Monday, November 19, 2012

Rob Williams on 'The Men Next Door'

Rob Williams
writer/director
I've written a movie review on The Men Next Door, the new movie by Rob Williams for Guest House Films. In the review, I tried not to spoil the twist that occurs at the end of the movie's first act. For this article, which is based on my interview with the writer-director, I will be revealing that twist, which is a secret that I don't think will ruin the movie if it's known ahead of time, but it's an interesting surprise that should be maintained, if it can.

The Men Next Door is Rob Williams' sixth film as a writer-director. His first effort was in 2006 and Williams says the through-line for all his movies is that they're all love stories. His films are mostly dramas with comedic touches, but his second effort Back Soon (2007) was probably his most serious with the least amount of comedy he's ever done. His fourth Make the Yuletide Gay (2009) was arguably the opposite, his least serious with the tone tipped more toward humor. That movie practically ends on a punchline. The Men Next Door however lies somewhere in between.

Aside from some clever one-liners and a couple of comical characters who do crazy and extremely awkward things from one character hiding alcohol in her child's sippy cup to another character not hiding his salami during conversation a la Julianne Moore in Short Cuts (1993), this movie also injects what Williams calls a French farce scene in the middle of the second act. It's essentially just old school, classic comedy staging, but it's a delightful, directorial choice to have here. Williams said the dialogue and pacing of Gilmore Girls as well as the flashbacks and cutaways of Family Guy were all inspirations for the making of this movie.

Short Cuts inspired the full-frontal, male nudity, which isn't shocking considering male nudity in gay films is almost a trope at this point. It's something with which Williams even toyed in his previous film Role/Play (2010). It's also something that Williams lets hang out within the first, few minutes of this one, so when actor Mark Cirillo (The Seminarian) drops his underwear later on in the film, it's not a surprise.

Williams said that the nudity, which is never done pruriently here, is meant to show the level of comfort that exists between the characters, even in situations that are incredibly awkward. Considering the twist that occurs at the end of the first act, this indeed becomes the mantra for the movie. The whole thing is about characters showing a level of comfort in an incredibly awkward situation, the situation being a 40-year-old man named Doug who is dating and having sex with two men. One is a 50-year-old father and the other is that father's 30-year-old son.

Williams said he had this idea in his head for a while but didn't start working out the details until earlier this year. He took three, long weekends and hammered out the 100-page script, which he completed in February 2012. The movie is a love triangle. It's unique because it involves a father and son who are both gay and who are both after the same guy, but it only adds a melodramatic angle to what Williams was really chasing.

As I remarked in my review, the 50-year-old father named Jacob in The Men Next Door has some parallels to Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer's character in Beginners (2011). Yet, rarely is the love life of an older gay man given that much screen time. Let alone scenes of an elderly man having sex, and when an older man is involved in a love triangle, most often it's the older man who ends up on the short end of the stick. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), First Knight (1995), Shopgirl (2005) and Water for Elephants (2011) are a few examples of films with love triangles where the older man loses out to the younger man. Often time, it's because the older man does something bad but not always.

Eric Dean who plays Doug
in "The Men Next Door"
Regardless, Williams didn't want that for his elder character. Williams said outright that he wanted the older guy to win. The question is how does he get the older guy to be chosen over the younger one. He didn't want to do it by painting the younger guy in a negative light. He wanted both guys to be good, but, Williams didn't want to make an argument for polygamy or polyamorous relationships, even though it's clear he believes that it's possible to be in love with more than one person. He just wanted his central character of Doug to be in love with the two guys in equal measure, and Williams did his best to make it even, to make the audience root for both the older father and the younger son. He tried not to make one more or less likeable than the other.

If the audience does root for both, Williams said that's more to the actor's credit than his writing. Yes, he had a unique and clever script, but Williams said that something immediately jumped out at him when Eric Dean who played Doug and Michael Nicklin who played Jacob auditioned for the roles. Williams couldn't tell me exactly what that "something" was, but he knew that both were perfect for the roles the moment they walked in the room. He said the two had amazing chemistry. Same for Benjamin Lutz who played Colton.

Williams started filming the movie toward the end of May 2012. He had 10 shooting days, which wrapped in early June. The movie premiered the next month in July at Qfest in Philadelphia, which is a very quick turn-around. Williams said that he, his actors and his crew were under the gun and were rushing. Yet, he said things went very smoothly. It was the smallest crew he's had to date, but he's worked with most of those crew members before, so he said there was already a lot of camaraderie and he kept emphasizing the amount of fun that was had.

Williams said he's not a fan of ad-libs but because this was a comedy he did allow some. He said all of his actors were hilarious, so there was a lot of laughter on set. Because of the tight schedule, he didn't have leeway to do a lot of ad-libs. He worked most of everything in rehearsals and on set was able to deliver with not much trouble. It speaks highly of Guest House Films, which is the company that Williams began with his partner Rodney Johnson, on how smooth and efficiently it was able to churn this great little movie out.

The Men Next Door comes to DVD on December 11. You can purchase it from Guest House Films' website or through Amazon. Steve McCann from PhillyGayCalendar.com interviewed Rob Williams and the cast of The Men Next Door back in July for the movie's world premier at Qfest. Here's that video.


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