David Scala is an award-winning writer & director for stage and screen. He recently premiered Engaged, which follows Darren and his journey as he struggles to propose to his boyfriend.

Reaching 16 film festivals worldwide, Engaged explores sexuality, personal insecurities, relationships and everything in between. Miro spoke with David about where the story came from, how it differs from his previous work and what is coming next.

M: What got you into writing and directing?

DS: I feel like I always, from a very young age, was very involved in creative endeavours. I actually started a little bit more as an actor in grade school and things like that. But as I started coming up, especially in High School, I saw myself gravitating much more towards the behind the camera elements.

It was actually a film class in high school where I really found all the creative elements of writing, directing, storytelling and really getting into another character and going through some other world as somebody else. That’s when I really started tapping into it and through this film class, I found all those elements really coming together. It’s what pushed me to apply to film school. It always comes down to storytelling elements, so that’s why I was a writer, and then when I graduated to the directing phases, it’s all about keeping those elements true and just continuing the story through the lens.

M: What are the key differences between writing and directing for a film as opposed to the theatre?

DS: The biggest difference for me is when I write a story, I always start with the characters and then I find which medium is best appropriate. Among the Furies (A play written by Scala) actually started as a screenplay, but as I was adapting it, everyone who read it was like “oh this is just two couples and a house, what if you did this on stage? Like that would be just so amazing for this because I feel like it would come across better that way”. So the main difference for me is identifying that, especially in my own writing, what fits on stage, what fits on the screen, and then even now, things I’m developing on screen, is it a movie or is it episodic? The biggest challenge is sort of being truthful to the work and putting it in the right arena.

M: Where did your influence come from for Engaged?

DS: A lot of things influenced the idea for Engaged It is very personal and it is based actually off of my experience, maybe more so than any of the recent work that I have done, it kind of stems from my own perspective. So, there’s a story where about a year or two ago, a friend of mine got engaged, and as she was kind of going through the process, it made me look at my own self, my own relationship, and wonder if that is something where I can see myself down the line. Instantly, from the very beginning, it was like “no, probably not. Marriage might not be for me”. It was only later as I began to wrestle with that notion that I soon discovered it was stemming from a sort of insecurity. How does an LGBT couple fit into this idea of marriage which traditionally is more mainstream? And so, yeah, the main idea for it came, then through the writing process, it evolves from there.

Ryan Jamaal Swain and Daniel K. Isaac in Engaged

Ryan Jamaal Swain and Daniel K. Isaac in Engaged

M: How long did the film take to create?

DS: It came together very quickly, I finished writing it in March of 2018 and then March to May was finalising the script. Then we instantly went into pre-production and began to reach out to actors, cast and crew, knowing that we wanted to shoot in the Summer so that we could turn it around to then premiere it in 2019. We shot in August 2018, we shot for four days, and then I also serve as the writer, director, producer but I also edited it. So then all of September and into October was just editing and then once we finally picture locked – I think that was round November – then it was just post-production in December and then we finished the whole thing in January.

The whole thing came together so much quicker than so many of my other projects. Especially for feature work and even theatre, the gestation periods are just so much longer. I have been developing all of these feature films, feature scripts, and through the years they have been finalised for awards or for festivals. I just felt like after so long of waiting to get these kinds of features off the ground, I just want to skip back behind the camera and tell a story and this story really just came from within my life so strongly. So I was able to just truly run with it and see the whole thing through and it’s a very kind of, cleansing, creative experience to have it all wrapped up now and have people responding to it.

M: Did you write with any actors or crew in mind?

DS: No actually. What I knew was, since I’m half Filipino, I really wanted to have an Asian American lead. When we first started casting we were based in New York, so we were looking for New York-based actors, that was just one thing I really wanted because I wrote the role inspired by my own life. And so having an Asian American lead, and a gay Asian American actor, if we could find it, would be ideal.

As we were casting, the first season of Pose (Award-winning FX show) was actually on air, so it was before the season finale had even shown, but I had been watching the show and Ryan Jamaal Swain is one of the main characters on it and since the show touches on LGBT themes and also is based in New York, I was like “Oh my, I have to reach out to this actor”. He was looking for work and this was the exact type of material he was looking to take on.

He’s very new to the scene, Pose is his first major TV show and so it was great to see an up and coming actor still wanting to speak to these themes. It’s funny how having an actor of colour who’s gay and then also in a mixed-race couple, in modern times, it comes from my own life but it does feel very, almost, ground-breaking in a way. That was never the intent, but if it’s kind of another consequence of putting this story out into the world and I’m able to show this, I love it, that’s what I’m here for.

M: Engaged focuses on marriage and what it means to the lead character, Darren. Do you think marriage is an important thing for all people in relationships?

DS: Well it’s interesting because, through the film, the idea of marriage and love is very specific in what it means to this couple. I’m a romantic, I’m actually born on Valentine’s Day. I think it’s very specific to find what marriage means to people, what it means to yourself and to these characters. The love that they share is being truthful and being seen for who they were and sticking up for that even if it’s potentially in the face of adversity. For me, it was honest to the character so it was one of the things I really wanted to explore. With it being, sort of, a romantic comedy, it was a question for me, a layer. A lot of the things I write are more dramatic, but it just felt like these characters – the main kind of obstacle he has to face is himself, his own insecurities and anxieties. I think even within my own life, those sometimes are the funniest things. Our own hang-ups, the comedy just came naturally from the scenarios and the type of material he was going through.

Ryan Jamaal Swain and Daniel K. Isaac in Engaged

Ryan Jamaal Swain and Daniel K. Isaac in Engaged

M: There are some great moments where they discuss themes such as internal fear and micro coming out. What is a key scene for you?

DS: Another one of the intentions was for the film to sort of coin this term, micro coming out. Not in the way of coining as if I invented it, but in a way of really highlighting the experience for potential and general audiences, because micro coming out in these small moments are things that are very familiar to people of the queer and LGBT communities. I’ve found that sometimes the audiences that respond the most to that scene, and to the film overall, are these general audiences that are not from specific festivals that are queer or minority-themed, but just International Film Festivals where people are like “Oh, you know, I never really thought about that.” or “This experience really opened my eyes to what someone else might be going through”. If people can take that away from the film, that’s one of the key things I wanted to bring to it.

M: How do you feel about having ‘Engaged’ screen at an Oscar-qualifying festival?

DS: It’s exhilarating yes, seriously! We’re going to Palm Springs and a variety of film festivals we’ve gotten into. I think, right now, the official count is up to 16 which is just mad because we premiered in March and so it’s been 4 months and we already have 16. It’s not all about film festivals, but I made this film to spread these sort of ideas. What that really translates to me is that people are responding to it and that people will get to see it. And so, hopefully meaning that it will continue on and affect people in this way.

M: Are you planning on directing a feature film in the near future?

DS: Yes, that is the goal! It has been the goal for many years. I have a bunch of these feature scripts I had been trying to get made for some time, and I still want to get them made, but having written this with the past year, I have found this whole wave where I am starting to write these new films, fresh. Not just keeping the old ones, but starting to invest in these new films that all speak to very similar themes as Engaged.

It’s not a direct feature adaptation, but these films that follow LGBT characters of colour through contemporary storylines, present day, in the world that we’re living in. I’m writing two stories, one is a feature script and then it has a spin-off that I’m developing as a play, so I’m sort of creating my goal. My vision is to have this Cinematic Universe, similar to superhero movies, but they’re all these life stories of contemporary characters in the present day. I don’t think anyone has ever really done that in that way. I’m writing some stuff now, I’m really wanting to continue and get back behind the camera again. It’s what I love.

Engaged is next showing at the Palm Springs International Shortfest on 21 June.