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    Intimate That’s Not Us Realistically Portrays LGBT Couples

    GaryKramerbyRyanBrandenbergThe sweet, unpretentious film That’s Not Us, now out on DVD, was co-written by Derek Dodge and William Sullivan, and directed by Sullivan. This comedy-drama features three couples–lesbians Alex (Sarah Wharton) and Jackie (Nicole Pursell); gay couple James (Mark Berger) and Spencer (David Rysdahl); and straight couple Liz (Elizabeth Gray) and Dougie (Tommy Nelms)–spending a late September weekend together at a New York beach community. While each couple spends their time alone together making love or fighting, all of the characters are dealing with partnership issues involving honesty and (mis)communication.

    That’s Not Us is consistently warm and engaging, thanks to the assured performances by the entire cast, who improvised most of their scenes. Wharton and Berger, who co-produced, are particularly strong. Sullivan and Dodge, as well as Wharton and Berger, chatted with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making That’s Not Us.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you conceive of the film, the intimate style, and the characters?

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    William Sullivan: The impetus for the entire project was that we were seeing coming out or falling in love stories. We wanted to do something that reflected what we go through and experience on a day-to-day basis. That was the trigger that made us write down things we were thinking about. We had an outline for the characters and their arcs, and we wanted to explore these themes—the vulnerability, the physical separation of the gay couple, and the sexual offseason.

    Derek Dodge: You see people in films trying to find love, or navigating new love, or it’s a breakup movie, but for couples that are together, things always seem easy. Even for couples that have been together for so long, there is still work to do to make love last. We wanted to show everyday obstacles real couples face in long-term relationships. Just because they have a bump doesn’t mean they will break up; they have their partner’s best interests in mind. We particularly wanted to see young gay couples doing that.

    Gary M. Kramer: Mark and Sarah, your characters have a deep friendship. What helped to develop that relationship?

    Mark Berger: Each of us did a pretty extensive amount of rehearsal all summer. The night we shot the cigarette scene outside the party, there was a sense on the set, and between Sarah and me, that everything fell into place.

    Sarah Wharton: And because we had never rehearsed that scene, we didn’t know it was going to happen. Will and Derek weren’t even sure what the shot would look like. It was late and the scene wasn’t working from what was written in the outline. Will told us to take a step back and that moment [prompted] the true nature of the improv, and I felt like I should be smoking…

    Mark Berger: And we had the idea that smoking should not just be done meaninglessly throughout the film. So for me, the scene was when we were smoking the cigarette like we did behind the gym in high school, like the two badass gay kids f-ing s–t up like we did. It all made sense in that moment, in that scene.

    Gary M. Kramer: What did you bring to your characters and their arcs?

    Sarah Wharton: There was some discussion about making sure there were moments that showed the good parts of their relationship, and that you saw both sides of both characters.