Do I Sound Gay?: A Q&A w/ documentary filmmaker David Thorpe

Director David Thorpe seeks advice from vocal coaches, linguists, historians, friends,  strangers, celebrities and others in order to better understand his voice. "Where does my 'gay voice' come from?" he asks. Photo Courtesy of ThinkThorpe by: Wade Sellers and Jake Margle

Writer and filmmaker David Thorpe’s feature documentary Do I Sound Gay? has been gaining steam since its screening at the Toronto Film Festival. A graduate of Irmo High School and now living and working in New York City, Thorpe has put together an entertaining and poignant film about cultural perceptions and stereotypes. Enlisting the help of recognizable names in the gay community (i.e. Dan Savage), close friends, family, and interviews with random people on streets from Paris to New York, Thorpe examines people thoughts on the male gay voice, a subject born from insecurities about his own. Jasper sat down to talk with Thorpe before his film begins its run at The Nickelodeon on September 10th.

Jasper: How did the initial concept for the film begin?

DT: I really had this lightning bolt moment, where I realized that the voices of my own community were really alienating me and persecuting me. It was flash point for alienation that I was feeling at the time about being gay, you know? It made me wonder, why are some gay men the way they are, why do we all talk like this? Is it something society forced on us or is it who we really are? Even scarier or more strange was wondering about myself and, “did I sound like this?” I think I knew, I kind of did at times. So I wondered, why did I sound like this? Why didn’t I like it? It was just this hurricane of emotion about my voice. And this emotion about my voice all came in the form of questions about voice and I think there’s a perfectly good reason for that, which is that, for a lot of gay men our voices are our “tell.” We feel like it is what, for lack of a better phrase, gives us away.

Jasper: You are a writer, correct?

DT: I was a journalist doing mainly lifestyle journalism but also a fair amount of gay-related journalism. Then I was a communications director for five years prior to making the film, at a large AIDS organization in New York City. That’s where I was able to do a lot of creative activism in trying to get media attention and political attention around AIDS issues which had kind of fallen off the map. In many ways, it prepared me to work out this story about my voice. Because in a lot of ways I think the film is a form of creative, funny activism around a serious topic.

Jasper: Had you ever approached filmmaking before?

DT: Yeah, I had dabbled in film for sure. You know even in Do I Sound Gay?, you see clips from a public access show that I did with friends, in which I put in way too much time and energy. So, I knew that I loved film, but I had such a love for writing that it wasn’t the fullest idea that came to mind. I was gonna write a book about the gay voice, but the deeper I went into it the more I realized that it would only make sense to [make a film].

Jasper: How long was the filmmaking process?

DT: It was sort of between 4 and 5 years depending on where you start and depending on what you call the end.

Jasper: Did you kind of have a loose outline of what you were trying to achieve?

DT: Oh God no. We did not have an outline or a plan. The project kind of unspooled in a really kind of organic way over the years. You know, from just sort of a topic that I felt I needed to explore to just kind of shooting and exploring ideas, to kind of the trailer. It all kind of organically layered on top of itself as more people heard about the project and there seemed to be deeper and deeper interest in seeing it made. Which includes everything from my investors, to the Kickstarter which had like 2,000 individual backers and raised $120,000. I would never have dreamed that in the beginning. that I was going make a feature independent doc-film that was going to have a national profile in the media and with critics. I think it’s much better that I didn’t know that going into it because it might have been too scary. I might have been more calculating than I should have. The project was really kind of a genuine expression of a first-time filmmaker.

Jasper: Was there a point when you were making the film that you realized that a lot of people were reacting in an electric way?

DT: Yeah, I mean very early on I saw the power of the question alone, “do I sound gay?” Because 10 out 10 people that I would talk to about the stereotype of the gay voice suddenly would light up and tell me what they thought it was, or that they had always wondered what it was, or they talked about their own voices, gay and non-gay people alike, so I always knew that the topic was very resonant with people, and that was very exciting and among the reasons I felt compelled to keep going. We did many, many rough-cut screenings over the course of a year and, you know, we did our homework, and we knew from those screenings a lot of people were finding the film very thought-provoking and compelling regardless of whether or not they were gay.

Jasper: What were some of your friend’s reactions when you first told them about making the film?

DT: (laughs) Well I think my friends and family were taken back. I think they were really surprised to hear that I didn’t like my voice, that I still had issues about being gay or sounding gay. And, you know, it was something I had never spoken about with them, but, you know, certainly my gay friends, as taken back as they might have been by the idea of going to a voice coach. All of them right away knew exactly what I was feeling in terms of internalized homophobia, and shame, and my self-consciousness. There was always, I think, a lot of empathy from gay people. And, you know, at the beginning of this I really didn’t know how gay audiences would react, and I was fearful that I would be criticized for airing dirty laundry, for talking about shame. Instead, it seemed like, by and large and overwhelmingly, gay audiences find the film a useful way of opening up that conversation. That being gay or being a minority or frankly, being an individual is, for a lot of people, definitely a challenge. That sometimes we’re better at being another.

Jasper: One of the strongest moments in your film is meeting the young man who was being beat up in class for the sound of his voice.

DT: I read about the assault online. It made national news and headlines around the country as a lot of these vicious attacks do. What I kept reading in interviews was that his voice always played a role in his getting bullied, and that really jumped out at me. So I reached out to him. I spent a day with them and got to know them. And I have stayed in touch with them, last I heard from his mom is that he’s doing well. I think a lot of people found that scene very touching and very telling about how dangerous it can be to make yourself visible or, in this case, audible, as gay or feminine.

Jasper: Did your point of view, or focus, change as you got deeper into making the film?

DT: I kind of understood how I got from A to B but maybe not how I got from A to B to C to D to E to F to G and so forth. I always knew my sense of where we would end up once I had done all the shooting and actually lived the experience of the journey. But I think there was so much more between A and Z that I didn’t clearly know or understand and that’s what the film is, is all that stuff in the middle.

Jasper: Having a wide positive response like this, does it validate any of the questions you were asking when you began making the film?

DT: Yeah, this was always a very personal project that I was going to complete regardless of the form that took. Whether it was watching it in my living room or sort of a large feature film. I was gonna do it no matter what. But it is gravy, it is the cherry on top when it turned out that what I wanted to do and say and explore resonated with so many people. And it does give you confidence you know, like, “Hey maybe what I have to say is something a lot of other people would be interested in hearing.”

Jasper: How do you find this message resonating with the people and the groups and communities that it’s been playing in?

DT: With every Q&A that I’ve done, and I’ve done a lot at this point, there are always a lot of questions for me but there are always a lot of people who share stories from their own lives: gay people, women, people of color. And they talk about their own perceived flaws and how they have or haven’t gotten past them. One of the most ratifying things for me is that the film seems to prompt people to think about themselves and maybe embrace perceived flaws or have a sense of, “Hey! Everybody has insecurities,” and you can reach out to family and you can reach out to friends and try to grow and move forward.


Do I Sound Gay? runs at The Nickelodeon from September 11th through September 17th. Director David Thorpe will be present and participate in a live talk back after the September 13th screening.

First Fridays are about Lowbrow Cinema - Friday September 5th


The First Friday Lowbrow Cinema Explosion began in October 2013.  The Nickelodeon invited Bickel to curate a “B movie” series, and he enthusiastically ran with it.  Bickel says, “Rather than do straight ‘B movies,’ I wanted to have the series profile movies which fit a loose set of parameters that I like to call ‘lowbrow.’ We’re mostly dealing with horror and exploitation titles, all with elements that I’d describe as ‘over the top.’”

Past films include Rats: Night of Terror, Pieces, Black Christmas, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Dolemite, Maniac, Cannibal Ferox, Blood Feast, Bloodsucking Freaks, Pink Flamingos, and MS 45.  Of these films, Bickel says, “Pink Flamingos was the biggest crowd we had.  Black Christmas creeped people out the most.  Hard Ticket to Hawaii had the audience laughing the most.”

While these are all films that Bickel loves, he selects the films in the series “for their authenticity of execution as well as their over-the-top content.”  He tries to pick “the most mind-meltingly oddball films from the golden age of splatter and exploitation.”  Upcoming films include Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, Cemetery Man, Silent Night Deadly Night, Sleepaway Camp, and My Bloody Valentine.

Screenings take place at 11:00 pm on Friday nights, and the audience is fairly warned about what they are getting themselves into.  While the films undeniably push multiple boundaries, the series has been incredibly well received.  Bickel says, “After the movies I am generally thanked for bringing something to the screen that someone had only ever heard about or showing something someone remembered renting on VHS when they were a teenager and thought they would never get to see in a crowded theatre.”  Bickel would like for attendees to learn something new about this type of cinema that’s most likely quite different from what they’re used to, but he mostly hopes people enjoy the film and have a great time.  The films do go “too far,” but the audience seems to appreciate them for this very reason and be willing to go “too far” along with them.  “Columbia is suddenly more open-minded than we all thought!” says Bickel.

- Abby Davis


Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS will be playing at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Friday, September 5th at 11:00 pm.  Tickets can be purchased at

Two More Posts from Andy at Sundance (just pretend he isn't home yet)

The Press and Industry screenings don't issue tickets to the individual screenings, but rather you use your badge to get into whatever you want (after waiting in line). To control re-entry, they stamp your hand with a different color stamp for each screening which means that after a full five-film day like today your hand looks like this. It's kind of a badge of pride.
(editor's note: We apologize that, due to unknowable computer malarkey, we are unable to reproduce the image of Andy's hand provided by the author. Suffice it to say that it was quite stunning.)
Once again we started our day at Eccles with the public screening of The Look of Love, this new Michael Winterbottom movie starring Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond, the British entrepreneur who made a fortune from adult magazines and strip clubs (there's a bit of a theme we're picking up on this year).
From there I dashed back to the Holiday Cinema to catch Concussion. One of the best films I've seen so far, the film is about a wealthy, suburban lesbian housewife whose life turns upside down after suffering a severe head injury. She seeks out a secret life in the city but it soon becomes impossible for her to keep her double life hidden.
I then caught Breathe In, the new film by Like Crazy director drake doremus. Guy Pearce plays a seemingly happily married husband, high school music teacher and concert cellist who begins to feel a pull for a more exciting life after an exchange student from England comes to stay with the family. (Again, some more common themes popping up here).
Next up was Inequality for All a documentary on former labor secretary Robert Reich and his decades long work on income inequality in the United States. Reich is such a smart and charming guy, the doc was a real pleasure to watch while also being very informative. It's been one of my highlights of the festival so far.
We had to have another rushed dinner because we knew we'd have to line up early for Escape from Tomorrow, a film getting a lot of buzz around the festival. The buzz is all due to the fact that the movie was secretly filmed on location at Disney World and everyone knew that Disney's legal department would never let the film see the light of day. The screening was packed, but the film was ultimately pretty underwhelming, though the effort was very admirable. It was a full five-film day and I was so ready to hit the bed to get ready for Monday's lineup.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints was another big buzz film here at Sundance so I was determined to get into the Monday morning screening. Sure enough, the lines formed early but we made it in. Directed by David Lowery (whose short film Pioneer played Indie Grits a couple of years ago) the film stars Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster in a sort of neo-western. Beautifully shot and nicely paced it was one of my favorites of the festival so far.
The schedule was such that everyone was rushing out of that screening to quickly hop over to C.O.G., a film based on a David Sedaris essay. It was a bit of a mad dash, but we made it in. COG follows a young grad student from Yale as he ventures out to Oregon to work on an apple orchard. It ended up not being as funny as you'd expect from a David Sedaris essay, but as you would expect it had some incredibly emotional and revealing moments in it.
Next up was Fruitvale, which Isaac mentioned. It's proven to be the most powerful film of the festival so far, with sniffles being heard throughout the theater and teary eyes evident as we left.
We had a surprisingly adequate amount of time to grab diner tonight, so with we sat down with Russ Collins from the Michigan theater in Ann Arbor, as well as our friends from Maiden Alley Cinema and Aperture Cinema.  Actually getting to eat some vegetables and some protein, I was in much better shape (I've pretty clearly reached my granola bar limit).
(Samantha Berg, left, a former SeaWorld trainer, and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite from the movie "Blackfish." Photo credit -- Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The final film of the evening was Blackfish - a shocking and revealing documentary on Orcas in captivity. Like The Cove, which played at the Nick years ago, the film does a great job documenting the clear intelligence and consciousness of these whales.  It convincingly links the many attacks on trainers at Sea World and other aquatic parks to frustration that builds in some of these animals after being forced into captivity for so long.  Really a great film.
Only four films today because our friends from the Art House Convergence are having us over for a party tonight. Looking forward to it!

The Nick's Andy Smith Guest Blogs from Sundance Film Festival - Part 1

Andy Smith, executive director, of our very own Nickelodeon Theatre is sending dispatches from Sundance Film Festival for the next few days. It's not his first trip to Sundance, but each time he comes back with ideas and initiatives that not only enhance our experiences at the Nick, but also the Indie Grits Festival experience.
First up, Andy's posting about Art House Convergence's 2013 conference, which brings leaders of art house theaters from around the country together, always just before Sundance kicks off. Want to know even more? Follow Andy on Twitter: @andysmithsc, Isaac Calvage, the Nick's marketing director: @calvage, and of course, the Nick: @nicktheatre.
From Andy: 

I simply love the Art House Convergence . It's an incredible opportunity to have a little "check-in" with the field, learn from peers across the country and share our accomplishments (and occasional failures) from the past year. The past few years have really seen the prominence of the Nick shoot up, and when we first attended this conference we saw ourselves as maybe a bit behind the curve. We are now often seen as leaders due to our successful Move the Nick capital campaign, the opening of the new theater and the transition to digital.

With last night things kicked off with your typical conference socializing and catching up with friends from across the country, and things really got going this morning.  Russ Collins, from the  Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI, welcomed all of the delegates this morning showcasing the theme of this year’s Convergence: The Brave New American Art House. Stressing the importance of being community focused, mission driven theaters Russ spoke enthusiastically about our roll as community builders. The cinema, he said, can no longer be seen as a new art form, but the specialness of the theatrical experience, seeing films on a big screen, is still a great experience. It's up to us to continue to provide that.

Juliet Goodfriend, from the Bryn Mawr Film Institue presented one of my favorite parts of each Convergence - the unveiling of survey data collected from attending theaters. The Nick was singled out as being one of only a handful of theaters to have participated in the survey every year (yes, we try to do our homework).  The data covers everything from ticket sales, revenue breakdowns, seating capacity, programming offerings and more.  My favorite statistic is always how much ticket sales increase with the adding of additional screens.  The big take away again this year is that we should all plan to add additional screens, not additional seats, to generate more revenue. It all just makes us so excited about the eventual opening of our second screen.  Other data of note is that the Nick’s per capita concessions sales figures are about on par with our peers and our ticket revenue for only a single screen is also near the national average.

Ava DeVernay with members of the cast of Middle of Nowhere.

I just had the chance to chat with Ava DuVernay, director of  Middle of Nowhere (playing at the Nick through Thursday). I'm really excited that she's here at the Convergence this year and am looking forward to her panel on race and the art house.


Jasper's love affair with The Nick, Christopher Walken, and Frank Capra

We have no idea why we love Christopher Walken as much as we do, but we know why we love The Nick, Columbia's very own art house - plus theatre.

Walken is funny, sure. The characters he's created on SNL alone have made him an American comedic icon -- think The Continental, Behind the Music record producer Bruce Dickinson during a recording of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" and, our favorite, Colonel Angus.

And he's a highly skilled dramatic actor, winning an Oscar for his role in The Deer Hunter and renown for majorly memorable scenes in such films as Pulp Fiction (a soldier, he delivers a watch to the son of a dead comrade in arms explaining to the boy how many men had hidden the timepiece in their rectums over the course of battles), and the Sicilian scene in Tarantino's True Romance.  He was nominated for a Tony for his role in Martin McDonagh's Behanding in Spokane.  And, he can dance.

Sure, he never turns down a role and has appeared in some pretty hideous films, Joe Dirt and American Sweethearts not even being the worst of them. He says it's because he and his wife of forever never had kids and if he's not working and someone offers him something, he'll take it -- he's an actor.

All this brings us to why we love both Chris Walken and The Nick.

After having mentioned in passing to the good folks at The Nick several weeks ago that we'd love to see Walken's new film, A Late Quartet in which he stars with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine Keener, at the Nick, we got a message this morning from Nick director of marketing, the lovely Isaac Calvage, saying that the film will be screened there January 4 through 10!

It's nice when a wish comes true. And even nicer when a person takes a hot second to let you know that it has,  the way that Isaac did this morning.

This is an example of one of the many reasons we love The Nick. Other examples include Hitchcock (12/21 - 1/3) and, seriously, they're showing It's a Wonderful Life (12/22 - 12/24). And let's face it, showing a film like It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen -- a film that you can purchase at Target for a few bucks -- is, in our opinion here at Jasper, pretty much just an act of love. Love for the film -- by anyone's account one of the best and most beloved films of all time (the newel post alone gets us in the gut every time) -- love for the art of filmmaking and the art of film-viewing (let's talk about that sometime), and love of the theatre's clientele who have the opportunity to walk right off the city sidewalk and into the theatre, buy a box of popcorn, and settle in for the show just like viewers did in 1946. (Except that you can also buy some vino or a brew to go with your corn.)


Thus ends our love letter to The Nickelodeon, but not our love for the theatre or for the enigmatic Christopher Walken. We may not know why we're so crazy about Walken, but with the Nick, it's pretty clear.

Note: Here's what The Rolling Stone says about A Late Quartet. It should also be noted that the director of photography is one Fred Elmes, who also did the beautifully filmed Broken Flowers (starring another one of Jasper's enigmatic art crushes, that bad boy Bill Murray) and the kinkily filmed Blue Velvet. And, while the actors learned a bit about playing their musical instrument props in the film, the lion's share of the music was performed by the Julliard-heavy and exquisite Brentano String Quartet.


-- CB

On the Road with the Nick -- 5th and Final Post in their Guest Blog Series

Our Friends at the Nick have taken to the highway and are out on one of the greatest of American adventures – the ROAD TRIP! Happily, they’re sharing their news from the road with us via the Jasper blog. Below is the final installation from the great adventurers’ travel(b)log. Thank you everyone for reading about our travels this week.  We couldn't have had this amazing experience without Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), and we couldn't have had a better outlet to share our story with than the wonderful people at Jasper.  If there is one thing this trip has taught us, it is that an art scene is necessary for any city to truly be great.  Columbia has a wonderful art scene, and we know that Jasper plays a big role.

Our final official day of the trip happened at the awesome Belcourt Theatre in Nashville.  We all got to spend time with our counterparts at the theater, learning how we can be better, and how we can bring new knowledge to the Nick!

Andy started the day off before all of us. He went in early to hang out with Stephanie Silverman, Executive Director of the Belcourt.  He learned a lot, and is eager to get back and start getting all of us to try some new things.  He even had the opportunity to talk about programming with Toby Leonard, who is also a former Indie Grits juror.

Heather wasted no time, hanging out with Melinda Morgan, the Director of Operations.  So much so that she volunteered to scoop popcorn and fill drinks for two of the showtimes!  Claire had a lovely time with Elle Long, their membership coordinator.  (unfortunately no picture exists).  We even ran into another juror at the offices of Janus Films Nashville (in the Belcourt).  It is always a pleasure to see Sarah Finklea, she is a really fantastic person, and we were thrilled she had moved to Nashville and was conveniently located at the Belcourt. We were able to unwind with a nice meal at Southern where Heather got to pick out her steak!

Today we head back to Columbia, and I think the staff all needs a little down time to take in everything we saw.  Thanks again to Jasper, and we look forward to the future of the Nick!

On the Road with the Nick -- Part 4 of a Guest Blog Series

Our Friends at the Nick have taken to the highway and are out on one of the greatest of American adventures – the ROAD TRIP! Happily, they’re sharing their news from the road with us via the Jasper blog. Below is the fourth installation from the great adventurers’ travel(b)log.  

Today, our wait to see the Belcourt officially ends! We were so excited to get to Nashville that we left a little bit early, which led us to do some Nashville sightseeing. After we checked into the hotel, we immediately left to go see the incredible Third Man Records.  We are all big fans of Jack White's work across a variety of bands, so we went into the shop, which is about the size of our ticket booth.

From there, we decided to see some of Nashville's true history, while some of us thought that may be the Grand Ol' Opry on the sprawling Gaylord Opryland estate....

I think all of us felt an even greater special connection at The Duke's of Hazzard museum.


We ate at the fantastic restaurant City House for dinner, however the food was so good, it would be shameful to share the pictures with you. Again, today is going to be a fantastic day with the Nickelodeon Staff learning from the incredibly talented Belcourt staff.  If you can't stand the wait, visit their website and see what we are talking about. Until tomorrow, Your Nickelodeon Staff