A funny thing happened to Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz as they entered post-production on Life Partners, the movie they co-wrote together and Fogel directed: the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed. Their initial reaction was to rejoice (Lefkowitz is lesbian and now married), but it presented a problem wholly unique to their film.
Life Partners centers around two relationships: a friendship between Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Leighton Meester) and a budding romantic relationship involving Paige and Tim (Adam Brody). Paige and Sasha have a pact that neither will marry until Sasha, a lesbian, has the right. The controversial law’s repeal instantly turned the movie into a time capsule.
“We had emphasized the inequality between the girls [Paige and Sasha],” Fogel says of the film’s message. “Despite the fact that they share everything and they’re codependent friends, one had certain basic rights that the other one didn’t.”
Life Partners is about to leave the festival circuit and enter wide distribution, but it’s not the only project for Fogel and Lefkowitz. The pair is also developing Chasing Life, an adaptation of a Mexican series about a young woman dealing with cancer as she tries to launch her career as a journalist (scheduled to premiere June 10 on ABC Family). There were obvious challenges adapting what could, in the wrong hands, become another maudlin American television show.
“It’s helpful that Joni and I have background in comedy writing,” Fogel says. “Our first writing assignments were in the comedy world. We never write soft comedy or sitcoms, but we do both have that perspective on our lives. We try to bring humor to it without making a joke out of it or make the situation seem flippant. Sometimes the most dramatic moment can come out of that.”
Though it might seem the height of insanity to attempt to produce meaningful work in film and television simultaneously, Fogel likes it that way.
“If we paid too much attention to one project, we would have smothered it. It was useful to have the two projects to bounce back and forth,” she says. “In this business, the best way to make money is to not put your eggs in one basket.”