One-on-One Q&A: Whirlwind's Richard LeMay & Jason Brown
Director Richard LeMay & Screenwriter Jason Brown
In advance of the New York Premiere of Whirlwind at NewFest: The 20th Anniversary New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival, I spoke with the film’s director Richard LeMay and screenwriter Jason Brown for a One-on-One (or in this case one-on-two) Q&A. Whirlwind is a narrative feature about a group of 30-something gay men in New York City whose friendships are tested when a new guy enters the equation and toys around with their lives while they’re planning a party to celebrate an older gay couple’s 25th anniversary. Whirlwind screens at NewFest on June 9th at 5:45pm and June 13th at 3:15pm, both at AMC Loews 34th Street in Manhattan.
TFPN: How did you come to collaborate together on Whirlwind?
LeMay: We’ve been friends for a while and I had done a movie previously that I made really low budget that did very well and got worldwide distribution called 200 American. We talked about the possibilities of working together and how much fun it would be.
TFPN: What inspired you to make this particular story? What did you draw from your own lives into it?
Brown: We talked a lot about Richard’s last film that was also gay subject matter. A lot of people had responded to it well from around the world. It had a lot of heart to it telling stories about people who were real people and just going through life and having issues. I was really intrigued with taking that to another step and showing slices of what Richard says he never sees in gay cinema. We started throwing out a lot of “what ifs?” Richard and I came up with the story together. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable tackling this without working with him on that level because being straight; it’s just not my experience. I was too scared it would be inauthentic. My main approach in writing the actual screenplay once we got the story down was that I would never say, “what would a gay guy say here?” I just would say, “what would a person say?” or “what would this character say?” Some of the things that come out of their mouths you might consider something a gay person might say more than a straight person, but had to do more with character and less with thinking about the whole approach as I’m writing a gay film. I was just writing a story about these guys.
LeMay: For starters, we were talking about my last film. One of the things that caught me off guard was that at film festivals in 2003/04, people would line up and shake my hand and say, “thank you for a happy ending.” I never really thought about it before. Many gay films are issue-oriented which is really important like AIDS, homophobia and whatnot, but I just wanted to make more movies with a positive slant for gay cinema. And even though there’s a lot of negative stuff that comes out in the film, I think there’s a really positive message at the end. I think that was a catalyst of how we were going to steer this.
Brown: The main story is about a group of 30 year olds and there dealing with more serious life issues like settling down and growing older. So that’s part of the slant you don’t often see. Also, another couple in the film is 25 years into their relationship.
LeMay: The fact that we were celebrating an older gay couple, maybe it’s out there, but I’ve never seen it. When we were shooting the party scene at the end, I was looking at the monitor and I saw those two guys kissing and everyone claps and celebrates, and I just thought, that’s really cool. We looked over a whole demographic; it’s usually the hot young 20-somethings, go-go boys or transvestites. All that stuff is great, but it was just kind of nice to see 30-something guys who are your average people. They’re not doing anything crazy with their lives. It’s just the dynamic of when you’re in your 30s. I speak for myself, being a gay man, you kind of just settle into this family of friends. And they kind of become your family outside of your actual family. No matter how dysfunctional it can be, which these characters are, in the end, they’re all there for each other. That was something that intrigued me.
TFPN: The film starts with a character driven story of these men who have a very tight bond with one another, until Drake, the new guy, comes into their lives and pulls the wool over their eyes, creating the film’s main conflict. Did you draw upon any other infamous characters throughout film or literature to create this character, or is he based on an actual person?
LeMay: It wasn’t really based on anyone in particular or characters from other movies. He was just kind of a catalyst to drive a wedge in between these people’s lives.
TFPN: (To LeMay) Which character do you resemble the most?
Drake, no just kidding! Good question. I never really thought about it. Everybody can see themselves in somebody. I see myself in a lot of different characters and at different times in my life. I’m probably a combination of Sean and Bobby. I am a bit regimented and I’m also a bit discontented at times.
TFPN: (To Brown) Did your experience training at Writer’s Boot Camp prepare you for this screenplay?
Brown: Yes, absolutely. You have to learn how to tell a story and craft a piece. Some writer’s can do it sort of naturally. We see enough films that we know kind of what has to happen, but unless you have vocabulary to really understand how to craft and compose a story, how to execute certain things, it’s difficult to get through it without wasting tons of time on thousands of drafts. I instruct at Writer’s Boot Camp now. The tools have definitely been a huge help in the whole process.
TFPN: What are your distribution plans for Whirlwind? Any more festivals coming up?
LeMay: We’ve been accepted to OutFest LA (July 15th at 9:30pm), which is pretty huge. And we’ve been approached by several distributors. We just have to start feeling the offers and see what happens with it.
TFPN: What are you both working on next?
LeMay: I’m producing a movie called Daybreak in the Bahamas this summer. I leave next Saturday.
Brown: Richard and I have a horror film that we’re trying to put together.