Queerious interviewed prolific and popular queer filmmaker Rob Williams. Rob and his partner Rodney Johnson founded Guest House Films in 2005 and since then Rob has produced, wrote and directed an impressive slate of five queer features: Long Term Relationship (2006), Back Soon (2007), 3-Day Weekend (2008), Make the Yuletide Gay (2009) and Role/Play (2010). I have been on the same festival circuit with Role/Play but ironically I haven’t yet bumped into Rob. We caught up through Facebook where he kindly accepted an interview request from me.
Q: You burst into the queer cinema scene in 2006 with Long-Term Relationship and you’ve become probably one of the most prolific queer filmmakers. How did it happen and how have you managed to be so prolific?
When I made the decision to get into filmmaking and make Long-Term Relationship, I knew that I couldn’t just think about making one movie – it had to be a bigger commitment. So I have taken whatever Guest House Films has made on each movie and rolled it into the next movie, in order to keep going and gain momentum in the industry. So that has kept me going and motivated to keep making movies over the past five years. And I have a lot of stories that I want to tell! That makes it easy to keep going.
Q: Out of your five features, which is your favorite and which do you consider you most successful picture? And what’s the magic behind the most successful one?
I could never pick a favorite, because each film has taught me something different about filmmaking and introduced me to different people – and viewers have responded differently to each film, too. Make The Yuletide Gay is probably the most successful in terms of reaching the most people, playing the most film festivals, and getting strong reactions. I received several emails from gay teens telling me that they came out to their parents after watching Make The Yuletide Gay or that they watched the film with their parents, and that means so much to me. But I also look at Role/Play as having the potential to be the most successful financially because we are distributing the film ourselves and are getting a great reaction to it. The magic behind both of those films is a combination of finding the right actors to bring the stories to life, tapping into issues that people can relate to, and working damn hard to make the films the best they can be!
Q: What’s your take on the whole LGBT film industry from festivals to distributors? Do you find this cottage industry viable? Has it been treating you well?
I love the LGBT film industry, and I love that it still exists to make movies by and about our community. It’s a tough industry because we are a niche market and even the most successful indie gay film will never get the attention that successful mainstream indie films get. But I love going to gay film festivals and watching films with primarily gay audiences, because that’s who we make movies for. It is a viable industry, but it’s changing and people need to be ready to change with it. As viewers move toward downloading and streaming movies rather than buying DVDs, we have to figure out a way to get our movies where they can be found. And as it becomes easier for filmmakers to get their films seen on their own, distributors need to find new ways to work with filmmakers to benefit everyone involved. It’s a tough business to make money in, and that’s why you don’t see a lot of filmmakers making a career in gay films. Those of us who stick with it do it because we love it and because we want to tell gay-themed stories. In that respect, it’s been treating me very well because I can see the response that my movies have generated from viewers, and when I get an email from someone about one of my films, that’s all I need to keep going.
Q: Do you plan to continue making independent films or do you have any plans to go the studio route?
I would love to do both. I love making independent, gay-themed films – that is my passion and something I want to continue to do no matter what. But I wouldn’t turn down a chance to make something bigger in the studio system! So if anyone out there is looking for a writer or director for hire on a multi-million dollar project, let me know!
Q: Let’s talk about your latest release Role/Play. It has been playing at every major queer film festival all over the world. How has the reception been? Are you happy with the feedback you’re getting?
The reception to Role/Play has been great. It’s a very dialogue-heavy movie about various issues facing gay celebrities and the gay community, so the feedback has been very positive in terms of people talking about the issues and telling me that the movie has made them think about issues such as outing celebrities and gay marriage. It’s extremely gratifying when someone says that they didn’t just enjoy the movie, but that it made them think. That’s been the best reaction I could ever hope for.
Q: You said you were releasing Role/Play through your own company Guest House Films. What’s the decision behind that than going with the usual suspects of gay film distributors?
After our four previous films, we had developed strong relationships with our fans, as well as with film festivals and international distributors, so it seemed like the perfect time to strike out on our own and take more control of Role/Play than with other films. Most filmmakers that I’ve met over the past few years have talked about self-distributing their films – that seems to be a very real possibility for filmmakers now, and we wanted to take advantage of the many ways that we could get the movie out to the market while maintaining control and also getting a bigger piece of the pie for ourselves.
Q: Tell us about the sequel to Make The Yuletide Gay. When are you shooting and why did you decide to do a sequel?
The response to Make The Yuletide Gay was tremendous, and at almost every single film festival screening I attended, people asked about a sequel since the movie leaves it open for bringing the families together in a sequel. That’s what spawned the idea. We don’t have a firm shooting date yet, as we’re still in the process of raising funds for the movie, but I hope to get that moving forward faster in 2011.
There seems to be a greater disconnect between “mainstream” gay films and “independent” gay films. Fewer gay films are being made with big-name stars in them, such as Howl or The Kids Are All Right, but more gay films are being made in the indie world on little-to-no budgets. It’s easier to make a gay film for virtually no money and to get it out to gay film festivals and distributors than it ever has been before, and that’s where our industry is headed. Fewer people are willing to take risks on bigger-budget gay films (and by bigger budget, I mean anything with a budget in the six figures!), which is a shame because there is a demand for these films. People want to see good gay films, they want to see them on the big screen, and they want them to deal with issues and have high production values, etc. There is so much pressure in the indie gay film world to make films for the least amount of money possible and to include as much sex and nudity as possible, and that’s hurting the industry because it hurts the quality of the films. I’d love to be one of the filmmakers who can make quality films for reasonable budgets without sacrificing my own vision and commitment.