This week’s Staff Pick Premiere, “Lavender,” from director Matthew Puccini, tells the story of a young gay man navigating a ménage à trois with an older married couple. Originally debuting at Sundance Film Festival, today, the film is coming online for the first time after an impressive run at SXSW, Aspen Shortsfest, and Montclair Film Festival, among others, as well as being acquired by Fox Searchlight.
Starring Michael Urie, Michael Hsu Rosen, and Ken Barnett, “Lavender” pulls the viewer into a believable Brooklyn brownstone world — and tenderly conveys the intricacies of the men’s complicated relationship. We were especially taken by how much Puccini was able to communicate so much through visual cues; in honor of today’s exclusive premiere, we got in touch to learn more about how the film came to be.
Here’s what Puccini had to say.
On the film’s origins:
“‘Lavender’ is inspired by personal experience. In 2017, I was two years out of college and had never been in a serious relationship. I was hooking up through Grindr a lot, and I ended up meeting a gay couple that was a bit older. The maturity of their relationship and their lifestyle really struck me, and I realized over the time I spent with them how badly I wanted those things for myself. I made the film because I wanted to put something on the screen that captured that yearning, which I think a lot of queer people in their 20s experience.”
On filling the gaps:
“A lot of what I make is a reaction to what I wish I was seeing more of, or things I’ve never seen portrayed accurately, or things I wish I’d seen when I was growing up.”
On filmmakers who inspire him:
“I’ve always been inspired by Todd Haynes, Jill Soloway, and Ira Sachs, and the ways they’ve quietly shifted our notions about sexuality. They draw these incredibly rich, detailed queer characters and then just allow them to exist matter-of-factly. As a viewer, I love spending time with a character and witnessing all their miniature heartbreaks and triumphs.”
“I was lucky to be working with the same casting director I worked with on my last film. Together, we scoured the New York theatre community for several months. Often when you’re going after more established actors, you don’t have the luxury of having them audition, so I was making a lot of decisions based on their previous work and my gut instinct. I knew, though, that I wanted to cast openly gay actors. It was important to me that this story was being told by people who could bring the specificity and nuance of personal experience to the roles.”
On giving actors room to play:
“I really do think that casting is the most important part of making a successful short film. Great actors can save just about anything. With this film in particular, I knew that it would only work if we took the time to find the right people. The characters were intentionally vague in the script; I wanted there to be room for smart folks to come in and bring their own warmth and personal experiences to these men.”
On creating a sense of safety on set:
“We were very lucky that all three of our leads already knew each other, and had worked together before in some capacity. There was so much baked-in trust and intimacy because of that. I was really trying to conduct a conversation more than anything else. If you put the time into finding the right people, you already know that they’re more than capable of delivering a great performance. It’s more a matter of inducting them into the world you’ve created, giving them ideas for things to try, and making them feel safe enough to play.”
On trusting your gut:
“The biggest challenge with this film was really the writing process. I had an initial draft of the script that I loved, but it was too sprawling and unfocused for a short. I spent several months shaving it down, and I had to leave out a lot of material that I thought was equally compelling. Everyone I shared the script with had a strong opinion about what should stay or what should go. It’s so important to know what the heart and core of your film is; to be clear with yourself about what you’re trying to say so you can navigate feedback without losing sight of the story you set out to tell.”
“You have to take care of yourself. I inflicted so much pressure on myself while I was making this film, and it almost derailed the entire thing. Luckily, I was surrounded by some of the most talented, patient friends. They kept me grounded and made me feel supported. There are going to be ups and downs anytime you create something, and you have to be prepared for that. It’s so important to have other things going on in your life, other things that bring you joy outside of filmmaking, so that you aren’t getting all of your self-worth from external validation.”