‘Unlovable’: Charlene deGuzman on Her Kickstarter-Funded Film and the Power of Being Vulnerable

Charlene deGuzman and John Hawkes in Unlovable, premiering March 10 at SXSW.
“Never forget that the truth helps others, and helping others is one of the most fulfilling things you will ever feel.”

Charlene deGuzman has built a career on being vulnerable.

The writer and actor has amassed some 45,000 followers on Twitter with her earnest, sweetly self-deprecating, uproariously funny tweets. She’s gone viral on YouTube with her short films, which blend personal observation with cultural criticism and mild absurdism — among them I Forgot My Phone, which takes aim at humans’ dependence on their smartphones and attendant distancing from one another.

Her debut feature film, Unlovable, based on her own experiences with sex and love addiction, is set to premiere at SXSW in Austin this week, one of eleven Kickstarter-funded films screening at the festival this year.

On Twitter, deGuzman’s wisecracks and non sequiturs about completing therapy worksheets and musical reminders of failed relationships and mindless, self-soothing consumerism are interspersed with gentle, genuine advice and affirmations for followers dealing with anxiety and addiction. They’re two facets of the same impulse to share her internal monologue and experiences, using the hyper-specific to hint at emotions that are, if not universal, at least intimately familiar to a large segment of her audience.

Unlovable, deGuzman’s Kickstarter-funded film co-written with Mark Duplass and Sarah Adina Smith, is more serious — and even more revealing — than her previous works. The film follows a sex and love-addicted woman, played by deGuzman, as she discovers true intimacy through her bond with a reclusive musician.

“I want Unlovable to bring awareness to sex and love addiction in a way we’ve never seen portrayed before,” deGuzman wrote for Talkhouse in 2016. “I want someone out there to watch it over and over again, and I want someone out there to feel understood.”

Ahead the premiere, we spoke to deGuzman about building a career on Twitter and YouTube, funding her first feature film on Kickstarter, and the importance of being honest and vulnerable when inviting others into your creative process.

—Rebecca Hiscott

Charlene deGuzman and John Hawkes in Unlovable

Before making Unlovable, your first feature film, you produced independent shorts. How did you get started writing and starring in your own short films?

I had been getting a lot of attention for my tweets, and my follower count was growing fast. A friend had suggested making short films inspired my tweets. I thought, why not? I hated sitting around and waiting to be able to perform. I wanted to make stuff and put myself out there. My first short, Pee Pants, was released in 2012. It was totally silly and totally homemade, but it got attention, so I kept at it.

At what stage in the process of making Unlovable did you decide to bring the project to Kickstarter, and why?

Our team decided it was time to take action. Again, we were tired of sitting around and waiting [for someone to fund the project]. Finding funding is an exhausting process. It felt good to take matters into our own hands and use Kickstarter. Action feels so much better than waiting.

You’re known for being transparent and vulnerable in your short films and on Twitter, and you’ve said that Unlovable is based on your own experiences as a sex and love addict. Did this project feel different because of its scale? Did you find it more difficult to be vulnerable onscreen, especially when inviting Kickstarter backers into the experience so early on in the process?

Getting vulnerable on this scale felt scary, but it also felt exciting — and right. I received messages and emails from people every day telling me how they related and connected [to the project]. People even told me that they got help after they saw the Kickstarter campaign.

The responses to the campaign alone were confirmation that this film was going to help a lot of people. Whenever I had any fear during the shoot, I thought about all the people who believed in me. I wanted to make them proud.

Are there things that surprised you about the whole process?

I knew nothing about making a movie before this, so I learned so much. I loved getting to see how much hard work goes into a movie. There are so many people involved, doing so many different things. When I watched a mixing session, I was just like — wow. I had never thought about these things before. Now when I watch a movie, I think about what the shots are in a scene, how much it must have cost, the production design, the wardrobe, the makeup, the score, the sound, the color, the editing… I will never watch a movie the same way ever again.

One big thing I learned was to get out of the way and trust the journey. Challenges are the greatest teacher. [While making the film] I got to face fears, step into who I am, grow, and learn so much. I was a complete beginner going into this, so learning to forgive myself and accept myself as I am was a great lesson, too.

What advice do you have for independent filmmakers who are just starting out, and who are trying to make deeply personal and vulnerable films of their own?

Do it! Write it. Make it. Allow yourself to be a beginner. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Ask for help. Learn and grow. Go easy on yourself. And most importantly, have fun! It’s a process. Enjoy the process. Beautiful things come from having fun. Make fun your priority.

Personal and vulnerable projects are the best things you’ll ever make, because you are the only you, and your perspective and voice is unique to you — no one else can be you. And never forget that the truth helps others, and helping others is one of the most fulfilling things you will ever feel.

“I hated sitting around and waiting to be able to perform. I wanted to make stuff and put myself out there.”

What advice do you have for independent filmmakers who are seeking funding on Kickstarter, specifically?

There is a lot of power in vulnerability. The more of yourself you show, the more of your truth you share, the more people can connect to you. Speaking from your heart is always the way to go. You’ve got nothing to prove or defend. Believe in yourself and your project — that gives us [the backers] permission to believe in you. Don’t apologize. You’re not a charity case. Know that you are worthy!

What do you hope people take away from Unlovable?

I hope Unlovable helps people feel seen, understood, and less alone. And I hope the story of how it got made inspires people to share their stories and make art, too. You can come from the dark and absolute bottom and turn your life around and use your experiences to make something beautiful that can help a lot of people.

Charlene deGuzman in Unlovable

Unlovable premieres this week at SXSW. Get tickets here.

Support the next SXSW sensation — explore live Film projects on Kickstarter here.