By Karen Frost
Paradox: any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature. The queer female community, unexpectedly, is a paradox. There are somewhere around 155 million women in the United States, which means that statistically, there are about…oh, roughly 16 million queer women, give or take a few million. (The world’s population is 7.6 billion people, which means that there are at least 456 million queer women in the world, a number greater than the total populations of the US and the UK combined, which is really freaking awesome.). By the numbers, we’re a very large minority; an incredibly diverse population that spans every town, city, and state. We’re a rainbow menagerie of all shapes, sizes, and colors. But when it comes to the business end of our community, we’re just one tiny village. And ClexaCon is proof of that.
You probably knew that tello is the only streaming service exclusively dedicated to queer women, but did you know there’s basically only one other streaming service for LGBT viewers? When Revry founder LaShawn McGhee and tello founder Christin Baker manned the “Queer Lady Business” panel at ClexaCon Vegas 2018, it effectively represented the entirely of LGBT owned and operated streaming services catering to women. Although major streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix have added LGBT sections, their LGBT viewers are just one demographic in a bigger viewing pool, not their primary customers. All of which means that when it comes to our own home-grown businesses, there’s no one but tello and Revry.
Nor should it be a surprise that Olivia Cruises, like tello, was a ClexaCon sponsor in 2018: it’s all but the only lesbian-only tour operator in the world, and no major lesbian event would be complete without its involvement. There’s a reason an entire “The L Word” episode was dedicated to it! Likewise, although there a couple dozen LGBT book publishers, the eight F/F fiction publishers present at ClexaCon Vegas in 2017 and 2018—Bywater Books, Dirt Road Books, Sapphire Books,ylva Publishing, Blind Eye Books, Stacked Deck Press, Bella Books, and Desert Palm Press—probably are the largest and well-known publishers of specifically queer female fiction, making ClexaCon representative of the size of the lesbian publishing field. Meanwhile, Mona Elyafi of the “Diversity & Inclusion Today: How to Develop PR Campaigns that Foster an Inclusive Communications Culture” panel is the founder and CEO of ILDK Media, a boutique public relations company specializing in LGBTQ publicity and marketing campaigns. Put another way, she’s the only PR agent specializing in queer women right now (including leading PR on The Dinah, another “L Word” subject). Even in the pressroom, the number of queer-female only publications represented can be counted on one hand, and total press badge holders on not many more hands. The queer lady press is tiny.
Nevertheless, while the queer female entertainment industry might be small, it’s highly interconnected, and ClexaCon 2017’s feature films (a veritable who’s who of major players in the industry) epitomize this fact. Since mainstream Hollywood has refused to give much support to LGBT projects, we have had to draw on our internal resources to create our own content, which means often the same people keep popping up in queer projects. “A Million Happy Nows,” for example, was produced by and stars Crystal Chappell, who has produced queer content or played queer in a bunch of roles, from “Guiding Light” to “Venice: The Series” to “The Bold and the Beautiful” to “The Grove” to “Beacon Hill.” “Almost Adults” starred “Carmilla” actresses Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman, was directed by Sarah Rotella of The Unsolicited Project, and was produced by Unsolicited Pictures. (The Unsolicited Project, by the way, has done fantastic queer shorts over the years, including a hilarious lesbian trailer for “Fifty Shades of Gay.”) “I Can’t Think Straight” is, of course, a lesbian classic by lesbian writer/director Shamim Sharif, a featured guest at ClexaCon London, and “Women Who Kill” writer/director/star Ingrid Jungermann was also in “Take My Wife” and co-created the webseries “The Slope.” Everyone is in everyone else’s projects, in short.
In addition to spotlighting existing interconnectivity, ClexaCon also invites further collaboration and idea sharing. Moderator and panelist Jess Harris-DiStefano, Head of Creative Programming at YouTube Space LA, wrote an article for the Shethority website and worked with the folks behind ClexaCon and tello to help create the Visibility Fund, for example. Elyafi represents ClexaCon, tello Films, and several ClexaCon attendees. ClexaCon attendee Hillary Esquina was inspired by “Lost Girl” and “Wynonna Earp” showrunner Emily Andras at ClexaCon Vegas 2017 to apply to tello’s Pitch to Production contest and won with her pitch for a webseries called “Passage.” At ClexaCon Vegas 2018, Tello did a staged reading of “Passage,” which cast Nicole Pacent of the webseries “Anyone but Me” (and frequent ClexaCon panelist) and tello regular Shannan Leigh Reeve as the leads. Writer and producer Germana Bello of the webseries “RED” met Baker at ClexaCon Vegas 2018 and the two talked potential projects, and struck a deal where "Red" is available on tello (to US audiences). Truly, ClexaCon is developing into the collaborative space it aspired to be.
What does this all mean? A few things. For one, it means that when it comes to the queer entertainment industry, there are a handful of players that run in our small circle, supporting each other and reinforced by fans but struggling to break through to mainstream Hollywood. We ADORE our actresses who come to ClexaCon, but none of them have been Oscar nominated, and Martin Scorsese is not knocking anyone’s door down to get to them, a fact that is not reflective of their talents. As much positivity as we are able to generate for queer projects, it’s hard to get heterosexual Hollywood to pay attention, which is why many of our movies remain independent features and it is difficult to secure funding, even for popular projects like “RED.” We’ve proven we can fund ourselves through measures like crowdsourcing, but ideally we need wider Hollywood to be better about funding and incorporating inclusivity.
Second, ClexaCon is a key and as-yet undervalued place for content creators to show their material in order to maximize exposure and start publicity campaigns in advance of wider release or to boost sales. ClexaCon attendees are the exact target audience for queer movies, short films, and webseries: they are mostly queer women who want to see more queer content and will help pay to get it made. At ClexaCon Vegas 2018, for example, cast members from the webseries “Carmilla,” “RED,” “Swerve,” “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” “Anyone But Me” and “Venice: The Series”—some of the most popular and well-known webseries in our community—sat on panels, a nod to the symbiotic relationship between content and its consumers. Already, some of the “Venice: The Series” cast has signed on to come to Vegas in 2019, surely in recognition of the potential to meet and tap into the 4,000 in-person attendees and the many more site readers who won’t be able to make the trek to Nevada. Particularly for filmmakers who may not have secured a large distribution, ClexaCon is a place to introduce to the community to the existence of a project that might otherwise escape the notice it rightfully deserves. Viewers can’t watch what they don’t even know exists.
Finally, ClexaCon is a networking dream. From show writers to casting agents, lawyers to aspiring directors, podcasters to fan fiction writers (and writers on actual shows), ClexaCon offers attendees the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the more influential movers and shakers in our community. Collectively, we influence hundreds of thousands of Twitter users. We produce award-winning movies and webseries. We’ve served in law enforcement, government, and all parts of the civil sector. In such a small community, it’s easy to get to know people and develop professional and personal contacts that might reap dividends down the road.
Overall, we love ClexaCon and that’s why tello Films is proud to be a sponsor. But also, we’re friendly people, so come say hi at our booth next time. See you in Vegas!