Last year, Those People the film called the “gay Gatsby with heart” from writer/director Joey Kuhn, swept the LGBT film festival circuit, winning the Audience Award for Best First Feature at L.A.’s Outfest, and Best Narrative at NewFest in New York.
Now that the film is hitting theaters, NewNowNext spoke with Kuhn about what inspired him to make the movie, how he was able to shoot in some of New York’s most fabulous locations, and why Those People is Kuhn’s Brideshead Revisited.
Those People seems like it might be somewhat autobiographical, is it?
I started writing the script 5 years ago, and I knew that I wanted to tell a coming of age story for a young gay guy, who was presented with the man of his dreams but he couldn’t open himself up to love because he was still tied to this lifelong infatuation with his own best friend. I turned to my life for inspiration because when I was in college I fell in love with my gay best friend. I kept it secret for years, and I actually made a short film about him during film school and that’s how I confessed my feelings for him. I showed the film to him and was like: “Surprise! I’m in love with you and I made this film about you!”
What was his reaction?
He did not feel the same way, but we had a very lengthy open conversation about my feelings, and his feelings… several years later when I was writing my first feature, I really hadn’t moved on from that whole experience, so I kind of used the film as therapy to work through those issues. I had to examine why Charlie in the movie would hold onto this infatuation for this guy who kind of treated him as a toy.
Woody Allen’s Manhattan was really big for me, along with a lot of his movies from the ’70s and ’80s. I love the way he shoots New York, I love his sense of humor. I watched St. Elmo’s Fire a lot. When I started the script it was much more of an ensemble piece, and all of the friends having their own coming of age arcs, in editing it came down to focus more on the love triangle [between the three men]. Brideshead was a huge influence on me though, I love that book.
Did you name the character Sebastian after the character from Brideshead?
I did. I feel in a way that Those People is like my fan fiction for Brideshead Revisited, if both characters [from Brideshead Revisited] were gay and got together, what that would be like if the book more openly explored their sexual dynamic. Cabaret was a huge inspiration, it’s my favorite movie of all time. I love the energy of that movie. Rent was a bit of a influence as well.
Is that why “Seasons of Love” is being played in the piano bar scene?
Yes, that’s why it’s being played in my fake little Marie’s Crisis in the movie.
What was production like? You filmed in some pretty spectacular places like Lincoln Center, and The High Line. How did you…
Pull it off for no money? [Laughs] We had a very low budget, and the reason I got a lot of big locations was technically this was my thesis for film school, so when you tell people you are shooting a student film they can be very generous. Since I’m from New York I knew I wanted New York to feel like a character in the film, and I know that’s a cheesy, overused thing that filmmakers say about New York, but it’s true. I just wanted to use the city and film in locations that were important to me, and felt emotional and grand. Because more than anything I wanted to make a grand sweeping New York gay romance because I hadn’t seen one.
What was it like taking the movie on the film festival circuit last year?
It was incredible. I think my two favorite screenings from the whole festival run, which we played 65 over the past year, were Frameline [in San Francisco] and Outfest. At Frameline we played at the Castro Theater, sold out to 1,400 people. It was the first time I was able to sit back and watch my movie as an audience member, and to hear 1,400 people laughing at the right lines, gasping when they’re supposed to and crying was pretty incredible.
During the screening process did you hear from audience members who had similar stories?
Oh yeah, that’s been one of the best experiences about the whole thing. People love to come up to me and tell me their story about their Sebastian. You just wanna touch people’s emotions when you make a film, at least for me. I just wanted to make a movie that people could connect to, and so when I see gay couples with their arms around each other during the romantic scenes it just warms my heart.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a new screenplay right now. It’s about an unhappy married straight couple in 1980’s Miami Beach who fall back in love by stealing cars together. The lead character is this fabulous former beauty queen, inspired by my maternal grandmother. In the movie she has a gay brother and it’s told from his perspective. It’s important to me to always have gay representation in my movies. As a gay filmmaker, I think we have a responsibility to our audience, and to the world, to create representation on the screen. Representation is power.
Check out an exclusive clip from Those People below:
Those People opens in theaters in New York and L.A. on May 6, and comes to VOD/DVD June 14.