David M. Young on "Last Man Out"
Award-winning LGBT filmmaker David M. Young’s latest short "Last Man Out" will be screening in the Men’s Shorts Program at this year’s Boston LGBT Film Festival. Young’s project weaves classic literature together with a ghostly narrative to explore his protagonist’s process of personal awakening. Young spoke to EDGE about what the film means to him and what he hopes audiences will take from it.
What informed your decision to connect notions of sexual realization to a ghost story?
My film ideas often emerge, surprisingly, from an interesting or unusual location. For example, my highly successful short "Hitchcocked" was born from an easy access to a very claustrophobic shower stall. Whereas a writer can set a story literally anywhere, a low-budget filmmaker has to be considerably more resourceful. So when I visited Fort Warren out on Georges Island in 2010, I thought, "What an amazing location this would be for a film." The fort is both beautiful in its decay and downright creepy. So, I suspect a ghost tale was inevitable. The protagonist, Mr. Quince, came from my bemoaning the lack of films about the middle-aged, Average Joe. But he needed to have some significant challenge. My short films tend toward a blend of romance, sex and social commentary. So Mr. Quince’s repression and his coming up against a sexy young ghost were born.
Given the exclusivity of the setting, the protagonist’s narrative reliability is ambiguous. Was this device symbolic of the character’s own process of realization?
Exactly. The tale is told thru his eyes, and colored by his own increasingly unleashed, and long withheld desires. Unless, of course, you believe in ghosts...
Could your film be accurately described as a commentary on coming of age?
Absolutely; amongst its various themes, "Last Man Out" is a coming of age tale. But I think we’ve been saturated with films focusing on LGBT youth finding their way out of the closet. Here in 2012, LGBT history is emerging into a new time of remarkable openness and acceptance. I imagine the cliché of the middle-aged man who lives at home with his mother and who has no conscious clue of his own sexual identity will soon be going the way of the dodo bird. To that extent, "Last Man Out" is in part an elegy for the closet-case.
Walt Whitman was an interesting choice of narrator. Describe your line of thought that led to his inclusion.
Once I had my protagonist and his personal challenge, I needed a reason to place him into my great location. I imagined this guy might take a day trip there to escape the hot summer city and relax with a good book. But what might a closeted man read? Why, Walt Whitman poetry, of course. And then I recalled how Whitman was a volunteer nurse to wounded Civil War soldiers.
Those experiences clearly inspired much of his poetry. So it was a logical fit to have Mr. Quince seek out a Civil War fort to sit and read his favorite poet. And when I discovered that Whitman was himself a prototypical closet-case, the pieces began to fall into place. The story evolved into a kind of love triangle.
Which filmmakers have informed your approach to writing and directing?
That’s hard for me to say. I’m only aware of a life-long love and preference for film watching over book reading. My writing is improvisational, which I think comes from a strong parallel love of theater.
But, I am aware of pulling various elements from Ken Russell and Hitchcock. For this film, with so little dialogue, I also pulled from the silent movie greats. That led me to casting John Kuntz as the protagonist, an amazingly big-hearted and open-faced stage actor/writer who I have long admired.
How do you hope audiences react to ’Last Man Out’?
I work hard to make my films communicate on many different levels, so there is something there for a wide audience. But with "Last Man Out," I’ve intentionally made the storyline somewhat ambiguous. Much like a piece of poetry, I want my audiences to find the touchstones to their own experiences and read this tale in a unique and personal way.
However, I will say that I hope people find in it a richness of ideas: about personal fulfillment in both one’s life and one’s job, notions of obsession, possession, history, and freedom. The working title was "Independence Day." But "Last Man Out" ended up saying a lot more and hints at least three different ways to read this tale.
I’d love it, if as they leave, viewers are discussing with each other what the film meant to them and asking to what degree ghosts might be real.