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How do you respond when you realise that your best friend wants something more?

Boys, a short film from Eyal Resh

How do you respond when you realise that your best friend wants something more?
Boys, a short film from Eyal Resh. Image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures

In his short film Boys, filmmaker Eyal Resh gives us the story of a summer sleepover, when two best friends realise that they may be connected by more than just friendship.

We spoke with Resh for a behind-the-scenes look at the film:

What was your inspiration for this story?

Boys is an adaptation of my personal growing up memory. When I was 12 years old, I lived through a similar story myself. For years I have spent time thinking about it, and gathering the courage to tell this story. In many ways this is the story that made me want to make films.

Back in 1999, there was rarely any LGBTQ representation in the media. Growing up in a small town in Israel, and discovering my sexuality with my best friend – I felt alone in the world. I lived with this constant notion that something was wrong with me. It was a traumatic experience that stayed with me for years after, but also an amazing one that taught me so much about myself. This dichotomy of emotion I experienced is what made me who I am today.

From my personal gay perspective, I always knew that one day I would have to share this story with the world so that other boys and girls – and their parents – would understand that they’re not alone. On a broader perspective, I wanted everyone to think about how natural a sexual awakening moment is. I wanted people to talk about it, develop empathy for it, and thus deal with it.

It’s not at all a taboo for me.

Considering the personal nature of this story, which of the main characters do you identify most with?

I have characteristics from both characters I believe. I always identify in some level with all of my characters. They live in my head while I’m crafting them. In a way, I have an intimate relationship with them before they even exist. In rehearsals, I use my deep understanding of the character and translate it into playable directions.

Brian in particular in many ways is based on experiences and characteristics of me as child. He is always looking for something, different but not knowing how, not really knowing how to put words to what he feels, but is over-talkative and more. Some of these attributes I never had, and some I have until this day.

What was the production process like?

I wrote the film for two years, trying to find the best way to depict this sensitive moment of sexual awakening and all it entails.

Most of the rehearsal process was focused on creating the friendship between the boys, and in getting them familiar with the reality of these characters. We went to the park and played hide and seek, we recreated sleepovers, games, jokes – all the stuff that children do. Once this base was sturdy, it gave them the ability to truly live in our story.

The most difficult moment to create was the one when both boys experience the sexual awakening with each other. This of course required a lot of thought. In order to figure out how to do it right I brought in consultants to the process – child psychologists and very experienced filmmakers who have dealt with similar challenges.

The most important thing for me, more than the film and the way it came out, was not to harm the children in any way. Since it’s such a delicate moment in growing up, I didn’t want to ask them to do something that they didn’t understand, even if it’s what happens to the characters in the story.

I therefore decided to take the moment that they roll on top of each other on the bed, and choreograph it in rehearsal. I turned it into a dance. I made it about physicality. We had counts and movements. The video from this movement workshop is on our Facebook page.

We shot the film over four, very powerful days. In the shooting days, some moments were scripted and some were improvised around specific ideas. It was important for me to give the boys the freedom to express themselves. The fact they have understood the dynamic between them allowed them to find new ideas that surprised both them and me. I think this technique also yielded very believable performances.

What was the casting process like?

Due to the subject matter, it was a bit of a challenge.

It was important for me to cast two 12-year-olds, boys who are in that moment before they hit puberty. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one that was very important for the story.

Pearce Joza [Jake] and Wyatt Griswold [Brian] are two amazing children and actors. We auditioned about 40 different boys, but Pearce and Wyatt were the first two boys to step into the audition room, and it was immediately clear to me that they were the ones. It was a sign.

We were very honest from the get-go with the parents and children with regards to what it’s about. We walked the parents through every shot in the storyboard. For the boys it was about two best friends playing with each other – which is what this story is about at its core.

It’s a story that’s told with subtlety, were you tempted to take the narrative a bit further?

In the beginning I was contemplating quite a bit whether to give the story a closed ending or raise the stakes further throughout the piece. It didn’t take me long to understand that it just wasn’t right for this tender story. The initial moment of sexual awakening is so raw and subtle, and I felt that any additional story device would imprison the characters in the narrative.

I left it subtle because the nature of this discovery is subtle. One of the biggest components that fascinates me about this moment is that you don’t understand what you’re feeling as it happens.

On top of that, a less subtle approach would have yielded a more explicit message regarding whether the children will grow up to discover whether they are gay or not. Though my own gay discovery inspired this story, that wasn’t my intention in this film. Boys is first and foremost a human story that could be interpreted as either gay or straight – I’m leaving that to my audience.

What do you hope that audiences feel when watching this film?

I hope it will transport them back to the moment that they discovered their own sexuality. It’s something most human beings experience only once in their lives. I want the spectators to see themselves in the characters, and to feel the huge emotional spectrum that this experience provokes – confusion, excitement, guilt, shame, and so much more.

What’s the response to the film been like so far?

I’m quite astonished by the response. People experience this film viscerally. I keep hearing – from both LGBTQ and straight audiences – how it reminded them of themselves, of their puberty, of their best friend from across the street. I’m happy it does.

I was prepared for more controversial responses, but I haven’t encountered that at all. The words tender, believable, and uncanny come up a lot when hearing how people experienced the film.

For me, it’s a victory that the responses aren’t related directly to the subject matter but to the universal human experience it portrays. It proves to me that people experience the story first and foremost, and only then the message.

What next for Eyal Resh?

Boys was my thesis film at CalArts where I got my masters in Film Directing. Since then, I’ve written a TV show that I’m currently pitching – It’s a narrative anthology about various characters trying to connect in the random reality of online dating. I’m also writing a feature film about a washed-up rockstar, and wrapping up a new short about a deaf couple who just discovered they are pregnant.

My stories are very different from each other, but all deal in one way or another with ideas of intimacy, sex and human connection.

Boys is distributed by Peccadillo Pictures as part of its compilation Boys On Film 17: Love Is The Drug.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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