“JUST SAY LOVE”: Anatomy of a Film Fest Hit

Based on the two-character stage play of the same name by David J. Mauriella, “Just Say Love” the movie has been getting a lot of positive buzz at GLBT film festivals.  Produced and directed by Bill Humphreys, the movie adaption is, in essence, a filmed play.  It’s no secret among cinemaphiles that many plays don’t work when adapted directly to the screen.  The result is often… well, “stagey”.  Or, the intimacy that works so well in the setting of a theater just doesn’t translate well to the screen.  Perhaps for the first time in film history, “Just Say Love” introduces the RIGHT way to do it.  This film succeeds– in a big way, I might add– for several reasons.  The cinematography is no less than stunning, and the direction– busting out with many quietly creative touches– is artful. In addition, there are the assets of the two leading men.  Their acting is superb, their interactions and dialogue are realistic, and they are both– shall we say, very easy on the eyes.  True, at times the theatrical antecedents of “Just Say Love” are more noticeable than others.  More often, however, the viewer is very likely to get too immersed in the intimacy of the two characters to notice.

Those two characters are Guy (Matthew Jaeger) and Doug (Robert Mammana). Guy is out, and Doug is straight. Or, at least that what Doug keeps telling Guy over and over again. These two are not just “gay” and “straight” movie stereotypes or caricatures, however.  Guy is an environmentally conscious, vegetarian artist with an affinity for the writings of Plato… but he’s not so quick to submit right away to Doug’s butch charms.  Doug, in turn, may be a gruff, unshaven carpenter with a pregnant girlfriend… but he’s smarter than the audience might interpret from his chorus of belches in the first scene.  Both men, in fact, each seem to be aware of the preconceived notions that the other may have of him.  It’s also worth noting that, from the beginning right on through the film, there’s a mutual attraction– albeit an unorthodox one– between the two.  This is NOT another story about the poor gay guy’s unrequited yearning for a straight guy (A scenario that has been all too common over and over again, don’t cha agree?).  Initially, Doug hits on Guy, motivated initially by horniness and maybe some curiosity… but he develops more complex feelings which the audience learns more about later.  The two’s initial sexual encounter turns into a fragile friendship where the sexual tension is just below the surface. Guy, in the meantime, dreams about a full-blown love relationship: which allows the audience to enjoy his fantasies, presented as sensuously filmed, slow-motion nude scenes. All the while, the viewer senses that there’s something truly metaphysical between these two men going on.  It’s a complex road to the conclusion, but let’s just say that the denouement will renew your faith in the modern boy-meets-boy love story… as well as all of our faith in creative filmmaking.

“Just Say Love”
director Bill Humphreys gave an exclusive interview to Jed Ryan:

JR: Congratulations on all the positive feedback for “Just Say Love”!
BH: Thank you very much – we’ve been working hard at paying off a lot of people to say a lot of good things about the film.  Seriously though – we appreciate all the good words that people have brought to the film.  The response has been excellent and for a film with a slightly different bent in its style, we fell very fortunate and extremely happy that it’s being so well received.

JR: “Just Say Love” has something of a fantastical element to it, even though the characters and their situations are very real.  Is that intentional?    ,
BH: The fact that you would refer to the film as having a “fantastical element” is, I think, a tribute to the power of live theatre.  We undertook the challenge of transferring material written for the stage to the big screen.  We were crossing into water that has failed miserably in the past by trying to capture the ‘magic’ of live theatre through the lens.  It’s been attempted with classics like “Our Town” and “On Golden Pond”, “Peter Pan”, the Metropolitan Opera and many, many others.  But what happens when you mount a play and point cameras at it is that the effect comes across flat, creating an emotional disconnect with the audience.  Technology gets in the way.  In “Just Say Love”, we took the play first, mounted it in a huge black box theatre and then imposed the camera into that, using a mix of theatrical and motion picture lighting and shooting it cinematically.  In doing so, we made a promise to ourselves that we would be true to three key elements of live theatre: Honor the words of the author, honor the art and craft of acting, and honor the intelligence of the audience.  In staying true to those key points, we were able to photograph these characters without distraction to their work, their eyes, and the words of the author.  The other main element we took in consideration was the idea of not cluttering up the background in any given scene.  Our perception was that “if it’s used and physically manipulated”, then it’s practical and real; If it’s only mentioned or referred to and not handled, then it takes on a theatrical modality.  What we discovered is that in keeping the background open, clear, and void, the focus came even more sharply onto the actors: their eyes and the words.  We let the audience fill in the voids in their own mind– not unlike the suspension of disbelief one experiences when attending live theatre.  The result is the “fantastical” element you mention, the creation of a world where these lives are led without the hinderance of everyday surroundings.  Their situations and conflicts are clearer and easier to attach to.  I think that’s a long way to say “Yes”: intentional in goal yet serendipitous in practice.

JR: How were the two actors– Matthew Jeager and Robert Mammana— with the intimate and/or the nude scenes?  BH: Matt and Robert are both dynamic professionals.  When we first talked to them about the nude scenes they had no problem and they continued to have no problem throughout the shoot.  In respect to their privacy, we closed the set the day we shot those scenes – but these guys took the challenge and ran with it.  The funny thing about love scenes is that they rarely contain any element of love or passion when they’re shot.  Matt and Robert spent a lot of time positioning themselves and checking the monitor on set to make sure that what I was asking for was looking right on screen.  We worked through a lot of the physical positioning together based on the camera angle.  A good deal of time prior to any shot was spent checking which way a leg should go, how a hand should be held to caress a bicep, two fingers or one when running your hand down the other mans chest.  When those technical elements were set, then it was all business: the looks, the embraces, the kisses were all true from each to the other in that moment.  There was a lot of laughing and giggling and pseudo-embarrassment going on, but the goal of tending to business was always utmost.  The cool thing about them is that they’re both straight but they both brought themselves to the plate, so to speak with all the utensils they had make love real on screen.  We also had to take into consideration the question of “frontal” nudity: We knew that in many European markets it could help sales… but the question was “Does it fit in with what we’re trying to convey?”  We decided against it simply because in the overall picture of the film, it seems gratuitous.  So we opted not to include it.

JR: As an independent filmmaker, what was the hardest part of getting your movie made?
BH: Truly the hardest part was getting my mind on the screen.  Conveying the idea, the concept of style to the craftsmen that made it happen.  Every filmmaker will answer that question with “funding” – getting the funding.  But in our case, both the writer and I believed so strongly in the style and the script and the overall goal of StageWright Films that we committed personal time and funds to the project, and in doing so the issue vanished for us.  We were very, VERY fortunate that way.  The stickler for us was knowing that we had a winning format: a winning script… But no one on our crew had ever tackled this style before.  So the creation or birth of a format was challenging.  Getting past the “… you wanna do what?” to the “… absolutely, we can do that!”.  It was a creative issue – and I’d rather have that problem to solve that any other.  Without a doubt, I’d hire the same crew again now that we’ve been through it together once.  The next time around will be amazing.

JR: What’s the greatest feedback that you’ve gotten from “Just Say Love” so far?
BH: That people “get it”.  When we hear comments like – “passionate”, “intense”, and “Finally someone has figured out how to move from stage to screen…” we’re delighted.  Sitting in an audience with a few hundred people you don’t know, watching your work displayed for everyone to critique is humbling.  But when the silence in the theatre is deafening as the film starts and the laughs come in the right places; the sweat  beads vanish and a little voice in side says “yes!”.  That’s the best.  The overall reaction to the film has been incredibly positive and people leave with a new look to their faces.  The human reaction to the film is the greatest feedback.

JR: “Just Say Love” definitely breaks new boundaries in gay cinema.  In your opinion as an artist, what’s the state of GLBT-themed cinema today?
BH: I wish I could say that it’s engaging and mind-changing and heading in new and inventive directions.  However, I’m afraid I can’t really go that far.  There seems to be too many variations on the “coming-out” theme.  I would like to see the gay film community more readily accept it’s own sexuality.  Delve into the issues that are poignant.  “Patrick 1.5” is a film that does this well I think.  It deals with a couple facing the rigors of adoption and homophobia.  “Drool” is another film that I really liked – it’s quirky, fun, doesn’t try to preach anything and accepts the characters for who they are.  I’ll step higher on my soap box and say that I would love to see GLBT films try to deal with more intelligent story lines … Even in comedy, the intelligence factor seems to be targeted at an 8th grade level.  Leave the 8th grade material to television.  TV has dealt with low intelligence levels for years and they really know how to program “dumbed down” content.  Film is the opportunity to advance that, to get away from blatant skin-baring for the sake of blatant skin baring, and to tell me stories that will make me think.  If I want skin, there are too many available avenues to get it.  Give me intelligent stories that support my thinking!.

JR: While we’re on that subject, what would you personally consider to be an enduring classic gay movie?  Or, what’s your own personal favorite?
BH: Seeing as how ‘mainstream’ gay films didn’t really come into their own till the 80’s, I’d have to go with “Boys In The Band” in regards to a “classic”.  I have other favorites such as “The Killing of Sister George”, “Midnight Cowboy”, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.  The point of all of them, and what makes them classics, is that they don’t take the genre as a soapbox.  The homosexual elements of the story or characters portrayed are simply accepted– and then a good story is told.  It’s a throwback to my early rant on the “state of things”, but these are classic examples of where LGBT films might consider returning.  I’m not trying to say that the “issues” aren’t important… but leave those to documentary where the real story can be told a la “Standin N’ Truth”.  OK, so enough soap box!  I really consider “Boys In The Band” to be a true classic of an earlier period.  “Brokeback Mountain” re-affirmed the truth in gay relationships and is the best recent example of honesty.

JR: What are the plans for the movie?  Where can people see it?
BH: “Just Say Love” is due to come out theatrically in the spring but I’m not certain of the date or vehicle for the exhibition.  We’re waiting on the distributor, here! Films, to let us know their plans.  We’re playing the festival circuit right now to great reward and are looking forward to festivals overseas.  Personally, I think there is a great market for exposure in Europe for “JSL” … Here’s hoping!

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