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Can an intense, instant connection turn into love?

Short film Spoilers celebrates the highs and lows of love at first sight

Can an intense, instant connection turn into love?
Spoilers by Brendon McDonall. Image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures

In filmmaker Brendon McDonall’s short film Spoilers, Leon [James Peake] and Felix [Tom Mumford] meet at the end of a plane ride only to become entwined in their own love story.

McDonall is a previous winner of the Iris Prize – the largest LGBTI short film prize in the world.

We spoke with Brendon McDonall for a behind-the-scenes look at Spoilers:

What was your inspiration for this story?

Crippling life-altering heartbreak, and the subsequent constant voice in my head spoiling every opportunity I had to potentially discover love again.

Are Leon or Felix characters that you identify with at all?

Hell yes. In many ways I think they both represent dimensions of me. Some aspects have been amplified, naturally.

Leon’s big speech in the second half of the film is me, as usual, mainlining my own emotional experiences into my screenwriting. That’s a direct expression of the loss I felt when my relationship ended. Leon is open-hearted and kind, but also terribly self-sabotaging, occasionally overbearing, and consumed with feelings of unworthiness which he overcompensates for.

Felix is the opposite. He’s locked his heart away in a fortress and consumed by guilt. Basically, I worked from the old idiom that many people use when they are back in the relationship market after heartbreak: ‘I’m just looking for someone whose baggage matches mine.’

I made that the literal inciting incident of the film, and then tried to bring two souls together with different ways of dealing with loss.

What was the production process like? 

I made Spoilers after wining the Iris Prize with my earlier film All God’s Creatures, and the prize stipulated that the film needed to be made in the UK. It was wonderful to make a short film outside of my home country of Australia.

I specifically wanted to scope out the world of the film before writing it, so although I designed the concept before jumping on a plane, the whole process of writing it was heavily informed by the location scout all around southwest Wales, and the casting process.

I arrived knowing I was looking for a series of classic ‘date’ locations, but really developed each scene based on the feel of the various places we found. It was still very conceptual until I cast James and Tom, and they brought such a personal dimension to the characters that I completely rewrote the screenplay to include parts of them.

Of course, the whole idea was truly streamlined in post-production. It’s the first time I’ve had control over the screenplay in post because of all the anthropomorphic ‘spoiler’ characters, so I was ably to have them interact with the performances after editing.

All up, about five weeks development and pre-production, a week’s principle photography, and then two months of stop-start editing and post. It was a very ‘organic’ process!

What was the casting process like?

Really fun. We only had a few days in Cardiff and London.

It was a very personal casting session, in that I asked the actors to speak directly to the thematic premise of the film from their point of view. We did a few improvisations and so forth, and then tried to get the chemistry right.

I asked them to record an online dating intro video from Leon or Felix’s perspective, which was hilarious.

Have you ever had this sort of an instant connection with someone?

Not quite that instant, but I’ve had intense connections develop very quickly for sure.

The story tackles a lot in terms of gay relationships, self-doubt, and inner demons. Were you worried that audiences might not be able to connect with some of the more surreal story-telling devices you’ve used?

Yes, very. In many ways it was an experimental film, in that I had no idea if it would work at all. But you just have to trust your instincts and work direct from the heart, and that authenticity will shine brighter than any overt narrative tricks you are playing with.

I wanted the film to capture a sense of limerance – the mind-altering feeling of romantic love in it’s infancy – so it felt right to have fun with it.

Were you worried that audiences might interpret the film as imposing heteronormative constructs onto an encounter between two gay men?

Nope, not really. I’ve always been a boyfriend-y type guy. It brings out the best in me. But I’d never impose anything on anyone. This is just this particular story.

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

Tender-hearted.

What sort of response have you had to the film so far?

I had a difficult relationship with the film until I saw it play in front of a big cinema audience, and I was totally chuffed at the wonderful reception. Escalating laughs is the best thing for a director to hear after months in the editing room by yourself, convinced you’ve failed.

What next for Brendon McDonall?

I’m preparing to direct my first feature film in Australia. It’s a smart, witty and deeply moving dram-edy, set in a gay conversion therapy school in Perth – it’s called Unbending. The screenplay is sublime. I’m very excited.

Spoilers 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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