While FTLOA was a thriller, this time I wanted to film a drama, putting some ordinary characters in some extraordinary situations. About six months ago I watched the Another Earth. The film is a very simple, low-budget indie film, but the concept behind it is enormous: what if you were to discover that there is another version of yourself living on another planet? Though the whole film plays out in the living rooms and local streets of a faceless American city, this huge concept drives an extraordinary drama, exploring an idea through the characters’ reaction to this news and the change in their subsequent relationships to each other. Watching this film, I wondered if I could do something similar.
At the time, the arguments and political debates about same-sex marriage were in full-swing and there was constant talk in the media about equality. People were trumpeting marriage equality as the last milestone in the fight for Gay Rights in this country and I just found myself thinking about how much things had changed in my own lifetime. When I came out, I expected a life permanently haunted by homophobia and discrimination. Back then I was full of ideals but had little hope that society would change, but things are indeed very different now. But can you imagine what would happen if things turned around again? What would happen if you’ve given someone equality, but then snatch it away again? I realised then that I’d found the big concept I wanted to explore.
I was then faced with the question of “Why?” What could possibly cause a turnaround in attitudes so quickly that homosexuality would be recriminalised again? I thought about what causes homophobia; the fear of the unfamiliar, the threat to proscriptive gender roles, the threat to the “family” and I thought about why it has taken so long to get from the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to marriage equality in 2013. The stumbling block that stood in the way was certainly the AIDS pandemic in the 80s and 90s, when homosexuality was legal, but instead of it slowly changing toward acceptance and social integration, the fear of The Gay Plague put huge barriers in the way of progress. The word “gay” had become synonymous with death. HIV and AIDS, without the tremendous breakthroughs in medical science, could easily have stopped Gay Rights dead in their tracks, so I decided that the most realistic cause for a recriminilisation would have to be something similar.
In the early 80s, AIDS was originally called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRIDs), as the initial spread of the disease was only visible amongst the gay community. It was only when heterosexuals started contracting the virus through sharing needles and blood transfusions that the name was changed. I decided to create a fictionalised mutated strain of HIV, which could only spread between men, just as it had been feared AIDS was originally, and rename this GRIDs. And so the story of The Fey was born; the UK government would recriminalise homosexuality due to the outbreak of the global pandemic GRIDs.
Once the overall concept had been created, I needed to decide how this story would play out on the smaller scale. I very much wanted the relationships between the characters to be the driving force of the film, so while I could easily have made the story of “The Rise Of GRIDs”, instead I wanted that to be the backdrop against which the stories of my characters were painted. I recently watched the movie Bent, which follows a series of gay characters in Nazi Germany. Some of them run away, some of them get caught and sent to a concentration camp, while others suffer unpleasant and tragic fates. I decided that I would do something similar with my film. I needed a group of characters, who were all friends and/or linked to each other in some way. Like in Bent, we would see their lives linked before the Gay Ban is enforced, but then afterwards, it becomes “every man for himself”. Each character would have their own storyline, each character would decide on different paths to try and survive the Ban and each character would have their own dramatic ending.
I asked myself what would be the possible routes that people could take, should they be forced to go back into the closet. Celibacy was certainly one option I thought, but how could you prove legally that you’re celibate? Some people might obstinately maintain their identities, while others may try and shed any associations they had to a more flamboyant lifestyle, to blend into the background again and disappear from anyone’s radars. Another option would be for them to pretend that they’re straight, marry a female friend, start a family and create a smokescreen. In those cases they may not even need to say that they’ve “become straight”, but instead that they were always bisexual and in the end fell in love with someone of the opposite sex. Another option would be simply to run away and start a new life elsewhere, where they wouldn’t need to go back in the closet because they never came out in the first place. But then of course, there would always be those people who would simply refuse to comply with something that infringes their Human Rights. These are all areas that I decided to explore with my characters.
The subject of The Fay is very serious, not least because of its sudden relevance due to the recent events in Russia. I thought about what FTLOA’s strengths were and what it was that made my audience able to watch a full feature film that had been crudely shot on a camcorder and edited using free downloaded software. The answer, I decided, was certainly its comedic moments. Without the comedy, I think FTLOA could potentially have been a slow and almost boring film. Therefore, seeing as I was still going to be shooting The Fey using basic equipment, I realised I needed to do something to lighten the mood on its very serious subject matter. I decided to tackle this in two different ways.
Firstly, I decided to ramp up the camp. One of the best things about the gay community is its creative vibrancy and I wanted to use that in stark contrast to the uniformity and grey bureaucracy that ensues after the Ban. I decided that some of my characters should be drag queens, that scenes would be filmed at a local drag night and I would try and capture gay culture at its most flamboyant. With the assistance and participation of Anna Phylactic, one of Manchester’s premier drag performers, I have been able to capture a real sense of the glamour and originality of Manchester’s drag counter-culture and layer this on top of the story.
Secondly, I wanted to use music to break up the string of long and wordy scenes I was recording. One comment I often received about FTLOA was the effectiveness of my use of music. However, this was also the film’s downfall. Having just used whatever music I thought was appropriate for the film from my iTunes, I obviously do not have the rights to the songs to be able to do anything commercially with the film. So I decided from the outset that I wanted original music. Initially I approached a few friends who were singer-songwriters to ask if I could use some of their pre-existing original music as a soundtrack, but my friend Robbie Cavanagh, a singer and frontman of the band This Devastated Fan, offered to compose and record a score to the film. As I sat down and wrote the brief for the music it became increasingly apparent that we could use song as an almost Brechtian device to break up the narrative, lighten the tone and also use it didactically. There would be two instances in the film in which I have to introduce relatively big concepts, the idea of GRIDs itself and the Gay Rehabilitation Camps, so why not introduce them through song? So with these two songs in mind, plus a powerballad thrown in for good measure, I set Robbie the task of writing some songs to appear deigetically in the film. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in a recording studio when I first started this film, but it was a very surreal experience, watching as the tracks slowly came together with their vocals and instrumentation.
So with the music, the drag performers and some ideas I have for the final edit of the film as a whole, The Fey should be more than just mere visual storytelling. I’m hoping that the final cut will be something with a bit of artistic merit to it, as well as an attempt to showcase my ability to assemble a story. With the amount of collaboration involved in this film (I haven’t even mentioned my actors themselves, the further musical contributions from Christopher Dresden Styles, the artistic input from Oly Bliss, Aaron Cornish’s assistance with news footage, the list is growing all the time), the pressure is certainly on to create something of a certain quality; I just hope that it all comes together as I’d envisioned. I’ve called in a lot of favours over the last few months, so fingers crossed I can now deliver the goods! Though unlike FTLOA, there’s no pressure to deliver this to a deadline. So if it’s still not finished by spring next year, it’s safe to assume there’ll be some reshoots…
The Fey is currently in production and will premier in early 2014.