Thursday, October 11, 2012

KISSLESS Goes From Stage to Screen: An Interview With Chance McClain

Last year, Chance McClain participated in our 5-question NYMF interview series for his show Kissless, and now, a year later, he contacted me with the exciting news that Kissless has been filmed with professional actors in Texas and will be released through Chance's Chat Productions as a movie. A natural progression from stage to screen? In the following interview, Chance talks more about his post-NYMF thoughts, decision to put the show on DVD, and what the film means for Kissless' future.

Me: What was your experience bringing Kissless to NYMF? Did it change your view of the show at all?

Chance McClain: Getting Kissless into NYMF was an enormous privilege and the most educational experience of my producing and writing career. I thought I had read everything there was to read about producing a musical. I thought I knew what to expect and felt prepared for the accelerated pace of a musical festival. I was dead wrong. It was a complete blur! I brought a wonderful cast from Houston so it wasn’t just the show but also the logistics of forty people traveling to and living in New York City for two weeks. Many of these young people had never been to NYC and some had never even been on a plane! I had a wonderful team of people with me to help but it was still hectic and crazy. It was an honor to participate and I hope to do it again. As far as my view of the show, I would say that the New York audiences taught me more about my writing and music than I could have learned anywhere else. The show got laughs and emotional responses at unexpected places. When I went back to the writing table after NYMF I felt more prepared to tell the story I had started out to tell.

Me: What were your goals for the show post-NYMF?

Chance McClain:
Sadly, I went into NYMF without goals or expectations. I was naively “along for the ride”. I don’t think I took advantage of the opportunities that were all conveniently gathered together in the city to celebrate and explore new musical theatre. I felt that Kissless was a show best suited for high schools, colleges, and community theatres but did not know how to let people know that it was out there.

Me: How did the idea for the movie come about?

Chance McClain: For years I have done freelance work as a video producer. I have made television commercials, promotional videos, and pretty much anything involving video. In 2009 I wrote and directed Horrible Turn, an unofficial musical prequel to Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. We released it online (it is free at and won some awards. Through that experience I was introduced to an audience that was as comfortable watching videos on computers as on televisions. I learned a lot from Horrible Turn and met talented people that knew how to tell stories with cameras. After NYMF it dawned on me that there was another way for people to see new musical theatre works. While the dream for any writer is to have a show on Broadway, not every writer has access to the millions of dollars it takes to realize that dream. But for a fraction of that cost I could cast a show with professional actors and tell the story on film and then distribute it online.

Me: What has the process been like making a movie of your show? What have been some of the biggest challenges of capturing a stage show on film?

Chance McClain: In March of this year I put a nebulous ad in Backstage magazine. I didn’t know whether it was a stage musical or a movie. Ultimately, I wanted stage musical performers so I chose to put it in that section and the response was fantastic. I was nervous that anyone would respond to a cryptic ad asking actors to move to an undisclosed small town in the middle of the country for five weeks to film a new musical. We ended up with over 2,200 resumes. We invited 150 people to audition in New York in April and cast 12 from the city and another 6 from Texas. It took about a month to get contracts signed and then scripts were sent along with music and in July everyone showed up at the Amarillo airport for the 45-minute drive to Borger, Texas where we had arranged for rehearsals and a couple of performances. During our second week one of the leads broke his foot so that created unique challenges. He ended up doing the live performances with crutches and then when we went to film we modified all of the blocking and choreography to mask the fact that our bully could scarcely walk! Most of the cast had never worked in film so they were not quite prepared for the inordinant amount of waiting involved during filming. But they were superb. Kevin Lambert, a New York based director and producer, came on board to direct the show for the stage and then I made minor modifications to make it work on film.

One of the biggest challenges was to try to convey the emotion of a show that was written to be experienced live by an audience onto the screen. Everyone has seen a taping of a musical theatre show. Even when four or five cameras are used, it still comes across as distant and disconnected. My goal was to bridge this dissonance in a new way. I think we did a good job overcoming this using primarily traditional film techniques.

Me: How are you looking to distribute the final product?

Chance McClain: In February of this year my partner Patrick Nonhof and I formed Chat Productions. Chat is the vehicle we will use to distribute Kissless and other new musicals that we film. Initially we will send out DVDs and direct downloads to schools and theatres to garner interest in performances. As I mentioned, Kissless is made to be performed live. We are also considering releasing the movie online.  Kissless has a very strong anti-bullying message and now more than ever people of all ages need to know that the things they do and say can hurt so the more people that see Kissless, the better.

Me: What do you most hope to accomplish with this movie? How do you see it and the stage show interacting/corresponding to one another?

Chance McClain: What I most hope to accomplish with this movie is to show the world that there is another way to expose people to new musical theatre work. I would love to have schools and theatres all over the world performing Kissless and other shows that they discover online!

Me: What is your hope for Kissless in the future?

Chance McClain: I hope that Kissless gets discovered and loved by audiences and performers! I hope that people are affected positively by it.

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