Black Filmmaker, Andre Gaines Makes the Cut With 4-part Documentary The Lady and The Dale
When executive producer, Andre Gaines, picked up the project Lady and The Dale, he knew he had to tell the story of Elizabeth Carmichael, transgender mother of 4, and inventor of a three-wheeled fuel efficient, yellow car.
Gaines used animation to draw a narration about the ambitious Carmichael, who rose to fame in the 70’s by igniting a con, that would spark a conversation that she could create this tiny car that would stop the fuel crisis in America. The only problem is… the car wasn’t real.
The Lady and The Dale didn’t just expose the scam, it revealed the human nature of people and their tenacious prejudice for the LGBTQ community in sharp simulation.
“I think the big takeaway for The Lady and The Dale,” Gaines said, “is really understanding that a strong degree of tenacity is needed to make bold moves, but if you make those bold moves and you stick with it long enough, and you get it the best shot possible to succeed, it will succeed.
‘Liz Carmichael was down on her luck in so many instances, and in so many different circumstances and situations that she could’ve easily given up at any time, but not giving up resulted in a major historical moment that a lot of people never had heard of, including myself prior to it showing up on my doorstep.
A lot of people should be inspired, I think. A lot of people should be inspired by that. Not only did she have the odds of trying to get an independent car into the marketplace, but she also experienced the odds as a transgender woman, and as the only female in a completely till this day, a male dominant industry, which is the automotive business. I think that it proves positive that regardless of your station in life, regardless of the circumstances you might have been born into that if you really give it the best shot possible to succeed, and you proceed with the degree of confidence necessary to do that, it will ultimately pay off. With 2021, this is a car that came in 1975, and here we are forty plus years later. Here we are, talking about it.”
Andre Gaines is an inspiring black filmmaker in Hollywood, who is flying as pilot behind the scenes on many projects. His career is a decadent one that’s spanned over 15 years. He earned his seat at the proverbial table of elites. That’s not all. He started Cinemation Studios in 2010 as a house of animation and visual effects. It’s a company that finances and produces substance for other movies and television shows. He’s produced and financed 12 documentaries and narrations like Spike Lee, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Ladder to Damascus, Emmy-winner by the People: The Election of Barak Obama, and his magnum opus, The Dick Gregory Story. Gaines just finished a reboot of Stephen Kings: The Children of The Corn.
His favorite projects are Bill Nye: The Science Guy, and an animation that’s currently playing on Amazon called the Immortal Warrior starring Rodrigo Santoro... “That’s a film that I’m very proud of,” Gaines said. “It takes place in the future about a warrior that’s reincarnated and over the centuries from the middle passage in Brazil sort of the beginnings of slavery and you go through the future of Rio de Janeiro. That is kind of the void of some of those oppressions. Spike Lee’s film, The Sweet Blood of Jesus, that was an independent film he did back in the days. Watching that project kickstarted, I was happy to be one of the contributors to that film. That was my top ones that have been released. I was proud to be one of the producers of the remake of Children of the Corn, which is Stephen Kings Film. That’s a film we shot at the beginning of the pandemic from March to may of 2020. We were one or two films shooting in the world at the time when everything shut down and that was a film shot down in Australia, so I was proud to be part of that as well."
Did you always want to do film?
It’s interesting question. I was always involved in arts. I went to undergraduate at north western university and when I went there, double majored in engineering and chemistry and I was planning to go medica school, I wrote and directed, and starred in plays, and several creative activities. That’s what really spurred my interest in film. I ended up deferring my acceptance into Harvard Medical School, and I ended up getting into NYU Film School [New York University Tisch School of the Arts], and that’s what really solidified it for me. It was a big change. I had planned to do journalism and did it a little bit after college, writing for vibe magazine, Esquire and LA Times; it was very brief.
I had an interest in that, and I did that in high school. It was a profession that I was potentially going into and my grandmother who is in a medical field as well said, “You need to major in something that you’re going to get a job in.“ I initially started off in medicine, and studied chemistry, and that’s when I made a pivot and added journalism to that track. Once I got out of college, just realizing that I needed to take a break to decide exactly what I wanted to do, because going to medical school is a huge commitment, that’s when I made the decision that I wanted to do film.
You said The Lady and the Dale is the only unsolicited inquiry that you said yes to. Why was that a resounding yes, and why don’t you accept unsolicited film work.
A lot of times when filmmakers and aspiring writers or directors see film companies do projects, that they try to reach out and they offer up their project as something for them to consider. The reason they go to any one of these production companies’ website or anything like that, and they see we don’t accept unsolicited material, is because of legal protection. A lot of times, you may be developing something that is like something that someone out of the blue decides to send you. That’s why we only accept material from an agent or legal representative of some kind, to send this material. Most companies do the same thing.
In this case, my partner, Allen Baine got an inquiry from director Nick Cammillerie and we both looked at it, myself and Allen, and [we said], “This is unique. It doesn’t fall into one of these genres or buckets you might normally see of any type of regular story. It is quite likely that you have something like that, that you’re developing, and to protect yourself, you just aren’t able to accept that unless its coming from a fiduciary or a legal representative.
In this case, Liz Carmichael was whole and unique. This is a transgender woman in the 1970’s that started a car company. How much more unique of a perspective or story can you get from that? It’s not something that anyone just normally thinks of, and we ended up doing a documentary series out of it because the truth was stranger than fiction. That’s what happened there, and that’s how this project came to be. We partnered with Mike and Jake Duplass, who have an extraordinary track record with their film and television work, and it just made sense for everyone involved. It was one of those, one out of a thousand submissions kind of things where it was whole and unique, and something we could really catapult.
Don’t be a copy and don’t be a niche—how did you make The Lady and the Dale authentic?
The story itself, had a higher degree of originality. That’s number one. You can’t take credit for everything but for Lady and The Dale, it has a really big degree of originality as a transgender woman in the days when Liz was presenting male, primal wife. Prior to that, the family dynamic is very unique. Till this day, a three wheeled yellow car, when was the last time you saw a yellow car on three wheels, let alone it’s bright yellow? So, that was the first step. The steps following that is important particularly as a black film maker.
I understand and know the power and value of inclusion. So much of Hollywood is about exclusion, exclusive interviews and exclusive parties and exclusive releases. Any of those types of things, and the power of inclusion makes the content better. It makes stories better than they were when they first walked into the door. That level of inclusion has to be part of every facet. It has to not only be in front of the camera where you often see black actors or even representatives of our industry appearing, but it’s important for that to be behind the camera as well. That was a major part of the equation. Again, I don’t want to take all the credit for it, but definitely being a voice in the room, to say, transgender representation, LGBTQ representation, on this show, is paramount and important for it to be the best product it can be. Not just out of charity or some type of favor, but the in-product will be so much better. I think it really, really paid off and it really, really showed.
It took a year and a half to complete the film, with animation, to tell this fascinating story—Did this body of work stretch you?
Just for clarity, it is a four-part series as opposed to a single film and, absolutely. Each one of the episodes in the series is a featured documentary film, and we had developed it, meaning myself, Allen Bain and Nick Cammillarie. We had all developed this project over the course of about a year, a year and a half before sitting down with the Duplass brothers Mark and Jay, and then when sitting down with Mark and Jay, we developed it a little further. That process was about a two-year process from when we started with them to the time it came out on-air with HBO; so that’s part of the creative process, and I always tell people that inspiration can’t be rushed. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of revisions. It’s going to take a lot of drafts to get to the project that really, really works—and the content that really, really works, and changes hearts and minds.
It must take an undocumented amount of discipline to do the type of work that you do. Do you work on other films or are you married to one project until its completion?