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“It’s sort of like having a somewhat unusual kid who’s going off to college,” says the out and proud director and writer Hunter Lee Hughes of his film Guys Reading Poems. “… Especially because the kid is different, you’re concerned that he finds the right major and someone to love that accepts him for who he is. I feel like that about this movie.”
Guys Reading Poems is a moody tale about one young man’s recollections of his unhappy (and at times, downright distressed) childhood and how he found solace and strength through the words of various poets. Last year, it was one of the most intriguing and consistently best-reviewed films on the LGBT festival circuit. Camp reported on the film’s big-screen release last May (https://goo.gl/4PU4CQ).
Now, with April being National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to revisit this one-of-a-kind viewing experience that has recently been released on DVD, Blu-Ray and V.O.D. by Gravitas Ventures. Guys Reading Poems has quickly been embraced by a whole new audience, yet the enthusiastic acclaim remains the same.
Hughes says the search for the right distributor/releasing partner for this film, his first feature, began practically when primary shooting started. He says: “This was a six-year journey and stars openly lesbian actress Patricia Velasquez, not to mention some of some of the most beautiful men I’ve ever encountered!”
Even as the film was doing well at festivals, Hughes and his team were also holding special “distributor screenings,” inviting representatives from companies that could help it along to a DVD release.
On a fittingly dark and rainy night at the Raleigh Studios, Daniel Bort, an independent producer’s rep, attended as the guest of Velasquez.
“He had worked on the distribution for Patricia’s earlier same-sex romantic hit Liz En Septiembre [Liz in September],” Hughes recounts, “so he was especially curious to see her work here.”
Bort was impressed with what he saw, and through his connections and recommendation, Hughes and company came into contact with Gravitas Ventures, a worldwide distributor of independent films renowned for its LGBT-themed releases.
Gravitas was supportive and artist-friendly, Hughes said, and they also introduced a new, brighter graphic for the DVD and online release.
“The original poster we had was fine for the theatrical release — darker and more moody,” Hughes said. “It suggested a lot to movie-goers about what they were about to see. But once you’re on a website, you’re listed in a whole line of other releases, and we needed something a bit brighter and more inviting to make us stand out. I feel confident this new design does just that.”
The DVD release also features a director’s commentary by Hughes, which he says will give viewers more insight into the film’s distinctive layers, as well as interviews with the cast and several filmed “shorts” of them reading poems.
Actor Daniel Berilla, an open and proud member of the gay community, plays the role of the assistant. An up-and-coming young talent, he found working with a creative mind like Hughes highly enjoyable and educational.
“When he first approached me regarding this project, my first thoughts were, ‘Thank you Hunter – I don’t get it,’” Berilla says, alluding to the seemingly arcane way that the story unfolds on the printed page. “But Hunter told me what the direction was he was going for with the film, and … he said he had full confidence in me and that this role was perfect for me. He later even added that he wrote the role while having me in mind, so I’m very grateful for that.”
Hughes said: “I saw Berilla’s role as providing some much-needed comic relief in an otherwise dark piece. So I wanted someone who could bring some joy and lightness and fun to the table.”
The role of the assistant, Hughes says, is part of a larger group of characters that becomes kind of a substitute family for the lead character. Berilla’s energetic positivity was precisely what the part required, Hughes said.
“Daniel is just adorable in a very specific way – his size, his features, his charm,” Hughes says. “When you meet Daniel, you almost want to smile straightaway. He makes you feel a little bit happier just by being in his presence. Those qualities come across here in the film and were important for the world we were building. You almost feel like he could be your cousin, so all of what he gives on-screen works.”
What does Berilla himself think he brought to his character that only he could? He says that for practically the first half of his life out in Hollywood, he actually was an assistant to an assortment of celebrities and executives.
“That’s where this whole ‘method’ part comes into play,” he says, “and I was really able to pull from my honest life experiences and portray that through my character.”
Berilla, whose “regular” job is working behind the scenes on the Paramount Network’s hit reality show Bar Rescue, said he found it gratifying that his director really understood the process a performer goes through in connecting with a character.
“Hunter is very good at getting actors to kind of become ‘methodic’ before even going in front of the camera,” Berilla says. “He loves to work one-on-one with an actor and really listens to their points of view and ideas. That can be pretty rare anywhere, but especially for those at the relative start of their professional careers, so I was pleased to find that he puts the time and effort into really making the actor become their best for their character. He also made the environment so relaxing and accepting.”
During the interim between the movie’s film festival success and its release onto DVD and V.O.D., Hughes initiated an unusual form of marketing by holding monthly poetry readings, inviting members of the community to the microphone to recite poems that they’d written themselves or that had some significance in their lives.
One such reader who was called upon to participate was a certain writer for this very publication (my selection was a dramatic recitation of Stephen Sondheim’s song “Finishing The Hat” from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park with George).
“With all the waiting, I felt, when in doubt, it’s always great to try and give something back,” the filmmaker explains. “Hence the idea behind these live, open-mic poetry readings.”
At another of these events, Berilla read a poem that he wrote himself.
“I like to write,” Berilla says. “And I have written a few poems in my life, but poetry was just a hobby of mine to cope with life when I was growing up. I won’t claim any particular poet has influenced me or what I put together — and it was definitely nothing like Hunter would give you, for sure!”
Now that the film is more widely available, Berilla is eager to share Guys Reading Poems with different audiences.
“I have seen the film now seven times in its entirety,” he says. “The things that always stand out to me are the great acting chops the ‘Guys’ that actually read the poems possess. They’re so real, raw and beautiful! Also, Hunter has his own poem that he wrote just for this film, and it is amazing! You can see his true self as a human being come out during this poem.”
As far as his favorite scenes in the film, Berilla says: “I like that people always laugh when I get spanked on the ass in one of the scenes. I also like anytime the camera is inside the ‘puppet box.’ Those moments are beautifully created by our production designer, Nathaly Lopez, and our cinematographer, Michael Pessah. Our cinematography throughout is absolutely gorgeous!”
Hughes plays a supporting role in the film, besides writing, directing and producing it. What was his own favorite scene involving Berilla?
“I’m not sure he’ll like my telling you this …,” the director says. “In the scene where the guys are playing poker, we were setting up and they were all seated, when we realized that Daniel’s feet weren’t touching the floor because ... well ... he’s pretty short in stature. But it was so cute to see his feet just dangling like that, not quite making it to the ground.”
This observation became the inspiration for an impromptu shot included in the finished piece, he says. “After seeing this, we quickly put together that because the guys were going to cheat at poker anyway, it would be great to add a shot of what was happening underneath the table, and to then see the boy’s feet just in mid-air like that. It’s still one of my favorite shots in the film.”
Berilla says: “My realistic hope for GRP is to spark conversations which will allow it to acquire the momentum that we had during its time on the festival circuit. I want everyone to know going into it that this is a very, very unique movie, and to go in willing to accept what’s on the screen. Once they do, they’ll be drawn in piece by piece and be captivated by everything as a whole – the acting, the black-and-white cinematography and the very specifically chosen poems for that exact moment of the film. I also want people to see how this inventive writer and director named Hunter Lee Hughes made a movie that everyone should experience – no matter who you are.”
Hughes remains unabashedly thrilled with the end result of his years of preparation, production and promotion.
He says, “I know it’s an unusual film that escapes easy categorization. It’s black and white, framed by 32 poems, and hops around between two different time periods and an imaginary world, but I hope it continues to find its soulmate audiences. From the considerable amount of feedback we’ve all gotten, I know they’re out there.”
Guys Reading Poems has been released across all major online platforms, including streaming on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes. For more information or to view the trailer, go to: http://guysreadingpoems.com/ or like them on Facebook at: /u>. To keep up with Daniel Berilla and his latest projects, go to http://danielberilla.weebly.com.
After the last 2 years of dealing with the pandemic and packing on those COVID pounds here are some motivational quotes that can be the spark plugs to our wellness engines. You can have a full tank of gas, a clean carburetor, all the fluids topped off, and 300 horsepower of Detroit’s finest under the hood, but you’re going nowhere without that initial spark. In your quest for well-being, you need a catalyst to move you from idle to ideal. Here are some motivational jolts to inspire you to get your health and fitness vehicle moving.
Make time for exercise each dayPhoto by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
Thomas Paine said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” You will have conflicts with making time for exercise each day. The treadmill will conflict with your enjoyment of the living-room couch and its fluffy pillows. Your body will engage in conflict with dumbbells and exercise balls as it seeks better health. Embrace these conflicts with excitement, and walk through the smoke and fire. Triumph is waiting on the other side.
Marathon runnersPhoto by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash
John F. Kennedy said, “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” The firefighter’s 55-pound weight loss did not just happen one day on a call. The computer programmer’s success in the Chicago Marathon did not just happen on a Sunday in October. The 4th grade teacher’s significant drop in cholesterol level did not just happen the day before spring break. These people made things happen…and it took time.
Ralph Marston of The Daily Motivator website, wrote, “What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” Let today be the first day in 28 years without a cigarette. Stay an extra five minutes on the recumbent bike at the gym today. Start training today for the three-day breast cancer walk that is scheduled for the fall. Tomorrow is always waiting to see what you put in your piggy bank today. Invest wisely and watch the dividends grow.
Full MoonPhoto by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Jill McLemore once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars.” Set that goal to trim 75 pounds from your body. Only losing 42 pounds puts you way out there with the North Star. Aim to run 750 miles this year. Coming up 68 miles short will still put you past that former planet Pluto and on your way to the Orion constellation. Dropping eight waist sizes by Christmas instead of the projected 10 will let you glow with the luminescence of several brilliant wonders in the sky. By the way, I think there’s a full moon tonight!
Zig Ziglar stated, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Tom Cruise was another aspiring pretty face in Hollywood about 30 years ago before starting to audition for parts in TV shows. Jared Fogle was a morbidly obese college student at Indiana University in the 1990s before beginning his Subway diet. Mark Zuckerberg was just another starry-eyed Ivy Leaguer until he began to implement a social network idea. They all have that common bond: They started something.
These motivational quotes should help get your wellness engine running and once your car is started there’s no telling where your health and fitness can go. Don't forget to end me a postcard when you get there!
This health and fitness article is brought to you by that guy who’s sneaky like a black hole and bright like a nebula. My name is Ron Blake and I can be found playing with my telescope at email@example.com.
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“I wish I could work out, too, but I just don’t have the motivation!”
Give me a dollar for every time I’ve heard that and I’d be in Cabo San Lucas with an umbrella drink right now. Let’s identify a few of your motivations to get you on the right path. They are there … you just need to realize them so you can make it a great 2022.
How about getting healthy so you can be at that Christmas celebration in 30 years with all the family gathered around and exchanging presents? There will be nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, children and maybe some grandchildren, all enjoying the sounds and sights of the season. That would be amazing!
How about being healthy so you can watch the first man land on Mars in 2030? You hear all the talk about preparing for a mission to Mars, but it will be a long time in coming. Just think if you were alive and well to see it happen!
How about being healthy so you can attend that 60-year class reunion? It might even be nice to walk into the function with a spring in your step and a glow of health about you! Many of your classmates will have walked past St. Peter and those pearly gates by that time, but you can give yourself a chance to stay here with some proactive measures.
How about being healthy so you can spend more time being relaxed and retired? It would be awesome to just not have to do anything you didn’t want to do! Get up every day and use that watch they gave you as a fashion accessory only. With a healthy body, you can spend ample time in the lap of leisure well into your 90s.
How about being healthy so you can walk your dog with your grandkids or great-nephews after that Thanksgiving meal many years down the road? It will be so cool to have that turkey dinner with all the relatives, but it’ll be even more fun to be able to move around without having to catch your breath between steps.
How about being healthy so you can continue to enjoy vibrant sunsets, thrilling football games, colorful leaves in the fall, summer barbecues, or birthday cards in the mail?
Everyone can find the motivation to work out! You just have to identify which motivation will get you to your starting line each day and which will help you get to your daily finish line.
There are plenty of great things to enjoy in life. Find your motivation and start earning your frequent flyer miles for your healthy life. Then soar into the future with excitement about what will be!
This article of motivation is brought to you by a guy who knows a good thing when he sees it. That guy of good vision is Ron Blake, and he can be spotted on that bright horizon at firstname.lastname@example.org.