Originally published during Pride Month 2020
Does every relationship have an expiration date? Adam and Marklin are about to find out. Their 5- year relationship has gone from a passionate flame to a medium burn...in this mess, hope springs eternal as they all hilariously muddle their way through to try and make life work.
Hi Mike thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these difficult times?
Thanks for having me it’s a real pleasure to speak with you. Things are pretty crazy here. I was isolating in place in Brooklyn for several months but then, missing my family, I decided to drive across the country to California where they live. I spent 10 days continuing to isolate myself along the way, staying in the woods in a tent, cooking all my meals, it was a real adventure! And I arrived in Los Angeles just as everything was really ramping up. I’m glad to be here and able to participate in the protests.
You had an amazing festival run with Almost Love and picked up several awards, what has it meant to you to get such recognition for your debut feature film?
We premiered up in Toronto at Inside Out last May 2019. When you make a film your only hope is that it finds its audience or an audience, but to have the audiences that we’ve had from Inside Out on has been really incredible. We then went to Frameline in San Francisco, Outfest in Los Angeles, Newfest in New York, and dozens of smaller festivals throughout the country. Because the film is a comedy it plays really well In a theatre with a few hundred people. I remember being so nervous the first time the film screened because you hope the jokes land. And right out of the gate when the laughter came it was an incredible feeling of relief. We were very lucky that the film touched a nerve with audiences and provided some laughter and some heart that people really responded to. It breaks my heart that there are so many filmmakers whose films will not have the opportunity to screen at festivals because of Covid. Festivals are the lifeblood of independent cinema.
Did you expect you would get such a great response to your film?
I’ve been doing this for a very long time so you learn to temper your expectations; that said, you always hope the film that you made is received as you had intended it. And there was nothing more incredible than to feel the energy of a packed theatre of people receiving it the way you hoped they would. I do not take that for granted one bit. I'm very much looking forward to the time we can commune together in theatres and watch films together.
How much did your previous short films help prepare you for directing Almost Love?
I always say making a film is an exercise in crisis control. Making a short film is incredibly difficult and it teaches you how to lead a group of people, how to tell a story, and how to instil confidence in bringing a vision to life. Making a feature is that times 1000. I could not have made my feature without first having made some short films. But I am also very lucky that my day job as an actor provides me with free film school. When I work as an actor, I hang around set and ask questions and observe and learn. Because there is always more to learn. I say my film school has been my time as an actor working on dozens of sets with dozens of different directors. I got to learn from the best, like Clint Eastwood and Richard LaGravenese and Karyn Kusama and Anthony Hemingway, to name a few.
There have been a lot of gay-themed films recently, some by LGBTQ writer/directors, that have gained a lot of attention but they have chosen straight actors for their lead, how important was it for you to cast openly gay leads in Almost Love?
It was extremely important that my two romantic leads were played by two out gay actors. Now I’m not saying that only gay people can play gay parts or straight people play straight parts, but there have been very few films with two gay romantic lead characters being portrayed by gay actors. So it was important to me that the characters of Adam and Marklin were played by two out actors. It really bugs me when I hear words like "brave" being thrown about when straight actors play gay parts. What is so brave about that? There have been some great mainstream gay-themed films in the past several years that were commercial successes with straight actors in the leads and I had just wished that one of the leads could have been gay.
What was this experience like for you being able to direct gay actors?
Making a film like Almost Love is incredibly challenging and difficult and had to be shot in a very short period of time. We didn’t have the luxury of a lot of rehearsal. So Scott and Augie and I had a shorthand in that we knew and had lived quite a bit of this experience. I am not going to say we had a secret language, but we sort of did. haha.
Do you think more LGBTQ filmmakers should take the opportunity to cast gay actors in gay roles?
I think all filmmakers, LGBTQ and otherwise, should cast gay actors in gay roles, and gay actors in straight roles, and straight actors in gay roles, and straight actors in straight roles. How does that sound for a non-answer? But what I mean is we are artists and our job is to tell stories that sometimes mirror our own lives and often times not. So like I said before I don’t think only gay actors can play gay parts in straight people straight parts, but in terms of gay actors and visibility, we still have quite a ways to go.
Being an actor has this allowed you to connect with your actors in a deeper way?
I hope I was able to talk to my actors in a way that was helpful and respectful because I know how much that means to get that from a director. But I was also very mindful of not directing my actors into the performance I might have given as an actor in that role. I wanted to give my actors the space to explore, experiment, perhaps fail, but feel 100% safe doing anything they could think of. I was lucky to have such an incredibly talented and nimble cast to bring this story to life. I think what I’ve learned as a director is that you have to instil a sense of security and confidence in your actors. When you do that the results are phenomenal. And everyone is in a place to be surprised in the most wonderful way.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
I wanted to write a story about a group of friends who were sort of stuck in different ways but eternally optimistic about love and life. I wanted to make a gay film about a gay couple and put them in the context of other couples to show the universality of the challenges and the tribulations of being in a relationship with another human being. There have been really great films about coming out, about battling adversity, but I wanted to push the story ahead a little bit and show what a relationship looked like five years in. My characters have already come out, they have already battled adversity, and now they are dealing with what it’s like to be in a relationship with another person. And I wanted it to have a lot of humor because the way we navigate challenges often is through irony and humour. I also wanted to create a world that was representative of the great city I live in with all types of people and experiences - young, old, black, white, Asian, gay-straight - so that the viewer might feel like they had a seat at the table in this friends circle.
"So many people say no, so many doors slam, but you just have to keep knocking until someone opens the door and says yes. So my advice is don’t let the naysayers hold you back."
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
Oh my God, great question. The short answer is all of them. When you’re working as quickly as we were and with the budget that we had, everything was a problem that needed an efficient and eloquent solution. That said, I think the toughest scenes to shoot were the ones in the art studio. We had that location for two days during the hottest weekend of the summer in New York City. It was above a subway grate, in the flight path of LaGuardia airport, and we had a street party going on outside which was blaring loud music. So during the emotional climax of the movie, there was a deep bass throbbing in the background. I was thinking at the time OK there will just be some very loud music playing from the street during this very emotional scene, but finally, my wonderful producer and locations manager was able to convince them to stop for a few hours. Thank God. The other scene that was particularly challenging was the scene on the Highline. We only had that location for a couple of hours in the very early morning before it got flooded with people. We had originally planned for a one-shot on a steady cam but ultimately had to shoot coverage because we were never able to get a clean shot without people interfering.
Do you have any advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
This brings us back to one of your earlier questions. The question about me being an actor. As an actor, my life is structured around rejection. I’ve had a very nice career but at least 97% of it has been rejected. It is part of the game. I learned very early on that if someone said 'no' that it wasn’t the end of things. I just had to keep going until someone said 'yes.' Being a filmmaker is exactly the same. So many people say no, so many doors slam, but you just have to keep knocking until someone opens the door and says yes. So my advice is don’t let the naysayers hold you back.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Almost Love?
Ultimately Almost Love is a film about hope. It is about the ups, the downs, the sideways, the good, the bad, the ugly, the mess, and the love that constitutes a relationship, be it a romantic one or a platonic one. I joke that I’m single and I made a movie about people who stay together. About people who roll up their sleeves and do what is necessary to try to make a relationship work. I’ve been in many relationships and I know how hard and how important that work is. So in the end I always see a happy ending.