Lloyd Eyre-Morgan trained at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in film production. He has written and directed four successful plays and two feature films. This interview, completed by email on 8 May, explores the creative process behind his first, Dream On, which is released in the UK in June.
Tom Ue: Dream On began as a hugely successful play. What led you to adapt the play?
Lloyd Eyre-Morgan: I wrote Dream On as a play with the intention that I would, one day, adapt it into a feature film. I found that theatre offers a great opportunity to develop both stories and characters. Drawing on the theatre audience’s feedback, I was able to develop Dream On into the film that it is today.
The original play was actually a lot lighter and upbeat: it had quite an idealistic ending which I felt was perhaps a little too disconnected from reality, with George and Paul riding off into the sunset together. The audience complained that the ending was a little too easily resolved and not dark enough, so with the film, I definitely took a dark detour in the final chapter. I really hope that the play lives on after the film’s release; I’d love somebody else to put it on somewhere, with a new cast and director. It would be great to see what they do differently.
Did adapting the story change your perspective about the story?
The story made me think about the concept of youth dreaming, and how things are never the way we hope they’ll turn out. Paul is convinced he will run away with George into the sunset, facing the journey of growing up together when, in reality, the journey that he ultimately has to face is growing up on his own journey. We can take pieces of the people we meet with us but ultimately we face most of life’s biggest adventure alone – the transition into adulthood.
You have kept the film’s cast relatively small. Was this decision provoked by the play?
The play had a cast of five, so the film more than doubled this – I think to about 14. It is relatively small for a feature, but I didn’t want to lose the focus of the story around the five central characters.
The film’s dialogue is razor-sharp. Tell us about the writing.
I grew up going on holiday to Welsh campsites, so that’s the setting that inspired my writing. I wanted to embody Welsh culture in the dialogue by including some Welsh sayings and humor. My family are Welsh and people don’t ever want to leave Wales, “Why would they want to? There are beautiful valleys for miles around, a supermarket down the road, and lots of sheep”! I wanted to write a story where the two characters are gay but the film doesn’t dwell on it through dialogue. The two lead boys don’t really discuss the fact that they are gay: they just accept that they have fallen in love. Neither Paul nor George really understands why people around them don’t understand that they are in love. They are both very innocent and naïve to the world around them.
How do you see this project as being different from contemporaneous films about growing up and homosexuality?
The film is a period piece. Both boys are from sheltered homes where gay culture is presumably not discussed. There’s no gay popular culture in this world as there is now. I think this setting makes the boys’ love more innocent. Neither of them understands the attraction but they can’t fight it either. It’s only Denise [Paul’s mother] who fears the world for them. Her innocence is missing: she’s seen the horrors of the world; she knows it isn’t going to be an easy ride for her son to be gay in 1987. Denise has seen only negativity towards homosexuality and has a very fearful view about it – as did a lot of people in England in the 80s due to the AIDS epidemic.
Why set the story in 1987?
Apart from the reasons above, I love the 80s, the style, the music – Andy Oliver did a great 80s soundtrack for us which really embodied the feel of the 80s.
Was the film’s setting during Thatcher’s third election deliberate? How so?
This was deliberate. I wanted to include Thatcher to show the depression that working class England was in at the time. Everyone wanted to escape, which is a huge theme in the film. The time frame sets the tone of the film in a dark era, which is upset by Paul and George’s innocence on the campsite that summer.
Bradley Cross [Paul], Joe Gosling [George], Janet Bamford [Denise] and Mark Hill [Larry] reprised roles in the feature film. Bradley and Joe built great chemistry during the stage version, which I wanted to transfer onscreen. Janet shaped Denise’s character during the rehearsal process, taking her character on a wonderful journey. Her performance is fantastic, making us laugh one moment and cry the next. Emily Spowage [Angharad] came on board through open auditions in Manchester and she was instantly cast from her great comic timing. She has a real talent and brought Angharad new dimensions that I hadn’t seen before. Mark Hill and Matthew Seber [Norman] also brought great comic timing into the film. I can’t fault any of the cast.
The film looks excellent visually. Tell us about its visual style – particularly Paul’s and his mother Denise’s very distinctive tent – and your decisions with the costumes.
We had great directors of photography Andonis Anthony and Jonathan Boothby, who captured beautiful shots, and who really brought my vision to life. I wanted to make Paul’s world claustrophobic around his mother, hence the one-man tent being shared between them – horrific, I know. With costume, I wanted to go extreme 80s with Angharad. She really embodies young fashion in the 80s. Many of these costumes belonged to actress Emily Spowage who plays Angharad.
The use of camping, traditionally a way to bring together families, to show some of their dysfunctions is quite ironic. Was this decision informed by other films and/or literature?
From going to campsites as a child, you get fathers stomping off for walks to get away from their families. Rain trapping you in tents, where if an argument sparks you could be in there for a while – no escape. Camping is dysfunctionville. It’s just hidden by misconceptions created by Carry on Camping films and Disney movies. I find the whole concept of camping claustrophobic. You’re usually in the middle of a nowhere miles away from shops, there is no escape.
What works inspired Dream On?
Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey. I am fan of his work so he definitely inspired me to write in this genre. 80s movies, and mostly camping in Wales myself and being a self-confessed Dreamer. I think that I realised I wanted to tell gay stories such as Dream On one day, when I secretly ordered the iconic series Queer as Folk when I was 16, hid it under my bed, and watched it when no one was in. Gay cinema and art can be escapism for young gay people who aren’t ready to come out the closet yet. It was for me.
Dream On centers on Paul’s and George’s romance, and the pressures that they face not only from their parents but also from George’s alcoholism. The parents in the film are largely dysfunctional despite their feelings for their children. What do you think separates Paul, George, and Angharad from earlier versions of their parents?
Interesting question, I think that we all reflect our parents and upbringings in some ways. George is searching desperately for his father’s approval, so he wants to become his father. George has been drinking with him from an early age, even with a bad liver. He tries and embodies his father’s approval by becoming the dysfunction that surrounds him. Whether his father had a similar upbringing is up to audience’s interpretation. I think that Paul’s mother was a wild child and saw a lot of horror in the world so she is trying desperately to protect her son – she fears being alone. Angharad is a free spirit, perhaps the freest, from her upbringings: she almost plays a mother figure with her father, cooking, looking after him, and helping to run the campsite.
All of the film’s characters have moments of vulnerability that are revealed to us but not to other characters. Was this decision deliberate?
Yes, I love how people have moments of hidden vulnerability in life. It’s fascinating. You can know someone for years and never see them cry, yet another loved one can see them cry every day. Angharad’s moment of vulnerability is the one that touches me the most.
To what extent do you find George personally responsible for the film’s resolution?
I think George’s youthful idealism inspires Paul’s ultimate resolution: he forces George to grow up, and he catalysts most of the change in the film.
Are Paul, George, and Angharad growing up too fast?
I like to think Paul, George and Angharad have an innocent glow that not many modern 16-years-olds hold in today’s society. They – especially the dreaming Paul – have a very idealistic view on the world where anything can happen as far as they are concerned.
Do you see any connection between one’s age and one’s maturity?
I think that maturity for the characters in this film lie in their experiences. Angharad is perhaps the most mature character: she understands the dangers of the world. She runs the campsite, and advises most characters during their breakdowns in the film, adults included.
Is their push for adulthood at odds with their idealism?
I feel that there is a lot of pressure to grow up which Paul fights throughout the film. Denise tries to suppress his idealism by not letting him have dreams. Paul can’t read comics, make friends, but his world and idealism explode open when he meets George. Without idealism, where are we all? If that didn’t exist, would we ever achieve anything creative? Once idealism is introduced to Paul, he begins to achieve and reach for his dreams, albeit adulthood and reality alter these dreams somewhat as the film concludes.
How do you keep this balance between their being forced to accept responsibility, sometimes for their parents, and their idealism?
I think that the balance is something a lot of young people have to deal with. We always apologize for our parents’ actions as children: it makes us aware of adulthood and sometimes delves further into idealism. As Denise’s actions play out, he delves further into idealism and tries to reach his dreams. He almost uses idealism to escape the world around him.
The film’s ending sees the seventeen-year-old Paul moving out. Are you optimistic for him?
I am optimistic for him, I think Angharad will move out with him and they’ll have adventures round Australia. Denise might turn up for the ride as well… Cough sequel.
I’ve just completed shooting my second feature film Celluloid; it’s currently in postproduction. Celluloid is a dark psychological tale that really gets into the minds of family dysfunction and it also contains LGTB themes. I’m also about to start shooting a new feature film titled Three In a Bed, a gay rom-com which I’ve co-written with new writer Neil Ely.
Thanks very much for this film, and we look forward to many more from you!
Tom Ue is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellow, and Canadian Centennial Scholar in the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London, where he researches Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of Henry James, George Gissing and Oscar Wilde.