• Martyn Wakefield

PLAYDURIZM Interview with Gem Deger, Austin Chunn & Steve Reverand (INTERVIEW)

We're talking about PLAYDURIZM, so again, I just want to reiterate what a fantastic, excuse the pun, gem. So Gem, do you want to just give us a brief overview of PLAYDURIZM, and how it came about?



Gem:

Okay. So that's like, I don't know, five years in the back or something. I was a high school drop out and I started to write stuff on my own, at home. And then I serendipitously came across with this writer, Maurice Stuttart, who is a writer of the screenplay. And then he read about my stories, they were in the story form back then. And then he said we can really make this work, it can be nice.


In the meantime, while we were doing rewrites, about that time I moved to Prague. And then it's just basically on this 20 year old who refuses to go to school, and trying to make a film on his own. Literally, that's how it started. And then after meeting with some nice producers, I finally came across with Steven and (fellow producer) Martin (Raiman). And then yeah, eight months after we met we were on set shooting it. So, that's when it came across very, very fast, and very serendipitously.



Great. So, in terms of the story, it's one of those films that just reels you in quite nicely, and it's got a great aesthetic. And then suddenly, bam, it just kind of hits you, actually the purpose of the film, and how it comes across. And in terms of, obviously you're a really young director, but I think that is a masterclass of work there to bring that to light. And with the impact that is left behind with PLAYDURIZM, I've watched it now, what two, three weeks ago? And I can still remember it scene for scene. And that is a huge attribute to have as a young director.


Gem:

Well, thank you so much. How it's going to be visually was very, very important for me. So we really worked very closely with my DoP Cédric Larvoire, and also the art designer, art director and production designer.


... Yeah, all those. Yeah, okay. I don't really do formality, sorry. So for me, it's just Jitka (Sivrova). So yeah, and then Jitka came up with this awesome design for this flat that I wanted to create. And I was like, "Yes, yes. This is it. Let's just go for it." And then once, after it was built, I brought stuff from home, or made it better. And then Cédric also knew the shots, because the most visual shots were like, we really thought deeply with Cédric . I painted everything in details of him, so we would get exactly that stunning, painting-like footage, basically.


Steve:

And from a production standpoint, when we backtrack a bit, I think when we were approached by Gem and Morris, the writer, they had a story that was basically being set in multiple real locations. A lot of outdoor, some scenes by a bridge, on the road, in a real big club, and so on. And we knew we were kind of limited with not only the budget, but also what we could get here in the Czech Republic. I don't know if your readers have been to Czech Republic, but it looks nothing like what you see in PLAYDURIZM.


So, we knew we would have a hard time, we would cost us so much money. Netflix comes here with $200 million to make it look like something else. So we knew we would be limited, and we said, why don't we try to re-work the story? Because the story is essentially about escapism. So why don't we actually use that... in order to help the film and the message of the film, and create an artificial world. And that's when we basically settled on the idea of shooting entirely on a set that's being built, and that fit also Gem's vision of having this base of pop neon of colour look. And so that way we re-worked the story to fit this one location, and it really just grew from there.


And it's certainly got its own aesthetic, and that's really a certainly positive within the film. Going back into the film, obviously you worked as director Gem, but also you play the lead Demir, as well. How much of a challenge was it playing both sides of the fence?


Gem:

I was high all the way through. I was so insecure, honestly. I was so scared. It's my first thing, and I'm trying to direct, I'm trying to act at the same time. Yeah, the only thing that I knew was what I wanted. But apart from that, I really didn't know anything. I learned everything on the way through. And yeah, and I'm really grateful for the experience. PLAYDURIZM was also, yeah, it's a film that people watch, but for me it was like a film school, basically. It's like a film school of four weeks, where I get to learn everything in a very intense way. That's how it felt for me. So it was like my plays own, in a way.


But still, everybody also took it very seriously. And there were people behind the camera that were backing me up. I worked very closely with my DoP and also, sometimes when we didn't have time, we would just go to the next shot without me even watching the shots. So yeah, it was just intense. That's how I feel. More than challenging, which you can see in the film how challenging was that.



That's great. It's that naivety of the character, and you bring a lot of that from yourself as well. But actually, it's that naivety of the character that really carries the film going forward. And I suppose on that point, Austin, how did you get brought into all of that? And obviously, from your perspective, how was it on set?


Austin:

Yeah, sure. Ultimately, this was a huge experience for me. Being in the States you're really locked into and limited in your, I guess, viewing of films in general, across the board. So I was much more in this America-centric mindset, Hollywood mindset. In coming over to Prague and getting to work with people of 15 plus different nations was just a total new experience for me, and something that I really took away with me in a big way. And it's something that's changed me forever.


But you even get that on set, just new concepts from people. You don't have that same mindset that every single person comes to set with, or at least it feels that way. It's something new, something different, something you might not would've thought of. And ultimately that, for me, was just such a great experience, and something I want to pursue further in the future. But being on set, because like you said, it's so aesthetically popping. The wardrobe, the environment, everything, it really allowed you to get into that character, into that role. Because once you stepped on set it was just like, you're in it 100%. And so that was really great.


But also, I got to work with Gem early on. We worked for over a month just preparing these roles, developing them of what they needed to be, before we got actually into the shooting process. So Gem and I got a really, I don't know, month plus of getting to know each other, getting comfortable with each other, understanding each other, and becoming very close, in my opinion, which was great for on set. It was something we absolutely needed. And then the producers created such a safe environment for us to create, and to play. They were very open to what we can bring to the table, and that was really a great experience for me.


But everyone did their job so well. In my opinion, this film is one of those that, without having a major budget behind it, could be something that's easily lost or not turned into something that was worthwhile. But because Gem had such a strong vision for this, I think that was that driving force that you see all the way through the film, something that really turns a independent film into something more. And I think we did achieve that with this film.


I can concur. I can absolutely say that you have. That's a huge credit to everybody on set. And I know that extends obviously further to the cast, and the rest of behind the scenes team. But generally speaking, this is a really... I'm trying not to go into too much spoiler territory here without saying the wider impact of the film itself, but I would put it on a par with this is the 2022 version of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE in terms of that element of, this is the nastiness that goes on, but there's also an escapism. But it's handled so much more delicately than some of these old '70s, '80s exploitation films. And actually, as a result of that, really does kind of work with the times. But also, it creates a lot more of that emotional impact. I think you take the first half of the film and you wonder, really, how does this fit into... This is not a horror film. This is actually quite a nice, small, kind of escapist, romantic film.


And then suddenly you kind of get that warped thing, and there's a lot of inspiration from other directors that teeter on the edge of this. And absolutely, going back Gem, to the score of this film, there's those synth undertones. What inspiration did you take in terms of creating this?


Gem:

Well, there were some inspirational music that were mainly based from the scores of these... the horror films from 80, 90, and then the sound guy, you call it sound guy, right?


Steve:

Well, the composer.



Gem:

Yeah. The composer basically just got the inspiration, and from that he just composed that little bit. And also I'm very grateful for the final song of the film, which sticks with it. It's Haldon (McNeil), my friend, who is also playing the rapist, he made that song. He has a band, Big Kill, and yeah basically... Part of me, when you say PLAYDURIZM music, I immediately think of that song only, because it just has a very... I don't know, I just love that song.


And now I have to look at it with a different lens, because it's like, after that scene, it's like, "Oh no-"


Gem:

Yeah, I know. It spoiled it a little bit. It's spoiled the romance, but he's a great artist.


We talk about the scenes, there was a scene much earlier on and actually, coming from a huge aesthetic fan of the '80s horror and things like Cronenberg, and THE FLY and things like that, there is a very graphic sex scene which touches on things seen similar to things like CRASH, and the bodymorphing of SOCIETY. How was that to act out as a film? Generally it's extremely graphic in the aspect of the aesthetics and the prosthetics that you're using to create that blend, if I can say it.


Gem:

Oh, okay. No, I was just expecting Austin to answer it.


Austin:

Yeah, I can jump in there too. I'm happy to do that.


Gem:

You set the tone and I'll go later.


Austin:

It's interesting, because you want to bring everything you can to a role, of course. So you have all this preparation and expectation, and what you're ready to do. But then some days you come in and you've got to sit in that prosthetic chair for eight hours or something. And you come in with all this energy and excitement, and then eight hours later it's like, "All right, now we're ready to shoot the scene." And you're like, "Whew, I haven't sat down in 12 hours. I'm dying here." But that's what film is, and that's what makes it so beautiful, because we got to share through that pain together.


So without, I guess, spoiling too much, some of those scenes, especially the blood, it's cold on set, we didn't have that many clothes on, the blood itself was very cold, slippery, sticky. It was everywhere. And then once we were in place, you almost couldn't move off set because you'd just be tracking footprints here or there. So, it was a matter of you've got to think about this, think about that, keep yourself composed, don't drink too much water, but don't drink too little water. Just sort of experience it throughout the day. And so I think that's the complex side of it.


And then the easier side of it is letting all that go and just being a part of that moment together. And I think for all those moments, we captured that. I think there is obviously a powerful chemistry there, and something that we work towards. But again, it just really goes, I think, to mine and Gem's relationship. I think if it had been somebody else, we wouldn't have captured that. I think it was special. It was sort of like lightning in a bottle. Even though they're in these wild scenes, the heart of it and the truth of it, the message, the point of it is still there. At least I think so, and I certainly hope so.



Absolutely. And I think that's the key. This is what elevates PLAYDURIZM above some of the other independent films is really, you always keep the heart. So it is a horror of film, there is absolutely no denying that. But there is that drive and that journey to get there, on Gem's Demir character that gets there. And obviously yourself Austin with, with Andrew's character. And that relationship morphed from in this world of this escapism, where you go from kind of cis character into moving over into that other world of Demir's relationship. That itself is, as cinema goes, that's the most evolved and actual, realistic, and soft cantered gay relationship that I've seen, that doesn't either extend on stuff that's stereotypical, and actually just becomes a genuine love story between the two characters.


And you mentioned the chemistry you both have, I genuinely cannot give enough kudos to that, because it's genuinely one of the first films that I've seen where you have a gay relationship. And subsequently, that relationship is just so natural that it doesn't deter from thinking well, this is just Hollywood trying to make something fit an agenda.


Gem:

It's also not that hard to not fall in love with Austin, let's be honest. So I was organically... Some of the scenes I wasn't acting, let me say it that way.


Austin:

But thank you, absolutely. Thank you. That means a lot. And I know we were absolutely gunning for that, trying to be on that forefront. And I think that's something again we achieved, and I really appreciate you acknowledging that.


Steve:

Yeah. And for us as well, that's really what we fell in love with when we first read the idea. We were like, everything just feels natural. There's obviously something special about the character and what they're going to go through, but it felt very, very natural. And... I forgot where I was going with this. No, I think what we managed to do with PLAYDURIZM is have a film that touches upon many, many topics. It doesn't try to hammer a message, or any particular topic, but you can reach the film on many, many levels. And I think we've met a few people that have watched the film a few times that have always discovered something new about it.


And they're finding a way to connect with the film in some unusual ways, sometimes, that we haven't even thought at first. We're like, "Okay, maybe it was there, but we didn't quite think." Or it was like... What's the word in English? Maybe we didn't know that it was that it was there, even though that's part of our personalities. So yeah, we're happy people connect with the film on a personal level.


That's really good to hear. I wish all the success of PLAYDURIZM. I appreciate it's an indie feature, but ultimately I can see you've got distribution deals across Europe, and I hope to see if we can get one across the UK. And if you need any support from us, you have us at your beck and call. Yeah. Genuinely, I would love to see this film played in the mainstreams, and I wish you guys all the best going forward.


Steve:

Thank you.


Gem:

Thank you so much, Martyn.


Austin:

Thank you. This has been fantastic. Take care.

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