For every Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti, there are hundreds of Jared Frieders in Hollywood: sharp, funny, and ambitious working writers who make careers improving and punching up other people’s ideas, hoping to one day get their solo shot. Nearly 10 years since he first began writing the script for the tender coming-of-age comedy “Three Months,” which he also directed, that day finally came for Frieder. While the writer and director calls the film’s February 23 release on Paramount+ “truly surreal,” he is under no illusions as to how this particular dream came true. The script may be heartfelt, witty, and a nuanced take on HIV stigma, but it was the name recognition of star Troye Sivan that pushed it over the finish line.
“We already had a deal in place, but to get the green light for production, Troye really helped with that process, as did the entire cast,” Frieder said during a recent phone interview with IndieWire. “It’s not an exact science. There’s no specific algorithm for when that green light comes.”
Even though he knew Sivan socially, the musician received the script while he was on tour, and didn’t immediately read it.
“It seemed like a massive gear shift to be trying to think about an acting project while I was so in the thick of the ‘Bloom’ tour,” said Sivan. “When I finally did get to it, I had no idea whether the film had already been made, or where it was. I read it and hoped to god they hadn’t made it yet and they hadn’t. So within, I think it was three days, I had a meeting with the producers, and then I met with Jared, and we started filming maybe six weeks later.”
After a decade of writing and development, it’s clear how quickly projects can snap into place with a star like Sivan attached.
“It’s so hard to get gay shit made, and I never thought it would actually end up happening because I had faced so much rejection and had heard so many no’s,” said Frieder. “So this moment is particularly surreal for me.”
So how hard exactly is it to “get gay shit made”?
“I mean, near impossible. And that’s the truth of my experience. I don’t want to speak for anybody else,” said the filmmaker. “For up and coming young people like myself and my friends, it’s really challenging. And I’m a white man, so imagine how challenging it is for trans, non-binary, people of color, Indigenous people, Black storytellers to get their films made. It’s really, really challenging.”
Although it may seem like the general trend towards more LGBTQ representation has been positive and there are limits to what representation can even accomplish, there’s no denying that it’s rare to find quality queer storytelling across any medium. “Euphoria” promised a fresh take on boundary-pushing queer stories, but it quickly revealed the limits of what writers outside that experience could offer. (The show’s creator, Sam Levinson, is a straight cis white man.)
Mainstream film has lagged behind television significantly. When the occasional LGBTQ film does sneak onto a studio slate, such as recent teen fare like “Love, Simon” or “Happiest Season,” it’s usually a coming-out storyline starring straight actors.
With the openly queer Sivan playing its charismatic out lead character Caleb, “Three Months” upends those tropes and then some. That’s to say nothing of the film’s sensitive portrayal of Caleb’s possible HIV exposure, which gives the film its satisfying structure. (Caleb must wait three months to find out whether he has contracted the virus, hence the title). It’s a clever way to structure the film, but it also guaranteed the important issue could not be so easily discarded via a note from on high. According to Frieder, executives at the highest level create the biggest obstacles for LGBTQ projects.
“They say, ‘We can’t sell this internationally because of the subject matter,’ I heard once. I have heard ‘We’re going in a different direction.’ I’ve heard, ‘There’s been leadership changes,'” Frieder said. “When you’re selling queer/LGBTQ protagonist projects, the people who are buying are development executives who are younger and up-and-coming and they decide what scripts get put into development. But to go from development to getting a series made, you have to go through the people that run these companies. These older, more patriarchal, structured systems that will pay a couple hundred thousand to put something in development, but won’t pay to get it made because of the subject matter, because they don’t see our stories as commercially viable.”
With Sivan’s devoted following and the movie’s wide release accessibility on a platform like Paramount+, hopefully “Three Months” finds a strong enough audience to grab the higher ups’ attention. With its light touch and genuinely funny and relatable characters, that shouldn’t be too hard.
“It was important to me that this film…talked about queer themes with queer characters, but was fun and entertaining and energetic and boisterous,” said Frieder. “To show that our stories can be commercially viable; that people will come to them and watch them; that our stories are worth telling because we are worth being portrayed on screen.”
“I hope that young people are really going to enjoy the movie. Ultimately that’s who we are trying to reach with this message,” said Sivan. “I think it’s genius. It feels really true to the queer experience to be able to take something really traumatic and really serious and laugh about it. I think we do that all the time. I think it’s important to be able to do that.”
“Three Months” is currently available to stream on Paramount+.