Christin Baker: Challenging gender inequality in filmEntertainment Feature, Entertainment News, Section 4A Thursday, April 2nd, 2015
LGBT Weekly interviews founder and CEO of Tello Films
We know, we know. If you hear that we’re in the “Golden Age of Television” one more time, you’ll throw your Hi-Def, interactive, Bluetooth-enabled flat screen out the window.
Problem is, tuning out at this point in the evolution of programmed entertainment is about as useful as switching to bottled water to combat a leaky dam.
But let’s face it. Television actually is producing some outstanding entertainment, as good as or better than it has ever been, driven by fierce competition from outside agitators. But it’s not so much the so-called Golden Age of Television as it is the Golden Age of Content cohabiting successfully, for now, with the Golden Age of Distribution. Cable, the Internet and social networks have created an edacious and seemingly unquenchable thirst for content available around the clock for everyone and driving down costs in bringing this content to market in the process. As a result, more and more players are getting into the game and with constantly evolving ways of bringing content to the masses, the time has never been better for people to tell their stories.
Enter Tello Films. Started in 2007 by Christin Baker, this streaming content provider has a stable of lesbian-produced, written, directed and thematically queer programs for women. Shows like Nikki and Nora and #Hashtag have huge followings and for good reasons. Critics and audiences agree that, despite the deluge, there is, has been and always will be an audience for well-told stories and to that end, Tello delivers.
San Diego LGBT Weekly caught up with Baker to talk about creating roles for lesbians and the lesbian market, her truncated marriage to Deborah L. “Deb” Mell, a Chicago City councilmember, and what the future holds. And by the way she tells it, the future is a land of unbridled possibilities.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: As a teenager and into young adulthood, what sort of images or storylines about the lives of lesbians spoke to you? Inspired you? Revulsed you even? How were lesbians depicted on film and television? Is what you found what inspired you to start your own network, Tello Films?
Christin Baker: The first time I remember seeing two women kiss was when I was in high school. I loved Star Wars: The Next Generation. There was a storyline where Dr. Crusher falls for a man and then that personality takes on a new host that is a woman. (This was one of the first woman/woman kisses on TV). She tries to stay in love with that personality as a woman and she isn’t able to. I remember it being a very difficult concept for me to understand at the time and the woman/woman kiss I remember feeling very uncomfortable with that. It was the first time I’d ever seen two women kiss in a romantic way. It wasn’t until college that I really understood who I was and came out. While I was going through that process I was searching for something to grab on to and the movie Go Fish was the closest thing I could find. That story really didn’t resonate with me and that made me a bit nervous about the definition of the lesbian community in my mind. I was very lucky because at the time I was coming out so was Ellen on TV and that seemed to be something I could grab on to.
I was inspired to start Tello [Films] much later in life. It was because I didn’t think there was enough out there for lesbians. It was right around the time that YouTube was starting to make some traction and the barrier of entry to storytelling was getting easier and easier.
Your site speaks grandiloquently of the need for diversity in recreating the way we lead our lives in the medium. (“Tello creates web-series specifically for the lesbian/queer community. This means that lesbian/queer characters are front and center. This means that the stories we tell respect the range and variety inherent in being queer”). But in looking through all the trailers, I found almost no Latina women, one or two black women and, I believe, a single Asian woman. How come?
Oh, gosh. I am surprised that’s your impression of our content. You are correct that we believe in the importance of diversity at Tello. We exist because of a lack of representation of queer women in mainstream media. If you look closely at our programming you will see queer women of color, queer women of different class backgrounds, queer women who present as butch, queer women who present as femme, queer women who identify as bisexual, and even several queer men.
While we always strive to write diverse parts and extend the net far and wide for diverse casting, we’re limited to casting those who show up for auditions, as well as to those who say yes to playing the roles we have to offer. (You’d be surprised at the number of straight women who try out for gay roles and then turn them down when they get them.)
Looking back on your marriage to Deb (Mell), did you feel a particular onus to make the marriage work? After all, many argue Deb was instrumental in providing the necessary oomph to get same-sex civil unions passed in Illinois. Many people associated that victory with a belief that one of its trailblazers would live happily ever after in marital bliss. Did you feel any especially unfair expectations of your marriage to Deb?
It’s actually a very painful thing to talk about. I’m still processing everything and trying to see what I can learn and be a better person and partner in the future but I can see why you’d be curious. Deb was absolutely instrumental in getting marriage passed in Illinois, and I hope our private, personal circumstances don’t diminish that in anyone’s eyes. She was 100 percent dedicated to marriage equality in Illinois, and she continues to advocate for equal rights for same-sex couples and LGBT people in Chicago. She is passionate about her job and that is something I will always admire her for. Unfortunately, break-ups and divorce affect a lot of families. I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind that people had high expectations about our relationship, but when it comes down to it, we’re just people, and we, like everyone else, did the best we could. During our break-up, rather than worrying about what the public thought, I focused on communicating with my friends and family and on healing.
Tello Films was recently named one of the best new Indie TV networks by IndieWire.com. Do you see that as a game changer for you and your company?
We were so honored by that! I don’t know if it’s a game changer but I do think it lifts our model and company up and gives us some good street cred as an established company.
HBO just announced you can subscribe to their network on the Internet independently of cable. Does that approach to attract and retain viewers encourage you? Worry you?
We are just so cutting edge! I think it’s great. I think the more choices you give people the better! I believe that when groups like HBO allow for that then it just means our formula is becoming more recognized as a legitimate business model and that is only good for us.
If a series were to be made of you and your life, who would star in it and what would it be called?
I think Ellen Page would be a great lead in the story of my life and I think it would be called: “Just when you think…”
For more information on Tello Films, its content and to subscribe, visit onemorelesbian.com/tello/
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