If you’ve been following our reviews of the Boys On Film series of short film compilations over the past couple of weeks, you’ll know there’s a lot of great LGBT mini-movies out there. The latest release, Boys On Film: Cruel Britannia, includes a short called Spring, by director Hong Khaou, about a young man having his first experience of kinky power-play sex.
To mark the release of the short on the Cruel Britannia DVD, we were lucky enough to chat to Hong, and got an insight into creating a gay-themed short film in the UK, and the challenges and opportunities that present.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
The idea came from a story I read about someone’s bad sexual experience. I thought it was a great premise for a short film, and instead of making it about a sexual experience gone wrong I wanted to have as a beginning of a journey and show some of the excitements and anxieties of that.
Did you have to do much research into the S&M world?
I did a fair bit of research. The film isn’t really about the world of SM, this was more a metaphor for experiencing something very different for the first time. Such as kissing a guy for the first time, or having sex with a man for the first time. It isn’t necessary a film about the SM scene. That was the canvas to convey how exciting and frightening it is when I first kissed or had sex with a man for example. How all these feelings were colliding, and I had to find a way to compartmentalise it all and running, exhausting my body was a way of doing that.
Was it difficult to find the actors?
It was more difficult to find the young actor, because he really had to expose himself. It’s not the easiest of scenario to be in either, it takes a certain strength to do that. I meet the potential actors personally to explain the project and gain their trust. Because of the subject matter, I felt it needed a personal approach to show that I wasn’t being gratuitous or exploitative. The older character wasn’t so hard because a lot of the actors really relish in playing a complex character.
The short uses the room made famous by The King’s Speech (and other films). What is it about that location that’s so attractive to filmmakers?
You know I had no idea that room was famous. When we filmed there, The King’s Speech hadn’t come out, and we certainly weren’t trying to jump on their bandwagon. It just looks like the perfect location. The room had such a presence, and we consciously made that be part of the texture of the film, almost like it was a character. The King’s Speech reference has become a bit of a curse, If I knew I certainly wouldn’t have used it.
Another of your films, Summer, was on the first Boys On Film collection. Do you feel you’ve changed as a filmmaker since you made Summer?
There was a 5 years gap between Summer and Spring, I feel I have improved as a filmmaker – I’m more confident as a Director.
Was it easier to get this short made than your earlier one?
Spring, was extremely difficult to get made, it was turned down many times by various funding organisations. It must have been 3 years of endless submissions before we got this funding from Film London.
How do you go about raising funding to make a short film?
The only way I know is to enter for regional funding grants. It would have been too expensive, difficult and labour intensive to raise it via friends and family.
Spring was made with the help of the UK Film Council. Do you think it will be more difficult for people making short films and/or gay themed films now that organisation has been shut down, or do you feel the BFI will continue or improve things?
I think the BFI will continue to fund queer themes films. The organisation has traditionally been supportive of LGBT work. If anything I think the BFI will be more supportive than the UK Film Council, time will tell.
Do you think the government’s attitude, which seems to prize explicitly commercial filmmaking, is more of a threat?
I think that’s a very dangerous root to go down. In our pursuit to be commercial we are neglecting a core group of filmmakers whose talent and voice might not be perceived as commercial, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important or there’s no audience for it. Commercial ideas by their very nature have a greater chance of finding funding because by their nature it’s ‘commercial’. It’s those with the unusual ideas or is brave to tackle themes that the private sector deems ‘un-commercial’ that will need the help, support and opportunities. Our obsession to make all things big and commercial will affect a generation of extremely talented filmmakers.
How long did you have to actually shoot Spring?
We shot it in 3 days, and five heart attacks.
How long would you say it was from the first idea to the first time an audience saw the film?
Oh god that must have been at least 4 years, from the initial writing to completion.
What’s the significance of the title?
The title refers to the blossoming of the young man’s life, his sexual journey / discovery / awakening.
Once it was made, how did you ensure your film got out there to as many people as possible, as the world of shorts isn’t always a visible as for feature-length movies? What are the main avenues for shorts to get screened?
Film festivals are the best way to profile a short film. We were very lucky, it got into Sundance and then Berlinale. And because they were big profile festivals, from there other film festivals requested the film. You should submit your short film to the British Council also, they have good advice on how to get your short films out there. They will have a list of festivals to submit your film to. If your film has a LGBT theme, Peccadillo Pictures is also a great place to send it to as they acquire short films. They’re pretty much the daddy of films with an LGBT theme.
Do LGBT film festivals help a filmmaker like yourself?
LGBT film festivals have a very important role to play. And it’s important to attend those festivals too, as that’s where you will make the contacts and connect with other filmmakers and festival programmers. Also because Spring and Summer was shown at these LGBT film festivals, it got picked up for acquisition in France and Germany etc.
Do you wish there were more things like Boys On Film, which work to showcase short films?
It’s definitely good to have other avenues to show your short film. It’s a shame there isn’t more. Short film is a fantastic format, a great event for a large group of friends to go to – it’s very social. Most filmmakers pretty much start out with a short film.
Thank you Hong.