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Writer/Director Trevor Anderson Talks Before I Change My Mind

Image courtesy of Trevor Anderson

Trevor Anderson’s Before I Change My Mind script first began garnering attention at Sundance 2020 when it was elected to the inaugural GLAAD List, a curated list of the ten most promising LGBTQ+inclusive screenplays in Hollywood as decided by GLAAD and The Black List. Two years later, the film premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland with Indiewire labeling it “A tender and knowing coming-of-age story”. Since then, Before I Change My Mind has screened at festivals all over the world including BFI Flare presented by the British Film Institute, the Oslo/Fusion International Film Festival, and Festival Mix Brazil. Epic Pictures Group is now bringing the title to U.S. audiences with the recent release.

The Before I Change My Mind synopsis reads- “1987: While the other students wonder if new kid Robin is a boy or a girl, Robin forges a complicated bond with the school bully, making increasingly dangerous choices to fit in”. The film stars Vaughan Murrae, Dominic Lippa, Lacey Oake, Matthew Rankin and Shannon Blanchet.

In the below interview, we spoke with Trevor about the creative process for bringing Before I Change My Mind to life.

Film Obsessive: As one of the writers of Before I Change My Mind, can you tell us what prompted you to create this story?

Trevor Anderson: I grew up queer on the Canadian Prairies in the 80s, so the film started out heavily autobiographical. As I worked with my friend and writing partner Fish Griwkowsky, the story moved from being autobiographical to semi-autobiographical, and in the end it’s fiction. I like to say the characters and plot are fiction, but the emotions are still a true story.

Were there any major changes between the first and final drafts? If so, can you discuss some of those?

Oh wow. To be able to answer this question, I went back and looked at the first full draft of the script. There are superficial changes: Robin had a single mom in the first draft and has a single dad in the final draft; Izzy had a single dad in the first draft and has a single dad in the final draft. Surface-level stuff like that. But the first major difference I see is that we wrote a community theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the first draft, before we understood we would never afford the rights. For the final draft, we wrote an original, satirical musical from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, Mary Magdalene Video Star. What a gift that was, to not get those rights. It made us create one of the most popular parts of the film, this absurd, original stage musical. We also had the young characters watching Pretty in Pink in the first draft, and by the final draft they’re watching an original film-within-the-film we made, called Satan’s Seedlings – which always gets a big laugh from the audience. So, there’s an important lesson about original world-building being more rewarding than paying tons of money to license existing IP. Other than that, in the first draft we got almost all the way to the ending but stopped short. By the final draft, we had really found the end of the story. In the first draft Robin is a fairly passive protagonist, and by the final draft we were able to make Robin an active hero.

Two kids in costumes look at each other and smile
Image courtesy of Trevor Anderson

Before I Change My Mind is your feature directorial debut. Can you talk about what preproduction looked like on the film? Did you story board scenes out?

We had originally planned to shoot this film in summer of 2020. The pandemic delayed us by a year, and there were months where neither I nor the cinematographer Wes Miron was working – or even leaving our houses. To make the best of a bad situation, we turned it into an intensive pre-production period. We had daily Zoom meetings to go through the script scene by scene and discuss everything. We made overhead plans of what the blocking could look like for the actors and camera, and shot lists for each scene. I don’t draw storyboards unless it’s absolutely necessary: I tend to think in overhead plans and shot lists. When the time came to shoot the film, it was great to have all this data in my pocket. I always like to work a scene with the actors to see what it really wants to be, with the real people in the real space on the real day. But having worked these scenes so much in advance gave me a whole safety net of information to have at the ready, so there was never any chance of being stuck without ideas on the day. Doing this work forced me to take off my screenwriter hat and put on my director hat, and approach the text rigorously from a purely visual perspective, as though I was approaching it for the first time.

A boy reaches for a high-five towards a man with a thumbs-up sign
Image courtesy of Trevor Anderson

Before I Change My Mind takes place in the 80s, which adds another level of complexity to the production. How closely did you work with the film’s production designer, Brianna Kolybaba, on the look of the film?

I’m so proud of the excellent work Brianna Kolybaba did on the production design! She was a recent graduate of the theatre design program at the University of Alberta, and she was very new to film. I think she had done one microbudget film before ours. She knocked it out of the park! She’s a star. At first, I was a little worried because she’s in her twenties and wasn’t alive in the 80s. But her research skills are top notch, and she got all these small details exactly right. She included details that I had forgotten from my own childhood until I saw them on our sets. She made two bucks look like two million. And her designs are always rooted in story, character, and emotion. I can’t sing her praises highly enough.

Was one scene more difficult than others to change over to the 1980s?

The exterior scene at West Edmonton Mall, when the kids walk out onto the upper level of the parking lot at dusk. We had scouted one exit that would have worked fine, but on the day it was suddenly unavailable to us. The only place we could shoot was at a different exit that was covered in huge contemporary signage – we’re talking light-up LED billboard screens, branded with names of companies that didn’t exist in the 80s. We had no time to pivot. I had to have the nerve to just shoot it as-is, and rely on the great goodwill of our post-production house, Post Moderne in Montreal, to donate way more CGI time than we could afford to pay for, to paint those details out and give us the plain brick mall walls of the 80s… in moving-camera shots, no less. This whole film relied so heavily on the generosity of the crew. It wouldn’t exist without a thousand and one favors.

A small boy rides on the back seat of a bicycle in Before I Change My Mind
Image courtesy of Trevor Anderson

There has been some mentions online that the film starts with an outcast scene reminiscent of John Hughes’ style in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. What do you think of this comparison?

I’m honoured! My goal was to try to make the queer John Hughes film I wished I could’ve seen in the 80s, and put my own fingerprints all over it. I’m glad to hear that people are making these comparisons.

You have been making short films for 15 years.  If you could turn any of these films into a feature, which would it be?

I made a short film called Docking, which opened the Midnight section at Sundance in 2019. It’s really short – only four minutes – and it’s pretty much just a single surreal image of two enormous, erect penises in outer space, where one slowly devours the other. It’s the most unlikely of my shorts to be adaptable into a feature film… so of course I had to try. We’ve written a feature-length script of Docking, and I’m pretty pleased with it! If I can ever raise the money, I’d love to shoot it. I think it would be a crowd-pleasing queer sci fi horror comedy.

A man stands against a brick wall wearing sunglasses and folding his arms.
Writer/director Trevor Anderson

What was the most difficult part of making Before I Change My Mind?

The timeline demanded that I have so much patience, much more than I knew I had in me. I wrote the first story outline in 2014, and the film is finally getting its theatrical release in North America in 2024. That’s a whole decade of holding my breath and believing as hard as I could. It’s a nice feeling to finally exhale.

What is one thing you learned from making Before I Change My Mind?

I always wondered if I would have the stamina for the shooting schedule of a feature film. A whole month of shooting, where you have to bring your A-game every hour of every (very long) day. It’s intimidating to think about from the outside, but once you’re in it, it’s really just one foot in front of the other.

Written by Chris Miller

Chris currently lives in Los Angeles, surrounded by the industry he has been passionate about since a child. He covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, Screamfest, premieres and other Academy functions. He believes too often the creative talent behind the camera is overlooked, so he specializes in bringing awareness to roles such as composers, costume designers, cinematographers and production designers to name a few.

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