10 Steps To Making An Excellent Gay Movie

I wrote this post about two years ago for the month of Pride. Much of this post provided a basis for the Queer Tropes post I penned last year which I also plan to post here in the not-too distant future.

Actually I could write endlessly on this but for the sake of time and space on the internet, we’ll limit this to 10 fundamental steps.

It’s become obvious that some gay “storytellers” need to be educated thoroughly and expeditiously. Because if I have to endure this bullshit again, it will not end well.

Take thorough notes, I’m gonna move fast, and this will not be pretty. Class in session,  and you’s about to get schooled, suckas!!!

1. The Craft, Learn You Some

Whether it’s the acting, the writing, cinematography or the production value, you are creating art and as such everything about your production should be on point. Before you step behind a camera or in front of it, take the time and actually learn and practice your art. Take a few acting classes, read a gawd damn book and learn about story and plot structure. Take a few film courses, look up articles on the internet, whatever. Just fucking learn your craft and practice and hone it before you piss away thousands of dollars and my precious time on making tripe.

Not only that but take the time to study some of the cinematic heavyweights: Scorcese, Coppola, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, Tarrantino, Joss Whedon to name a few.

But they’re all straight, some of you say. There’s no such thing as an excellent gay storyteller so I’m a speshul snowflake who doesn’t have to adhere to standards because I’m gay and magically speshul.

Then allow me to point you to Bryan Singer, Victor Salva and Russell T. Davies, storytellers who have mastered their craft and tell excellent tales, regardless of orientation. Any other excuses? Now will you please go school thyself.

And while we’re on the subject of creating art and making it superior….

2. Low Budget Does Not Necessitate Low Quality

Look, I applaud indie film makers who get out there and do the damn thing and I respect that creating an excellent piece on a shoestring budget is a very tall order. But it can be done. It’s been done on many a day. The first thing to remember is that the story is the foundation. If the story doesn’t work, then everything else will crumble. Doesn’t matter how cute the actor is or how pretty the DVD cover is, the story is the most important aspect of the movie.

Being on a modest budget is all the more reason to make sure all aspects of the film is on point. If you’re lacking in big named actors or heavy duty special effects, then that means you have to work twice as hard to make certain you compensate with superior acting, writing, cinematography, etc.

The Breakfast Club had 7 actors at most and the entire film took place in a school and it’s one of the most successful films of it’s era. Why? Excellent story, brilliant actors and even though it was a high school teen flick from the 80s, it told a tale that resonated with audiences from all walks of life (another issue which I’ll be touching on shortly) which transcends time, age, demographic, etc.

Cashback would be another example. It was originally an independent 15-minute short film but it was so well crafted that it got additional funding and was turned into a full-length feature film. That film also serves as a reminder as to why generally speaking, the Brits do it better than the Yanks. If you bothered to take the time to research these films or, you know, to go back to point one and learn your craft, you would know these things.

In short, no budget is no excuse.

3. The Mythical Straight Boy Motif

Stop me if you recognize this plot device or some variation thereof. Miserable gay boy who has given up on love falls in love with the mythical straight boy. Gay boy in desperate need of being rescued falls in love with the mythical straight boy. Gay boy is persecuted by life and homophobes, who shall ever save him, the mythical straight boy. The gay boy is miserable and has no confidence in himself. Who teaches him to be cool, self confident and self reliant? The mythical straight boy. The gay boy is looking to recruit and win over that white knight. So who does he convert? The mythical straight boy. The gay boy needs saving? Who shall save him? I know, how about the mythical straight boy.

will…..you…..please…..stop?………………….no……….really……..PLEASE……..STOP!!!

No seriously, I am willing to offer monetary and/or sexual incentives to stop this madness.

I get it. Too many of you so called gay “storytellers” liken yourselves to the gals of Sex & The City and/or are caught up in some Desperate Housewives fantasy where you’re some miserable Scarlet O’Hara waiting for that dashing Clark Gable to sweep you off your feet in a whirlwind romance where you’ll live happily ever after in your white picket-fenced home with three to five pets who are your surrogate kids or you’ll probably adopt three POC children from a third-world country because according to Elle that’s in Vogue and that’s what all of the starlets are doing.

Allow me to slay that unicorn.

It’s cute many of you emulate divas and I could respect that if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re missing the basic fundamental. Your idols don’t need someone to save them, least of all, a mythical straight male. Say what you will about the Desperate Housewives, they are manipulative and they are scandalous, but what they are not is weak or victims. They’re powerful, cunning, self-reliant and don’t a need a straight man to fight their battles for them. Learn from that.

I think the main reason is we see this ish is because too many in the gay community allows themselves to be labeled, boxed in and have bought into the lie as to what our limitations are. One of said limitations is this bullshit notion that heterosexuals have the sole copyright trademark on masculinity, power and strength. All straight guys are tough and strong and all gay guys are sissies.

Like B.Scott said, I’m not waiting for someone to come save me, I’ll do the damn thing my damn self.

And for those of you who think we masculline tough gay guys are some weird anomalies, let me remind you of our brethren of yore, samurais, Romans and Spartans, prison inmates, you know gay warriors and walking badasses at that.

And yet you expect me, a proud gay and masculine alpha male, to co-sign on this ignorant, disgusting and insulting and homophobic exalting of the heterosexual male mythical unicorn bullshit?

Let me make this as abundantly clear as I possibly can: FUCK THAT SHIT!!!!!!

4. A Universal Story

One of the biggest pitfalls is rather than telling a universal story that a universal audience can relate to or at the very least empathize with, gay storytellers will make a gay movie about gay people for gay people and still fail miserably at that.

Brokeback Mountain was successful because it featured a poignant story with complex and engaging characters. It was a story about tragic and forbidden love, the gay aspects, while hyped, were secondary to the main plot and themes of the film.

I will still go on record in stating that Willow & Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are arguably the best lesbian portrayal to ever grace the small screen.

Say what you will about Queer As Folk. While they explored the good and the bad and the ugly of gay culture, they were successful in making the stories, the characters relatable to anyone, gay, straight, black, white, male, female, it didn’t matter. Because ultimately, it was about the human experience, not the labels or the stereotypes or the expectations associated with them. And that more than anything is how you make a successful gay movie.

5. You Can Branch Into Other Genres

Shitty dramas and romantic comedies aren’t the only things we’re limited to. Russell T. Davies has shown us through Captain Jack Harkness that LGBTs can be kickass action heroes and become a dominant force in sci-fi. Like Oliver holding out the bowl, I want more please. More horror flicks more mysteries like Donald Strachey, I want more, more, more.

I want comic book adaptations and sci-fi action flicks that showcase the fact that LGBTs are just as tough, just as cool and just as kickass as our heterosexual counterparts. More examples of Harkness and Willow and Xena and Midnighter and Lafayette Reynolds and Thom Creed will go a long way towards debunking stereotypes and gaining ground in the LGBT struggle. And better entertainment along the way? So not complaining.

6. Diversify/Explore Other Aspects of Gay Culture

One of the most tragic things about the gay community is that two of our most precious resources is regularly disregarded and pissed away: our diversity and our rich culture. Look I appreciate a cute white boy as much as the next person but my God is it asking too much to dispel the notion that gay white men are the only gays who matter and/or the only gays in existence. The only time POCs are usually featured in gay flicks is usually some form of a racist minstrel show. And then folks are wondering how the Prop 8 Fallout manifested. POCs have unique perspectives and experiences on what it’s like to be a double minority and we have stories worth sharing. We know, we know. The only people who matter in the gay community are affluent pretty white boys in designer threads but we promise we still have stories worth sharing even if you view us as subhuman. Yeah yeah yeah, I know. If you start making gay films which showcase blacks, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites as compelling three-dimensional individuals, that might debunk the notion that the white male is the default gay and worse yet it could lead to diffusing a lot of racism in the LGBT community and undermining the privileged white power structure therein. And we just can’t have that.

And showing our trans brothers and sisters a little more love would not be a bad thing either!

As I’ve mentioned before, from Greek & Roman history/mythology (Zeus & Ganymede, Achilles), samurai warriors of feudal Japan to gay Native Americans and even the LGBTs who represented in the Harlem Renaissance. With all of this material to pull from to tell some extraordinary stories, there’s no reason why audiences are subjected to this hackneyed garbage. It’s understandable that exploring other aspects of gay culture might require you to remove your head from your ass and realize that the universe doesn’t revolve around you. And yes I know that’s a slow agonizing death for many of you, but these are the sacrifices one makes when creating art.

7. Better Characterizations

Let me be clear, “You are not a speshul snowflake just because you’re an LGBT.” This is a failed mindset I’ve seen too often in real life, the interwebs and not surprisingly gay films. It’s where the characters are absolutely deplorable and reprehensible but because they are an LGBT, they’re deemed magically infallible. *coughs* The L-Word *coughs.*

Here’s a thought, let’s try avoiding cliches in our stories/characters and see how that works out for us. Yeah yeah yeah, write what you know and I have no doubt writing about extraordinary individuals is a vast undertaking because in researching in doing it, it might be a personal critique and gutcheck that your deluded entitled selves might can’t handle.

Protagonists have to be relatable and sympathetic. They have to grow and evolve through internal and external conflict. If you’d bother to learn your craft (refers back to step one) you’d know this. Your characters should be engaging, three-dimensional and compelling. That’s what makes for great storytelling.

LGBTs come in a wide range and it should all be celebrated. But you still have to take the time to develop and make dynamic characters. Any self-respecting minority will tell you that we do not define ourselves solely by our race, gender, orientation, etc. Yes that’s apart of who we are and those experiences help comprise our character but that isn’t our defining attribute. I’m not a black man, I’m not a gay man. I’m a man who is black, who is gay. And when you understand that last sentence, you’ll understand what character is.

David Bowie explained in an interview that one of his biggest regrets in identifying as a bisexual is the fact that this society wants to place a label over you and place you in a box.

Oh you’re gay, then you must adhere to XYZ and act this way and your interests must only be in this right here. Otherwise you’re not really authentic enough.

In an interview John Barrowman revealed how he was up for the part of Will in Will & Grace but he was shot down because execs thought he was too masculine for the role, so instead they gave it to a straight man who was better able to adhere to the negative stereotypes.

And then we wonder why LGBTs choose to remain in the closet and loathe being gay. This is a sober reminder that homophobes and ultra conservatives are the least of our problems.

8. Save Your Sex Sermons

“If you have sex, then you’re inferior to me because I’m so beyond sex and I only make love with that mythical straight boy who will one day come and save me gay sexual virtue is a priceless treasure.”

For those of you who aren’t aware, there’s this weird dynamic among gay men when it comes to sex. Some act pretentious and perceive themselves to be beyond sex. They perceive themselves as some heroine of some sad sordid soap opera, who again is waiting for that dashing doctor, lawyer or [insert occupation for male lead role here] to sweep them off their feet where they’ll live happily ever after in some white picket fenced suburban home like the straight couples they hope to emulate. That in and of itself would be fine, but many of them emulate the Mean Girls act and denigrate other men, calling them sluts or whores (because straight men are real men and even though they do the same shit, they’re pimps and players), simply because they’re making the most of being single.

Not surprisingly these same shrews will wait until they get drunk or high and act worse than those they persecute because they’re too cowardly to be honest with themselves. It goes back to being taught to hate our sexuality and becoming obsessed with it at the same time. Not surprisingly, this same failed bile of logic gets spewed in gay movies.

Time to slay yet another unicorn: You are not speshul just because you think you’re beyond sex or don’t hook up or whatever. If that’s a personal choice, more power to you and there’s a lot to be said for that. But you DO NOT get to pass judgment on the next person who is responsible and sexually mature and have a different and equally valid perspective on sex. So I would thank you to stop with your lectures. Perhaps if some of you got laid every once in a while, you wouldn’t be so bitter and miserable.

But gay men being promiscuous is such a horrible stereotype we must debunk. That’s why we must make gay marriage the sole end-all be-all issue. If we imitate the straights, they’ll eventually accept us.

Look, gay men are not promiscuous because we’re gay, we’re promiscuous because we’re men. Straight men hook up as often as they like and no one blinks an eye. But when we do, suddenly we’re breaking a cardinal sin. When you make movies of bitter queens in miserable relationships and yet in the same breath want to lecture the audience that said miserable relationship is preferable to getting laid and doing fine by one’s self, I’m left asking, how’s that working out for you?

Seeing as most of you have no concept of character, morality, decency or integrity, you sure as hell aren’t qualified to be giving morality lectures on the sex.

9. Originality/Innovation Goes A Long Way

We have heard all of the coming out stories and HIV/AIDS stories there are to hear. And don’t get me wrong, these are important issues worth exploring, and I’m not saying we should stop. Hell, I’ve written them myself. However, if you’re going to discuss said important issues, have the decency and respectability to bring a new perspective and a new angle to the table. Save Me and Prayers For Bobby got this right and effectively explored the issues of homosexuality and religion. The astute reader has no doubt noticed a common thread in these points, break the stereotypes and the cliches.

10. Let’s Avoid The Usual Trappings

I dare anyone to make a gay movie that doesn’t have any crappy techno music, no campy themes, no rainbow flags, no catty references to Broadway, disco, gay iconic actresses, no use of the words fabulous, or divine, no pink in the film at all. I dare ya. I double dare ya. There’s a time and place for that, but not in every fucking film.

Defy convention. Break the fucking mold. Don’t set out to make a gay movie and base it on gay standards. Make an excellent movie that’s excellent on any standard with exceptional characters who happen to be gay. Instead of emphasizing how gays are different, how about emphasizing how we’re alike, how we have the same challenges, trials and success like the rest of humanity.

Because ultimately, it was about the human experience, not the labels or the stereotypes or the expectations associated with them. And that more than anything is how you make a successful gay movie.

Here endeth the lesson….for now.

5 thoughts on “10 Steps To Making An Excellent Gay Movie

  1. Have you seen a film called ‘Were The World Mine’, by any chance? I must admit, I’ve not yet watched it, but I hear from reliable sources that it is a good gay film. Boy A gets cast as Puck in the school’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, finds the recipe to a love potion, and turns everyone in the town gay. From what I’ve read, it might hit on the mythical straight boy tropes, and it -is- a musical, which might lead to some cliché, but might be worth a look.

    Also heard interesting things about a film called ‘Otto, or Up With Dead People’. Gay zombies? Again, I’ve not watched it, so it’s not my fault if it turns out to be a total stinker…

    Pedro Almovódar writes really great queer characters, too.

    • I saw two seconds of the trailer for Were The World Mine and couldn’t run away fast enough. Next time I’m in the mood for some kinky masochism, I may watch it….*shudders*

      I’ll check out Otto and up With Dead People. Thanks for the recs.

  2. This is awesome. I especially like the parts about masculinity–I’m a big psychology buff, and when talking about the psychology of being out I believe that the monopoly of “queeny” stereotypes of gay men in the media sets up the same set of memes for how to be attractive that it does for straights. My guess would be that just as some women dumb themselves down to attract men, some men make themselves appear more flamboyant to attract men. But in the second scenario, there’s the issue of visibility (outside of a “gay” establishment, people will assume you’re straight without certain signals) and safety (you don’t want to express attraction to the wrong–homophobic and violent–person). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with men who are naturally more “stereotypically gay”, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with ditzy women, but when you always see that reflected in the media it can have negative effects.

  3. Have you ever seen the movie Latter Days? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0345551/) While it is a romantic comedy about the homosexuality & religion struggles of pretty white boys (a lot of tropes you mentioned being tired of), I do think that there’s a lot to recommend it. The script is by C. Jay Cox, the screenwriter of Sweet Home Alabama, so it’s a great mix of heart-breaking, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny. The soundtrack, while heavy on the techno in places, also has some excellent tracks written by Cox for the film. The supporting cast is filled out by some fun, well-rounded POC characters. And maybe, just a little bit, I want to be Jacqueline Bisset’s character Lila when I “grow up”: opening my arms and my table to anyone who needs them. :)

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