BY FRANCESCA LEWIS
Since it has over 3 million views and makes a beautiful, painful, thought-provoking point about the impact of bullying and the absurdity of homophobia, chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve seen the viral short “Love Is All You Need?.”
If you haven’t, you should definitely check it out now but be advised, there’s some pretty disturbing content. Following the story of Ashley, a young teen living in a sexuality-flipped world where gay is the norm and straight is an abomination, the film gives us a hard to watch glimpse into the no-way-out feeling of being bullied just for being different.
Filmmaker Kim “Rocco” Shields says that, although the film touches on gay issues, the real subject here is bullying.
“I woke up with the idea for the film after seeing stories of kids committing suicide in the news, because the kids were bullied at school. I thought, what if I could flip the world and put an audience in the shoes of the bullied?” The film struck a chord with audiences, becoming a viral phenomena. “I am still today as shocked as I was back when the video went viral.” says Shields, “Still today I have people emailing me, of all ages, about how this film saved their life or changed their perspective on the matter.”
Now, two years later, the success of the short film has brought in the funding for what Shields always wanted a feature length movie of “Love Is All You Need?” This is not simply a longer version of the original, though it will include characters from the short.
“The feature is very different than the short, as far as the story goes.” says Shields, “By widening the world I created in the short, there’s more room to work within this world and really show how several different types of people handle being bullied.”
With Shields back at the helm and Lexi DiBenedetto returning as Ashley, the feature also boasts young talent like Emily Osment, Briana Evigan and heartthrob Tyler Blackburn from “Pretty Little Liars,” as well as seasoned stars, like Jeremy Sisto and the inimitable Leisha Hailey. In the role of Ashley’s gay, heterophobic mom is Jenica Bergere, whom you will definitely recognize from her numerous guest roles on TV, from “Ally McBeal” to “Modern Family.”
She saw the short film after auditioning and says she really appreciates art that says “I’m pissed and I’m going to do something about it!” adding, “The moment that took my breath away was when the two moms were breaking down the door to save their kid. As a mom, I don’t ever want to have my kids to go through what kids in this society still have to go through.”
Of her on-screen marriage to Katherine Lanassa (“a dame and a bad ass”), Bergere says, “Being married to her on screen reminded me to prepare and relate actual real circumstances, stakes and stories to why these women feel the way they do; why these two women fear heteros. … We discussed and committed to how important this way of life was for us as characters and how threatening it was that the people in our characters’ world were popping up heterosexual all over the place.”
Of Shields she says, “We believe in her as a director, how could you not. With that confidence in what you’re working on, the only true preparation is telling the story by being in the story.”
Shields has high hopes for “Love Is All You Need?,” “I just really want audience members to step into the shoes of someone who is being constantly tormented, and maybe after having felt how that feels, leave the theater wanting to be a better, kinder person to others. … I hope they walk away with a new perspective on how actions have consequences, and when we treat people poorly it affects those people in ways we don’t always see.”
Shields’ web series, which rather entertainingly chronicles the ups and downs of bringing “Love Is All You Need?,” can be found on her YouTube channel. The feature film will be released later this year.
Francesca Lewis is a queer feminist writer from Yorkshire, UK. She writes for Curve Magazine and The Human Experience as well as writing short fiction and working on a novel. Her ardent love of American pop culture is matched only by her passion for analyzing it completely to death.