"Strapped" director Joseph Graham's latest craft is an edgy and mesmerizing "Beautiful Something"
an exclusive interview with Joseph Graham
by Oliver Carnay
(A follow-up interview with one of the leads, Zack Ryan, can be read here)
Prepare to be mesmerized! Writer-director Joseph Graham’s latest offering is the sexy, edgy, dramatic feature “Beautiful Something,” currently getting rave reviews and packing audiences in the LGBT film festival circuit. I’ve learned Outfest had its screening already sold out!
One sublime night, four gay men cruise the streets of Philadelphia to find hook-ups and mixed-up feelings over love and lust. Brian (Brian Sheppard) is a writer who professes his love and tries to sexually seduce his long-time straight-friend. Jim (Zack Ryan, in his first feature film acting debut), is an aspiring actor who believes he is just being sexually abused by his famous sculptor lover Drew (Colman Domingo). Intimidated by Drew’s professional status and jealous of his latest sculpting masterpiece, Jim thinks his lover is not spending much time and attention to him. Jim resents the idea that he is just an object to use whenever Drew needs rough sex, even if Drew assures him he is as much important to him. Jim decides to leave and left Drew in faze. At same night he meets Bob (John Lescault), a wealthy talent agent who regularly pick up boys for a “beautiful something.”
I’ve seen this film twice and couldn’t help appreciating the lighting and cinematography. From screenplay to soundtrack, Graham crafts and beautifully executed a series of remarkably honest moments, with believable characters a lot can relate to. All actors did a great job performance-wise. You can feel with Ryan’s loathing and emotional outbursts. His expressive eyes speaks quietly and charmingly as he plays with the camera. Sheppard nails all his scenes. Both are dramatic actors to watch out for. Domingo sets a commanding presence and depth in acting, while Lescault is as much confident and effective in his role. Rounding off the great cast are Peter Patrikios, Carlo D'Amore, and Matthew Rios. The film is erotic but sex scenes were tastefully done. Graham knows how to protect his actors and was able to deliver a strong script .. it's good to see and feel the nice backdrop and atmosphere of how great Philadelphia is. It is a heartfelt film I've enjoyed. (By the way, Graham's "Strapped" is being streamed online for free, courtesy of Hulu.com .. watch it here)
Here's my conversation with Joseph Graham -- please read on:
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was your motivation in doing "Beautiful Something"? What was your vision -- the things you want to leave the audience in watching this film?
JG: “It started with an image of Brian and Jim kissing in an alley, which evolved into a warehouse basement in the film. From there, as with "Strapped," the story just fell together as I was writing and I never lost my passion for it. My hope was to have an ending where the audience could see Jim and Brian begin to change, to see that the seeds of a new way of being in the world had been planted. That to me is Romantic. That to me is hopeful. That's what I wanted to leave the audience with.”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How did you create the characters and when did you start writing the script? Was there any personal experience or anybody you know from where these characters drawn at?
JG: “The entire film was inspired by autobiographical events. Point to a scene in the movie and I'll tell you a true story. So the characters came from that. I was Brian. I was Jim. I met Bob and his white limo. Drew is a combination of an old boyfriend and Nick Nolte's character from Martin Scorcese's "Life Lessons" from "New York Stories," one of my favorite pictures. I love that damn movie. Art and need and self-imposed agony. Scorcese and Nolte and Richard Price nailed it. That movie get's better every year.”
(Continued below -- please scroll down after the poster)
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Can you talk about the cinematography, lighting and soundtrack which complemented a lot with the tone of your film?
JG: “Matthew Boyd did the cinematography. This was our third narrative film and our fifth project together. Boyd's amazing. A technical craftsman, great with the crew, but most of all he brings the Fire. We plan to make a horror picture together and I can't wait to see what he does with that! I have to shine a light on my brother Ben Gilbert, who is also a director and filmmaker. Ben did the color grading and, while we were careful not to mess up any of Matt's work, Ben's contribution to the emotional quality, cinematic style and production value was enormous” ..
“Neil Riha was our Supervising Sound Editor and he brought a terrific cold dryness to the streets and a heavy wet quality to the interiors -- a subtle but remarkable soundscape. This is my third collaboration with Neil and our Sound Mixer Dan Olmsted. Luke O'Malley wrote the score and five of the songs. I'm nuts about all of the music in the film, and absolutely loved working with Luke. Discovering the score with Luke was what you dream about in collaboration. Windows to Sky and Inu -- two bands who also wrote songs for "Strapped" -- wrote, produced and performed the rest of the songs, and I adore them. I literally walk around with the headphones on listening to my playlist soundtrack to the movie. Luke's score captures it all -- the yearning, the wanderlust, the drive, time, sadness, hope. As with Matt and our editor Sharon Franklin (also our third collaboration together) and Windows to Sky and Inu, I hope that this is the first of many trips to the garden with Luke.”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: I thought the casting was perfect and the actors were amazing. Can you tell us the process how you cast Brian, Zack, Colman, John, and the other cast members? Who came on board first?
JG: “I think so too! Brian Sheppard came first. He was recommended by a lifelong friend of mine, the actor Steven Patterson. Steven was playing Claudius to Brian's Hamlet. I wish I could have seen that. Actor Brian brought tremendous wit and vulnerability to character Brian. We invited Zack Ryan to audition after seeing his modeling pix. He was the newest actor in the cast and I love his openness and honesty. Grant Lancaster -I met years ago when I was teaching film acting at a school here in SF. We had kept in touch, and I was so keen for him to play Dan because he is such a funny, warm, talented guy. I think he and Brian kill in their scene together, when Brian climbs in through the window to ask Dan his Big Question” ..
“Bob Lescault is a brilliant actor doing a lot of film work and regional theater in D.C. Between takes I was constantly pestering him about his choices while playing Iago and we were always talking about his character Bob in relation to Scrooge. That made sense to us at the time. And Colman Domingo I actually just reached out to on Facebook. He is a mutual friend of another lifelong friend, Carlo D'Amore, who played Leon in "Strapped" and the guy who cruises on Jim at the bar when Brian hits them like a car bomb. I'm embarrassed to say I was not aware of Colman's work when I approached him -- I was so desperate to find a good actor for our staged reading! But Colman liked the role and we got along great from the start. So much of what Colman and Zack discovered during rehearsal went past the script and right onto the set. It's like we were still improvising while shooting. I loved it! I learned so much from Colman and John, and it was a real thrill to work with everybody. It was dangerous and alive, and I am so grateful for their honesty and their willingness to trust.”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Was it a personal choice to shoot in Philadelphia? Did you shoot in other location?
JG: “It was all Philly. Our EP Kelly Burkhardt came up with that idea. To be honest, I had given up on this picture after so many years of trying. I still loved it but I had moved on. But Kelly wanted to do it and she suggested Philly, which I consider a home-away-from-home. Once she came up with that, I was in.”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How long did it take you from writing the script, developing the characters, production, and finally editing the script?
JG: “Years! ... I wrote the first draft right after my film "Vanilla" was released. Tried twice to get it off the ground. Shooting took twenty-eight days. So, basically rehab. Editing was a struggle. The first cut was two-and-a-half hours long...and didn't play. It took five-and-a-half months to edit this picture. For a while Sharon and I were worried we might not find it. But once we locked onto Brian and Jim as the center of the story, we found our way. So much of Colman and John's wonderful work had to go. But now it's lean and mean, as it wanted to be. We lost a lovely, eight-minute montage we spent four long nights shooting, too.” ..
“Music and sound were done simultaneously with the color and visual effects work (Drew's statue is a CG effect created by my brother). That took six months. So almost a year of post. I know filmmakers who tell me their entire post on a feature took them three months. I don't know how they do that. There are so many opportunities to make your story shine, to make the picture pretty, to get in with the audience on a deeper, more fundamentally emotional level through sound and color -- and editing! Editing is everything, obviously. Thank you, Sharon. But why miss out on color, sound and music? It bothers-up my insides just thinking about it. ..”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was the greatest challenge you encountered in shooting this film?
JG: “Cold. Long, long, long very very cold cold nights. That and sleep deprivation, but what else is new. I kept thinking of John Carpenter and Kurt Russel up there in Vancouver making "The Thing." If those rock stars can make that brilliant, impossible movie? We and I should be able to withstand three cold nights in a warehouse alley in Philly in November.”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: The response of the audience has been great and I know the film is going to several film festivals. Can you tell us which film festivals and areas we could be looking forward to watch this film?
“I am happy to say we have been invited to several festivals across the US and around the world. However, as none have announced yet, I'm afraid I can't divulge. Suffice it to say that pretty much no matter where you live, "Beautiful Something" is coming for you...!”
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was the marketing and distribution plan you've set up for this film? Have you found a distributor?
JG: “We have had some offers and are currently in active negotiations. Ours is a proud gay film but we hope a solid indie, too. We'll just have to see where the film takes us and what it wants to do. However! My 30-minute short "Edward" is part of a global compilation of horror shorts called "The Horror Network" -- available for pre-order on Amazon now!”