Fucking My Way Back Home: Shawn Whitney on Sex Work, Crowdfunding and Indie Film

fucking my way back home

Toronto-based filmmakers Kathryn Palmateer and Shawn Whitney just wrapped up production on their second indie movie Fucking My Way Back Home. As with their debut feature A Brand New You, the writer/director/producer duo and married couple are turning to Indiegogo to help offset the costs of post-production.

As the title suggests, the film, which stars Freya Ravensbergen, Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz and Julio Benitez Guardiola deals with sex work. It does so, though, in a way not common with most Hollywood productions. I had a chance to ask Whitney about the project:

FTB: Briefly, tell me what Fucking My Way Back Home is in your own words.

Shawn Whitney: We’re calling it a “sex worker dystopia” to highlight the fact that the Tory model of criminalization is creating dangerous situations for sex workers and this story is meant to reflect that reality. But it’s also – more conventionally – an erotic thriller and road movie that takes place over the course of one night.

What made you want to make a film with sex work as a main theme?

This story was one that I had worked on with another writer a number of years ago, named Reece Crothers. We didn’t end up doing anything with it and it just sort of sat around in a drawer, unwritten. We were looking for something that we could produce and direct that was do-able for a minimal budget and it seemed to be that but also all the debate that arose around sex work in recent years also made it seem like a good story to tell right now.

Did you contact any sex worker support or advocacy groups and/or do you plan to?

The thing is that it’s quite difficult. Sex worker organizations, like Maggie’s in Toronto, are busy, under-funded and tired of dealing with filmmakers who misrepresent sex workers and the sex industry for their own gain.

Maggie’s won’t even talk to filmmakers unless they are or were sex workers. I can’t say that I blame them but, on the other hand, we were going to make this movie and we wanted to talk to some sex workers to make sure that we weren’t misrepresenting their experience in important ways.

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This was also a challenge – again, I think the “underground” nature of the industry contributes to that. We did meet with the owner of an escort agency. She gave us some really good notes and then sort of disappeared. Freya, our lead actress, also met with a couple of former escorts and got really good notes that affected the final shape of the script.

We would have loved to hire someone as a consultant but literally no one got paid on this film shoot so we weren’t in a position to do more than feed people and buy them drinks after the shoot was over.

With Hollywood a-listers like Anne Hathaway and Lena Dunham coming out against Amnesty International’s proposal to decriminalize sex work, do you think the abolitionist and victim who needs to be rescued (a la Pretty Woman) models permeate mainstream cinema? If so, do you think this will change anytime soon, or are indie films the only recourse?

A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed how quickly representations of gay men and transgender people would move forward. There are still major problems, of course, but I’m old enough to remember the Al Pacino film Cruising and how gay men were represented as homicidal or sick in some way.

The key was not that Hollywood got more progressive it was that LGBT people fought for their civil rights over years and years and years. And in the process of winning some important gains – like same sex marriage – they also transformed out culture in important ways.

The hope, I think, for cultural representations of sex workers ultimately lies in a movement for sex worker rights that is led by sex workers themselves. This exists, for instance, in parts of the developing world – large, militant sex worker unions, etc. So, it could happen here and that would shatter the kinds of paternalistic attitudes that certain feminists have towards sex workers.

It’s worth saying also that the flip side of this is the perspective peddled by the porn industry, which tries to portray sex worker as simply a matter of personal choice. It’s not that simple either. We have to take into account poverty, lack of options, gender oppression. But instead of fighting to ban the sex industry – whether porn or escort services, whatever – we should fight for better conditions, fight to unionize workers in the industry.

Where did you get the idea to crowdfund this film? Do you think this is the future of indie cinema?

We crowdfunded after our first film, which helped to offset some of the costs of post-production. So, we wanted to do it again and we’ve done a slightly better job this time, even though we’ve been a bit more neglectful of the campaign, strangely.

The idea of crowdfunding is everywhere in the indie film world and people see campaigns like the one by Zach Braf that raised a million dollars or whatever or the campaigns for various reboots of the Star Trek franchise and think that could be them. Sorry, not gonna happen. You’re not going to raise a million dollars with your first, second or third film. Ingrid Veninger – a very well known DIY filmmaker in Toronto just raised $36 000 for her fifth film He Hates Pigeons.

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Break it down – where is that $50 000 going to come from in real terms? Do you have 1000 friends who will each give $50? I wish I did!

So it’s not going to allow most filmmakers to make even “microbudget” films in the $150K range. But it does provide another tool to help build a following and can offset, for instance, some of your post-production costs.

Indie filmmaking, it seems to me, is more and more like building a band – you start with a following of immediate friends and family. If you make something good and find creative ways to get the word out, you can expand your audience and then mobilize them to help you make your next movie.

You can go from raising $5000 to $6000-$7000. That’s nothing to sneeze at. For a long time in the conventional industry “pre-sales” have been a key element of financing films. Crowdfunding at its best is like that – I like to call it: “pre-sales from below,” rather than pre-sales through corporate broadcasters and national or international distributors.

* You can help Fucking My Way Back Home’s pre-sales by donating to their Indiegogo Campaign (less than two days left)

* Photos by Douglas Hunter, courtesy of Dangerous Dust Productions

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