VIFF 2018 Interview: COMING OF AGE director Doug Tompos

“Is sex ‘just sex’?  Can trust exist in the age of Tinder and Grindr?  The loss of innocence can come at any age, and when a younger man pushes an older one to look at his romantic ideas of marriage and monogamy, the afterglow of sex takes on a very different light.” Director Doug Tompos on COMING OF AGE which screens at the 2018 edition of VIFF.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

I was in Vancouver very briefly many years ago, but it feels like my first time.  I will be at both screenings of the film and am really curious how audiences here will receive the film and it’s subject matter.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I got my start as an actor in New York, appearing on Broadway and in regional theatres for many years before heading out to L.A.  I’ve continued to work in film and television on shows like MAD MEN, THE WEST WING, MASTERS OF SEX, FRAZIER and more. I am now branching out into writing and directing.  This is my first film as writer and director and I am very proud and grateful for the attention and support it is getting.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

I’m in a writing group in Los Angeles and one of the topics that came up was about the state of marriage in our culture today; what it really means anymore, is it possible for people to be monogamous and should they be?  This story came out of my wondering what it would be like if I had to enter the dating scene again after being in a long-term relationship and having never been on any dating or hookup apps. I started asking friends of different ages what their experiences were like and it struck me that a lot of people are struggling to find and even define intimacy right now.  And, particularly in the LGBTQ community, there are very polarized views on the subject. The group ended up writing 15 shorts that we then shot over a very long three and a half days with each of us crewing and sometimes acting in each other’s pieces. It was very intense but extremely creative and inspiring. I was acting in my own piece as well as directing so I was very dependent on my AD and the cinematographer to capture my vision and keep it moving in the short time we had.  A lot of the film is intentionally done in two-shots, not only because of the limited amount of setups we could create, but also to keep the balance between the points of view of the two men and to allow the audience’s empathy to flow back and forth. Like many indie films, post-production was reliant on the generosity of some very talented people working for next to nothing. I’m very grateful for the support people gave me and I’m very happy to see how everyone’s work is being received.  We’ve been in 15 festivals so far, including Cannes and now Vancouver, and will hopefully continue to be screened around the world.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much caffeine?

Honesty and integrity turn me on in life so I think that’s what also inspires me in film as well.  Espresso and chocolate certainly help, but the thrill of capturing a simple moment of true connection between people is what really drives me.  Being both an actor and director, I can appreciate the risk and vulnerability it takes to expose that truth sometimes. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s better than chocolate.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

I would say the extremely limited time on set was the biggest challenge.  No one wants to shoot a film in just 3 hours but somehow we did it. And then to get into the editing room and realize that we actually got the coverage and shots I envisioned and that the piece had an emotional resonance was incredibly rewarding.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We shot in 4K on a Canon DSLR.  I had never worked with Nick Cinelli before but I would definitely collaborate with him again.  His sensitivity to the material and his ability to light and shoot quickly yet still capture such a rich, painterly look was invaluable.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Vancouver?

I’m very excited for the Q&A’s with Vancouver audiences.  I tried to present a balanced and honest expression of both men’s points of view in the film, and that tends to provoke a strong response either on one side or the other, depending on the viewer’s own past relationships, age, and experience on dating apps.   I had a fear that the film would only be relevant to a LGBTQ audience but it really seems to be resonating with people no matter what their age, gender, or sexual orientation. I was very encouraged when my editor, a heterosexual male in his 20’s, saw the footage for the first time and said “Wow.  I really relate to this. This is exactly what I’m going through with some of the women I date.”

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

The film is actually playing in 4 festivals this week! Tampa International, Atlanta Out on Film, Ft. Worth QCinema and Vancouver, and then goes immediately to Sacramento for their BENT LGBTQ Festival.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie, like talking and texting?

Well, that kind of thing baffles me, in a way, because we come to a film, ultimately, to connect, don’t we?  To share an experience, to escape our lives, to learn a little more about our humanity while being entertained.  But our culture can breed a very self-obsessed or entitled mentality that makes people forget basic social awareness.  So after I dealt with my rage, I’d try to remind them to be present and aware of what’s going on around them. It’s not just about respect for others, but also respect for yourself.  Let yourself have the experience and let others have it, too.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Whatever you create, trust your vision and your instincts.  You will get a lot of ‘input’ throughout the long process of writing, shooting and editing; a lot of it helpful and insightful, most not, and people will have very strong opinions about your work, but at the end of the day, it’s you that will have to live with the final cut, not them.  There are always things that you wish you could change, but go as far as you can, push beyond what’s comfortable and create your film – one that you can stand by unequivocally.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I saw a documentary at the Woods Hole Film Festival this summer called SKID ROW MARATHON that really moved and haunted me in a way that few films have.  It’s about a judge in L.A. who started a running group to help people struggling with recovery and homelessness. It was shot and constructed like a narrative and the filmmaker captured such honest, vulnerable moments of the people in the story that I’ll never forget it.  Its message of connection, generosity and redemption was a great inspiration for me as a filmmaker and also as a person, and I really hope it will get the distribution it deserves.


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