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How it feels to fall in love
Rich Cline chats with the director and lead actor of a 2021 festival favourite...
BOY MEETS BOY
dir Daniel Sanchez Lopez
scr Hannah Renton, Daniel Sanchez Lopez
with Matthew J Morrison, Alexis Koutsoulis
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First-time filmmaker Daniel Sanchez Lopez has been garnering awards and great reviews over the past six months, as his freeform romantic drama Boy Meets Boy has travelled to more than 20 film festivals around the world after its premiere at BFI Flare in London in March. Due to the pandemic, this hasn't quite been what Lopez expected. "When you make a movie," he says, "you don't expect the premiere to be on your computer, alone in your flat in your pyjamas at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. It was completely the anti-premiere!"
Originally from La Mancha in Spain, Lopez studied film in Denmark and originally conceived of Boy Meets Boy with cowriter Hannah Renton as a short student film. But the idea grew into an English-language feature set in Berlin, where he has lived for the past six years.
The film has a strong improvisational feel to it. How much of the dialog was scripted?
Lopez: I don't speak English as a mother tongue, so I knew I would need a British actor to take the role and make the words his. Maybe my writing skills in English are not going to be Mankiewicz, but let's embrace that. I told everybody to embrace the mistakes. That was the leitmotif of the movie: let's embrace the fact that we don't have money.
We were always attached to the idea that the movie would be two people talking and nothing else. We were inspired by the Before Sunrise movies, Weekend and others, plus this wave of mumblecore from early 2000s New York where characters in their mid-20s/30s just talk and talk about having no money, so what can they do in a huge city? Hannah and I were creating a movie we could make with nothing: we didn't need equipment, after-effects, big permits. We just needed to create the script and structure.The film feels very organic, driven by the characters rather than a plot.
Lopez: That's because of the actors' incredible chemistry. I didn't cast them just by the way they look, I cast them because of how they were together. I coordinated an open casting, then brought the 10 best guys together in Berlin and paired them up. Matthew [Morrison] and Alexis [Koutsoulis] were the last two. I could see the connection in their eyes. But after giving them the roles, I told them that now they can't meet each other. I didn't rehearse with them together. I rehearsed two weeks with one, then two weeks with the other, separately. I really wanted their attraction to show in the film, so you could see how much they like each other.
Matthew, you live in London and have been in quite a few short films, but this is your first lead in a feature. Was the style of the production something new to you?
Morrison: I do a lot of shorts, and they don't have many rehearsals beforehand. You just sort of go and do it. And I don't think I've ever worked on something where budget and time allowed for things like table reads, to sit down and talk about things. It's more just get up and go!
I've also done some improv before. But before we went to Berlin to shoot the film, Daniel gave us a few pages about our characters, what they like, what they didn't like, so it was quite easy to know what the character would say or whether he'd go with certain things. And Daniel would always say, "We're going to do another take, but whatever you said in the last take you can't say again. Try something else." Meanwhile, Alexis was actually showing me around Berlin, showing me all these things that you wouldn't see if you were a tourist. So it was kind of the same off-screen as it was on-screen.
What were the challenges of filming this guerrilla-style?
Morrison: It's hard not knowing quite where you are in your surroundings and what could happen. You're just walking down the street, and it's, "Get the camera out!" On the U-Bahn, "Get the camera, let's go!"
Lopez: And as soon as you pull out a camera people are looking at the lens. I was not too worried about it, because it happens in a lot of movies and the audience doesn't really mind.Morrison: It's also difficult to get a long piece of conversation walking down a long stretch of road. There are things like fluffing up a line, or trying to remain in character when you can see someone coming toward you on a bike. Logistically with the long scenes there's a lot of chance that something could go wrong potentially, because Daniel wanted them to be one take the whole way.
How has the audience reacted to the film?
Lopez: After the London premiere, I looked at the feedback to see the reaction, and that was nice. The reviews weren't bad! Much better were the screenings in-person, one at a festival in France and another one in Ukraine. Everywhere, the reactions were more positive than negative, and so many people talked to me about how much they liked the movie. They seemed to identify with it, and said they thought I caught how it feels to fall in love. They said such beautiful things. It's like a dream.
And what are you working on now?
Morrison: I did three short films this year, which have all been great, and I've been playing gay characters, which has been nice. Before Boy Meets Boy I was never seen for a gay role. So that's been really good. But a play I was working on at the King's Head was cancelled because a cast member got covid. I hope that still happens.
Lopez: At film school in Denmark, one of the last lectures was by Thomas Vinterberg, who is one of the founders of the school, and he told us about having depression after making The Celebration  and winning all the awards. It took him five films and more than 10 years to make another good film. He told us to always be working on another project before your current film premieres, because then you have a shelter, another story you're thinking about. You don't depend on opinions of others. So I have a comedy I'm working on about trans women in Russia who are Cuban immigrants. I'm also writing and directing my second feature film, which is about queer teenagers in La Mancha who are also immigrants and dream of becoming a bullfighter. Because a bullfight is the last place you expect to find someone queer.
INTERVIEWED BY ZOOM IN LONDON, BERLIN & HERTFORDSHIRE • 12-13.AUG.21
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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