What is the fastest way to get audiences to connect to a film’s character? Make them three-dimension.

So, what actually makes a character three-dimensional? These characters are multilayered and unique, with fully developed fictional lives. They have inner demons and a past.

When one is reading a script, and the character seems to “jump off the page”, that’s when you know you have succeeded at making a three-dimensional character.

Creating unique characters is something that filmmaker Trevor Anderson has had a lot of success doing in the almost 20 years he has been making short films. His projects have been accepted to film festivals all over the word including three times at Sundance; three times at SXSW; twice at TIFF; and twice at the Berlinale. Touching on the subject of character development, Trevor says, “You want the audience to be able to watch your characters think, and so you have to give them something to think about”. Fastest way to make a character three-dimensional? Let the audience watch them lie”.

In the interview below, Trevor discusses making his first feature film, Before I Change My Mind and his decision not to reveal his main character’s gender.

Before I Change My Mind (2024) Official Trailerwww.youtube.com

No Film School: What first made you want to become a filmmaker?

Trevor Anderson: I started in live theatre. I studied acting, and worked as a playwright and stage director. I got frustrated with two things about theatre. One: it’s ephemeral. When it’s over, it’s over. That’s something that makes theatre special, but it can also be a bummer. Two: theatre doesn’t travel easily. It’s expensive and difficult to tour a live show. Film solves both these challenges. My short films have played at festivals in more countries than I’ll ever visit in person. And now, anyone on earth with an internet connection can go to my website, trevorandersonfilms.com, and watch all twelve of my short films dating back to 2005.

NFS: You made short films for 15 years before deciding to do a feature (Before I Change My Mind). Why did you wait so long to make a feature?

Anderson: I got really into short film as its own art form. There’s a lot of freedom and room to experiment. Because there’s no real market for short films, there’s nobody telling you what they think you should do to make it more “viable” or whatever. As a result, I was able to find my own voice. And short films are generally quicker to make than features, so you can get right back onto the film festival circuit, which is a place I love to be. I always say, “Don’t network. Make friends.” Going to film festivals for 15 years with my short films, I made a lot of great friends in an art form that can otherwise be pretty isolating. I was quite happy making short films and working as an arts administrator at my local film and video co-op, until the desire to make a feature film became too strong to ignore.

NFS: How did making short films prepare you for making Before I Change My Mind?

Anderson: There’s already so much to think about when making a feature film. Having made a bunch of live theatre and twelve short films took away any private doubts about, “What if I can’t direct?” It’s good to feel confident in the actual doing of the job. One less thing to worry about.

NFS: You both wrote and directed Before I Change My Mind. Where did the idea for the film come from?

Anderson: The first outline of the story was almost entirely autobiographical. I was a queer teen in Alberta in the ‘80s. Then, as I worked with my friend and co-writer Fish Griwkowsky, the story slowly moved from being autobiographical to being semi-autobiographical, and now it’s fiction. The story is fiction but the feelings are a true story.

NFS: Can you talk about your writing process with co-writer Fish Griwkowsky. How long did it take you all to write the script? How did the decision to not reveal the lead character’s gender come about?

Anderson: I showed Fish my first story outline in January of 2015, and we shot our finished script in August of 2021. In my first story outline, the protagonist was a gay boy, but Fish immediately said, “What if when the kid walks in, nobody can tell if they’re a boy or a girl?” This was truer to my own experience when I was young and how I understand myself now, but I hadn’t seen clearly how to put it in the movie.

We got excited when we realized we could challenge ourselves to write a movie where the question of the main character’s gender gets raised at the beginning, then left aside because it’s 1987 and none of the characters have language for it. Sure, offscreen the other characters would be using gendered pronouns for Robin, but what if we never pointed the camera at that? Could we make a whole movie without disclosing the protagonist’s gender? Boy? Girl? Transgender? Nonbinary? What if we never pin it down? Skip any kind of traumatic gender reveal scene? Would the audience still go along with the story and care for this kid? Would they identify with this kid? What room would this make in the story for other explorations of this kid’s character beyond their gender? We saw how we could avoid writing a coming out story or a transition narrative and instead tell a story about what kind of person Robin is in their heart.

Trevor Anderson, director

NFS: Looking back on the filmmaking process, what in preproduction did you do that was beneficial to the rest of the shoot going smoothly?

Anderson: Casting. I think all our young actors are remarkable, but I knew this movie would live or die based on the kid we found to play Robin. Our awesome casting director, Jesse Griffiths, did a Canada-wide search for Robin, and thankfully we found Vaughan Murrae. They’re an incredible actor, with so much raw talent. They had only done small supporting roles on a couple of web series when they auditioned, but I knew in my heart they could carry a feature film. Vaughan is such a special actor: so smart, with such great instincts and access to their emotions. The kind of actor that can let the camera see them think. I hope Vaughan has a long and rewarding career. I’m super grateful to them for bringing Robin to life.

NFS: Were there any happy accidents during the shoot? Meaning, did you plan for one thing but had to pivot last minute and you ended up liking that decision better?

Anderson: There are two moments of kissy-face written into the script, and we had a very young cast. First, Izzy kisses Carter, then Izzy kisses Robin—and the ages of those three actors ranged from 12 to 16. Remember how huge that age difference felt when you were young? I shot the Izzy-Carter kiss from a distance to give the actors plenty of space, and in the end, it emphasizes Robin’s subjectivity spying on them. We’re with Robin in that moment, which is where we should be. Talking to the actors about the kiss that was scripted between Robin and Izzy, it became clear it would be a stronger choice to have Izzy try to kiss Robin and to have Robin dodge it. That way, we know clearly how Robin feels, which we must always track. And later, when Izzy tells Carter, “I kissed Robin,” we know Izzy is lying. Fastest way to make a character three-dimensional? Let the audience watch them lie.

NFS: What are ways that you made your main characters three-dimensional in the script? And in your opinion, why is it important to make characters three-dimensional?

Anderson: You want the audience to be able to watch your characters think, and so you have to give them something to think about. I always recommend that writers and directors take some acting classes, to learn how actors approach a text: What do "I-as-my-character" want? What am I doing to get it? What specific tactic am I using, in this specific moment, to get it? What reaction do I expect from the other person? How do I adapt my tactic based on how they reacted? This will get you thinking about subtext and what's under the spoken words, and if you can track that, then you can track the subtle changes in what a character wants and does. In life we often feel conflicted: I want this but I also want that, and those things seem contradictory. Watching characters work through that struggle can be very satisfying.

'Before I Change My Mind'Epic Pictures

NFS: What was the most challenging scene in the film to shoot? Why?

Anderson: There was one line that an actor was having trouble with, and to my shame I made them try it over and over and over and over again, twenty-seven takes, multiple series of the same line in every take. Try it this way! Try it that way! That poor actor was such a trouper. I got into the editing room and realized, “Oh, the problem is with the line, not the actor.” We cut the line and suddenly all was right with the world. It’s how it should’ve been written in the first place. Actors’ instincts are so valuable. Override them at your peril.

NFS: What do you hope audiences walk away from the film saying?

Anderson: Right now, trans and gender nonconforming kids are under attack by politicians pushing their own self-interested agendas, so I hope audiences leave this movie loving Robin and feeling very protective of the character. Love always wins.

Before I Change My Mind is available now.