“Before I sat down with writer and creator Craig Bettendorf to discuss his efforts during the past three years in launching Treading Yesterday, the series, he was quick to offer the following as a primer of sorts:
When Armistead Maupin’s series of novels, Tales of the City were fashioned into a television series in1993 they were brought to life by Working Title Films/Propaganda Films for the UK’s Channel 4, eventually playing on public television in the US.
1995’s Stonewall movie which depicted the civil unrest that led up to the LGBT Liberation movement was a BBC production in association with the US-based Killer Films.
Even the perennial Queer as Folk had its start in the UK, produced by Red Production Company and airing on Channel 4 in 1999 prior to being licensed to the Showtime Network in 2000 for a refresh and US re-branding. So when Treading Yesterday premiered at the 2016 Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles, it came as no surprise to Craig when Screen Hits London, offered them a spot in their curated annual flagship competition, the ScreenHits Pilot Showcase.”
[dropcap]Treading[/dropcap] Yesterday is entertainment, but like many forms of entertainment, it is also meant to be thought-provoking. The early water-cooler conversation generated from watching the episodes has been pretty on point because it’s involves viewers not only trying to figure out what is really going on in each episode as the series is admittedly a bit of a puzzle box, at the same time they’re grappling with the underlying themes of inclusivity and human sameness. Deep down people are all pretty much the same. They want to find a purpose for their lives, they struggle with those things beyond their control and they surround themselves with family and loved ones who give deeper meaning to their lives. In this way Treading Yesterday may be able to bring groups of people closer together by bridging some of the societal gaps with a sense of compassion and the underlying understanding that we’re not all that much different from one another DIRECTOR CRAIG BETTENDORF
Craig Bettendorf, writer, creator and executive producer of the award-winning series ‘Treading Yesterday’ is no novice to LGBT subject matter. His early work led him to be among the principle signatories of 1996’s National Freedom to Marry Resolution (predecessor to Marriage Equality) denouncing the Federal Defense of Marriage act as well as the honor of presenting to the students and faculty of the Harvard Divinity School in 1999. The series clearly benefits from his personal experience as Treading Yesterday’s story line juxtaposes 1988’s intolerance of Gays with present day acceptance while at the same time revealing the inherent challenges existing in both environments.
Interview by Antonio Rozich for Cult Critic Film Magazine
Antonio Rozich: Congratulations to you and to the Treading Yesterday team for all the years’ success including winning the Screen Hits Pilot Showcase sponsored by Universal Publishing Production Music. What’s next for Treading Yesterday?
Craig Bettendorf: Thank you; it’s been an extraordinary year for Treading Yesterday. Winning the Screen Hits Pilot Showcase and as a result, progressing to series has been a dream come true for our recurring cast of twenty and production team of seven. Now we’re simply awaiting the development deal that will bring our double-episode pilot to series by completing and airing all episodes of season one. Screen Hits Pilot Showcase really reinforces the message that your voice and your art have merit and must be shared with the world. As we now progress to series we do so rejoicing in the knowledge that Screen Hits and Universal Publishing Production Music have provided this amazing vehicle from which our stories can be told.
Q– Unlike with Treading Yesterday where it starts in the present, I’d like to know some past information. Tell us about yourself & your filmmaking career.
A-The creation of ‘Treading Yesterday’, the series has a compelling story-line of its own. The initial writing of our double-episode pilot came into being as a storytelling device, created to convey a sense of perspective to my friends, Matt & Ivan, both Millennial’s who had little frame of reference as to how today’s broader acceptance of LGBT people came into being. As we concluded our first table read, both simply demanded more. Offering the episodes in a historical-fiction format allowed both to experience actual events through the lives of Treading Yesterday’s fictional characters. This process ultimately led us in our first-time filmmaker odyssey, which included self-financing (I sold my home and other assets) casting (we selected every individual ourselves), filming (we hired a director and a crew) and producing our pilot episodes, which Screen Hits began streaming last year.
Q-How many episodes per season are you planning?
A-I modeled the series using the British template of eight tightly written episodes per season. In this way, each episode has a strong impact on the overall storyline. I’ve recently begun writing season three so the first two seasons for a total of 16 episodes are ready to produce.
Q-And each episode resides on two different timelines, correct?
A-That’s correct. Episode one opens in the present day but by midpoint, it resets to 1988 in a period of time when monumental anti-gay backlash in the US had been orchestrated. In this way, the viewer is able to experience the lives of our characters in both the present which tends to be more LGBT accepting while at the same time being able to experience what it took to get to this point by following the 1988 timeline.
Q- In her review for Cult Critic, Helen Wheels mentioned the challenges of having to keep a specific image; having a successful career, staying in shape, etc. Not looking just at your experience, would you say these aspects are related to today’s age in the gay community or did it exist back when intolerance was at its full strength as well? If you can tell us something more about it.
A-Every story needs a storyteller and Eric is Treading Yesterdays. We experience life through his eyes. It’s no secret that as you grow in your experience and wisdom you reflect back on your life which is how our series opens. The Holidays can be pretty tough on people as they reflect on what they accomplished and what they could have done differently and this is how we first meet Eric in episode one. His journey is his journey, although it may apply to others in a universal way (fearing the beginnings of ageism in a youth-based culture, etc) it is his own and the basis for our emersion into his world.
Q-How optimistic are you in terms of the current social climate and bringing Treading Yesterday to series?
A– We are very optimistic. A study published earlier this year cited that 20% of all Millennials identify as LGBTQ. Millennials are reshaping society rapidly in many ways, entertainment is sure to follow. In addition, Treading Yesterday’s fan base of 18-34 year old is its largest single demographic, accounting for nearly 80% of its total. The recent news of ABC’s development of a Gay-Dad’s series in the US along with ITV’s upcoming production of a series called Butterfly in the UK offer hope that inclusive programming is finally upon us in 2018. I am reminded that it wasn’t any more than a year ago when billboards sprung up across Hollywood calling for broader inclusivity of LGBT characters in Television and Film. It appears that the studios have been listening and that makes us very optimistic.
Q-So what do you say to those who say that there is already sufficient LGBT character representation on Television? Why is a series like Treading Yesterday still needed?
A-I read an excellent article last year in Vulture that was titled, “Why we need a Big Gay TV show.”The author asked why is it that with all of the individual inclusion of LGBT characters on network TV that there isn’t one big gay show? A show that features mostly gay characters following their lives and experiences rather than depicting gay characters in a larger cast, where we only get to see depictions of their lives through the eye of the straight lens which is a heterosexist view of how gay people fit into society. Although I’d already finished writing season one of Treading Yesterday the thought of this article really stuck with me. Treading Yesterday coined a phrase early on that has stuck with us, that being that our series is “Spoken in our words and heard in our voices.” I think that this sense of genuineness is why we’ve been warmly received by the film festivals. Not only is Treading Yesterday something new that they haven’t seen before it’s also hard to pigeon-hole. The series is definitely a Drama but it also dabbles in the Sci-Fi-genre as the series protagonist, Eric may or may not be experiencing time-travel.
Key cast members from bottom left; Patrick Reilly (Luke Caro), Liam Silbernagel (Will Morgan),
MiliRakic (Eric Knox), Kai Morgan (Christian O’Neil) Carlos Clemenz (Alex Ibarra),
Top left; Braxton Tomeck (Mark Jeffries), JaxBuresh (Robert Fox), Steven Scholz (Andrew Bois),
Kyla Sylvers (Patrice Hamilton).
Q- A quick one. Tell me about some movies, directors & writers that might have influenced you as a filmmaker.
A-When I first began meeting with producers and their production teams they were interested in knowing what the series would look and feel likeon a visceral level. I know that I surprised them with at least some parts of my answer. I loved the look and feel of 2014’s Need for Speed. The storyline follows a group of supportive friends as their friend and protagonist played by Aaron Paul went on a redemptive quest which shares much with Treading Yesterday. In addition, the outdoor cinematography really made California (its beauty and nature) a supporting character of the story, so yeah! I used Need for Speed as a comparison. I also really liked the mood and vibe of 2013’s The Canyons and often used this film to describe a mood or the feel of a scene we were working on. Finally, I also cited 2013’s Locke in which Tom Hardy kept us on the edge of our seats without ever exiting his BMW. These three movies mixed together gave those who assisted us with our double episode pilot understanding as to what we were looking to accomplish.
Q- Finally, what are your future plans?
A- It’s all about continuing our momentum and bringing Treading Yesterday to series. Once we can power up our TV show and catch an episode we’ll be able to think of other projects but not until then.
While he isn’t writing for Cult Critic, Antonio Rozich is working as a copywriter for a filmmaking startup called Try Cinema. Besides his usual copywriting, he also helps filmmakers with their screenplays by editing them and finding the ways to improve the initial filmmaker’s idea. When all of that is done, he turns to his true & original love: writing flash fiction, which he posts regularly on his site Syeta Stories.