How do you pronounce your name?
Think of the sound system (Bose).
Give us some background information about yourself, a brief biography; make sure to include where you're from, a quick summary of your education, and what jobs you've held, particularly ones that may have contributed to your filmmaking. "Alex Bohs is...?"
Born and raised a Hoosier up through high school and then claimed Chicagoland as home through college (Columbia College Chicago) where I studied directing for film.
I’d have to say for jobs that contributed to filmmaking, doing videography throughout college on various sets was such a vital way for me to flex my storytelling muscles. I would spend hours following around crews - getting to know them, etc - and then go home and comb through all the footage to find a story and follow it. I loved that and still do that to this day.
It’s something I highly recommend every young creative does - observe other like-minded artists on set (or wherever they create). If you are able to witness someone else’s process AND turn it into some sort of art, what’s not to love about that? Wins for everyone involved.
Talk to me about how you initially came to filmmaking. Was there a specific event that you can recall that made you say, "Hey, I want to make movies"? And from there, what kept you coming back, and how did you go about pursuing this career?
So in the past I’ve tended to throw a lot of emphasis on watching the first Star Wars trilogy as why I wanted to make movies (which is true) however I think it’s almost more important to note the early days of making those godawful VHS movies because those were the first moments I realized I could make movies.
What Star Wars gifted me was the concept of world building and showing me a fanbase so passionate that it proved an audience is willing to suspend all disbelief and go along on a wildly fictional journey if the story is universal and unique enough. Finding and feeling those universal aspects within that sci-fi landscape really did sculpt how I look at storytelling and is honestly why I have a potent aura of mysticism permeating throughout each of my films thus far.
As for the early years “making” (I use that loosely) movies via VHS, that whole process (shooting, editing with a VCR and then re-shooting, repeating) really opened my eyes to how whackass and exhilarating moviemaking was. Even at such a microscopic scale, that challenge was so sexy right off the bat. I mean I’m fairly confident if you ask other filmmakers why they enjoy moviemaking, they’d have some version of “the puzzle-making of it all.” It’s a love/hate process and I love/hate that about it.
How do you think your early life, growing up in the midwest, contributed to your desire to make films and the sort of stories you like to tell?
There’s a lot of solidarity in my work that’s absolutely rooted in my midwestern upbringing. So much of my time as a kid was spent exploring the outdoors by myself. I mean I would get into weird stuff like sneaking into neighbor’s barns and watching them take care of their horses or goats (completely without their knowledge or permission). There was just something about watching but not invading that really shaped how I tell AND create. I also looked at myself one day and said “Alex you just watched Mrs. Nesbitt brush and sing to her horse while you sat hidden in a haystack - you really must get the hell out of this town before you lose it completely.”
In all seriousness though, just the other day I was shooting for a short docI’m directing (featuring the divine Noosa) and just basically observed in a room with two musicians as they created an entire song from scratch. I quietly weaved in and out of their process as if I wasn’t there. I don’t honestly know how they felt on the other side of my camera but my hope was that the awkwardness eventually went away allowing the moments I captured to feel authentic to everyone in the room.
I think my early exploring is why I love slowly figuring out personal dynamics and story details in films. I don’t like things given to me on a platter and I think that’s very midwestern (to not ask too many questions and to figure things out on your own). I have a natural draw to the nonlinear which is absolutely reflected in my art.
Many of your films deal with LGBT issues--or rather, they tell LGBT stories. Is this an extension of your own sexuality writing what you know, telling stories that you yourself identify with, or do you make them primarily for social reasons, to help bring these stories and these characters to a larger audience, an audience that may not know too many LGBT people and might therefore be discriminative based solely on ignorance? We all know the power of media to shape the social consciousness.
Living so much of my early life amongst a world doused in heterosexuality, it is of course a goal of mine to continue fleshing out what the world looks like for queer folks. There’s an undeniable power in visibility and to be able to tell stories that really speak to a life that looks familiar to me is an incredible thing. If anything, I hope more filmmakers who fall under some sort of niche are inspired to create because using our voices and telling our tales is the most important thing we can all do as artists as far as I’m concerned.
In your interview with Amadeus, you say that, "queer cinema was and will forever be my first safe haven." Can you elaborate on that a bit? What is it about filmmaking that gives you this sense of security? And has being a filmmaker helped you confront and deal with any issues in your own way? Is this sense of security more in the way of the creation of the film, or the reception of the film by your audience, or is it some combination of the two?
Queer cinema was the first environment in which I was able to both flex my creative muscles and also be accepted for who I was conveying.
My first film festival experience was in high school and my content back then almost always got some sort of uncomfortable reaction from the audience. Not for the sake of quality but more-so for the subject matter. I remember parents shuddering when a short of mine dealt with lesbians being bullied and I just felt like I had created something dirty. I hadn’t felt that feeling the entire process until I saw this close-minded couple look at each other and then at their children nearby - nervous I was infecting them from what I gathered by their scoffs and visible discomfort.
Fast forward to a few years later when I had a film at Frameline and it was welcomed with such warmth and love from everyone that I wept in the stunning Castro Theater. These were my people and it was such a magical moment as a queer filmmaker and I am so thankful to be able to call myself that even to this day.
There’s such a hesitancy to drop the “gay” before filmmaker and I get that too hope we get to a point when “niche filmmakers” aren’t really a thing, but I’d be an idiot not to admit that it’s also been a really great way to be seen and welcomed into the film world. Being a part of a community like LGBTQ cinema has taught me not to fear the thing that sets you apart from the others around you.
What are you doing with your life now, where are you and what are your current pursuits?
Well I just celebrated my two year LAversary so I guess that’s officially where I’m at now (geographically-speaking). That’s still very odd to say. I’m not sure why but I think it has something to do with the whole lack of concept of time out here. It’s just an odd place that I’ve grown to really love the longer I’ve lived in it but I do miss the rich city life of Chicago and treasure every homecoming.
As for current pursuits, I’m finishing up post on a doc project with one of my absolute favorite filmmakers (and humans), David Weissman. He’s been hard at work on a new little docu-series of sorts called Conversations with Gay Elders. What’s so unique about it all is that David has made it a point to collaborate with gay individuals of all generations. I mean I’ve certainly never worked with this many gay folks on one filmic project which is beautiful. Each short is being edited by a different gay man and even the crews are queered to the nines. I adore it and am very excited to share what we have been working on.
This past fall I had a short in the midst of getting of the ground called First / Last but thankfully got too busy because not long ago I gave it a beautiful little overhaul with a fantastic actress / collaborator, Kelly Langtim (whom I worked with on a little spot of KIND Healthy Snacks), and am so much more in love with it now and hope to get it going in 2016. It’s actually quite similar to MUM in how we are showing something very universal but using a very specific, unique story-structure and device to tell it.
Lastly (but certainly not least), I have a feature screenplay titled Nevermore, Bernadette that’s been my main companion (and fuel) for the greater half of my time in LA thus far. It’s a little bit more in line with another film of mine called Finding Franklin in that it’s a fictional story very much rooted in my family. It’s basically a love letter to my mom, my brother, and to drag culture (chosen family). I’ve never been more excited about a film endeavor and really hope to get out of my writing shell with it this coming year because there’s only so much one can get done locked away scribbling and second-guessing. It’s just always such a struggle for me as a creator to let go of a script and involve others because then that early feeling leaves and never comes back. I loathe that but I love what follows so it’s always worth it.
About "Mum"; was this made as a personal project, or was it made as part of a class, or for a specific film festival?
I tend to write for the exercise and escapism so MUM originally started just like that – a short story I enjoyed playing with whenever I was stuck in a rut on another project. Thankfully I needed to create a thesis film my last year in college so I found a great excuse to get it off the page. There are a couple scripts I have that I really need to do the same with but I must say when it comes to personal projects, I really have to feel like it needs to be made. Otherwise, it just remains on my computer and works as a journal entry in a way and I move on to another story. When it sticks and get’s off the page, you’ll know there was a lot of heart and urgency behind that.
In your interview with "One Small Window," you say that you can't exactly pinpoint the original inspiration for "Mum," but can you elaborate a bit about what was going on in your life at that time, that might have put you in the mindset to write this script? How long before you went into actual production for "Mum" did the original idea and first draft come about?
This is actually so interesting to think about because I wrote an early draft of MUM pretty much alongside Finding Franklin. I was just very wrapped up in creating that short and took a mental break from it one weekend and wrote MUM on a whim. I think what makes it so hard to pinpoint is because I changed so much during from initial writing to final edit.
For example, the first draft of MUM coincided with the beginning of the first real relationship for me so it was so bubbly and in the screenplay, the emphasis was on the relationship and less on William’s journey. If I remember correctly the first draft was almost fully equal in screen time for William and Thomas which quickly changed as my relationship changed from merely something new and exciting and into something slightly more mature.
It sounds like you wrote your first draft quite some time before actually putting a camera to it. How, if at all, did the story of "Mum" change in that interval. What sort of changes or concessions or evolutions did you make when producing this script?
In the beginning, I was heavily influenced by being noticed. I think being in a city and being outwardly gay in every setting was so liberating and unlike the life I was living before so all the butterflies and sexual awakening that transpired was so intoxicating and I wanted to write about feeling so alone and lost until someone shines light on how life could be.
I’d say it all eerily mimicked my own journey that year and I’m so thankful I wasn’t under any real time crunch because the cut I had in May was SO different from the one I had in November. For example in that Spring I was just about to graduate and everything was so iffy and exciting but by Winter I was gearing up for leaving the Midwest and saw the journey William goes on so much differently and kept it based around him and less on the relationship portrayed.
I think that’s why I have really held MUM near and dear because although it’s a universal story, it’s also very specific and personal to me: it’s my time capsule for being 21 years old.
Where did you shoot? And how did you get access to your locations?
The entirety of MUM was shot in Chicago. We were really blessed with locations because on paper this probably sounded like such a nightmare to accomplish but everyone was so supportive and relaxed when we asked about filming. Scarlet Bar in particular was a dream because I loved that place and it was certainly one of my go-to’s in Boystown. Finding a pool was harder but again was still much easier than I feared going into it. The majority of locations we contacted (via showing up and also just simply calling) were very open to helping out young filmmakers and I think we have to thank the midwest in general for that. You couldn’t get away with what we did out in places like LA. Everyone here sees money first but Chicagoans saw story and I’m so thankful we were able to bring the story to life without having to lose things like being underwater.
In "Mum," you're not only dealing with LGBT themes, but also with the subject of deafness. Can you tell me why you made the decision to make your main character deaf, and how you approached telling a story from the point of view of someone who lives with deafness.
Thematically I used William’s new-found deafness as a way to show a shift in his life that he has to deal with and conquer - something he can’t change. Personally, deafness has always been such a fear of mine. I’m so inspired sonically that I couldn’t imagine living in a silent world. But it was the discovery of the deaf community that really changed that for me and saw how absolutely wrong of a perspective I had on being deaf. I hoped with the film’s positivity and hopefulness, it would speak to deaf gay men who hadn’t seen a version of their specific life told. There have been some gents who’ve contacted me with the most wondrous and honest responses and I must admit I honestly didn’t know how predominant the deaf gay community was out in Chicago until I went about making this film. It’s been such an eye-opening experience and am so thankful I got to make this one because it taught me so much about a part of the gay community I had zero experience with prior.
You start "Mum" underwater, and for me that's very evocative. I've always equated some of my favorite movies with the feeling of sitting at the bottom of the swimming pool, because it's such a serene and otherworldly environment. "Mum" also gives me that feeling throughout, carrying through from that first shot. Can you talk to me about your decision to start the movie in this way, how it equates to the reality being lived by your main character, and what you want the audience to take from this visual motif of water and submersion.
I’ve wanted to start a story underwater ever since I was a little kid spending my summer days pruning out in the good ol’ lake for hours on end. For me water is where I do my best thinking (those shower sequences are basically me every single day - just soaking and completely not helping the California draught while I assess life). I am such a waterbug and so when this story kind of came about in my head and I knew water would be the backbone, the small child inside me was ecstatic because I think water is just such a unique setting and device. For some, being submerged in water is relaxing – others, lonely or maybe even terrifying. I think starting a story there is so unique because nobody knows where it’s going to go because they have to first move past their own feelings on being underwater. That sounds silly but I find it so true. I just hope that by the end we are all on the same page when that last image comes up: a hopefulness and unity for William rather than an empty vastness.
Watching through "Mum" in preparation for this questionnaire, it occurred to me that the under water motif plays kind of a dual-thematic role. At first, it represents the loss of sense that William undergoes after a hate crime, but then, as the story evolves and he begins to connect with Thomas, it seems to represent liberation. Am I on the right track here? And if so, talk to me a bit about how you personally go about crafting metaphors in your work, how you think of them, and how you utilize them.
Holy cow I love how you worded all that. Totally on the right track. I think for me, metaphors are just such a powerful, universal tool. They also happen to be just really fun to experiment with. For example, I specifically remember doing laps at the pool I used to work out at in Chicago and would have semi-conversations with other swimmers in the water. I sound crazy I know but the pool equalized us and I loved that concept of taking two strangers and putting them in a scenario that united them. Also establishing William’s comfort spot in the pool allowed for his later scenes in the club to be a lot more powerful in my opinion because it’s such a stark contrast.
Beginning the film with William by himself and ending it the exact same way visually only with someone embarking on a new journey with him was such a striking image that stuck with me early on so I knew that needed to be the backbone. That doesn’t always happen but this film’s main imagery in particular really stuck early on. It was so surprising to see.
Color plays such an important role in "Mum"--from serene to vivid to sordid to muted, taking us on this inner journey with William. Talk to me about how you designed the visual aesthetic for "Mum," and what you were expressing with these shifts; every filmmaker has their own visual lexicon in there mind, certain things, colors, images, scenarios--a shorthand to evoke emotions--talk to me about yours, and how you utilize it in your work.
Gotta give a lot of credit and love to the most talented production designer I know and the collaborator I treasure most, Amanda Brinton, for she really picked my brain about William’s journey and what I wanted to convey through color. Now while I’m naturally quite a visual person, Ms. Brinton took it to another level. For example William painting the wall from white to blue and then yellow to white, etc was basically just to replace an internal feeling I noted in the script. Color kind of took the place of parenthetical in the script which was so unique. Amanda is such a genius at that - really getting you to think outside of the box about what a character is thinking and tell it in a more whimsical way.
I must also give some major love to our tremendous DP, Ben McBurnett, who also pushed me in creating a unique landscape for William (particularly the flashbacks). I remember the last thing we filmed was the dancing sequence with William and Jane having a blast before the night that changes William forever. In my mind I knew I wanted warm colors (reds, oranges) but Ben really brought out pinks, purples and even greens which surprised me on set and I just fell in love with it. He looked at it with such a unique and fitting eye. I’m so thankful he was the one to take it from page to lens because he was also a key player in the use of color.
In short I think I’m strongest as a storyteller when I have such passionate collaborators. I don’t think it’s unique by any means but I do always involve the department heads early on in the scriptwriting so that their ideas also make it into the piece. Film is the farthest from a singular experience and I think the making of it needs to be the exact same. I hope Amanda and Ben feel a special bond with MUM too because a lot of these creative decisions you bring up were very much from their mindbox as well.
In "Mum," the words on screen become another part of the visual tapestry that is the piece. Talk to me about why you decided to do this, rather than just using simple subtitles.
It’s funny because when I wrote this the texts were always to be shown in this way but I hadn’t seen it really done all that much before, but by the time it was released and especially in the year after, there was such a burst of similar text-aesthetics. I love that. It means to me that so many of us saw that texts could (and should) be seen in the space around us – like dialogue. Plus, who isn’t completely tired of cell phone screen inserts by this point?!
I could go on; it's a very rich piece and I think I could discuss it for much longer. But is there anything you would like to add, that you think our audience should be aware of, or that you would like to share with them about yourself, or "Mum" in particular?
Honestly I just love hearing how much a short film resonated with you and I’d love to leave on that note: films of any/all durations deserve the attention we often just leave to feature films. I know that sounds silly but it’s so true. The internet is a beautiful tool but it’s oversaturated and needs many tour guides so if you see a good short film, express your thoughts. As someone on the other side of the screen, I can’t put into words how much it means to have such an in-depth and worthwhile conversation about a little film like MUM. I’m downright touched. Giddy even. So thank you for that.
Oh and keep creating, everybody!