Kerem Sanga's "First Girl I Loved"

A Face in the Crowd: Kerem Sanga Puts a New Spin on Teen Romance with “First Girl I Loved”

Ever since his comedy “The Young Kieslowski” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, Kerem Sanga has been picking up audience awards left and right, picking up prizes in LA, Cleveland, Mill Valley, BendFilm and Sonoma before its national release on July 24. But when he began gearing up to direct a follow-up, Sanga was intent on connecting with an audience of one.

“It was kind of a chore for her,” Sanga says of presenting his latest script to his sister Anissa. “I was just like, ‘Can you please read it?’ I’ve tried to get her to read stuff I’ve written before and she never does. She’ll watch the movie, but she read this and I was surprised when she called me up the next day and was just really excited about it.”

That was when Sanga suspected he might have something special with “First Girl I Loved,” which is currently raising funds on Seed & Spark before a May 6th deadline. Besides seeing whether it could hold his sister’s attention, the writer/director felt some responsibility in slipping her the script, having been loosely inspired by her teenage years to tell ‎the story of a confident young woman who may not be fazed by her burgeoning lesbian inclinations, but is shaken to her core when she finds her first true love. Like Sanga’s previous film “The Young Kieslowski,” which was based in part on his parents’ experience of having him and his twin brother born while they were in college, the family connection doesn’t extend far into the screenplay for “First Girl I Loved,” where the action is relocated to a Mexican neighborhood in the LA suburb of Canoga Park, but the filmmaker does think it gives the film something extra.

“Maybe in some [unconscious] psychological depths, it was [inspired] because of the family,” says Sanga. “But what I feel I was drawn to was the way this girl is so sure of who she is internally, but how quick she is to change herself so that she fits in – this duality to her. But of everything I’ve written, ‘First Girl I Loved’ has the most emotion in it.”

Whether or not there are family ties to what happens on screen, Sanga is building quite the one behind the camera. In addition to producers Dave Hunter and Ross Putman, who first met Sanga in USC’s screenwriting program and segued into the roles of scraping together the $4,000 budget of their first film “Trigger Finger,” “First Girl I Loved” will also bring back producer Seth Caplan, cinematographer Ricardo Diaz, editor Ryan Brown and composer John Swihart.

“We really hit a stride in the filming of ‘Kieslowski’ towards the end of it and I’m really excited to start there at the beginning of “First Girl I Loved” and see how we can evolve as a team,” says Sanga, who expects to start filming in June should the Seed & Spark campaign be successful. “I also really want to take more chances. My goal with ‘Kieslowski’ was to make [something] really solid that moved without an ounce of fat. But with this one, I want to have a little bit more patience in some of the scenes and a little bit more fun with the camerawork and just listen to my own instincts and the rest of my crew and push those instincts a little bit further.”

Already, he’s found some exciting new collaborators to join him. Although Sanga is keeping much of the cast under wraps, “Togetherness” star Melanie Lynskey has already committed to the project and producer Putman, having made a few discoveries on “Kieslowski,” has been emboldened to make a few more on “First Girl I Loved.”

“We’re not looking at who gets cast in everything and we’re not interested in making the same old indie film,” says Putman, who promises some unknowns amongst the younger end of the cast and some surprises in the adult roles. “We want to make a movie that’s vibrant and alive, so we’re getting very creative with the casting.”

They’ve also become quite creative in building a community around the film before it even begins shooting. Given its LGBT focus, the production has struck up a relationship with Out of the Closet‎, the Southern California thrift store chain that donates their proceeds to HIV and AIDS research, that will not only allow for filming in their stores, but to cross-promote each other throughout the shoot and beyond. The filmmakers also specifically chose to raise funding through Seed & Spark over other crowdsourcing services because of its communal nature, providing the ability to potential donors to lend equipment they may have in addition to giving money. After raising a third of the capital for the project already, the “First Girl I Loved” filmmakers are looking for those who will invest their passion into the project as much as anything else.

“Having a community isn’t just an exciting thing, it’s essential,” says Sanga.

Now potential backers can get in on something just as essential to the medium as a whole as a film about characters who rarely get the spotlight, assuming Sanga and his team can build on the considerable momentum of “The Young Kieslowski” and make something that lives up to the high standards they’ve set for themselves. Given their track record, that should be a safe bet.

To back this project and watch the filmmakers’ personal pitch video, click here. And follow the film’s progress on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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