Watch Now: Fat Camp

Lesbian filmmaker couple’s sixth project is a feel good feature film.

LGBT filmmaking partners Jennifer Arnold (A Small Act, Tig) and Patti Lee (The Bernie Mac Show) have been married for 17 years. They met when Patti shot Jennifer’s UCLA thesis film, then got together on A Small Act—which also almost broke them up.

In an industry where only 2% of all cinematographers are women and about 7% are women directors, it’s not easy for two queer women to stay together. But they have, and they’ve worked on some great projects along the way!

Their new film, FAT CAMP, which premieres on VOD on July 25, is Jennifer and Patti’s sixth project together. This uplifting and hilarious LGBT coming-of-age story focusing on real and recognizable characters has solidified their life and work partnership even more.

We caught up with the filmmaking couple to learn more about their relationship with each other, with the industry and to find out why FAT CAMP is a must watch film for queer women and their families and friends.

How and when did you meet each other and after the initial sparks, what happened when you tried to work together?

PATTI LEE: I met Jen when she was at UCLA film school. A mutual friend suggested I shoot her thesis film, Maid of Honor. She sent me the script…and I was not impressed. I told her to let me know if she had a rewrite. I think I was pretty cold.

JENNIFER ARNOLD: She was so cold! I rewrote that script for months and finally Patti agreed to shoot it. Maid of Honor came out great though. I think Curve actually wrote a short article about it back in the day. I could tell Patti had a crush on me on set.

But I was a wild girl and she was an innocent, not-out-yet good girl. I remember being sweet to her, but knowing I couldn’t go there. We shot another short film together, Chicks With Guns, then started the documentary American Mullet.

I don’t know what happened on Mullet. I fell for Patti – hard. All of a sudden she was all cool and I was totally 100 percent distracted by her every move. I legitimately had a hard time doing my job. It didn’t help that it was a low budget shoot where we traveled so we had to share a bed together sometimes.

PL: I did my best to distract her. I guess it worked.

Why do you each love film—can you briefly describe your attraction to cinematography and directing?

PL: I’m a creative person with a technical mind. I’m first generation Chinese-American and on top of that my dad was an engineer, so my family expected me to choose a practical, lucrative profession. I went to UCLA with the intention of going into medicine. Then I took chemistry.

From that point on I knew med school wasn’t going to be for me. I had no idea UCLA had an undergraduate film school, but when I heard about it I applied and thank god I did.

Cinematography blends storytelling and emotion with practical problem solving. When I think about shooting a scene I’m assessing the story and how I want the audience to feel, but also doing math to figure out if I have enough depth for my lens and problem solving how to fit a huge camera into a tiny space. It’s the perfect job for me.

JA: I was drawn to storytelling at a very early age. For me, it is always about bringing people together. I’m a traveler, so I’m interested in the way different people see the world. I’m also a child of divorce (a pretty epic divorce).

My parent’s impressions of family events were always diametrically opposed – the same event, two different parents, two different emotional responses and two different versions of what happened. I always wished they could step into each other’s shoes and find some middle ground.

Film allows that in a way. You can play with different points of view; you can help an audience experience someone else’s life; or (if the film is lighter like FAT CAMP) you can make a space for people to just laugh together.

What do you think has ultimately kept you together as a couple for 17 years?

PL: We’re not afraid of hard work or facing fears…

JA: Or doing crazy shit to keep the romance alive. We’ve had rough patches. 17 years is a long time! But even when it’s hard we try to listen and understand each other. We’re very different types of people. To be clear – Patti’s the catch. She’s way, way less crazy than me.

PL: Yes, that’s true.

How did you get involved with FAT CAMP? Why is it a timely project for now?

JA: FAT CAMP was written by a comedy genius named Chuck Hayward. He’s currently writing on Dear White People and he’s got three other movies in various stages of being shot or coming out.

FAT CAMP happened because Valerie Stadler (one of the executive producers) and I wanted to do a film together. Valerie is at Fluency, a division of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. She had ties to financing, but we needed a script.

Chuck and I had both been in different FOX programs—that’s how we were connected. I read FAT CAMP and I was laughing out loud from the first pages. It was unlike anything I’d ever directed before and I was dying to do comedy.

PL: There hasn’t been a good camp movie for a while, so Jen and I were excited to bring the genre back. FAT CAMP is raunchy and it can also be silly, but it actually deals with a lot of timely topics like growing up, dealing with body issues, handling homophobia and just learning to love yourself no matter what struggle you’re going through.

Why do you think it was a good fit for BET?

JA: People might not know this, but BET is a network that is totally willing to push the envelope. We’ve got some nasty jokes in this film and BET was willing to go there. Also we took great care to cast this film in a way that properly reflects Los Angeles, meaning people with different body sizes, ages, sexualities and ethnicities. BET was into that. So are we.

What will lesbians and queer women—and their families and friends—get out of watching the show?

JA:  Hmmmm…. This is a film with a lot of actual boys and grown men who act like boys, so don’t walk in thinking the project is starring a bunch of queer women. But I know many of us are down for teenaged boy humor, so there’s that. Plus, we have a bunch of queer women behind the camera on this one. Not just Patti and I; there are queer and lesbian producers and crew as well.  Personally, I did switch Hutch’s (the lead character) best friend from a straight dude to a tough-talking lesbian. We cast Bre-Z from Empire. And there’s a great line of dialogue that goes: “She’s my best friend, I don’t care that she’s got beaver breath.” So you’ll get that genius line at a minimum.

Any personal highlights from production you care to share?

PL: There’s a camp dance in the movie, and we had Alison Faulk, the choreographer from Magic Mike, teach the kids some moves. She’s amazing! I had as much fun watching her coach and calling out dance moves as, I did watching the actors.

JA: I’m not going to lie. This was a challenging shoot. My highlight was having my wife by my side when we were trying to get through a ten-page day or wrangle a bunch of giggling teenagers onto their marks.

What’s the best way for Curve readers to follow you and your work and what you do next?

PL: I’m about to start two new comedies for CBS—Superior Donuts and By the Book. They’ll be out this fall and easy to find!

JA: And you can follow me at @jenarnoldfilm (twitter) or @whatjarnoldsees (Instagram) and see exactly what trouble I’m making on a day-by-day basis.