One of the hardest things when adapting a short film to a feature is being able to surprise an audience already familiar with the story. In 2010, I directed the short “I don’t want to go back alone,” a film about Leo, a blind teenager, discovering his homosexuality while falling in love with Gabriel, a schoolmate. The short screened in many festivals and, after being released on YouTube, it reached more than 2 million views.
At that time, we announced we were developing a feature based on the short. People wrote us expecting a sequel since they wanted to know what happened to Leo and Gabriel after their first kiss. But I wasn’t interested in what happened after that kiss because what always attracted me to this character was the journey between the first signs of infatuation and the fulfillment of the desire.
On the other hand, since so many people had seen it (today the short has 3.8 million views on YouTube), I knew I had to change parts of the plot so it would still be surprising (always keeping in mind that I could not create something completely different and disappoint my devoted audience). It was complicated balance.
In 2013, we started shooting “The Way He Looks,” the feature based on the short. Three years had gone by between the two films and that was helpful since I tried to incorporate this time lapse into the new script. How would the story be different if it happened three years later?
In the short film, Leo’s discoveries seem very tender and naive. In the feature, since the characters are a bit older, sexuality plays a bigger part in their lives. Leo is more mature and the way he perceives the world and himself is more complex and sexualized.
The perfect example can be found in the part Gabriel’s hoody plays in the plot. In the short film, there’s a scene where Gabriel and Leo are in Leo’s bedroom and Gabriel takes off his hoody, leaves it on the chair and goes to the bathroom. Leo, by himself, takes his friend’s clothing and smells it. Since Leo is blind, that gesture is his way of getting to know a bit about Gabriel. After that, Gabriel ends up forgetting the hoody at Leo’s place and that’s how, at the end of the film, they finally kiss.
When writing the feature, I wanted to keep the symbolism of the hoody without repeating the scene. Also, because the boys were now older, there lay an interesting chance of adapting the meaning and importance of that for Leo. So, in “The Way He Looks,” after Leo and Gabriel spend the afternoon studying at Leo’s place, Gabriel forgets his hoody there. At night, they go out to watch the moon’s eclipse. By then, Leo is clearly interested in Gabriel, but the audience can’t figure out if there’s reciprocity to his feelings. When Leo gets back home, he realizes what was left on his chair. At a point where his attraction towards Gabriel is very clear to him, he takes off all his clothes and puts on Gabriel’s hoody. He lays in his bed and, smelling his friend’s clothing, he masturbates.
That’s one of the examples of how I tried to adapt and recontextualize the scenes and symbols from “I don’t want to go back alone” to “The Way He Looks.”
There’s a song by Belle and Sebastian called “Dress Up In You.” My favorite lyrics from that song are: “If I could have a second skin, I’d probably dress up in you.” That thoroughly summarizes everything I had in my mind when creating and directing the new scene.
Watch the “hoody scene” from the short film below:
And watch the same scene from “The Way He Looks”:
Strand Releasing opens “The Way He Looks” in select theaters on November 7.