(Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News will be previewing the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival, which runs May 30 through June 3 at the historical Birch North Park Theatre. Look for Q&A interviews with celebrities and directors as well as film reviews.)
British filmmakers Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin of "Shank" fame have teamed up together to create "Buffering," a comedy about a gay couple struggling to make their mortgage and keep their romance alive.
Flaxstone and Martin spoke to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about the making of the film, the casting decisions, the racy online porn theme, and their future endeavors.
"Buffering" will be screened on Friday, June 1, at the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival at the historical Birch North Park Theatre.
SDGLN: What is the genesis of the “Buffering” plot?
Darren: Christian’s obsession with porn sites! Joking apart, we were looking for something that was a lighter subject to work on and we talked about this brothel in Prague that allowed men to have sex with any women in the premises for free on the understanding that the sex sessions were filmed and all rights signed away to the brothel to sell on line as porn. We then started to formulate an idea around that but a gay version!
Coincidentally, a few days later Christian received an email from a fan of “Shank” enquiring whether or not we could film him and his boyfriend having sex for them to put on an amateur porn site! We think we lost him as a fan because we naturally responded that we only made feature films for cinema and not porn ... however Christian then checked out the site and saw how many young twinks/students were selling themselves online to make rent/pay bills/student fees, etc.
From that we started to look into a quite dramatic treatment for the subject, which was not the original intention. So Christian then hit upon the idea of whittling it down to a couple in dire financial straits who had to turn to selling porn to make a living – add in that one of them doesn’t know that the other is filming their sex sessions -- and a plot is born.
The whole world economic crisis was hitting everyone and that in-of-itself is a very serious subject but we wanted to go more humorous with the subject – in the end we think we’ve ended up with somewhere in between – a dramedy of sorts. Christian can tell you the research into the sites was exhausting!
SDGLN: Isn’t there a grain of truth about the plot line concerning personal finances? How many young people struggling in this awful global economy are turning to extremely creative ways to earn money?
Darren: Yes, as identified in the answer above. And with each pass of the script Christian felt compelled to try and steer it back to a more dramatic film exploring the darker side of this sad and necessary for some reality. It’s a new form of prostitution of sorts – digital virtual pornography – with the added nightmare scenario that these digital uploads stay on the net for years and years … in perpetuity possibly and at one point he wanted to drag the film back to looking at a couple who lose their jobs do the porn and then go through the exhaustive process of looking for work but the porn comes back to haunt their chances … a variety of these plotlines and options were worked through …
Christian: Darren was adamant we should try a comedy, which was different from our two previous films “Shank” and “Release” – show some range and demonstrate that we had a sense of humor! When we got going (after some wine), the camp lines surfaced and the resultant storyline was formed. The difficulty with this type of low budget film, however, is that development time is limited due to work commitments and other factors like location availability, etc. and so we had to after a while bite the bullet and shoot what was there.
SDGLN: Talk about the casting of Conner McKenzie and Alex Anthony as the gay couple struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments. They play a gay couple whose relationship is in tatters, not helped by their lack of communication and their keeping secrets from each other.
Darren: A very real scenario – (Christian) can speak from experience on that one – if only he and his ex had been able to talk more openly and honestly and not keep secrets … (sigh) – oh well. But it’s a universal condition for many relationships – sometimes you get caught out and things collapse other times it opens up a whole new refreshing and concretizing chapter in a relationship.
Christian: We tried to give a little depth as well to their relationship – some back story that contributes to the dramatic edge to some scenes – we couldn’t quite let go of drama and so painted in the idea that Seth had as a schoolboy struggled with his sexuality and become estranged from his family as a consequence of an affair with a politician. After finding Aaron and falling in love they leave London to escape the past which like a wine stain you can never really wash away and it hangs around.
It was a nod as well to the tabloids who can be such gay haters in their coverage of such scandals. Just look at the fervor over John Travolta! Christian spent some time designing a passing reference to add to the mis-en-scene in the shape of a framed newspaper tabloid front page that Seth has kept to remind him of the past. It’s referenced briefly once and we thought it important to show it even if it’s not necessarily picked up by audiences.
And Darren and his life partner’s relationship is in there as well all wrapped up in a lovely framed photo of their pussycat on a wall (who recently passed away – the cat that is) – a true summation of a gay marriage … a ginger pussy!
SDGLN: The comedy builds as the boys get caught up in their money-making scheme, doing porn live online, and their sex-crazy customers demand that they get kinkier. How do audiences react to the raunchy behavior?
Darren: They love it – and then there are the detractors! It always amazes us that some members of the gay audience get so hung up on the fact that it’s a film and not porn so they see fit to criticize the film for not having real sex in it! Thankfully the majority see it for what it is – a film with some very funny all embracing, catering for all tastes and fetishes sex scenes … they were great fun to watch and again take directly from videos Christian researched from sites as were the comments that we had flying across the screen – all real life scenarios.
Darren thought Christian was barking mad when he suggested they dress up in animal costumes but then he showed him the video he’d seen and it had Darren in stitches – how anyone can get turned on from that is beyond us – but hey each to their own and such a scene ends up in the movie.
SDGLN: Who is the “boy next door” with the smoldering good looks, how did you find him and would you cast him again?
Darren: Ollie [Oliver Park] is a fresh-faced muscle gorgeous talent who we had in “Shank” but all too briefly with his shirt off. We then cast him in as a supporting artist in our film “Release” in which there is a very naked prison shower scene. Prior to shooting, Ollie had kept on telling us that we were going to be disappointed when he took his kit off but hell no … when he was in the shower (and it took hours to film and he stood around naked under hot water in between takes) there was nothing to disappoint! Stills of that scene are all over various websites!
This prompted us to cast him in “Buffering” and throw him some lines. He met the challenge and then some. He spent a month beforehand pounding away at the gym and on set in between takes was religiously doing press ups and he even brought his weights with him. In the mix, Christian came up with a subtle audio cue for added humor – when he disrobes his endowment flops out of his robe as he takes it off and Christian had the mixer put a church bell over it making a very amusing “dong” sound as it appears … best heard and seen with the 5.1 surround mix turned on when playing the DVD!
SDGLN: You’ve worked with Bernie Hodges in “Shank” and now in “Buffering.” Why is he a favorite of yours? And describe his performance as The Shop Keeper in “Buffering.”
Bernie was also in “Release” in which he played a role a million miles away from either of the roles in “Shank” or “Buffering.” He’s a favorite because he’s a friend and local and helps out with casting and production as well. He has a big following here in the UK. He does loads of voice-overs for TV and lots of roles in TV dramas – he was even in “Dr Who” playing a bad ass!
Bernie also introduced us to the fab band Nancy, who wrote the soundtrack for the film and play in one of his sex shop scenes.
We pretty much gave him free reign to find the character of the Shop Keeper and when the costumes arrived that Christian designed he came alive. He plays an all-knowing, all-seeing shop keeper who runs a sex toy shop. Imagine Larry Flynt in drag in a smaller independent version of a Hustler store! His character embraces all shades of sexuality and loves life. He’s a gay Yoda!
SDGLN: Where did you shoot the movie, and why did you choose this location?
Darren: The film was shot in a studio and on location. Christian designed the sets. All the bedroom and sex shop scenes are studio – the garden and exteriors are either Christian’s garden or Darren’s garden. Bristol is a great place to make films. The film office here is hugely supportive. We chose to build a set to control the shoot and budget. It meant we could fly out walls and get better shots, etc. We had an ace Visual FX guy who put in digital shots through the windows and the scene was set so to speak. Thankfully no audience has not been able to differentiate from the studio stuff and the location scenes, which is great and shows that it worked.
SDGLN: What’s next on the filmmaking agenda?
Christian: I’ve just completed two films. “Contracted” in which a Hollywood starlet and her male co-star are contracted to more than just a studio franchise blockbuster movie called "Earth Defenders." The studio publicist has to use all his Machiavellian powers to stop the closet door flying open on them! Think Travolta with a passing nod to Scientology and you get the picture! In fact, it’s been intimated to me that the film won’t play festivals on the West Coast because of the fact it’s too close to the truth! Thankfully it gets its world premiere at Qfest in Philly. It’s a nice little satire.
I’ve also been developing/writing for a couple of years a sequel to “Shank” and last December I directed it, and it was shot by a wonderful cinematographer called Jack O’Dowd who has used film lens that bring a depth and quality to the film that is so poetic to watch. Jack directed the award winning cautionary HIV tale “F**ked” (www.fucked-movie.com) for me from a script I wrote last year. I’m really proud of the outcome.
We’re about to finish “Cal” and then go out to festivals. It’s very different from “Shank” and is definitely the most mature film to date – with the older, wiser and more experienced actor Wayne Virgo returning to take the lead role and a stunning newcomer called Tom Payne (who you can catch in his underwear in “Contracted”). It is certainly the most ambitious and biggest budget. A cast of 28 characters, shot over six weeks, in 59 locations. Chatter online has gone off the scale on it, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed people will watch it! We’ve got guns, riots, the Occupy movement, rent boys, the world economic crisis, a dying mum and bang in the middle of it all a beautiful emerging love story.
After this is finished, I move on to adapting “Shank” into a stage play which I am directing and will debut later in the fall. I’m intending it to be a stage play that can be performed anywhere in the world with localized gang culture replacing the UK gang or as a British play in its original form.
I’m also writing a script for a film to be shot in South Africa and a comedy feature about a teenager girl who is trying to find her dad a boyfriend (which I’d love to shoot in the USA). It’s a busy year ahead. I’m also a locally elected City Councillor so politics also has my time well and truly tied up! I’m also working on finding a boyfriend … cos the casting couch ain’t working for me!
Darren: - I am in Minnesota at the moment editing a BBC live broadcast documentary on bears called “Planet Earth Live.” I’m also working on a horror film with Bernie that I am going to be directing in the fall. And yes, Bernie is in it as well as co-writing it with me!
FilmOut screening: 4 pm Friday, June 1
Where: Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104
Tickets: $10. Order online HERE.
Festival Pass: $125 – providing access to all movies and parties Click HERE to purchase a pass.
Tickets are also being sold for Opening Night film, the Opening Night Party and the combo pass. Click HERE.