Has the demise of Looking left a hole in your heart? We have the answer right here.
New drama Feral, about a trio of cute, gay 20-somethings navigating life and love, has made its debut on gay streaming service Dekkoo.com.
And while it shares Looking’s intimacy, nuance and Instagram-ready style, Feral pushes the envelope with its intriguing choice of location.
Taking the focus off of coastal supercities like New York, LA and San Francisco, the action takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, deep in the heart of the Bible Belt.
What’s more, it’s also the beloved home of director Morgan Jon Fox, known for his 2012 documentary This Is What Love In Action Looks Like (which explored the plight of a Memphis-based teen sent to a ‘pray-the-gay-away’ Christian camp).
‘I’m drawn to putting a microscope over the places that don’t feel overexposed,’ the 37-year-old tell us.
‘Those small interactions that are so huge, and lives that are as important as those in big cities,’ he adds. ‘Being in Memphis isn’t about settling because you couldn’t make it to New York. It’s about living a full life and being part of a community.’
Furthermore, the effect is not dissimilar from Andrew Haigh’s pre-Looking masterpiece Weekend, which detailed the love affair of two gay men in Nottingham.
‘People are hungry for these stories,’ adds Fox, who confesses he’s in fact a huge fan of Haigh’s. ‘Even the YouTube format – kids in small towns talking about their lives on a crappy webcam. They have like 10 million views! Also, for me, it was a necessity. I love living here, and the people. My soul’s replenished by it.’
Here, Fox discusses the creative process of making a TV show, from concept to casting to, finally, streaming…
So, you still live in Memphis?
I do. I travel for work to the West Coast occasionally. I love it, it’s my home. There’s something about this place, and the South, and the oddities of it that I just can’t resist.
Can you tell us more about your background…
I started college right after high school. I didn’t know what I was doing. That was the first time in my life I realised I was queer. I saw a movie that impacted my life: Wild Reeds by André Téchiné. One of the greatest movies ever!
It’s a simple, natural French film, and it was the first time I’d seen a queer character reflected to me in a movie.
My way of coming out, because I wasn’t ready to tell the friends I was around, was to write a screenplay and leave college. (It wasn’t a film college). I spent several years of nurturing myself with family, friends and people I felt safe around. I never went back to college. I tried, but I didn’t have the money.
I found this safe space in Memphis that felt like home, in the really great artistic community. There’s not really a ‘queer’ artistic community in Memphis, although there are queer artists. But it’s a community of strange DIY artists and anarchists.
The people who worked at this coffee shop I worked at – it felt like the epicentre of arts in Memphis. I spent time getting to know people and slowly learning how to make movies. That was right at the beginning of when you could do it yourself.
The screenplay you wrote in college – what was that?
It was called Blue Citrus Hearts. We took about two years to make it. We went back to the high school I graduated from. Some of the students there were in it, as was a theater teacher who made a big impact on my life. It was a film that maybe I spent $2,000 [£1,540, €1,782] on. Luckily it ended up winning lots of awards.
Back when Blockbuster was a thing – I’m really dating myself now! – they bought several thousand copies. It got a distribution. We made a profit on a movie that cost nothing to make! It was just a bunch of kids with a two person crew making a film. It was pretty autobiographical. It was about a kid in high school who was in love with his best friend and how he dealt with that.
What was the budget for Feral?
$50,000 [£38,530,€44,567]. The guy who owns Dekkoo called me up and essentially said: ‘We’re starting this new company and we need an original content series. Pitch me three ideas.’ I was literally leaving for Ireland two days later! But luckily I’m always working on new ideas and concepts when I can, so I pitched them this and they took it and supported it financially.
Why did you decide on the format you did?
Some episodes are 15 minutes, some are 24 minutes. That’s how it ended up. With the screening platform I had there’s more flexibility, I wasn’t stuck in these commercial restraints of ad blocks or whatnot.
I studied webisodes that are out there, and shows I’m in love with like Looking, Girls and Eastenders that are in the half hour format.
When shows with prominent LGBTI characters are created for traditional TV, I’m sure there’s a lot of interference and a lot of opinions put across from straight people. I’m assuming you didn’t have any of that?
That’s a great point. On the one hand I like the idea that not just gay people will watch, and creating characters that are relatable in general. But also this idea that some studio head who isn’t gay could dictate how an audience should ingest such characters is crazy.
Not having to deal with any of that is a real blessing. I created these characters as reflections of the people around me in this community. Most of them aren’t stereotypical people. Sometimes you see stereotypical characters on TV and you see they’re a safe character that a straight person would create.
Very inoffensive, someone who can easily be the butt of jokes, the comic relief. So that a straight person can be like: ‘Oh yeah, I know someone like him, he’s so nice, or these service this part of my life…’
Seth Daniel told us that you knew each other before the show. Did you have past connections to any other members of the cast?
One of the lead character Billy, played by Jordan Nicholls – I’ve actually wanted to work with him forever. I wanted to cast him in my first film Blue Citrus Hearts because he was at the school at that time that we filmed that. He’s basically a theater star in Memphis, and a director.
How long did Feral take to make?
We shot it in 15 days, the whole thing! It came together really fast. I was very happy with that cast but I would’ve loved to have had more time to work on that. Post-production was more relaxed, about a year.
We didn’t have giant budgets, or an insane amount of lights, or big sets or special effects. But what we do have is the ability to tell really raw, authentic, regionally-specific stories with acting that resonates with people. That’s also something Hollywood maybe isn’t able to do sometimes!
It’s great that your show spotlights gay life outside of LA, San Francisco and New York City – similarly to how Andrew Haigh’s Weekend spotlighted gay life outside of London…
Those types of stories are so important. Even the YouTube format, kids in small towns talking about their lives on a crappy webcam and they have like 10 million views. People are hungry for these stories.
For me it’s a little bit of a necessity. I love living here, and the people. I’m drawn to putting a microscope over the places that don’t feel overexposed, and that these small interactions are so huge and these lives so important are as important as those in big cities.
Being in Memphis isn’t about settling because you couldn’t make it to New York. It’s about living a full life and being part of a community. Also I feel my soul’s replenished by living here!
The reason I loved Weekend so much was it’s just that. Intimate moments between two strangers. Also had they been in a larger city it would’ve watered that down.