Talking With Shane Bitney Crone about ’Bridegroom’
Gay marriage has never had a more open face than that of Shane Bitney Crone, the Los Angeles man who posted a ten-minute YouTube video back in 2012. The soft-spoken, twenty-something Crone confessed his heartbreak, anger and devastation over the tragic loss of his partner, Tom Bridegroom. But what made his story more devastating was how he was denied access to Tom after his fatal accident, first in the hospital and, after Tom passed, in planning and attending the funeral. Shane was kept away under threats of violence. It was as if by denying Shane, Tom’s family was rewriting their son’s life history.
Shane’s family and friends offered a different story, choosing to remember Tom as he really was: A non-apologetic charmer who happened to be gay, but was also so much more to so many people.
The video became a viral sensation, touching people from all over the world. As a result, Shane was contacted by producer/writer/director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (creator of "Designing Women") who proposed making a feature film documentary about his story. The project quickly got off the ground: According to the Huffington Post, "Bridegroom" ’s budget of $384,375 was raised on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, significantly outperforming its $300,000 goal and becoming the most-funded documentary film project in the history of crowd-funding to date.
The result is a profoundly moving film that doesn’t point fingers at any political or religious groups. It doesn’t earnestly list the reasons for why gay people want marriage equality. It simply presents to you the love story of two young men who grew up in small town America, found each other, and fell in love. It honestly portrays their relationship as well as the struggles they had dealing with the homophobia of Tom’s parents.
Once the tragedy of Tom’s death is portrayed you have already fallen in love with the couple, which makes his loss all the more resonant and painful. By presenting a genuine love story between these men, the idea of gay relationships is demystified. This is the film’s greatest strength and why Shane’s story is so important to tell.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, where it was introduced by President Bill Clinton. It went on to win the Best Documentary Award at the festival. "Bridegroom" is currently in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles and will be shown on the OWN Network on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10pm. It will also be streamed on Netflix starting on that day. The DVD release is scheduled for Nov. 19.
Funny, open, and sweetly reserved, Shane sat down to talk to us about his life since posting the YouTube video and about the film itself.
EDGE: First I wanted to ask you about the original YouTube video (titled "It Could Happen to You"). What was the impetus for wanting to put it online? What was the deciding moment where you said ’I need to address this?’
Shane: The year following Tom’s accident I was really trying to figure out and make sense of what happened. (Tom died in May, 2011 when he fell of the roof of the apartment building where he was photgraphing a friend.)
I was really struggling. It was a very dark time for me. But it was about two months before the anniversary of his accident that I felt like I needed to do something. I wanted to honor him in a way, because you know we put so much pressure on dates like that and I was dreading it. So I wanted to do what I could to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else. I wanted to honor him, but also speak up. Not be ashamed that we were in a relationship.
EDGE: Did you expect the reaction that it received?
Shane: No. I thought that it would spread around in the gay community here in Los Angeles. But to have over [4 million] views. You can’t even comprehend it. To think of that amount of people is just insane.
Video goes viral
EDGE: Did it happen really quickly?
Shane: It took two days to pass a million views. It went viral like crazy.
EDGE: I made the mistake of watching it at work. I had to crouch down in my cubicle so no one saw the tears.
Shane: I see comments and they’re like, "Why did someone send this to me when I’m at work?"
EDGE: With the video, did it help with your process in dealing with Tom’s death?
Shane: It definitely helped me. Just in making the video it was healing in a lot of ways. And posting it felt so good. But it wasn’t until after hearing from so many people that it was helping them. It was then that I felt, "Okay, this was the right thing for me to do. I’m glad that I posted it."
When you create something like that and you put yourself out there, you don’t know how people will react. I had to tell myself, "Look, people might not understand or completely see why I posted it, but I had to just know that it was the right thing for me." Fortunately, so many people connected and understood what I was trying to do.
EDGE: Did you get any negative reactions?
Shane: Oh yeah, lots. Some people got my phone number and my email address. Just people telling me to kill myself... all these horrible things. I mean, it still happens, and it’s happening more now as more people learn about [the film]. It used to bother me a lot more, but now I’ve kind of found a way to ignore it and just know that it’s easy to say horrible things behind a keyboard. But the love and support way outnumbers the negative.
EDGE: How did you meet Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (the director of "Bridegroom")?
Shane: Tom and I met Linda at a friend’s wedding and we sat at the same table together. We talked about how Tom and I wanted to get married someday. So then it was fast-forward four years later when I posted the video and she saw it. That’s when she called me and told me she wanted to turn it into a documentary.
I had to think about it. But for me it was amazing because it wasn’t just some director wanting to make a film. It’s a woman who is very passionate about human rights, and she’s used her platform to generate awareness and to make a difference. I just thought if there was anyone to tell it, it was her. So it was an honor.
EDGE: It’s cool that she remembered you!
Shane: She says that we made an impression on her. I mean, Tom and I definitely remembered meeting her, just both knowing ’Designing Women.’ That night when she met us it was just "Tom and Shane," but when she learned of his last name and saw the YouTube video she said that as a filmmaker, and someone who wants to tell these stories, that was one of the biggest things was the fact that his last name was "Bridegroom." It really convinced her that this story needs to be told.
Opening hearts and minds
EDGE: When you were discussing making it into a feature, what was your intention and what was the message that you personally wanted to convey, and to whom?
Shane: With the YouTube video and the film, we both definitely felt the main goal was to open people’s hearts and minds. There are so many people out there that might not know any gay couples other than what’s on T.V. So Linda really felt she wanted people to come face to face with who they are opposing and what they are opposing.
Knowing how the YouTube video connected with people, I just felt if the film can do this in the same way then we need to do this.
EDGE: What I was most impressed by is that it is very easy for a straight audience to watch it and absorb it. Whereas sometimes when you see gay-themed films it’s just too much and they’ll turn it off. Here, it’s handled in such a way that I don’t think people would do that. Was that a discussion?
Shane: It wasn’t, but I think there are so many people that think all gay people are a certain way. Or like at Gay Pride parades they think that one float depicts an entire community. But we’re just as diverse as straight people.
And that’s one thing about this film, is that it shows that we’re really not that different. Gay people aren’t anything to be afraid of. It just shows we want to be happy and we want love, just like anyone else. So, hopefully people that don’t necessarily understand it or are against it, hopefully it changes their mind.
EDGE: Was it easy to get the support of your friends and family?
Shane: I told them, "Look, if you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to." But they were all very supportive and they wanted to participate -- even my 90 year old grandma. I’m just so grateful that they were a part of it. I think it’s really powerful to show what it’s like to have a family that loves you unconditionally. And just how important it is.
EDGE: Did you get any resistance from anyone other than his family?
Shane: Other than his family, no. Everyone else wanted to be a part of it. Not just for me, but for Tom.
EDGE: Have his parents heard about the feature film?
Shane: They know about the film because we reached out to them to participate, but we never heard from them. A bunch of media outlets have tried reaching them, and they haven’t responded to anyone. I think they might just remain silent for a while. I want to send them the film. I hope that they watch it. I don’t know what place they’re in right now. I mean, they’re in such a small town for all I know they might not know what’s happening. They might not know that it’s going to premiere on the Oprah Winfrey network.
EDGE: Has making the film continued to help in your processing everything and moving forward?
Shane: This has definitely helped heal me in a lot of ways. I mean I still struggle with my identity sometimes and accepting and loving myself, but overall this has challenged me in a lot of ways. I feel I still have a lot of growing to do. But, I’m just trying to face the fear and not be afraid to continue to move forward.
Even last night, standing in front of a thousand people at the premiere -- it scared the hell out of me. But it feels good to put yourself out there and for people to be so supportive.
EDGE: What’s next for you?
Shane: I don’t know. I try to trust that whatever’s meant to be will happen. Everything that has happened up until this point -- the Oprah Winfrey network and having [Oprah’s] support, for example -- it’s all so unexpected. I couldn’t have predicted any of this, so I don’t know what happens. I partnered with a few organizations so maybe I’ll do a speaking tour. And that scares me. But that’s why I feel like I need to do it. So we’ll see.
For the next few months this will be the focus. I just know I have to continue to share this story as long as it’s helping people.
"Bridegroom" is in theatres in NY and LA, and will premiere on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network on Oct. 27th at 10pm. It will also be available on NetFlix Streaming the same day. It will be released on DVD on Nov. 17, 2013