simon shore Interview

07 January 2009

Rookie director talks about tackling gay teen angst and romance in debut film

Rookie director talks about tackling gay teen angst and romance in debut film

Simon Shore was surprised to hear a "Dr. Who"question coming from an American journalist. In Get Real freshman director Shore's English film about a gay teenager struggling through high school, the main character'sfather is a rabid fan of the cheesy, old science fiction program (the culturalequivalent of "Star Trek" in the United States) and he worksobsessively on robot models. He even struts around dressed like a Cyberman,one of the show's most notorious baddies.

A childhood fan of the show myself, I wanted to know ifShore thought about how this inside-the-Isles joke might go over the headsof American audiences if his film were released here (which it will beon May 14).

"Well, you don't need to understand what 'Dr. Who'is for the plot, so it didn't matter," Shore said. "People whodon't understand it will understand the dad is really into sci fi and Stevenisn't. I'm just saying something about generation (gap)."

He notes with a laugh that the retired show seems to havebecome a lighting rod in gay productions on the other side of the Atlantic."There's a very outrageous gay TV drama (in England) called 'Queeras Folk' which has a character who decides he's going to stay with hislover (only) if he can name all the actors who played Dr. Who."

Adapted for the screen by Patrick Wilde from his play "What'sWrong with Angry," "Get Real" is a comedy-drama coming-outparable starring a cast of newcomers, like Ben Silverstone as Steven, atimid but self-accepting 16-year-old in the throes a clandestine affairwith John (Brad Gorton), his school's star jock who treats Steven withnear contempt on campus to save face with his friends.

Attending the San Francisco International Film Festivalfor the American premiere of his film, Shore is spending the afternoonbefore the film's Castro Theater debut discussing the production and howhe balanced the story's two themes, teen angst and acceptance of homosexuality.A tall and pointedly trim fellow with angular features and a cheerful,understated English smile, his calm demeanor occasionally gives way toflittering about his hotel room as our conversation commences. What was the angle for "GetReal"? More Teen movie or more gay movie?

Simon Shore: The basic idea was that Patrick's playis a gay story, but I thought when I saw it, there was so much about itthat is universal about adolescence. Everybody can understand all thatstuff because of the way he told it. Like the scene at the dance in whichno one is dancing with the person the wish they were dancing with. I thinkone of the major themes in the film is that these characters are more aliketo one another than not. But for gays it is much more difficult. But wetreated the love story exactly as we could have if it were a boy and agirl. Any thought paid to John Hughesmovies, "My So Called Life," etc.?

Shore: We thought about those kind of things, butbasically the approach was, how would we deal with this if it were a boyand a girl and they couldn't be together? There always has to be reasonthey can't be together or there's not drama to it. Race, religion, parentsor society's attitudes toward homosexuality. Besides Patrick Wilde, are anyof the other major players in this production gay? You or the actors?

Shore: No. Patrick is gay, and it's very much hisstory. He wrote this play, he wanted gay people to go see it obviously,but he also wanted (to draw) teenagers who might be gay, teenagers whomight have friends who are gay, parents who might have kids who are gay.

But they didn't go see it. So in making the film, I wasasking the questions that a mainstream audience might be asking. I couldunderstand from Patrick's point of view why Steven should come out, buthe needed to explain to me why he must come out. He's probably going tobe bullied more at school, it could hurt his relationship with his parents.His life could get very much worse. So why should it be unacceptable forSteven not to come out? We then structured the film in a way that he mustcome out. This question and answer way of working together was very successful. So what kind of changes weremade from stage play?

Shore: Well, it was an all-boys catholic schoolin the play. That was beside the point, I thought. If were talking aboutsociety in general, we didn't want to be saying what it was like to bea gay catholic. I wanted Steven to have gone to a school that was mostlike the ones that the people who see the film had gone to. Plus, since(we switched to) a mixed school, Steven's female schoolmates (one of whomhas a crush on him) had not been in the play. That must have taken some thought.

Shore: I made Patrick write a list of 20 reasonsyou should come out. One of the things on the list is that girls won'tfall in love with you, so you won't break hearts.

Oh, also there were changes because of Section 28, theLocal Government Act. (In England) teachers are not allowed to presenta positive picture of homosexuality in school. The character of a gay teacherwho was not allowed by law to help Steven was dropped. We wanted the filmto be able to appeal equally in countries where those laws don't apply.We also hoped that law might have been repealed by the time the film opens,but it hasn't. You had remarkable luck witha cast of novices, especially with Ben Silverstone, who is so affecting.

Shore: When I got him to come in, I made him doa comedy scene and then the (very public coming out) confession from theend. He made everyone at the audition cry. And how about Charlotte Brittain,who plays Linda, Steven's best friend. She seemed to me to be a bit ofa "fag hag" stereotype.

Shore: Linda is true. She's based on a real personwho was living with Patrick when he was writing the play -- Joann Condon,who played the part on the stage. Everything she said is basically her.Because (Steven is gay she's overweight) the boys are out of reach to bothof them. If she'd been someone for whom it were easier to find a boyfriend,she wouldn't have had that connection with Steven. The character of John (the closetedjock) seemed a little inconsistent. Was he written that way because hecaves to peer pressure?

Shore: Everybody in high school tries to find aclique that the fit into. The athletes try to separate themselves. That'sthe same in every school really. John is part of that group of people whoaccept you because you're successful at sports, and he hangs out with guyslike Kevin (leader of the abusive jock hoodlums who torment Steven) whoare bigoted. If John were interested in, say, playing the piano (instead)his friends would probably be more sympathetic (to his sexuality). A lotof people define success as being good at sports that cuts through everythingelse. What was your high school careerlike?

Shore: My dad was in the military. I was in mostlyprivate boarding schools, so it was very different. But one thing thatis exactly the same is when you're 16 and falling in love for the fisttime. All those thing about adolescence are the same for everybody allover the world, really.


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