"It's Only Part Of My Life Now:" John Young,
Writer/director of "Parallel Sons"
by Aaron Krach
If the Independent film community gave away Endurance Awards, John Young
would have received one by now. Young began work on his debut feature,
“Parallel Sons,” over 4 years ago. After writing the script, borrowing
the money and making the film, “Parallel Sons” was accepted to Sundance
in 1995. From there it went on to play dozens of festivals around the
world, garnering critical acclaim and audience support. Maybe it was
O.J. Simpson’s fault, but no distributor was willing to take a risk on a
story about race and sexuality in America. Now, four years later, Young
is in development on his next film with Eureka Pictures. In a unique
combination of power, Greycat Films, (“Henry: Portrait of A Serial
Killer) and Eureka Pictures will release “Parallel Sons” at the
Screening Room in New York, May 1.
indieWIRE sat down with Young to talk about outsiders, audiences and the
dilemmas facing truly original filmmakers in America.
indieWIRE: “Parallel Sons” has a such a simple but original premise. If
it wasn’t from personal experience, where did the story come from?
John Young: I had been doing some volunteer work up in the Adirondacks
and I started meeting kids that reminded me of Seth. It was interesting
because the kids felt some kind of affinity with black, urban, hip hop
culture but they didn’t know anyone who is black. The only images they
got were through MTV and magazines. It is a very skewed image, but at
the same time they relate to it. I equated that to the feeling of being
an outsider. So when I came back from that experience, I started writing
iW: What happened between deciding to make a film and actually making
Young: In 1994, I wrote the script and I took some time with it. I
showed it to a lot of people; gay people, straight people, black, white,
male, female. Because I was writing a black gay character, I wanted to
know if the character risks I was taking were worth it. I wanted to know
that there was something authentic with this character going on. Then I
just decided I was ready to make a film. I was ready to take a risk and
that risk involved amassing a huge amount of debt.
iW: It really was a classic “credit card film.” You also shot on 35mm.
Can you break down the budget for me?
I shot it for $80,000. $50,000 was credit and the rest of cash. I went
on to spend $30,000 more in credit afterwards. We shot on 35, because we
priced it out and it was a $10,000 more to shoot on 35mm. By the time we
figured out all of our deals, the equipment was the same price. We shot
on a fine camera. The stock was more and so was the processing but that
was figured into the $10,000. It’s a good looking film considering what
we had to work with. We were out in the middle of nowhere with a small
generator and a couple of lights, just doing set up after set up.
Everyone including the crew worked for free. There weren’t even
stipends. We went up to the Adirondacks and shot for 18 days. We paid
for food and lodging. The actors got a small amount of money per SAG
contract but at the same time they helped us. They really did whatever
iW: How did you get all those credit cards?
Young: You start applying for them and then for a period of 6 weeks they
would just come. “You have already earned $50,000 in credit,” they would
say. They would just come and come and come. It was $80,000 by the time
I was done.
iW: Conceptually, it is a very risky film.. I have a hard time saying I
“liked” the film, although I enjoyed it very much. Throughout the movie
I kept expecting it to become something else, but you kept diverting my
Young: I think the experience of tragedy can be entertaining. I think we
have a hard time saying we like something that makes us feel sad, or is
unfinished or make us feel …ugh. I’ve heard about my film that if we
ended the film differently, people would of said, “oh what a nice
movie.” Even thought that would have betrayed where the movie was going
to. People are trained to expect a happy ending. I actually think that
my film wraps thing up neatly just not in the way that you would like
them to. It’s a little out of control.
iW: One of the most interesting things about “Parallel Sons” is the lack
of OEmothers.’ Either they are passed away or they are just not involved
in the story.
Young: One of the things I was very moved with happened at the very
first screening at Sundance. A woman stood up and said, “you know this
is about OEfathers’ not being able to reconcile their relationships with
their children.” I was glad she pulled that out, it made her experience
richer. For me a lot of the film is actually about the role of
fatherhood and where the parallels exist. They are not just the obvious
ones between Knowledge and Seth, but also between OEknowledge’ and Seth’s
OEfather.’ In a way they become the final parallel because of the death
of their sons.
iW: Were you surprised that you won two Audience Awards; at the Florida
Film Festival and the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival?
Young: On one level the film is not what you would think of as an
audience award winning film. Because it’s not the feel good movie of the
year. What happened was I knew how to get the film made. We got through
it, no matter how hellish. We cut the film. We didn’t have a print, but
the first festival we submitted it to was Sundance. We got into
Sundance, in the dramatic competition. We sent it away and I thought,
“this is easy.” But it was 1995 and nothing happened out of that.
Florida was nice because it was in Orlando. It probably represents more
of a middle-American audience. I was really surprised, shocked actually
that it won there. We played a ton of festivals and just kept going.
What helped was winning the audience award at the San Francisco Gay and
Lesbian film Festival. That gave it a real second push. It guaranteed
that every gay and lesbian festival would play it and many of them would
iW: So you hadn’t really thought about the gay and lesbian festival or
market, before the award?
Young: To tell you the truth, I never thought of the movie as a gay
film. I don’t think in that way. I suspect in every film I make there
will be something queer in it, some sensibility, character or idea. I
don’t think about making gay films. I think about making interesting
films. This was one of the problems with getting a distributor. It was
perceived as a gay audience film, but they didn’t think they could
market it to a gay audience. There was no big sex scene and it’s also
not a “light” film. People in the marketing departments were saying,
“What do we do with this?”
iW: How do you feel now, four year after “Parallel Sons” adventure
Young: I am in a much better place now. I had really given up on the
film. I had to declare bankruptcy because of the credit card debt. I
went through huge depression, which was one reason that destroyed a
relationship. At this time last year I was in a real fit. I kind of put
it away until last fall I got it back out and decided to look at it in a
different way. Like I said before, I knew how to get the film made. The
roller coaster really started afterwards. I’m really happy now, cause
the film will have a chance to be seen. It’s only a part of my life now.
It’s not the live or die situation it was ten years ago.