions on set. We both came to filmmaking with different creative experiences, Beck with a background in producing, production design, and directing theater, and Chris with a background in editing and G&E. So, in some ways, we fell into those respective roles at times, but we always remained in communication with one another.

What does the future hold for the two of you?

Together, we’re developing a feature-length home invasion film called Deer in the Wood that we wrote together last year. We’re hoping to make it in early 2024. We’re also developing an episodic series called House of Thorns.

Separately, Beck is both directing a feature adaptation of a popular horror novella and co-writing/producing a Sundance-supported feature film called Strawberry Summer. Chris is currently editing an animated documentary called Chain of Rocks, as well as working on a new short fiction film they hope to direct this year.

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