Outfest Goes Big: How One Filmmaker Turned Agony into Ecstasy
As Outfest prepares to launch its 41st edition on July 13, over two hundred filmmakers anxiously await to see how the Los Angeles crowds will respond to the dramas, comedies, shorts and documentaries programmed for the film festival that will be covering all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community.
With a mission statement that proclaims an agenda to “give artists, filmmakers and entertainment professionals the opportunity to discover their voice, provide the pathways to the visibility of their work by all members of the public, and assure that their legacy will live on for generations to come,” Outfest is excited about its latest edition.
“The power of filmmaking can inspire, uplift, and unite audiences, and this is something that our community needs now more than ever as our rights are being attacked and restricted across the country,” notes Damien Navarro, executive director of Outfest.
Unspooling during the 2023 schedule are films that include such established names as Eva Longoria, Judith Light, Eugenio Derbez, Lukas Gage, Ben Whishaw, Amandla Stenberg and Zachary Quinto. But sharing the spotlight will be many new voices such as Vuk Lungulov-Klotz (Mutt), Juan Sebastian Torales (Almamula), Fabian Stumm (Knochen und Namen), Sarah Kambe Holland (Egghead & Twinkie) and Corey Sherman (Big Boys).
Sherman, who is making his feature film debut, previously worked with Adult Swim and Tastemade on such projects as Francis, Cheap & Out of Control, 12 oz. Mouse and Authentic, which he not only directed, but wrote as well. Big Boys is a creative opportunity to tell a more personal story on a larger canvas.
The HFPA had a chance to talk to Corey before the festival began about his excitement for audiences to see his debut as well as how the film resonates for him on so many levels.
Part of the benefit of worldwide film festivals is they give audiences a chance to see movies that they might not normally get to see. How beneficial is Outfest to you in showcasing your movie?
Outfest is an audience that will really appreciate a film like this. This is a queer story about a coming-of-age experience. I felt when I was making this, here was a story that I hadn’t seen before as it focused on some of the thorniest, more difficult aspects of coming up as a young queer person. I was heavier and wanted to present the unique struggles to that. I wanted to create a film that would speak to audiences that would be able to see the nuances and details to recognize themselves. It is particularly wonderful to have a festival like Outfest that can gather queer audiences together to share that communal experience.
It is always said that a writer writes from the truth. As you just mentioned, this story is reflective of your own adolescent experience. How cathartic was this then for you to make? Was it strangely like a therapy session?
Yeah. I appreciate you saying that. It was very therapeutic in a lot of ways. At that time in my life, I was going through what Jamie was going through, struggling with his weight, his sexuality, his own performance of his gender. He felt like he was failing about being the right kind of man. All of those things were very painful and isolating for me at that time. It was hard to find compassion for what I was going through because I couldn’t share it with anyone else and get an outside perspective. It was very internal. To be able to make this story now, when I am twice the character’s age, is really cathartic, not only because I get to explore these moments from a greater distance and have more compassion and understanding for myself for what I was going through, but I also got to share this experience with my collaborators and hear about their experiences. I discovered I was not alone in this. It was very liberating and I felt connected to talk to other people who went though some version of this. We got to gather all the details.
How do you think that benefited the film?
I wanted the film to feel very private. This had to do with an internal turmoil. I wanted to the film into tap into that very private moment with Jamie and his internal life. To have the privilege to work with collaborators and hear about their private internal lives now and also as kids made the film richer and more lived in. That communal feeling was very healing.
If we look at the DNA of most films and TV shows, we see women as the ones who are more commonly fighting with body issues. How important was it to get that from a male perspective?
I agree with you that is weirdly unexplored territory. Culturally, we have just written off about the funny fat kid. That is a trope we just take for granted and find funny. I have always felt that there is so much more going on there. Being chubby as a kid and also now, I think there are nuances that tie into gender. Bigger guys can either be looked at as weaker and less powerful and in a misogynistic way, feminized for their weight and softness. On the other hand, they can get glorified as the “Big Man,” like Tank, celebrated as a football player. It’s a very confusing binary that our main character finds himself in. He isn’t comfortable in either identity. Part of what the movie is about is him finding a more comfortable relationship to his weight and gender identity. I wanted the movie to treat him as a full three-dimensional character. I didn’t want him to be the funny fat kid. I wanted him to have his own rich internal life and sense of humor.
He is also attracted to that quality in others.
I also wanted him to be attracted to a bigger guy and see that attraction with a man who is comfortable in his weight. He carries himself with pride but also has sensitivity. Dan becomes a role model to how Jamie can relate to his own weight. I hope bigger kids can find a sense of comfort in this movie. They can see themselves being celebrated and appreciated and look at Jamie and Dan as role models in taking pride in your own body.
There is this great scene with Jamie and his brother Will in the lake. Will sees these two young girls and in almost a predatory move, swims like a shark toward them. What did that reference for you?
I am so glad you like that but all that credit goes to Taj, who plays Will. He had that in his mind to almost channel a predator. He sees his prey and starts to move in. I am happy when audiences laugh at that moment. They see the arrogance and the ridiculousness – “Oh, him!” – in that moment, but he was channeling something very real. Someone called that misplaced confidence that teenage boys have. There is this overflowing arrogance that they can have anything that they want. All they have to do is go for it. At that moment, Will feels more arrogance and confidence to go after what he wants then Jamie does. Taj expresses that really well.
Speaking of confidence, what was your own confidence level like in making your debut feature film?
I was definitely nervous leading up to the production itself, but once I got into rehearsal with the actors, and I saw how smart and rich their performances were going to be, that really relaxed me. This movie was going to live or die based on the performances, because it was so small scale and intimate. I fed off their energy and got me very excited and more confidant. I have been sort of writing this movie in my head for half my life, ever since I was dealing with what Jamie was dealing with. Once we started filming and putting a camera on these characters and these small impactful moments, it made it so exciting. This was the sandbox I was meant to play in. It was off to the races from there.