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Director of "Those People" talks to SDGLN about the complexities of his movie

Joey Kuhn, the director of "Those People" which plays tomorrow, Aug. 19 only at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinema, was away on vacation when SDGLN caught up with him to discuss his latest movie. He reveals that a lot of the inspiration for the movie came from his personal experiences.

He also gives us some funny stories from behind-the-scenes, actors dressed only in their underwear, and his opinion on the new "Stonewall" trailer.

SDGLN: As New York romances go, this seems to be a little twisted, and by that I mean complicated. Did you grow up in New York?

Joey Kuhn: I did! I grew up in New York City, on the Upper East Side. My life wasn’t anything like “Gossip Girl,” but I knew many people who were wrapped up in that bubble. I chose to set the story there, as I felt that the grand locations and extreme wealth raised the stakes of the love triangle at the center. I also hadn’t ever seen a gay love story set in that milieu. I thought the locations and costumes would be beautiful and lush and make the whole film seem timeless.

SDGLN: Why a gay romance? Is this based on real experiences Joey?

Kuhn: Haha, but of course! Charlie is a very thinly veiled version of myself, five years ago. For my first feature, I knew I wanted to tell a grand, New York romance, so like so many filmmakers, I looked to my own life for inspiration. Back in college, I accidentally fell in love with my gay best friend and kept it secret from him for years, afraid of ruining the friendship (and of rejection). So I based Charlie and Sebastian’s friendship on the longstanding unrequited love I had for my friend. I also wanted to explore what pulls you out of that infatuation, which is where the character of “Tim” came from. Tim is this outgoing, straightforward, heart-on-his-sleeve pianist from across the globe - Very much the opposite of Sebastian and his emotionally repressed ivory tower existence. Once I had the love triangle in place, I wanted to set it against a larger sociopolitical backdrop. Having grown up on the Upper East Side, I knew many people who lost their money to Madoff. NYU (where I went to film school) even lost a large chunk of its endowment to the ponzi scheme. During the fallout, I was drawn to the story of Mark Madoff, Bernie Madoff’s son who killed himself two years after his father went to prison – a man whose life was ruined for something he presumably did not do. I wanted to explore that character through the eyes of someone who loved him - someone who was blinded by his love. And that’s how Sebastian’s character came about. It was also important to me to make a movie with authentic representations of gay men my age, which I rarely see onscreen. I didn’t want to tell another coming out story.

SDGLN: Films set in New York, especially romances, always have this different "feel" to me; more sophisticated and sweet. Is this more romance or thriller?

Kuhn: I hate pinning the movie down to any one genre, but I would say it’s a coming of age story for Charlie, first and foremost. Charlie has to learn who he is, independently of other people, and how to put himself first. But “Those People” is also a romance, with elements of melodrama and comedy. I was inspired by everything from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” and Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” to Anthony Minghella’s “Talented Mr Ripley,” and Joel Schumacher’s “St. Elmo’s Fire.” (and plenty more…)

SDGLN: Any funny stories about the love scenes?

Kuhn: The love scenes are some of my favorites in the movie (specifically the Halloween confrontation between Charlie, Sebastian and a boy dressed as Dracula), and all of them went pretty smoothly. But there’s a scene in the second half of the movie, when Jonathan Gordon (“Charlie”) and Haaz Sleiman (“Tim”) are running around in their underwear on the beach at night. We shot that on the last day of filming, in mid-December. It was probably 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit (not including the windchill from the Ocean gusts), and the beach had been covered in snow that morning. Those guys were so cold. We dealt with some extreme weather conditions during the whole shoot. In fact, when we shot the High Line scene earlier in the film with them in tuxedos, it started to blizzard halfway through our coverage. If you look closely at Haaz’s close-ups, you can see snow falling behind the High Line glass. Some of Jon’s coverage was even unusable, because his hair was flecked with snow flakes. We had to cover them in piles of blankets between shots because it was so cold. Those guys are troopers. Ahhh, the joys of indie filmmaking!

SDGLN: What is the message in "Those People" ?

Kuhn: I don’t think there’s any one message in “Those People.” My biggest hope is that audiences see themselves somewhere amongst “those people.” One of the biggest learning experiences for Charlie (and myself, while writing it) is that by hanging on to these lifelong infatuations for people who will never love you prevents you from opening yourself up to real adult love, and, ultimately, growing up. I’ve learned throughout the whole process of making and showing this film is that everyone, gay or straight, has a “Sebastian.” But the point of the film is that everyone has problems, and we’re all just people.

SDGLN: What do you think of the "Stonewall" trailer?

Kuhn: I think it looks gorgeous and powerful. I know there’s a lot of uproar and potential boycotting of the film over what appears to be the “whitewashing” of the event, but I think we all should reserve judgment until we see the damn thing. Larry Kramer wrote a great response to the brouhaha, saying keeping the film from being seen is only hurting ourselves. I’m grateful that a big director is telling this seminal story that needs to be told on the larger Hollywood stage. As gay men, it’s important to know our history, and a lot of younger gay men don’t know about Stonewall.

SDGLN: What are you working on next?

Kuhn: I’m working on a new feature script right now that’s a family drama set in 1970s Miami Beach about a married couple that starts stealing cars together. Its very “American Hustle” meets “Bonnie and Clyde.” I’m also developing a TV miniseries about a group of gay friends in NYC over several decades. But my career goal is to do movie musicals. Sondheim’s “Company” would be the dream.

Those People” Plays at the Landmark Hillcrest on Wednesday Aug. 19 at 7 pm.

The Landmark Hillcrest is located at 3965 Fifth Avenue, 92103

For more details about the Landmark Hillcrest, and to purchase tickets click HERE

Timothy Rawles is the Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.