This Sunday, October 27 at 10 PM ET, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network will present the television premiere of a powerful new documentary, Bridegroom. It’s the story of an impossibly handsome young couple in Los Angeles who were also perfectly, almost impossibly so, in love. Tom Bridegroom was an aspiring actor and talented musician who had relocated from rural Indiana; Shane Bitney Crone a sometime actor and filmmaker from rural Montana. The ambitious duo traveled the world together, documenting their adventures in video series they posted to the web. They had big plans.
But their time together was cut tragically short in 2011 when at age 29, Tom was killed in a freak accident, falling four stories off the roof of a friend’s apartment building. The film arising from the couple’s devastating story – of pain and loss, of hurt and forgiveness, of homophobia and yet also family bonding – is sure to make you cry throughout. (And it doesn’t hurt that Bridegroom was assembled largely from Tom and Shane’s own homemade footage by executive producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, of Designing Women fame, who is certainly a pro at evoking laughs and tears.) In their attempt to whitewash Tom’s entire post-college life, and thus hopefully erase the sin of his gayness, the Bridegroom family banned Shane and in fact all of the couple’s Los Angeles friends from attending their son’s Indiana funeral. The immediate family has had no contact since Tom’s death with either Shane or with the filmmakers who sought their comment.
Bridegroom first screened at the TriBeCa film festival earlier this year, where it won the Best Documentary prize, and also this summer at Outfest, where it also won an award for Outstanding Documentary Feature. Last week, the film had its Los Angeles premiere. And the following afternoon, I had the chance to sit down with both Shane and Linda, to talk about the project’s genesis and more importantly, its impact.
Must-Hear TV: I can’t imagine what your feelings are, seeing this completed film about your life and love. I know you’re a producer of Bridegroom -- how many times have you seen it so far?
Shane Bitney Crone: I’ve probably seen it 50 times now.
MHTV: Does it ever not evoke a visceral response in you?
SBC: It can be very intense, going from festival to festival with it. Lately, I’ve just waited outside the theater. I don’t necessarily sit there the entire time, because it is emotional for me. Sometimes it’s good for me just to step outside and take a break.
MHTV: But you know when everyone leaves the theater, they’ll be crying. And for audiences, in a way, getting to meet you offers them consolation after having cried through the film. I know that getting to express my feelings to you made me feel better. But is that hard for you to relive every time?
SBC: That’s one thing that a lot of people ask me. “Isn’t it hard to continue telling this story? Do you think that it’s good for you?” But meeting people and sharing this story has been healing, and has helped me in so many ways. There’s so much positive coming from it that it makes it not depressing, and it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. It’s great to have support on my facebook and social networks, to hear from people that way, but meeting people face to face has definitely been one of the best parts of all of this. I’ve met some incredible people, and heard some amazing stories.
MHTV: People must want to pour their own stories out to you, people who had either supportive or unsupportive families. What have been the most amazing stories you’ve heard, where people have said, “This changed my life?”
SBC: I never realized before that what I’ve gone through has happened to so many people. I didn’t realize thousands of couples have gone through horrible experiences. So for me, it wasn’t until after I posted the YouTube video [called "It Could Happen To You," which sparked Bloodworth-Thomason’s interest in making a film, and a kickstarter campaign to finance it] that I realized that. So in a way, as much as this is my story, or my film or Linda’s film, it’s really not. It’s the people’s film, because it represents so many. I’ve heard from teenagers who said that the story has prevented them from taking their own lives. Just to hear things like that, it just makes you feel so grateful that it’s connecting with them on such a deep level.
And then to hear at some festivals from some really big men who come up to me and say, “I’m a straight man. Someone dragged me here and I didn’t know what to expect. I had never understood or supported marriage equality – and now I’m sorry.” When I hear things like that, wow! It makes me think that this isn’t about me. It’s so much bigger than me. And if sharing my story is having that effect, then that’s what I have to do, keep sharing.
MHTV: I hate to suggest that there was a benefit from Tom’s death, but at least his death has brought about this change, to open people’s eyes and their hearts, and to save lives. At least his death wasn’t in vain.
|Shane Bitney Crone|
MHTV: It seems like this whole experience has galvanized your family, too, around you. They were always supportive, but now they really have your back.
SBC: My mom is an amazing mom. It’s funny, because on facebook, she posts everything that I’m doing, everything that’s happening. People text me and say, “You know your mom is so proud,” and that makes me feel so good. I’m happy that people get to see my family, and see how important it is for families to support each other. It’s interesting, because my family and Tom’s family, they’re really not that different.
MHTV: As we see in the film, they started in the same place, anyway. Conservative, rural, Republican…
SBC: Exactly. It’s such a powerful part of the film, to show how important it is for parents to love their children unconditionally.
MHTV: What a contrast between them. One family says “We don’t understand this, but we’re going to try to accept it,” and the other goes backward, stagnating and threatening violence. What made the families react so differently?
SBC: Someone asked me this morning, “Why do you think your mom is so accepting and so supportive?” I was trying to come up with the reason, but I don’t necessarily have an answer as to why my family is like that. I’m just lucky that they are who they are, and that they have the hearts that they do.
MHTV: Are they religious people, your family? The film has pictures of both you and Tom and your families in churches growing up.
SBC: Kind of, but not too much. We went to church growing up, a Lutheran church. But we weren’t like Tom’s family, who talked about the Bible every morning at the table. They’re very religious. Maybe religion has a lot to do with it, but at the same time, I don’t necessarily know what can cause people to decide to be more accepting.
MHTV: This film will. I defy anyone, even if he or she doesn’t stand up for gay marriage, to see a film depicting the death of this beautiful young man, and the end of this loving relationship, and not cry. You’re not human if you’re not moved by it.
SBC: But I don’t really know how we’ll reach the people we want to reach. I have a feeling it’s going to be a situation where people who are struggling with being gay can ask someone to watch the film. I hope that that way, we can reach the people we need to.
MHTV: Could the film be a tool for coming out? Send it to your parents and say, “Watch this, then we’ll talk.”
SBC: Yes. Growing up, I wish there had been something like that for me, to help me say, “This is me. I need you to love me unconditionally.” Of course there are shows now like Glee and Modern Family, which do help a lot of people. But at the time, I didn’t really have any shows like that. It just goes to show how much film and television can influence people.
MHTV: You and Tom were both really into film and television from the beginning of your relationship.
SBC: I had convinced my family I’d wanted to move to LA to be an actor, but I quickly realized it was more that I just wanted to get here. I really just wanted to be in a city where I could be me. But if growing up I’d said, “I want to move to LA,” they’d ask why – so at least acting was a reason I could give. But Tom and I did film a lot of our life together, and planned a lot of projects. We did talk about making a documentary, but I never imagined this would be the documentary we would make.
MHTV: You and Tom first met Linda Bloodworth-Thomason at a wedding – and as she remembers, you said you were big Designing Women fans, as are lots of gay men. I know she meets thousands of them, in fact – but you guys made such an impression on Linda that she remembered you years later, when she saw your video on YouTube. Do you know how that happened?
SBC: I’m not really sure exactly, other than that we had conversation with Linda about how we so desperately wanted to get married someday when it was legal – but also, when we were ready. Because there was a short window when we could have gotten married [in California], but we also didn’t want to go down to the courthouse just because everyone was doing it at that moment. We wanted it to be special and spontaneous like it is for other people. But to think, though, about meeting Linda that night, and then four years later meeting with her to talk about making a documentary about Tom – it’s kind of surreal.
MHTV: We know from the film what Tom’s mother did and didn’t do, and his father. But Tom also had siblings. Did you have a relationship with any of them? I’m wondering why they didn’t stand up for you, or for what was right.
SBC: I think it has a lot to do with being in a small town, and the whole idea that blood is thicker than water, like my mom has always said. Family is all you really have at the end of the day, and do you want to potentially risk losing your relationship with your parents? I think maybe that’s not worth the risk sometimes, so I try to be understanding and respectful of that. And there are [more distant] relatives of Tom’s who are supportive, who support me, and the film, and the relationship.
MHTV: Does any of them have the name Bridegroom?
MHTV: It is an unusual name.
SBC: It is, and honestly I didn’t think about Tom’s last name too much until I met with Linda. She said, “Shane, do you realize the irony in his last name?!” And I realized, “You’re right, that’s pretty crazy.”
MHTV: The way the film saves the double meaning of the word for the reveal in the last shot, it’s like a gut punch. The irony hits you at that moment.
SBC: In fact, some people thought that we [the filmmakers] put the name on the gravestone. No! It just makes me feel like maybe it was meant to be.
MHTV: You still haven’t heard from any of the main Bridegroom family, though?
SBC: I haven’t. I don’t know if I ever will hear from his parents. I want to send them the film, and hopefully they’ll watch it. This could potentially be the opportunity for them to help a lot of people. They could turn this around. Even if they just said, “Look, we made some mistakes while struggling and trying to be okay with it.” Because a lot of people are struggling with that. People evolve and can change, and I think they could really make a difference if they wanted to.
MHTV: You're still just 27. Where do you want to go from here?
SBC: I’m not sure what happens next. All I know is I’m trying to be in the moment, and trust that everything will happen the way it’s supposed to.
MHTV: In terms of career? Are you a filmmaker?
SBC: Maybe, if there’s something I’m really passionate about. This has turned into my full-time job, just sharing this story. I partnered with some organizations, like GLAAD and HRC. I might do a speaking tour of campuses, and meet people. It scares me – I don’t like the idea of public speaking. But if it can help people, I feel like I can do it.
Bridegroom airs this Sunday, October 27, at 10 PM ET on OWN, and on the same date, will also be available on Netflix.
In addition, Shane Bitney Crone can be heard this Friday, October 25 at 1 PM Eastern / 10 AM Pacific on “The Frank DeCaro Show” on Sirius XM’s OutQ radio.