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's father is a rabid fan of the cheesy, old science fiction program (the cultural equivalent of "Star Trek" in the United States) and he works obsessively 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 if Shore thought about how this inside-the-Isles joke might go over the heads of American audiences if his film were released here (which it will be on May 14).
"Well, you don't need to understand what 'Dr. Who' is for the plot, so it didn't matter," Shore said. "People who don't understand it will understand the dad is really into sci fi and Steven isn't. I'm just saying something about generation (gap)."
He notes with a laugh that the retired show seems to have become a lighting rod in gay productions on the other side of the Atlantic. "There's a very outrageous gay TV drama (in England) called 'Queer as Folk' which has a character who decides he's going to stay with his lover (only) if he can name all the actors who played Dr. Who."
Adapted for the screen by Patrick Wilde from his play "What's Wrong with Angry," "Get Real" is a comedy-drama coming-out parable starring a cast of newcomers, like Ben Silverstone as Steven, a timid but self-accepting 16-year-old in the throes a clandestine affair with John (Brad Gorton), his school's star jock who treats Steven with near contempt on campus to save face with his friends.
Attending the San Francisco International Film Festival for the American premiere of his film, Shore is spending the afternoon before the film's Castro Theater debut discussing the production and how he 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 to flittering about his hotel room as our conversation commences.
SPLICEDwire: What was the angle for "Get Real"? More Teen movie or more gay movie?
Simon Shore: The basic idea was that Patrick's play is a gay story, but I thought when I saw it, there was so much about it that is universal about adolescence. Everybody can understand all that stuff because of the way he told it. Like the scene at the dance in which no one is dancing with the person the wish they were dancing with. I think one of the major themes in the film is that these characters are more alike to one another than not. But for gays it is much more difficult. But we treated the love story exactly as we could have if it were a boy and a girl.
SPLICED: Any thought paid to John Hughes movies, "My So Called Life," etc.?
Shore: We thought about those kind of things, but basically the approach was, how would we deal with this if it were a boy and a girl and they couldn't be together? There always has to be reason they can't be together or there's not drama to it. Race, religion, parents or society's attitudes toward homosexuality.
SPLICED: Besides Patrick Wilde, are any of the other major players in this production gay? You or the actors?
Shore: No. Patrick is gay, and it's very much his story. 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 who might 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 was asking the questions that a mainstream audience might be asking. I could understand from Patrick's point of view why Steven should come out, but he needed to explain to me why he must come out. He's probably going to be 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 for Steven not to come out? We then structured the film in a way that he must come out. This question and answer way of working together was very successful.
SPLICED: So what kind of changes were made from stage play?
Shore: Well, it was an all-boys catholic school in the play. That was beside the point, I thought. If were talking about society in general, we didn't want to be saying what it was like to be a gay catholic. I wanted Steven to have gone to a school that was most like 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 whom has a crush on him) had not been in the play.
SPLICED: That must have taken some thought.
Shore: I made Patrick write a list of 20 reasons you should come out. One of the things on the list is that girls won't fall in love with you, so you won't break hearts.
Oh, also there were changes because of Section 28, the Local Government Act. (In England) teachers are not allowed to present a positive picture of homosexuality in school. The character of a gay teacher who was not allowed by law to help Steven was dropped. We wanted the film to 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.
SPLICED: You had remarkable luck with a cast of novices, especially with Ben Silverstone, who is so affecting.
Shore: When I got him to come in, I made him do a comedy scene and then the (very public coming out) confession from the end. He made everyone at the audition cry.
SPLICED: And how about Charlotte Brittain, who plays Linda, Steven's best friend. She seemed to me to be a bit of a "fag hag" stereotype.
Shore: Linda is true. She's based on a real person who 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 both of them. If she'd been someone for whom it were easier to find a boyfriend, she wouldn't have had that connection with Steven.
SPLICED: The character of John (the closeted jock) seemed a little inconsistent. Was he written that way because he caves to peer pressure?
Shore: Everybody in high school tries to find a clique that the fit into. The athletes try to separate themselves. That's the same in every school really. John is part of that group of people who accept you because you're successful at sports, and he hangs out with guys like Kevin (leader of the abusive jock hoodlums who torment Steven) who are bigoted. If John were interested in, say, playing the piano (instead) his friends would probably be more sympathetic (to his sexuality). A lot of people define success as being good at sports that cuts through everything else.
SPLICED: What was your high school career like?
Shore: My dad was in the military. I was in mostly private boarding schools, so it was very different. But one thing that is exactly the same is when you're 16 and falling in love for the fist time. All those thing about adolescence are the same for everybody all over the world, really.