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The Art of the Short Film: ‘SPiN’

The Art of the Short Film: 'SPiN'

Last we heard about Wilson Cleveland and Hartley
Sawyer, they were in a truly destructive, nightmarish relationship. That was
“Kept Man.”

The pair’s moved on, but the nightmare hasn’t
ended. Taking on Wall Street, irresponsible corporate spending, and the seedy
truth behind the news, their latest short film, “SPiN” is a doozy.

Cleveland, the film’s gay writer-actor, plays
James Locke, a journalist aching for the story that could turn his whole world
upside down. Sawyer plays Scott Angelus, the “Prince of Wall Street” whose
father has given him control of a large portion of his firm’s assets. And in
“SPiN” they meet for an on-air interview. It’s one for the ages.

Their relationship, on screen at Locke’s news
show and off, is filled to the brim with a tension that extends beyond their
warring personalities and the returns they hope to make off this story. There’s
a murky sexuality below the surface that is never explicitly labeled or made
clear, and that’s just one of the ways in which this smart satire works so

The duo at its center seem to know precisely how
to play their slimy parts without devolving into shoddy caricature, and
Cleveland’s writing (his co-writer was Yuri Baranovsky) is sharp, full of
spitfire one-liners and remarkably quick character development. Director Noah
Workman has got an eye and mind for keeping this possible melodrama within the
confines of realism, focusing on the production process and the smartly playing
up the real-world consequences of the interview.

It’s time you check it out for yourself. Watch
“SPiN” below, and then check out /bent’s interview with Cleveland and Sawyer
where we dig deep into the film’s inspirations and tensions, and the natural
queering of heteronormative tropes: 

/Bent: Your last film was what could be deemed a
horrifying romantic-thriller—what urged the shift toward media and

Wilson: After “Kept Man,” I wanted to write another two-character piece
Hartley and I could do together and the first idea that came to mind was
something like “Frost/Nixon.” There’s something about the game of speed chess
played during a live interview that fascinates me. It’s a choreographed
exchange between two people struggling to lead and anything can happen. 
I’d asked Hartley for a character type he hadn’t yet played but knew he could
if given the opportunity.  His immediate response was “Jordan Belfort in
‘Wolf of Wall Street’” and it just clicked.  That’s why I decided on
making the “SPiN” antagonist a Wall Street exec instead of a politician.        

/Bent: How did you research the ins and outs of the
dog-eat-dog financial world? How many hours of news coverage did you watch to
get the interview format down?

Cleveland: Fun facts: I actually worked on Wall Street at one point, so I had
an intermediate level knowledge to work from.  I also live a block away
from the NY Stock Exchange and my father has worked in finance my entire life.
I vetted some of the finer plot points by him.  As for the research, I’ve
picked up a few things watching a lot of news over the years and having many
friends who are journalists.

Sawyer: In terms of the finance-centric dialogue, I did a little bit
of reading into the specifics of some of the things I didn’t know about – and
trust me, I know nothing about that stuff. So that helped inform my
performance. In terms of creating Scott, I treated it like I treat most
roles – it’s as if there is a buffet of choices before me, and I let the
“smells” of what’s in the script decide what I’m going to choose.
It’s something that comes from within. I was definitely influenced by
Bale’s Patrick Bateman, DiCaprio’s Belfort (watched that film during prep),
and, believe it or not, drew inspiration heavily from Javier Bardem’s Silva in
SKYFALL – which I think may be the greatest Bond villain of all time.
 Beyond that, it was influenced by some personal experiences with actual

 /Bent: There’s a palpable tension between Scott and James, and at several
moments that tension implies a sexuality beneath the surface. What’s their
backstory, or should it remain murky?

Cleveland: Scott is a sociopath.  He exists on this earth to win and
constantly scans his opponents for exploitable weaknesses he can leverage. I
think Scott is turned on by the opportunity to exploit any remnant
vulnerability James may be feeling about drunkenly propositioning him at the
Follies but beyond that, who knows. I think the tension plays so well on
screen because Hartley and I are comfortable with each other as actors and know
each other quite well as friends. I think it’s that chemistry that makes the
tension more believable.  

Sawyer: I think it should remain murky. I will say this, at the end of
the day, sex and sexuality is, of course, about power. I think chemistry
on screen is something that can’t really be planned – it’s sort of a mystery to
me. It’s similar to other actors I’ve had great chemistry with – some
intangible recognition of each other’s “essence,” perhaps.      

/Bent: SPiN is eerily applicable to the world we live in. Did you go into
this film with any sort of agenda?

Not an agenda so much as an opinion as a consumer
of news media. I wanted to tell both sides of a polarizing story about the news
media and let the audience form its own opinion rather than forcing my opinion
upon them. I do feel in the digital age of social media the public is the
casualty of the media’s competition for our attention. Scott’s criticism
in the film about the media’s need to be ‘first’ rather than ‘right’ holds up,
in my opinion. Misinformation and media distortion have become so frequent we
don’t always recognize it when we see it.

Sawyer: I have some strong opinions on the media and Wall Street excess, but
I’ll plead the fifth on those. I would rather viewers not know if I agree or
disagree with Scott’s views. I can’t say the theme was a major contribution to
taking on the role – the biggest one was the character himself. I felt I could
live out Scott’s life for 15 pages; an inherent (and to a degree, frightening)
understanding of who this man is. It’s like when you meet someone for the
first time and instantly get a sense of them. “Oh, I think I know who this
person generally is.” Scott resonated immediately. 

/Bent: This film could easily have been heteronormative in its conception,
but it defies that sort of narrative. What was the creative intention behind
“queering” this story?

Wilson: It has less to do with creative intention than with the fact I’m a
gay man and heteronormative is not how I choose to experience the world. 
In the context of storytelling, it implies gay people can/should only tell “gay
stories” about their gay lives for a strictly gay audience. Certainly I believe
stories intrinsic to the gay experience play a critical role in our culture;
but I emphatically reject the idea that any one sexual identity holds dominion
over good storytelling simply because it indulges a misguided assumption that
majority is tantamount to superiority by default.  I don’t live in a vacuum.
I live in the world.  I’m grateful for geniuses like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan
Murphy, Greg Berlanti, Jill Soloway, Alan Ball, Jenji Kohan and so on, who
weave characters of all sexual identities throughout a canvas because that’s
just the reality of life.

If you
haven’t already, check out “SPiN” and “Kept Man.” We’ll be looking forward to
many more collaborations between these two great artists.


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