The DL Chronicles is an intriguing, sexy new short film making the festival rounds. The story is quite simple: a journalist undertakes research for a book on men living on the "down low," and his narration is the story of the men that are interviewed. Technically, at thirty minutes this is a "short" film, but the structure perfectly lends itself to episodic television. There's been strong feedback from critics and test audiences; the directors hope that traction can pilot this episode to the small-screen.
"We were originally going to shoot 3 episodes back to back, to distribute direct to DVD as a DVD series," co-director Quincy LaNear told Rod 2.0 in a conversation over the weekend. "Because of the great response, we have decided to wait and shop it to television first. We hope to be able to follow in the success of Noah's Arc and hits like The L Word and Queer As Folk" The DL Chronicles was written, directed and produced by Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett; you'll recall the latter co-starred in Parenthood, Sister Act 2 and the critically-acclaimed short On the Low. The creative team are also a real-life couple, and, for the first time, discuss their partnership to Rod 2.0.
Below, plot synopsis, a review and more conversation with the directors.
The film introduces us to Wes Thomas (Darren Schnase), a striving buppie and real estate banker. Early in the film, it's made obvious that he's attracted to men.
It's also made obvious that he's having marital difficulties with wife Sarah (Jessica Beshir).
Enter Sarah's brother Trenton (Ty Vincent), who is between jobs and moves onto their sleeper sofa.
However, Trenton wants to move off the sleeper sofa and into bed with Wes. Even though it's his brother-in-law, Wes is giving hints so you really don't dislike Trenton.
So begins their cat and mouse game of sexual tension that ultimately leads to the thrill of sexual intimacy. We weren't sure did they have a history, but it's quite obvious that there is sexual tension. The intimate scene is the film's climax, but this is very tasteful and non-gratuitous. "We didn't want it to appear pornographic and ruff, which wouldn't be true to the characters in this episode," says writer and co-director LeNear. "Men can make love too." The love scene is very romantic and almost surrealistic.
Over the weekend, we were lucky to view the short film at a private screening—lights off, a bowl of popcorn (lots of butter and celery salt, mmm good!) and on our own DVD player. The DL Chronicles is a quiet, reflective film—with the promise of a mini-She's Gotta Have It or Love Jones—but with the tension of a Woody Allen-esque ensemble piece. The Nina Simone-inspired soundtrack helps move the plot forward. Unlike most short films, the production values are fabulous; the art direction is top-notch, the photography and composition are solid, and, for the most part, the editing is tight. It's a good script—not over-written, but not the punch of a minimalist drama, which is okay. Too many shorts are Mamet-wannabes; their presentation becomes contrived and this is more subtle. There are nuances throughout the story that many directors would have exploited. Did Wes and Trenton have history? Did Sarah know that her brother had the hots for her man?
There are a few shots at a dinner party that are long on hints and glances, and short on dialogue; it works like a charm.
The intimate scene is not very long; it's more sensual and erotic than overtly sexual. The lighting is dim and dissolves are used to transition and advance the scene. We would have liked just a little more, but the structure perfectly works within the framework of not appearing too literal, and in the context of a pilot episode. Also, actor Ty Vincent (Trenton) appears just a tad reserved, but again, that's understandable. Co-director Quincy LeNear tells Rod 2.0 that the intimate scenes were shot on a closed set. "I actually shot the male-male scene myself because we wanted our actors to feel more comfortable by not having a room full of crew gawking at them and possibly judging them. It was just Deondray, the actors, and myself. The crew waited in the hall till we yelled cut. We had a predominately straight crew, pretty liberal folks, but people often react differently when they are presented with the reality of male-male intimacy."
Particularly impressive are the cast. Naturally, Darren Schnase caught our attention. He's gorgeous, assertive and follows the First Commandment of short films: Thou Shalt Not Overact. "Darren came into the audition very humbly, with a big smile," Deondray Gossett told Rod 2.0. "He was very charismatic from the start. When he read, it was clear who our Wes was going to be. We felt as if we were watching the episode right there in the audition room. He hit every character mark that we wanted Wes to have: innocence, charisma, vulnerability. Not to mention he was very handsome."
Another quality of Schnase—besides abs and a Colgate smile—is an international background that provides depth. Darren is from Australia, and you hear traces of the accent. "I thought he was Canadian," Quincy LeNear explained to Rod 2.0. "It wasn't until after he was cast that he let loose and revealed that he was Australian. And I mean really thick-accented Australian! I was so shocked, I didn't know we even came in that flavor in the Outback, save for the Aboriginals. Nevertheless, he blew me away with his audition. He performed it exactly as I wrote it."
The entire cast is multinational. Even though we're raving about Darren Schnase, we have to discuss Jessica Beshir. First, the obvious; she's flawless. She was born in Mexico City to a Mexican mother and Ethiopian father, and raised there and in her father's land. Jessica speaks five languages and graduated from UCLA with a degree in Italian lit. The education and background shows; her accent is brilliant and timing almost impeccable.
Ty Vincent, a native New Yorker, plays Trenton the slutty brother-in-law. He's also multinational—African-American (there's a phrase you don't often see here), Brazilian, and Italian, and resume boasting credits from indie films and theater, including the critically-acclaimed WesBeth, just two blocks from Rod 2.0's
studio apartment penthouse editorial suites. Ty is quite capable; his chemistry with Darren is not electric, it's much more subtle.
What would we change? At times, the third-person narrative by the journalist/author seems out of place, and may have to be further integrated within the subtext. If the project were green-lighted for the small screen, the narration could go and we would probably create more empathy with the protagonist. Also: a new title. With the "dl" label, the film may be handicapped by some of the backlash and revisionism associated with the term.
But, maybe that's all the more reason to stay on message and keep the name. "We hope that our series will in some way help to de-stigmatize gay/bi men and encourage an atmosphere where DL men won't be afraid to be who they are," notes Gossett.
Another factor was much more personal: the professional collaboration between Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett serves as a celluloid coming-out party of sorts. "We understand first hand the process of coming out, as Quincy and I have only recently come out publicly about our 9-year relationship," Deondray reveals to Rod 2.0. "I had starred in a film earlier this year called On The Low, and it was a constant struggle to decide whether or not to disclose my sexuality when being interviewed. Both our families have known for years, but to come out publicly can be sudden social and career death as a black man and actor in Hollywood."
We applaud Deondray and Quincy for coming out and have high hopes that they'll become another Hollywood power couple. It's exciting to see two gay black men in the industry; personally, it gives us hope and inspiration.
Rod 2.0 readers will remember that we absolutely loved Deondray Gossett's performance in On the Low. He was quiet yet intense, focused and appropriately vulnerable. 2 Cents Productions is the creative team between he and partner Quincy LeNear. They began writing and directing experimental shorts in 2001, including Showtime's award winning, Had U. Their narrative directorial debut was in '03 with their second feature, Of Death and Dying. After noticing a lack of cultural diversity in lgbt film, Quincy and Deondray were inspired to create a series about the dl. Deondray says that he grew tired of waiting for someone else to present a positive story. "There just wasn't anything that portrayed black men in the life, and if there was, I couldn't find them. Then came Oprah's segment about black men on the DL, and suddenly gay/bi black men were vilified and became the scapegoat as the definitive reason why there is a rise in HIV cases among African-American women. I was floored."
The DL Chronicles has an added bot of star power; the script captured the attention of Ahmed Best, who starred as Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars episodes I, I and III. His production company, Stop That Bangin'! Productions, came aboard to executive produce.
The DL Chronicles will debut in Los Angeles at Outfest's Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival on November 13th. It will follow in Atlanta at the 18th Annual Out on Film LGBT Film Festival on November 14th.See the trailer at The DL Chronicles 2 Cents Productions Out on Film Outfest Also: On the Low and A Conversation with Luther Mace