“Love is All You Need?” is the title of Kim Rocco Shields short film that went viral in 2014 and is now a feature film playing the festival circuit. Recently, I attended the Cayman International Film Festival where it won Best Feature Film. I sat down with Rocco to chat about her journey with this film and how she ended up with a film that’s not only entertaining, but also changing people’s lives.
Rocco was inspired to write the short version of “Love is All You Need?” in response to the increasing amount of teen suicides that were happening as a result of bullying. She set out to explore why anyone, but kids in particular, who are different from the norm, feel the way that they do. From the beginning of this project, she set out to create a great film with a good story, but also one that would make a statement about equality. Not all filmmakers set out to do all of those things, but for Rocco, she has always been driven to create projects that will make an impact on the world. She realizes that she could very easily sell out and do stuff that is meaningless, but she knows that’s not what it’s about; at least not for her. “I look at film as a way to make art, not money.”
Rocco grew up in Los Angeles and worked her way up the ranks of the film industry, starting as a Production Assistant and eventually becoming an editor. She took to editing very naturally but learned quickly that being alone in a dark room is not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She had always wanted to be a director, but had studied Film Theory in college, so she knew she needed a plan. After being rejected by every graduate school she applied to, which she “thanks my lucky stars for” she sat down and figured out what the best path to becoming a director would be. Being on numerous sets, she noticed that the person who sits closest to the director is the script supervisor. She knew that if she could get that job, she could learn the most about directing, on a set, instead of in a classroom. She trained with a friend and made sure she knew how to do the job and the rest is history. Six years and 30 films later, she’s a union script supervisor who had the opportunity to learn from incredible directors like J.J. Abrams and Gore Verbinski. Rocco created her own, real life, graduate school.
In 2014, the short that she had spent so much time creating, “Love Is All You Need?” leaked on the internet before it had the chance to premiere at any film festivals. I asked Rocco how this happened and she said, “My lead actress posted it on You Tube.” She told me that it had quietly sat online for about 6 months, getting a few views, but when Upworthy discovered it and posted it on their site it quickly went viral. Rocco’s good friend, who is a lawyer called her and said, “I know you’re probably freaking out right now. You have a few choices, but the real question is, do you want to change the world? Or make some money?”
For Rocco, she chose to change the world, leaving the video posted on You Tube. In the end, this wound up being the best thing that could have happened for the short. Before the short leaked online and went viral, she had already pitched the project to over 1000 people. It turns out that it’s difficult to get money people behind an idea that has such a strong message. They eventually found investors and were able to make the feature. Rocco said, “All you need is a “Yes”. As soon as you get the first yes it really gets the ball rolling.”
Why the hesitation from investors? The film is an intense subject matter, illustrated through a clever inversion of sexuality.
“Love is All You Need?” focuses on an 11-year-old girl, Ashley, who lives in a world where homosexuality is the norm and being in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex is unheard of and even forbidden. Her Moms encourage her to love girls and are surprised when she mentions that she wishes that “Romeo and Julio” could be done with a boy and a girl instead of two boys. Eventually her classmates discover that she likes a boy in their class and the bullying begins. She is chased through the streets of her town and captured by a group of students who circle around her yelling at her, kicking her and writing HETERO on her forehead in permanent marker. (I really appreciated Kim’s directing style here as it was obvious what was occurring without having to witness kids beating up another kid. Her tasteful shots, sound design and camera angles made the violence very apparent without being gratuitous.) The film ends with Ashley getting incessant messages on her cell phone with horrible messages like, “Kill yourself.”. She washes the word, hetero, off her forehead, crying and looking in the mirror, a solid acting performance here by Lexi DiBenedetto, finally stepping into the bathtub. Kim’s classic esthetic directing style takes control here again limiting what it is we actually see. As Ashley’s Moms struggle to unlock the door, the bathtub water turns red and the film ends leaving your heart torn.
The choice to make heterosexuality the frowned upon life choice and homosexuality the socially acceptable really struck a cord with audiences. K. Rocco said, “Being gay is one thing, but to make it the norm proved to be too much for many people to handle.” She’s been accused of forwarding the “sodomite agenda” and has had to come to the defense of teachers who were nearly fired for showing the short to their classes.
K. Rocco knows that this film was worth all of the time, effort and heart she put into it because of the messages she continues to receive from teens thanking her for the film. The kids, the feedback, all of them getting back to her about how the film touched their lives personally are what propelled her forward even when it was a struggle to continue. She called it, “listening to the indirect signs”.
I asked her if she had any advice for females like all of us working to get into the film industry and she said, “ A lot of people are impatient and think they deserve for their success to happen, but they just expect it to appear. People want things but they don’t figure out a path to get them. It’s all about the path.”
“Never let people get you down or tell you that you can’t, because you can. You have to take into account where they are coming from and don’t believe a word they are saying.” K. Rocco said. “Take it in stride and don’t get rattled.”
During her entire journey making “Love is All you Need?” she had people tell her, “If you were not a woman, you would not have had this hard of a time.” She insists that its time for us as females to rise above and to show that we are just as capable as our male counterparts; that our sex organs don’t matter one bit in the equation. She noted that its not just female directors that are fighting this fight, but within every occupation. “Its up to us to make a new regime and lift each other up. It’s good to help one another, it’s all about the karma.”
There couldn’t be a more poignant time for “Love is All You Need?” to make its way into theatres. You can see the short on You Tube.
You can check the film’s website for screenings near you.
“Love is All you Need?” the feature will release in the fall and Rocco says, “It will activate the world.”