Director Scott Ellis, staying at the Hollywood Hills home while in town… (Katie Falkenberg, For the…)
As a single gay man in his 50s, Scott Ellis knew that having a baby would be a challenge. But after 20 years establishing himself as a respected director in the New York City theater scene, he decided he was ready to take the plunge. He was financially sound. He didn't have a romantic partner, but there was a solid support network around him.
So Ellis found a surrogate, met with her doctor and began preparing himself emotionally for the arrival of his first son or daughter. There was only one caveat: He didn't want twins.
"I'm an identical twin, and I love it. But as a single father, I said, 'No way. I can't do it,' " he recalled this week, sitting in the living room of a friend's multimillion-dollar Hollywood Hills home where he stays when he's in town.
Months into the process, while he was in Los Angeles directing episodes of Showtime's "Weeds," the phone rang: "The surrogate called, and the doctor was on the phone, and they said, 'Are you sitting down? It's twins.' And I literally went into shock."
As if the news weren't hard enough to digest, there was a slew of cameras around, eager to film the dramatic moment for a documentary called "Love Etc.," in which Ellis was a participant. His story is one of five featured in the movie, out Friday in Los Angeles, that trails several New York City residents at different stages in their romantic lives.
There's a young high school couple struggling with breaking up as they head off to college; another pair who get married and are at each other's throats; an elderly man who takes care of his wife as she begins a quiet, sad journey into dementia.
Ellis, who had granted director Jill Andresevic full access to his life during the year in which he was preparing to be a dad, easily became accustomed to the cameras after a career in the entertainment industry. But when he found out that he was expecting two babies instead of one, he momentarily took off.
"I told the producers, 'I'm having twins. I'm going to take a drive,'" he recalled. "I didn't know what to do, and I had cleaning in the back seat, so I went to Hollyway Cleaners on Santa Monica Boulevard and turned off the car and broke down. It was hard. I was angry. I was thinking, 'What have I done? What happened?' "
Interestingly, it was the idea of being able to show his children his path to fatherhood that prompted Ellis to agree to be a part of "Love Etc." Andresevic, a former advertising executive who had worked on campaigns for companies such as Cadillac and Nike, tracked Ellis down through his surrogate's doctors. When the two met, the premise for "Love Etc." — Andresevic's feature-film debut — had just shifted.
The project had been conceived as a film focusing on the variety of folks who visit New York City Hall to get married (the idea came to Jonathan Tisch, the film's executive producer and the chief executive of Loews Hotels, while he was obtaining a marriage license there with his fiancée).
Tisch asked Andresevic to write a treatment for a film based on that idea, but when the producers approached New York officials about making a movie at City Hall, they were rebuffed.
Without permission to shoot at the landmark, the team began exploring other options — ultimately deciding to examine "love's journey across a diverse group of people in one city," as Andresevic describes it.
But finding subjects who were willing to open up about their romantic lives and allow cameras to trail them for an entire year — for no pay, mind you — proved to be difficult. Andresevic scoured local newspapers, put up fliers and relied on word-of-mouth to track down the rare individuals who didn't dream of starring on a reality show.
"We wanted stories that had a natural structure with a beginning, middle and end — something like, before, during and after the wedding," she explained, adding that the film, which cost less than $1 million to produce, took 21/2 years to make, from casting to completion.
Ellis' story fit that trope perfectly. He starts out trying to change his workaholic nature, anxious about the prospect of becoming a dad. That fear reaches a climax when he finds out he's expecting two children. And — no surprise here — his story ends with him nervously-but-lovingly swaddling, feeding and burping his new babies, Parker and Charlotte, now 19 months old. Since, his priorities have shifted: He's already thinking about sending them to one of New York's most elite kindergarten programs, which, he said, run a whopping $32,000 per tot.
Nominated for a directing Tony Award five times, Ellis is best known for his work on productions of the musical "Curtains" and revivals of "Twelve Angry Men" and "Anything Goes." He has done a substantial amount of directing in the television world on such shows as "Modern Family" and "30 Rock."
On the eve of an industry screening at Los Angeles' Soho House, Ellis said he felt somewhat uncomfortable about how "Love Etc." would open him up to personal scrutiny. He had seen the film only once and said he was surprised by how adamant he appeared on-screen about the idea that no one would ever want to enter into a relationship with him.
"I think I really believed that. Maybe I was preparing myself in case it didn't work out. Two kids — that's a lot to step into," said Ellis, who, after filming wrapped, began seriously seeing someone whom he hopes to marry. "I just truly felt that my story was my journey to have kids. That was sort of what love was to me."