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Teenage Kicks — putting the drama into coming out

Australian filmmaker Craig Boreham explains the inspiration for his dramatic coming-out story

Teenage Kicks — a new film from Craig Boreham. Image courtesy of Bounty Films

Teenage Kicks gives us the story of 17-year-old Miklós Varga — Mik plans to escape his migrant family and run away with his best friend Dan, however these plans are thrown into turmoil by the accidental death of Mik’s older brother Tomi. It’s a volatile cocktail of guilt, grief, lust, desire, and drama.

Miles Szanto and Daniel Webber in Teenage Kicks. Image courtesy of Craig Boreham

We spoke with filmmaker Craig Boreham for a behind-the-scenes look at the film:

What was your inspiration for this story?

Initially the story came from my experience working with young people. I was working in a youth refuge for homeless LGBTQ kids while I was a student. Not as youth worker, but more like a person in the house who could just help out with day to day household stuff, like making sure they had food and ragging on them about brushing their teeth, that sort of thing.

Most of them had found themselves on the street after coming out to their families, and I was really struck by the common links of their stories, and the guilt and grief about what had happened to them that they had been carrying — often without anyone to talk to about it.

My own experience of coming out hadn’t been so different, and my relationship with my family broke down for a while and I found myself out of home and dossing in squats as well. So it kind of triggered me to start writing this story of a young person carrying a huge secret.

I didn’t want to make a coming-out film because there are a lot of great ones already, but I was more interested in in the Q in LGBTQI — that maybe stands for queer or maybe questioning — but I was drawn to exploring that period of questioning that happens before we find out who we are or how we may identify.

That time in our lives is so dramatic and intense and we’re dealing with really complex emotions, often for the first time, and they can be world-shattering and confusing and the world can seem to turn on its head from day to day. So it’s a rich place to explore as a writer.

What was the production process like?

The writing process was the longest part of making Teenage Kicks. I wrote a first draft of the script quite quickly over a few weeks and it was really kind of a stream of consciousness creative vomit draft, and I left it on the shelf for a bit.

I looked at it again when my producer Annmaree Bell and I were invited to submit a short script idea for a production grant that was happening, and I adapted part of the story into what later became our short film Drowning. When the short did the festival circuit we had a lot of feedback from audiences who responded to the film well, and there was a feeling that there were people out there in the world who wanted to hear the bigger story, so I decided to go back and take a look at it again and revisit the characters the way I’d always imagined them.

I spent a good part of a year rewriting a new draft, and then we went straight into financing which took a good while.

The pre-production period was quite quick once we got rolling, and the shoot itself was over five weeks. We did spend quite a bit of time in post-production — mainly because the film was made on the smell of an oily rag and we were often working out of hours and around other jobs we were all doing to pay the rent, but on the upside it gave us more time to play with ideas and experiment in the edit suite and get the film to a place we were happy with.

Was it difficult to raise the funding required?

It’s tough in Australia to convince investors to take a chance on LGBT content. There’s a lot of fear around it being too niche, and that mainstream audiences won’t engage with it. So we spent a lot of time in limbo with traditional funding bodies being enthusiastic for the script but being cautious and never quite stepping up to green light it.

So eventually we just thought — fuck it, we’ll make it happen ourselves, and we ran a crowd-funding campaign to raise a substantial chunk of the budget, and used that momentum to find a few other investors who got us over the line.

The budget ended up being a lot smaller than we’d initially been aiming at, and it made us come at the project a lot more creatively to be able to pull it off and to make sure that the few resources we did have would end up on to the screen.

What was your casting process like?

Most of the cast were actors I’d worked with before, and I loved all of them and really wanted them from the start.

Miles Szanto had played the lead in the short Drowning, and we always new we wanted him back for the feature film. I hadn’t worked with Daniel Webber at that stage but I had seen him in a couple of short films that were amazing, so he came in to play with the role of Dan and it was clear to me straight off the bat that he completely got it and was going to take it in an interesting direction.

It was incredible really because both the lead boys were in different countries when we were gearing up for the shoot, and they only really came together about a week before we started shooting, and they just clicked and worked off each other beautifully.

A lot of the casting process was really about meeting up with the actors and just talking about the story world and seeing if it connected with them. I remember meeting up with Shari Sebbens — we planned to grab a quick coffee and ended up spending four hours just talking about grief and the loss of loved ones and really diving deep into what that does to you and the people around it.

What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered making a feature-length film?

The biggest difference in making a short and making a feature is really all about the time it takes to make it, and the resources needed to sustain it. For me, the challenge was about mainly keeping the momentum happening over such a long period of time.

Our other main challenge was scheduling the whole mess to make sure we could get the cast we wanted all in the same place at the same time. It was touch-and-go for a while but we managed to pull it together, but we ended up shooting what is essentially a summer film in the middle of a pretty brutal Sydney winter. Which is tough at the best of times, but when you have a film where the actors are having to be on surfboards in the middle of the ocean or in swimming pools, and a lot of the time they are practically naked, it makes it extra challenging. But they were complete legends about it and got it done, even though I’m sure they wanted to stab me at the time.

What does the film say about the complexities of bromances between young guys?

That they can be really messed up and it happens a lot. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard — both while I was writing the script and now from audience members who have connected with the film — about past intense friendship that had become really blurry and confusing for them when they were figuring themselves out.

It’s such a common story and so many people have that one intense friend from their teenage times, but when that gets layered with a sexual attraction that may be misplaced it can lead to some equally messed up first sexual experiences.

So I was interested in that blurry place and especially the dangerous line that exists between curiosity and fear of exploration, and the tendency of some young men to fall in to a place of aggression or violence when faced with confusing or confronting emotional stuff.

What does the film say about the challenges faced by young gay men as they learn to navigate male friendships and sexual attraction?

I hope the film creates some perspective around that stuff and to acknowledge that it is something that happens. So much of how we navigate the world is informed by our stories and our cinema and TV, and LGBTQ people still don’t see our stories on screen a great deal. It’s getting better and we’re definitely seeing LGBTQ characters and stories more and more.

I love the way the film adds to the conversation of our experiences, and maybe lets people know that what they’re going through is not happening in a vacuum, and maybe it helps to navigate this complicated stuff in our lives — maybe someone in a movie can make some mistakes so we don’t have to.

As well as being a coming-of-age story, grief and the impact of loss plays a big part in this film. What drew you to that theme?

I heard this story from a cop talking about how perpetrators of crime came to terms with their guilt. He said that people who outright committed a violent crime with intent were often able to deal with the guilt of doing it more effectively than someone who’d been indirectly responsible or had accidentally caused something bad to happen. Those people were more likely to become tortured by it and see the world as impossible and arbitrary and not able to be controlled.

That really resonated with me, and so many young LGBTQ young people carry a lot guilt about themselves with them in their younger years. I wanted to bring those ideas together — our lead character Mik carries a terrible secret in that he feels very responsible for the death of his brother and it’s connected to him via his own sexuality. So in a way it gave the story a metaphor for the fear and guilt that young queer people can experience.

What sort of reaction have you had so far to the film?

It’s been wonderful to hear from people who love the film. I get a lot of emails and messages from people all over the world who’ve connected with the story. Younger audiences love that the story dives in to the turbulent stuff they’re going through and doesn’t pull any punches, but I’ve loved also hearing from older people who’ve been taken back to their own teenage years and reconnected with that one intense friendship they had at the time.

What do you hope that people feel when watching Teenage Kicks?

Right now back in Australia there’s a very ugly debate about marriage equality raging, and much of that debate is focussed on young LGBTQ kids — it’s brutal and alienating for a bunch of young people who are already dealing with a lot. So I hope the film helps them to feel a little less isolated, and for everyone else maybe it can give a bit of insight and build some empathy for what’s happening in their lives.

Mostly I hope people connect with the story and the characters and go along for the ride,

Miles Szanto and Daniel Webber in Teenage Kicks. Image courtesy of Craig Boreham
Miles Szanto in Teenage Kicks. Image courtesy of Craig Boreham
Miles Szanto in Teenage Kicks. Image courtesy of Craig Boreham

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