Aaron Bear - Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

 Aaron Bear is a filmmaker from Seattle - who directed and
produced an award-winning feature-length documentary released in 2016 called
Finding Kim - regarded as one of the truest tellings of a transgender person’s
life. His influences as a filmmaker are as varied as his interests a person,
ranging from the oft-maligned to the universally lauded. His new film, Yes I
am: The Ric Weiland Story, chronicles the life of the brilliant programmer
and queer pioneer who was one of the earliest employees of Microsoft. It
details his battle with mental health during the AIDS epidemic – it’s a
stunning film with narration by Zachary Quinto, interviews with people from Ric
Weiland’s life, including Bill Gates, and passages from Ric’s own writings. 

We chat with Aaron about his creative process in putting the
film together, the AIDS epidemic, mental health in the LGBTQ community, the
legacy that Ric Weiland left behind, and the future of LGBTQ filmmaking…with
host Alexander Rodriguez.   

This is metro source mini the official podcast to Metro source magazine and home of short form interviews with your favorite personalities from the lgbtq world and beyond. Quick, Fun and informative. It's metro source on the go, out in proud since one thousand nine hundred and ninety. Well, hello, hello, hello, this is metro source minis. I'm your host, Alexander Rodriguez, lead rider for Metro source magazine and Avid podcaster. So I'm going to be totally honest. I'm not really one to sit and watch documentaries. My add and my you know just it's not good for me. But this pride month all of that change. I have seen a beautifully put together, artfully done, masterful film called Yes, I am, which is the Rick Wyland story and today is a companion to the article and my interview on Metro sourcecom. I am chatting with the filmmaker himself, are and bear. Aaron bear is a filmmaker from Seattle, hey, seattle. He directed and produced an award winning feature length documentary released in two thousand and sixteen called finding Kim, and it's regarded as one of the truest tellings of a transgender person's life and his new film. Yes, I am the Rick wiolence story chronicles the life of the brilliant programmer and queer pioneer who is one of the earliest employees of Microsoft, and it details his battle with mental health during the AIDS epidemic. It's a stunning film, with narration by Zachary Quinto, interviews from the people from Work Rick Violence Life, including Bill Gates, by the way, and passages from rick's own writings. This film will premiere at Provincetown Film Festival from June sixteen to the twenty six. Please welcome filmmaker, are and bear rare. Alexander, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. That was funny because whenever I see your name I'm like, is it bear, just like the bear community, like rob ride, or is...

...that really your last name? It's really my last name, but I have been asked before if it's my stage name and if I've got changed it to that. I've had every every single nickname in the book that you can imagine. So it's I think I'm getting to some sort of like baby bear status. Forty this year and you know, it's just, you know, your body starts changing and but it's it gets me in the bars drink so long. Sometimes I should say well, yeah, so you know, a baby bear is called a cup just so you know. Yes, yeah, a four year old cup rack. That's a okay. So I want to know how you got involved with the Rick Whyland Story. It's a very unique story, and how did how did it come to your plate? Well, it's I get asked this question quite a bit and it I had just finished my finding Kim and I had Michael Phayla, who was one of Rick's best friends that's featured in the film, approached me after a screening and say he said, Hey, I have this idea about a friend of mine who whose named Rick and helped start Microsoft. And you know you're hat a film school when you're having all these like thirty second conversations, and I thought, you know, yeah, and I said email me. So he did, and then that was in August of two thousand and sixteen and it's now June of two thousand and twenty one. So whenever to his house to see I was looking for another project, and whenever to his house to see is this something that I wanted to do. Is this something that I could tell an authentic way until truthfully, and little did I know how much work was actually going to be involved in in finding out who rick was and and his legacy. But...

I spent about a year doing research and was very difficult because rick was this when I say pride it, I it's it's he was hidden from the world. I mean this is somebody who gave away so much of himself off and so much, so much money, and change the way as for all of us crew folk, of how we retreated and help change laws, and nobody knows who he was. And so it was like cracking it felt like cracking open a cold case and there was such a finite amount of material available because if you if you just search him, Google him, there are there are no videos. He never gave an interview. There's I mean he was photographed, but he never gave an interview on TV. There's nothing. I mean I searched high and low in the Microsoft archives. Nothing. So that was part of the challenge of making this film. And I think people you know, like you were talking about a lot of people, you say, Oh, I make, I make you know documentaries. You lose you already lose half the audience there. You lose you know, it's like you can see. I can see people's eyes sort of glaze over a little bit, but they I think, the way you just the way one describes it and and the passion behind it and felt this whole process. I kept asking myself, I'm like, why is this so important to me? Because the further I got into it, the more emotional it became for me and the more I looked at my own mental health and I started seeing a therapist for the first time and it just a lot of ricks life started to parallel my own life in a very strange, I don't say twilights and kind of way, but in a very positive, up with life sort of way. And going back to saying like why is this so important to me, it's because I think that there's no denying ricks legacy and and how he is affected and the whole...

Lgbtq I spectrum and how that has carries on and continues to live on. Well, you know, I think you we spent last year's pride under lockdown, but I think that gave us time to kind of take a moment and learn more about the history of pride, where it came from besides the festivals, in the parades and the circuit parties and the nightclub life, and so a lot of these stories have been coming out, also with the content that's coming out, like Hbo Mix did that whole Docu series on here, heroes from our community that we should know that we don't necessarily know, and finding out a big right about Rick whyland through your documentary, which show came to me for for many, many different reasons. How would you describe who rick was to somebody that knows the word Microsoft, obviously, but that's how about it. How would you tell a lay person from the outside who rick was and what his life was about? I would describe Rick is a a very complicated person, but also someone who suffered a great deal of internal strife and but also turned it into this monumental legacy that he didn't even he didn't want any attention for. So it's like, I don't know what you would describe that as. It's like he had this sort of genius level brain and possibly on a spectrum of something, but he going. I mean I read, you know, he kept the daily Journal since one thousand nine hundred and seventy five and having to go in and read daily journals and pull out the bits and the nuggets and you slowly start to find out who a person is. I mean, I don't know if I would want somebody, you know,...

...reading my journals, but it's it really it was revealing in a sense, of this person who had many we're all sort of this. We all have this like like different parts of our lives and we show different parts of ourselves to certain people. You know, he had this, you know, one life with Microsoft and then this like kind of really wild party life with his friends. So they this core group of friends and you know, this was the height of the the AIDS epidemic in and Rick was giving I mean, glad would not exist without Rick, act up would not exist without rick, and it's and he didn't want any recognition from it. And you know, when you're giving millions of dollars away and usually people want, you know, their name on a black or something or to get an a word or something like that. And he didn't want any of that. So he he had all of these different parts of his lies that he only showed. And then he had his family it was just like, you know this, he was different people to to depending on where he was, and you know it, he was a very even Bill Gates asists in the film. It's like he was a very hard guy to figure out and, you know, trying to tell someone's life story that you've never met. And how how I connected with it was just, you know, first being a queer person, but then also the further I got into it, the more I'm like what Rick inspired me to do, has inspired me to do better in this world and is inspired me to me of as a queer filmmaker, saying like what, what kinds of stories do I want to tell in the future? So it's like the long winded anthrop your person. But well, I do to say, you know, when I when I got the press release about the film, and I think I joke with you about it, I'm like wow, documentary about, you know, money and finance and Microsoft and then the AIDS epidemic,...

...which is so heavy you turned it into. It was a great and intimate telling. It seemed like you know him, that you knew him very well, and that also came in part with a lot of the interviews that you were able to get the narration by Zachary Quinto, I felt like he was talking to me and at the start of the film I was like I couldn't be more different than this person and, like you said, by the end of the film I attributed a lot of what he went through two aspects from my life and kind of that duality that we still continue to live as gay men, you know, being out, coming out earlier in age, it's more prevalent, but there's still aspects, and we learned this in our last administration, that we do keep that duality and there's that gay part of us that is not always accepted out in the real world. And you captured that duality of the party life, when he would dress up in fun drag the way that his friends, you know that he would hang out with his friends at at the club life, but then his role as a businessperson and Microsoft with all this money, and he kind of had this inherent guilt for having the money, for doing what what he was good at, and also seeing people around him dying because they couldn't afford health care or they were being fired from their job, and finance was such an important part to these people's lives that were suffering from their AIDS and HIV diagnosis. There was just this kind of isolation. Then you know from the outside, you you think, you know, Rick had the money, he had the friends, he had the looks. What, what could he be depressed about? But then there's this big sense of isolation because when you do kind of hide yourself in all of these different groups where they don't mix, you shut yourself off on some level from all of those groups and it is very isolating. And we just came through cut out of covid where a lot of us didn't even have that fellowship aspect and we were either lots at home, some of US got kicked out of homes from coming out as gay, you know, during covid and...

...it was very, very isolated. Now, why do you think it's so hard for us as gay men to talk about our mental health? Well, I mean it's it's kind of in a way, this it's almost like learned behavior that you learn at a young age of wanting to hide yourself and not be out or, you know, deepening your voice in a public setting or not doing something in front of your parents, and you almost like create this this like other like other persona about yourself and then and then you come out and then you like you're digging you like all of this shit and mean, like, what do I actually care about? Who? Who Am I in it? Who Am I? And I think as as gay people, a lot of us go through guilt and shame and then you get older and you're able to look at it underneath the microscope a little bit and whether it's through therapy or but you know a lot of people, I mean, let's be honest, a lot of there's drugs are a problem in the queer community. Alcoholism is a problem in the crew community, even like smoking and cigarettes and like you know how it's. I mean, do you ever remember how, I not surally, they did this a straight bars, but you know how, like you know, camel would come through the gay bars and like give out, like we tasked really and tshirts and lighters and fun little things that you would do and then literally free packs. And even if you're not a smoker, everybody else looked cool doing it. So you're like why not? I mean, I save my camel cash for years, but I really think that it's it's it's almost ingrained in us as at least within our generation of...

...trying to fit in and wanting to fit in, and when we don't get that, sometimes it's it's like a misfire and you you can fall into addictions, you can become angry for no reason and then it's and then it's kind of up, you know, whether it's getting help through friends or family or whatever, and I think rick did all he did, all of those things he did. He reached out for help mull full times, and it just it goes to show you that it's sometimes it's just so deep. That, unfortunately sounds sad, but like no one can help. You know, this is this is something I really wanted to point on. I have friends who suffer from depression, who are bipolar or even suffer from addiction. A heartbreaking part of this film, Yes, I am the Rick Violence Story, was his friends that really wanted to be there. They didn't know how to be there or they were there and it still wasn't enough. And so, you know, Rick did what he did regardless of the fact that he did have the circle of friends that was around him, and and the heartbreak during these interviews where they were talking about not still not being able to be there. They're still a very important fact that when you are dealing with somebody, a friend or family member, with clinical depression or or some sort of mental health issue, sometimes it's still not enough and you know, unfortunate that person will do whatever that person does and even though it is like in still this guilt that you could have done more, sometimes you really can't do more and it's a person's own journey and sometimes you just kind of have to accept that. You know, it's not just about being with them every moment of the day or calling them five times a day or or however, sometimes it's still not enough and that is a scare fact of mental health disease. And you were...

...kind of time about this duality and it really picks up on what a hot topic is today. We're talking about kink and pride. When this whole kind of, you know, a topic came out, I thought, well, you know, we don't need to be half naked out at pride. But then the more you think about it, it's exactly what you talked about. Why should I hide that sexual part of my life or that sexual liberation when for years I was told to hide it? Or this sexual feeling that you have is is not right. It's against nature and so it's like why do we need to to hide that? That's, you know, going at like rick felt like he had to hide up aspect of his life, and this is exactly what this hot topic deals with. Yeah, it's kind of I've had a couple friends recently talk about that and it's almost to me based in shame of feeling of it. And they were saying that God is like so gross that, you know, everyone has to be naked at pride and blah, Blah Blah, and I I think it's beautiful that it can be pride is all things and it is a spectrum of of love and sex and I think, you know, people need to get over themselves with, you know, like the again, like the sex is bad and it's, you know, rooted in something, something evil and disgusting, and I think it's I think mooring, to be honest. I this film deals with a very specific time. It's during the AIDS epidemic. What do you think younger generations of our LGBTQ youth today should learn most from that time? And you know, you reading those daily journals, you kind of got an intimate sense of what was really going on. I think the the youth today can there isn't there. There's never enough education around HIV and AIDS. And I was recently reading an interview with an actor who was on what's the English show that just came out that was sort of a based around the the AIDS epidemic in the UK,...

...and they were interviewing him and they said, well, what did, what do you what did you know about HIV at AIDS during this time before you started this role? And he said nothing, I knew nothing and he would. He's an out clear actor, young, but it just goes to show you that clear history is is imperative and it's essential. You have to you have to people have to bring these stories to the surface. And when people say, like you know, why is? Why is pride important? Why do you need to go out and have parades and stuff, and it's like it's it's these reasons why. I mean even young queer folk don't even know the history of AIDS in HIV now, let alone you know remember who? You know Judy Garland Er Madonna was. Oh my Lord, I went on a date and they did not know who Judy Garland Watz. Who's going to who would have been hundred, by the way, next year. And I believe the the program you're talking about is Hbo Max's. It's a sin, it's a sin, yeah, which look was so heartbreaking. Yeah, yeah, I mean it was also a heavy show to watch and but also important because it showed, it showed, you know, these young people's lives in a particular area of the world's and I think for young people having someone like Rick, who was this brilliant programmer and also a party guy and also this amazing, amazing philanthropist. So it's he's he's inspiring on so many levels. I'm let's talk about you for a moment. I know how many years you worked on this project and how intense it must have been, and also...

...the kind of feeling of reading ricks daily journals and kind of being engrossed in that. So you have a boo, you're at a relationship. Yeah, we know, dating somebody in the entertainment field, especially a filmmaker, that kind of becomes their whole world. How, how have you worked through that relationship wise, with being engrossed on a project and then being under lockdown? Is it difficult to be your boo and and how do you work through somebout that relationship stuff. So I should preface with I've been with my husband for this year will be twenty years. Oh my did you guys meet in kindergarten? Give me a break, we can read. We met I was twenty, he was twenty six and you know you're different people through. You know you from your twenty to your four base and we've always found that we we come together no matter what. And but making a film, I I was working in a very corporate environment. I work for Microsoft for years and then I worked for a gigantic coffee chain doing commercial work in their creative studio for years, and then that also revealed to me that is this what I want to do, like, is this where I want to be for the rest of my life? And then that led to making finding Kim and I quickly realize like this is, this is this is exactly what I want to be doing. And there was a shift and you know, it's I think within my own marriage and my own relationship. It's been, I think, in a bit of an adjustment for my husband to to fully realize this. Oh, I'm not going to this like eight to five job anymore, and there's like not a steady paycheck anymore and there's all of these changes and shifts.

So that, in the of self has been difficult. But then there's been lots of conversations around that. But mostly I'm a I'm a pretty easygoing person, incredibly empathetic, almost to a fault, and but that's why I think I'm good, I dare say like good, at making documentaries. But it also it's it take. It almost was like like a psychic afterwards where they're just like so exhausted after they finished the reading. That's kind of how it feels. Is that being able to talk truthfully about it, you know, truthly about my relationships and with and about the film, is very important to me. so thanks, Aaron. So, being in a long term relationship at such an early age, can you share your coming out story with us? Yeah, so I was. I came out to my my parents when I was sixteen. I had to come out to my best friend and his sister and I grew up in I was in Danton, Ohio, and I was this is like in the days of all chats and stuff, so I remember those. Yeah, I was. I was. I was going into, you know, the men for men rooms and in meeting older gentleman off of you know, off the Internet, and in one thousand nine hundred and ninety five. So and I was doing that kind of risky things because I was I won't out to my parents. So I was like lying a lot and where I was and it at one point. It's sort of life or the universe. It kind of backfired on me and my parents sensed something. What's up? So it was like about a year and then they started asking me, is there anything you want to tell us? And I just couldn't bring myself to tell them to stay it out, laugh or something. Again,...

...it's like based in this like shame and fear. And so one day my mom said, write me a letter, and I wrote them this like fuck you letter. It was like guess what, I'm gay and if you can't accept it, fuck you. I'm fully prepared to move out like this just fiery letter and I left it on my bed and I went to my friend's house and I was just kite in the days and I said to him, I said I just came out to my parents and he was just like Oh, cool, and that was it. And then also in the phone rings and it's my mom. He's like hey, yeah, Yep, Yep, I mean you know, yeah, I knew, I knew. He's like here, she wants to talk to you, and I was like I can't, I can't talk to her. So I get on the phone with her and she says, Aaron, we knew, and of course you know, and she was just there was a little bit of like of it education that happened. That had to happen on their end too, because, you know, having you know, they my mom had gay friends, but like having, you know, gay son and it's like what does this look like? And she also had friends diabates, so she was worried about AIDS and and everything. And then I was dating an older guy, so there was this like a little bit of a rocky introduction, but I don't it was. My parents are were fully, I would say mostly, accepting and loving and wanting to understand too. Right. We thank you for sharing that. We're all sharing are coming out stories this month and I think we should continue telling our stories to everybody. So thank you for sharing that. Yeah, what, what kind of story do you want to tell next? I am working on two different things. I'm working on a TV show called there is...

...a light that never goes out, based based on your events. Not a documentary, but it's structure, events about growing up gay and Milwaukee in the late s really shide of the AI's epidemic and getting kicked out of your parents house. That old chestnut. And then he sort of finds his way downtown to this building called the Norman, which is, it was a real building, and finds his way into this building, which is like full of, you know, Weirdos and Queerdos and punks and old people, and finds this sort of chosen family and and I know it's weird that how this happens, but he used to see who this is based on. He's to see Jeffrey Dahmer out at the bars. Oh my God. Yeah, and I know that this new dommer show is coming out with there's like six dommer projects. Like what is going on was like a sale on his life rights or something. It was so strange that I was just like, Holy Shit, this is this is very odd. But so I'm working on that. I have a whole pilot rote for that. And then I'm working on a feature film based on one of my best friend's life growing up in small town Texas in the S. that's all I can say about it right now because we're so working through some legal stuff. But so, yeah, two features that I'm working on right now. Do your parents ever say do what comedy you I mean, I want to, I mean, I'm, I'm I'm I need something that's like a little lighter right now. So yeah, I mean I tell that to myself. I'm a big horror film fans. Like I want to do a horror film. It's like, let's somehow life keeps navigating me towards these type of stories and what I what I have gleaned from all of this is, like I like to tell the survivor stories and because I think...

...that they can affect people in a really positive way that creates change. Did you see the conjuring three? Oh well, I just watched it. Awesome. Yeah, the day came out and I thought it was beautifully shot and I love the little non yes to the exorcist when he gets out of the car and there's the how do I the lighting was that. But halfway through I was just kind of thinking, way, who's cursed? Like, what's the crowd like? First, for having to watch it and the Patrick Wilson didn't take a shirt off even once by know, and he was in a wheelchair the whole time. So it's like, yeah, I love I love that franchise and I have a huge I'm I love like the Lore of of those two and like their hot like the haunting investigations that they've done. I think that whomever license that like, Kudas to you, because, yeah, yeah, and don't let the warrants. I'm obsessed with studying the warrants and the real life. And Yeah, so I the franchise was a good idea, but something went wrong and this was supposed to be the scariest one of them all. And I mean I laughed a few times. I went to the bathroom, I facebook like I was like yeah, all right, Aaron, I have a question for you. This one is for social media. Yeah, what is your message to your fellow Lgbtq Pusians this prime month? My message to my fillow career folk is that there is people out there to help you. There are lots of resources. The Trevor Project is a big one, and also to be inspired to to go out and find your for find your happiness. I mean I did it, and I mean it sounds...

...so cheesy, but like so, who can you? But you really can. Yes, I think the I've always said, the essence of Rake and his story and the film is death is not the end and our stories will live on forever, and this was my love letter to to him and to his partners and friends. I love that. Can you tell our our audience where you want them to find you and follow you? I'm I'm pretty active on instagram. I do still check my facebook. I'm I'm diving into twitter currently because everyone keeps telling me that I need to have a twitter, so I'm trying to do that. I do have a yes, I am fit. It's yes, I am film at Twitter, but I'm chat me up, send me some some DM's on instagram. Thank you. Thank you so much for your film. Thank you for sharing your time with us. It's a pleasure speaking with you and I can't wait to see what you have next. Thank you so much, Alexander. That has been my chat with filmmaker Aaron Bear. You can read my indepth article with him and some more information about the film at Metro Sourcecom. And that's your episode. I'm your host, Alexander Rodriguez. You can follow me on Instagram at Alexander is. On Air and until next time, stay true, do you, and stay sexy, happy pride. That has been another metural source mini like share, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and check out the latest issue of Metro Sports magazine on newstands or online at Metro sportscom. Follow us on Facebook, instagram at natural source and on twitter at Metro course man. Until next time, thanks, fast.

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