Writer/Director Craig Boreham is one of the leading filmmakers working in Australian queer cinema right now. His 2016 film Teenage Kicks echoed the work of Ana Kokkinos’s Head On, with Miles Szanto’s lead character Miklós Varga navigating the complex experience of coming to terms with his sexuality. In Craig’s latest film, Lonesome, Josh Lavery’s Casey is a country boy arriving into the flurry of the Sydney-city streets, finding his way into the gay lifestyle and encountering Daniel Gabriel’s Tib.
With Dean Francis’ glorious cinematography and Tony Buchen’s immersive score, and driven by Josh Lavery’s stoic lead turn, Lonesome becomes a fascinating and engaging exploration of a young gay man seeking connection. It screens at the Sydney Film Festival, and will also have a Western Australian release at the 25th Revelation Film Festival.
Andrew caught up with Craig to talk about how he shoots his films, the embrace of queer identity on screen, and more in this deep dive interview.
When you make films, they’re very independent, aren’t they? Do you have many people on set?
Craig Boreham: Mostly, yeah.
[It] depends on the film. I think the crew of Teenage Kicks was definitely bigger than the crew on Lonesome. Lonesome was pretty lean. Depending on what we were shooting, a lot of the time when we were out shooting on location, it was particularly small. It’s just easier to manage and we don’t have the resources to have a massive crew around. It was pretty lean and mean.
But I kind of like working that way. There’s pluses and minuses to that. The pluses are that you can move pretty swiftly. A massive crew is a massive beast to move around, whereas a tight little crew can get into nooks and crannies and get out real quick. We had a pretty punishing schedule on this film so it was good to be able to keep everything moving pretty fast.
What was the schedule for it? When did you shoot it?
CB: We shot it in between lockdowns in Sydney, so we did all the pre-production and polished the script during the first lockdown and then then we came out of lockdown and we had just enough time to shoot the film and I think two weeks later we went back in [to lockdown]. So most of the post-production was done during that second lockdown in Sydney. Was it the second or third? I can’t even remember, there have been so many. It was a bit of a pandemic miracle really, the shoot.
Let’s talk about Josh [Lavery] to start off with because he’s quite a striking lead that you’ve got here. How did you go about casting him?
CB: The casting was very much looking everywhere and turning every rock because I wanted to find out a pretty queer cast. So I was trawling Grindr, I was trawling Scruff. I found a video that Josh had done with a queer filmmaking group in Melbourne called Sissy Screens. And it was kind of a confessional documentary little experimental piece, talking about his experience growing up very much isolated in the country as a gay boy and his first encounters of other gay people being via sketchy webcam sites. It was great. It was a really honest story. So I hit up Josh on Instagram, and then discovered that Josh had a really big Instagram following and it was a pretty racy one. So I thought he’ll probably be into this film.
We chatted a bit on Instagram, and then his Instagram profile got banned. So he disappeared off the face of the earth. But fortunately, he got back in touch and then we just started kicking the script around a little bit and talking about the character. I just kind of felt from the get go that Josh was the right person for the film. He was a little inexperienced, he’d done a short film called Tasty that did pretty great on the queer festival circuit a few years back, but he hadn’t done a lot of film. He’s kind of natural, he just took to it. He just was brilliant. We found the pace and tone of the character, and he was just good. It’s a lot to suddenly have to carry a whole feature. There was a lot riding on his performance, and he pulled it off.
I think so too. As Casey, he is discovering himself as he’s going along [his journey] and he’s discovering the world that is not home. I love your work, I think that we need more films like what you’re creating here in Australia, and you’re not afraid to be able to push certainly the boundaries of things. And we’ll talk about that in a little bit. But I think that you managed to really draw all of that out of Josh and create Casey as a very complex and very intriguing person who on the surface is quite reserved. That’s got to be hard to do. What kind of discussion did you have on set?
CB: A lot of that, a lot of conversation around what was bubbling under the surface. I mean, I love those characters that don’t give much away on the surface, but underneath that turmoil [is] absolute chaos and little cracks that happen in their exteriors that let that stuff seep out. It was finding that stuff.
Josh is a very different person than Casey. It’s not like he was just being himself, because he’s nothing like that character, but he could really relate to it. His story was very similar. Before he moved to Melbourne, he very much lived in a very isolated small town, so we talked about that a lot. There was a lot of physical stuff in that performance, like really finding the way to physicalise a lot of that walled up kind of exterior, but then being a very vulnerable character and a very much emotionally driven character who refuses to wear their emotion, you know? It was a real process. We did a lot of different stuff, a lot of chatting and talking but also a lot of physical stuff.
One of the themes that you’ve got through the film is him out in the fields and just being by himself, whether it’s partially clothed, completely naked, and just sitting out in the field. Obviously, you don’t need to explain too much but I’m curious: were those dream sequences? Or are they remembering a time past? Or was it kind of a sanctuary for him?
CB: They were kind of a mix of that. They were kind of half memory flashback, half in a torment of running this thing over and over and over in his mind. So I wanted them to feel a bit somewhere between those spaces. So is it a memory? Or is it guilt and loss? You know? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what they are. But it’s definitely something that’s churning in his subconscious.
It was interesting to shoot that. That was the first stuff we shot, actually, and it was pretty much Josh’s first day in Sydney. It was the first time we met. Dean [Francis] who was the cinematographer and Josh and me just drove out, way out and just like looked for places to find beautiful moments. Very much off the cuff, that whole sequence, but it’s kind of beautiful for it.
The lighting here in this film is really beautiful, both the natural and the artificial lighting. One of the things that is talked about a lot in queer cinema is how purple lighting is associated with bisexual lighting. Is there a color palette that you had worked through for this film like here is a sequence that we’re going to use this particular color to signify this?
CB: Yeah. Dean and I talked a lot about the colour. As the journey unfolds and Casey becomes more and more immersed in the city, we wanted the colours to become stronger and more vibrant. And it sort of builds to this really quite hyper colour kind of space. I like really contrasting that to the natural landscapes that are in the film as well.
We were also playing with the Western tropes as well of big landscapes, like solitary cowboys in big wide scapes more in the beginning of the film and having that evolve and replicating those frames but in a city landscape and finding locations in the city that looked like a cement canyon or playing with those kind of tropes.
But yeah, lighting was definitely a thing. The palette generally – we wanted it to have one foot in in realism but then also nod to campness and queer cinema and heightened stuff as well, which I think is the right feel for the film, or it felt right at the time.
Is there a joy for you in being able to blend that kind of Americana style and the style of queer cinema and really kind of contrast what they are together in one film?
CB: I mean, cowboys are iconic for queers. (laughs) We’ve always loved cowboys. So it was nice to be able to play with that iconography. I’m from western Queensland, originally, and I’ve spent a lot of my early years in the country and between the country and the city later. It was great to be able to tell that queer story and use that space.
It’s definitely nodding towards American westerns, but also we love playing with the Australian landscape in that way. We were looking for different Australian landscapes. Initially we were talking about “Should it be deserty?” and we kind of figured that Casey was from far out west. There’s something beautiful about those grassy scapes that we did find around southwestern New South Wales, they’re quite beautiful and we don’t often see it on screens.
How did you go about casting the hat as well? Because it’s pretty iconic. Like, you need to have a certain look that works well.
CB: It was. We needed to find the perfect hat. It was a process, we did look through a lot of hats to find the right one. And it was really hard because the pandemic made hat imports really difficult. So they were in short supply. And I eventually found it in a secondhand store. Immediately it was like, “Oh my God, that’s our hat.” (laughs) The guy who ran the store was a bit of a hat afficionado, and he helped us shape it and did a couple of repair jobs over the course of the shoot.
It’s a good look. Let’s talk about Daniel Gabriel as Tib who is the sort of co-lead here. How did you go back casting Daniel? And what were the discussions you had with them about creating Tib as a character?
CB: I found Daniel on Grindr. I hit them up. And you can imagine how that went down. (laughs) That was sketchy interactions. Like “Hey, I’m a director and we’re making a movie and have you ever done any acting?” and they were immediately incensed. They’re like “How dare you? I just finished a degree at QT.” So they’re completely skilled and trained and they thought I was a serial killer. So I told them that Netflix had Teenage Kicks on it, check it out. They hit me up and then we went had a coffee and, yeah, just went from there.
As soon as I met [Daniel], I thought they were perfect for the role [of Tib]. They had a lot to bring to the character, we had a lot of conversations about – this is similar to what we were talking about with Josh. It was very much someone who has a particular exterior and has all this other stuff going on but is really guarded and is someone who lives in the cracks in Sydney and is maybe not as surrounded by community as they could be or maybe want to be, but that’s become a bit of a defense mechanism for them, I guess. Losing themselves in anonymous sex and hookup apps.
But then I love that Tib is really entrepreneurial and has got this vision for themselves and is working hard to make their life a better place. I love that about the character. They’re a really fun character.
I thought they were really brilliant. The contrast between Tib’s explosive hair and Casey effectively having nothing really – besides being a visual difference between the two, it helped contrast who they are as people and how they want to express themselves in life. I thought that was really brilliant.
CB: Yeah. And it plays out in so many ways. Their physicality – Daniel is so tall and lanky. And also the energy between [them], like Casey is so slow and internal, whereas Tib is really bouncy and external. There was a really nice play between them. We played with that stuff a lot. We did a lot of hanging out in parks and getting the tone of their physical relationship together really well and tight.
They didn’t actually meet until really close to this shoot because Josh was in Melbourne and couldn’t come up until after the lockdown ended. It was nerve-wracking, I was really hoping that they would click when they got together. Because a lot of the initial rehearsals we were doing one on one with them. They just were magic and loved each other and had so much fun and really supported each other through it, which was great to see. It was really wonderful.
What discussions do you have when it gets more physical, when it becomes very close and very intimate? How do you have those discussions?
CB: The film was always going to be pretty racy and it had a lot of sex scenes in it. They’re not just sex scenes, there’s a lot of story moments in them, emotional stuff happening in those scenes. If you removed any of them, the film would make less sense. So we talked about that stuff a lot.
I was really quite clear in the script. If you read the script, you can see what you’re gonna see. I didn’t want lines saying “They make love.” You know? I wanted to be quite descriptive about what’s going on in the scene so that anyone who was looking at the roles knew what they were up for. That did definitely freak a lot of people out (laughs) and the agents were like “What are you making? What is this film?”
We worked with a really fantastic intimacy coordinator Leah Pellinkhof who was really invaluable in shooting a lot of those more intimate scenes. It’s such a wonderful process that intimacy coordinators work with. It removes all the awkwardness from those conversations, and it becomes a very much more comfortable process. Which sounds like it would stifle the electricity on screen, but it kind of does the opposite. It makes everyone feel like they know what’s what, what they’re allowed to do, what the other person is comfortable with doing, and so they can go hard in those places. That was kind of brilliant.
There’s quite a few sex scenes involving a lot of the cast so we had big intimacy workshop days where we had all our people who were involved across the sex scenes in the one room, workshopping all of that stuff and setting the terms of shooting that stuff. Because potentially, it can be rough stuff to shoot and it can be really difficult for casts. So it’s really important to be on top of that stuff.
Is it a bit like fight choreography in a way? “We’re gonna move these kinds of things and do that”?
CB: Yeah, kind of. There’s a similarity, I guess, in the way it’s done. It’s like during sex scenes and during fight choreography are probably the few times on a shoot where actors are given full rein to call cut if they feel like they’re in some way in danger or vulnerable. Yeah.
For Tib, there is so much that we learn about who they are as a person in those scenes. And it’s where personally I get to see what their experience of lonesomeness is, and that is finding themselves or finding some kind of solitude in the act of sex. One of the notes which I’ve written down is ‘destructive horniness’, where it’s almost obliteration, like “I’m just gonna go pick up another person and then have sex and then tomorrow night do exactly the same thing.” And if connection happens, then that’s a major accident.
CB: Yeah, or even something that’s not really open to – I mean, I really like the way when they first meet, there’s a real sense for Tib of that being an anonymous hookup where you don’t ask the person’s name or you don’t hang around and chat. It’s like business. The business is done, it’s time for you to leave. And then Casey doesn’t know the rules and decides to hang around. I think that’s a nice scene, that’s a nice exploration of that. Tib’s character is very much someone who doesn’t like to be emotionally vulnerable because they’d been hurt before so they have the walls up. And if they’re gonna have sex, it’s just sex and that’s the way it is.
Each of these characters moments of loneliness which of course leads into the title of the film. What was your interest in exploring that theme at that time? Did the COVID pandemic influence how you wrote the script too?
CB: Oh, interesting. I’ve never thought about that. Possibly. Very much. My partner was away down south during a lot of the lockdown and I was spending a lot of time alone. (laughs) Possibly.
I was thinking initially about my own experience of first coming to Sydney and how Sydney can be a cold hard bitch when you arrive and you don’t know people. It’s a hard city to crack in some ways until you find your tribe and settle in. I was looking at that a bit. But then it is a big city. I was [also] interested in that idea of people who exist but are living these solitary lives. They kind of all have this under the surface desire to connect in some way, but maybe are confronted by that. It’s not the same for everyone.
I just find the characters so fascinating. And you write such brilliant characters in so many different ways. I’ve revisited Teenage Kicks quite [recently]. I think that it’s a unique part of Australian cinema. We don’t get to see queer stories on screen. And it feels like, certainly of late, there is this emergence of queer cinema, we’re seeing more stories being told in the queer space, which is really good. Do you feel like somebody who is designing or setting what the style and the language is for Australian queer cinema?
CB: That’s a nice compliment, thank you. (laughs) I guess that’s the reason I got into filmmaking, because I wanted to tell queer stories, because I felt like they were missing, and that’s the thing that drives me. I think that’s why it’s still been my focus now. It’s why I haven’t gone off and done other stuff, because that is really what puts the fire under me.
You know, I was talking to Adrian, one of the co-writers on the next project we’re working on, the other day and we were just talking about that evolution of queer cinema and how we’ve come to this place where we can start to explore more maybe problematic characters or characters who make bad decisions. It’s not as controversial as it once was where there was the weight of the entire community hanging on to every queer character, or every bit of representation had to be good. It’s nice to be in a place where we can – and I’ve never really liked that idea. I’ve never liked the idea of if you put a gay character in a film, they have to be the perfect gay who represents everybody. It’s kind of impossible. So it’s nice to explore different kinds of stuff in that way.
That was one of the things which I really appreciated. And this is such a strange thing to be saying but there are moments in here where I really like how much nudity there is. And not just for the nudity sake, but male nudity on screen is such a rarity. It’s almost feels like oh, it just can’t go below the waist. And it’s refreshing to be able to see that men walk around naked.
CB: Yeah. (laughs) I mean, that was part of our plan. When I was talking to Dean early on – he’s also one of the producers – that’s the beauty of doing a film that’s super independent. You can push boundaries a little more without a whole bunch of people breathing down your neck saying “You can’t do that.” So that was good. We talked about it as almost part of a palette and tone of the film, like skin and body is a texture of the film we wanted to have. The film is very much sitting, I guess, from a very queer gaze. We were like, “If we’re going to talk about queer sex and gay sex, we should do it in a way that embraces that rather than pans away to a tree out the window during a sex scene.”
Just leading into the other aspect which I thought was really fascinating was – Josh pees on screen, there are hairy bums here. There are different kinds of physicality and aspects of physicality which are refreshing.
CB: That was part of the conversation as well. We wanted bodies. We didn’t want to shy away from appeals. We also didn’t want Instagram perfect sculpted gym junkie bodies. We wanted all the bodies. We wanted the full gamut. It’s nice to see different kinds of bodies in a horny way, it’s nice to embrace all those bodies. They look great. Everyone loves it.
Let’s talk about Dean as the cinematographer. I love Dean’s work here. What was the conversation you had with Dean about creating that visual style of the film and pulling from their previous work?
CB: Dean is a director in his own right, he’s made a couple of features as well. We met years ago in Berlin, at the Berlinale talent camp. I’d been there a year before with a film and I got invited back to the talent camp. I met Dean who was – and Bonnie Elliott was also there, so it was like we were the three bad Australian talents (laughs) who were mostly drunk the whole time. But we kind of made a pact then to work together in the future, and we’ve been pretty solid over the years, like Dean’s always a great sounding board when I’m working on something. We’re in the middle of swapping scripts at the moment to get each other’s feedback which has always been great.
So when this project came up and I was working with Ben [Ferris] and Ulysses [Oliver] who are the producers from Breathless Films whose initial idea it was to create an indie slate, and I reached out to Dean and said, “Read the script. Would you be interested in in coming onboard?” I initially was talking to him as another producer, and then the more we talked about it, I was like “Dean’s a really great cinematographer. We should explore that idea.” And he was really into it.
So yeah, we spent a lot of time finding the look. The look kind of evolved from those conversations quite a lot, like it probably started a lot grittier, and where we ended up was quite a different place. And it was a big job for Dean because it was a pretty lean crew. But I think he’s managed to really create a beautiful look for the film, and it feels cohesive despite the fact that there is a lot of different spaces in the film and you are playing with landscape versus these very urban spaces. Finding the right way to make that evolve was kind of tricky.
Because we knew each other for so long, we had a really great working relationship. It was really helpful for the film and made it really smooth. Because a lot of the time, we didn’t really shot-list traditionally. We talked about scenes and the way we might shoot it, but a lot of the time it was very much evolving and pretty fluid on the spot. We didn’t have a strict shot-list as such. Well, we started one, but we ran out of time. (laughs)
I like the urgency of some of the shots especially near the end when Casey’s realising where he needs to go and the camera just moves with him. I love that. The way that it wraps up is just brilliant.
CB: Yeah, there’s a lot of camera movement, there’s a lot of epic shots we tried to do in single shots, which we mostly pulled off actually. But I like that, I like containing a scene with minimal coverage and trying to keep it a bit more elegant rather than just shooting a lot. We didn’t shoot a lot of stuff. We quite often only did one or two takes of most things. We didn’t have a lot of coverage options, because we just didn’t shoot them. We were pretty disciplined. Even though we didn’t have a strict list, we knew what we wanted and we were quite disciplined on set. Our poor editor Daniellle [Boesenberg] often would be like “Wow, that’s [it]. We’ve got two shots.” (laughs)
But it works. It has a rhythm there.
CB: Yeah. And it was intentional. And it did work. It does mean it’s a bit scary because you are committing to this idea. And you don’t have a lot of choices to change it if it doesn’t work out. But fortunately, I feel like it was mostly a success.
Do you think about that much when you’re in the shoot itself?
CB: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I get panicked and go, “Oh, wow. Really? Should I get a safety shot just in case? What if this doesn’t work out?”
So this is screening at Sydney Film Festival. That’s pretty exciting. What is the vibe like at Sydney Film Festival? Did Teenage Kicks play there?
CB: It did. Yeah, it was great. It was a great screening. It’s always a great audience. This is the first time we played at the State Theatre. So that’s pretty exciting. That feels like a career goal. It’s such a beautiful theatre. So I’m excited about playing that.
And then we would jet off actually the very next day to Guadalajara where we’re screening a few days later in Mexico, and then from there straight to San Francisco for Frameline which is pretty great. So it’s going to be a bit of a whirlwind trip with the film. It’s pretty great.
It’s been great that the film has had a festival life that is as much traditional international film festivals as queer festival. I think Frameline actually will be our first queer festival. It’s screened at Seattle, and it’s screening at Provincetown. So it’s nice for a queer film. Not that there’s anything wrong with queer festivals. But it is nice to screen to an audience that’s a mix of queer people and people who just love films.
Have you noticed that starting to change a lot more as well, where queer stories are being shown in film festivals that aren’t queer film festivals?
CB: I think definitely more than say like ten years ago. I think there is interest in queer cinema like there hasn’t been for a while. That’s great. Part of what we talked about when we’re making this film was we wanted to make a queer film that was a queer film and didn’t have to explain itself to people who maybe weren’t queer. They can catch up and they can work it out and we’re not going to spell stuff out. There [were] a few question marks around that, whether that would be okay or not. I think I think straight audiences are perfectly able to jump into that world and figure stuff out. I don’t think they get lost. That’s why we go to movies, because you see things that are outside of our every day.
Did you manage to see Soda Jerk’s Terrror Nullius?
CB: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I fucken love those guys. (laughs)
(laughs) So good. So good, isn’t it? What’s it like watching a film like that and then seeing a clip from Teenage Kicks in it?
CB: Oh god, it was so great. Miles [Szanto] the lead actor from Teenage Kicks was so into it. (laughs) I totally loved that he had that horny moment with The Man From Snowy River. (laughs)
Such a brilliant mix up.
CB: It was great. Those guys do amazing stuff. They invited me to the screening in Sydney actually which was really nice. Love their work.
So did you know that it was going to be in there before you watched it?
CB: No. No, I didn’t. Yeah, it was a total shock. (laughs) It was complete piracy. They’re total pirates. (laughs)
But they do it so well.
CB: Yeah, they do it great. I love a pirate, I’d love to make a pirate movie.
I haven’t seen it, but I believe it’s Our Flag Means Death, the HBO series that’s really pushing the queer pirates.
CB: It’s great. It’s really great. Yeah, they got there first. (laughs)
It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, Craig, you can do it.
Wrapping up, one of the major questions which I love asking people – and I believe I interviewed you years ago when Teenage Kicks first came out and I believe I asked you something similar along these lines, about what it means to be an Australian filmmaker. What does that mean for you?
CB: You know, I always get pigeonholed in the queer filmmaker so I don’t even think of myself as an Australian filmmaker. (laughs) Until I’m overseas, actually. It was actually great screening our film in Seattle and screening to an America audience and just seeing the way they perceive our place in the world, I guess. Especially in the Q&As after, it’s like talking to them about certain things that were just obviously culturally different or simple things. Like they didn’t know what a paddock was. But it’s nice to introduce the world to our part of the world. Because I work particularly in queer stories, that part of our world as well. It’s really nice to take out there. Because it is different. I mean, we are our own weird little place down here. So it’s nice to share that.
As you were saying before, like Sydney is so unique in different ways, especially in comparison to Australian cities. Like Perth is very different from what Sydney is, and the culture of what’s in Sydney is very different than what’s here. So getting to see that on screen really opens up my eyes in particular. The world just moves so differently and yet we’re still connected.
CB: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. Every city in Australia has its own rhythm. We really wanted to make Sydney another character of this film, but we didn’t want it to be, you know, postcardy Opera House Sydney. We almost had it, but we canned it. (laughs) It was a beautiful shot too, Dean was outraged. (laughs)
So it’s more of the back alleys of Sydney and the rooftops. That was kind of the world we wanted to explore a bit more. But then you get all these beautiful landscapey moments around the around the harbour, around Botany Bay, those areas that are sort of beautiful in their bleakness.
Yeah, definitely. Well, congratulations for Lonesome. And I’m excited to see what you do next. I think it was last year I said to myself, “Oh, when’s Craig got another film coming out?” And then I saw this.
Oh, thank gosh. You’re an exciting filmmaker, and I love watching what you do.
CB: Thank you. We’re working on a new one right now. We’re working on an adaptation of Peter Polites’ novel Down the Hume which is exciting. It’s a Western Sydney neo-noir very queer film. It’s good.
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