Gregg Araki chats about making his new film ‘Kaboom’

The Pride Film Festival opens on Thursday October 27 at Cinema Paradiso with Gregg Araki’s film Kaboom. Check out OUTinPerth interview with the stylish Director from our July 2011 issue.

Twenty years ago filmmaker Gregg Araki was riding the wave of the new queer cinema movement. Alongside filmmakers like Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes and the late Derek Jarman, they presented films where the protagonists were often unashamedly gay outsiders, rebels and outlaws.

Araki’s films have included his breakthrough feature; 1992’s The Living End, a road movie that focussed on two HIV positive men; his teenage apocalypse trilogy that included Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere; The romantic comedy Splendour and the critically acclaimed but controversial Mysterious Skin.

The actors in Araki’s films are mesmerising, incredibly good looking, youthful and intriguing. Many successful actors have his films on their early career resume including James Duvall, Margaret Cho, Jonathan Schaech, Rose McGowan, Heather Graham, Ryan Philippe, Mena Suvari and Denise Richards.

This month his tenth film, Kaboom! is being released on DVD. The film features Thomas Dekker as Smith, a college student with an ‘undeclared’ sexuality who shares a room the incredibly hot but straight Thor (played by Chris Zylka). Smith hangs out with his best friend Stella (Hayley Bennet) and they embark on a whirlwind journey of bizarre and unpredictable events.

OUTinPerth spoke to Gregg Araki on the phone,

Does it get easier as time goes on, the filmmaking process?

Sadly no, it seems to get harder and harder. Films seem to go through cycles. I mean we’re coming out of it now but the last few years, because of the economy, tough times.

It’s one of the reasons why I made Kaboom! Movies like Kaboom! don’t even really get made anymore. Even independent movies tend to be more safe and conservative and sort of fit inside a box and usually more or less are rehashes of things that have been successful in the past.

That’s why I wanted to do the film, because it was exciting to make something that was totally unconventional and totally marched to its own drummer and got as wild and crazy as it needed to get. Kind of no holds barred.

How does the creative process occur for you? Where do the stories come from?

To tell the truth, I don’t really know. I have a very raw idea when I start, basically I start with the characters. For years wanted to a kind of ‘Twin Peaks-y’ kind of epic mystery story. So that was one of the things I wanted to do and another thing I wanted to do – of all of my movies this is weirdly the most autobiographical movie that I’ve ever done.

In a way it’s sort of me revisiting my undergraduate film studies days.

Just like Smith I was a film studies major at university, I went to the University of Santa Barbara, that’s loosely what the campus in the movie is based on, and my best friend was like an art major.

It was just like revisiting that time in your life where everything in your whole world was kind of a question mark. Because you don’t know who you are, or if you’re gay or if you’re straight, or what you are exactly, or what you’re going to be, or what’s going to happen to you? It’s just a really interesting period of your life, because when you’re going through it, it’s incredibly confusing and angst-ridden and there’s so much drama.

And then when we’re older we look back, and I guess we forget very quickly how intense that period is.

You look back on it and you sort of realise those are some of the best days of your life, like the adventures that you had and the things that you did. That period of your life is really about the experiences that you go through, the things that you learn about yourself. That to me is really the most important thing you learn in your college years, its not really about the mid-terms and the exams.

It’s how much you grow as a person, and the relationships you have, and the people you have sex with, the mistakes that you make, it’s all of that stuff that really shapes you into the person that you’re going to be. To me it was something that, from the vantage point of being older, and sort having lived through all that, sort of wanting to go back and explore that concept.

What is it you look for when you’re casting actors, because you seem to ability and not only finding people who quite amazing looking but are also amazing performers.

I’m very, very particular about casting. We put a lot of work into it, for this movie we had amazing casting directors.
We worked really hard, we just auditioned a million people and had weeks and weeks and weeks of auditioning and really searched far and wide for the best possible actor for each role. Casting for me in a weird way is sort of like dating, it’s really about chemistry.

The thing I’ve always said about casting is I’m interested in casting actors that you kind of can’t take your eyes off. If they just sit there, you want to watch them.

In the movie that really translates, you just want to watch them and see what they’re going to do and what they’re going to say. That’s always something I’ve looked for.

Mysterious Skin is a film of yours that for a lot of people stands out as a different kind of film to your work, Do you see it as being different to your other films?

I see it as being different…It’s the only movie of mine that’s a really strict genre. Most of my movies, especially Kaboom! tend to be a mash up of a lot of different sorts of genres and a lot of different tones, where Mysterious Skin is much more like a sort of heavy human drama. I mean I love that movie, I’m so proud of it. It’s a little easier to get.
It doesn’t throw you in the way like Kaboom! It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s sexy, it has so many different tones and textures. One of the reasons it fascinated me and I wanted to make it was it could just be so many different things.

In the 90’s when you had your first success you were part of what was described as the new queer film movement. Where is queer filmmaking today?

I think it exists still, all the directors are all still working, out there actively creating interesting work, I actually feel that that time in the 90’s when Poison and The Living End came out was a very specific time in our society and in our culture because the queer wave was very much related to like Act Up and all the political and cultural upheaval that was going on, which was really about the AIDS epidemic and the crisis of it. I think that it had a huge impact obviously on our culture not just in media representation but the fact that there’s so much more LGBT representation across the board in terms of film, TV, everywhere.

Graeme Watson