In order to create the atmosphere he wanted in Brotherly Lies, director Mark Schwab used very little lighting. The film is set at a house in northern California.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY BROTHERLY LIES
When it came to his own films, Mark Schwab stuck to being behind the camera.
Then the pandemic hit, and Schwab was intent on shooting his latest film, Brotherly Lies. He even tried to cast the part of Harry but was turned down, leaving the role for him to tackle along with his dual roles as director and script writer.
“Its definitely not my m.o. to act in my films because I think it’s really, really difficult to act, direct, do rewrites on the spot. It’s a lot,” says Schwab. “I'd say the first setup that I did, it was like, ‘Ooh, this is tough.’ But then I just got into it. My cast was super supportive; they were terrific and helpful. By the end of the shoot I was actually enjoying acting again, which was nice.”
In addition , actor/producer Mark Balunis helped Schwab stay true to the film’s intent. The duo have known each other since high school, and Balunis is co-owner of their film company, Diamond in the Rough Films.
He's an excellent objective eye and knows exactly how I like things cut. He did a beautiful job editing the film. I basically touched nothing. He would deliver scenes and sequences and it's like, ‘This looks great.’”
Brotherly Lies will be Schwab’s first entry at Cinema Diverse, the LGBTQ+ Film festival set to open Sept. 15, and the first time the film will screen before a live audience. The film festival will offer in-person screenings from Sept. 15-18, and again Sept. 22-25. Brotherly Lies will show at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at Theatre 3 of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, and Schwab will be present along with some cast members.
As he describes in his conversation with Palm Springs Life, Brotherly Lies is not an overtly gay film to appear in an LGBTQ+ film festival. However, he looked at past programming at Cinema Diverse and liked how their lineups welcomed gay films that were “much more about the characters and less about the sexual identity,” Schwab says.
“I just want the audience to get absorbed in the characters, not have the sexuality be the hangup.,” he adds. “It's not that I shy away from it. It is who they are. But I think that'll be great for filmgoers. I think they're going to get something genuinely different with Brotherly Lies than what they normally get.”
VIDEO: View the trailer for Brotherly Lies.
Where do you see Brotherly Lies in the LGBTQ+ film spectrum?
I personally see a kind of gap a little bit or a lane in the LGBTQ film market, where I wanted Brotherly Lies to be a different kind of movie in that way. Something that was very thoughtful, very atmospheric. We shot it in a very unusual way, the way it was shot and the way we lit it. It's lit with literally a couple of candles, that's it. We used special lenses and camera.
The script is actually something you began writing in the 1990s. Did you have to update it in any way to make it relevant in 2020?
I think the one thing I did change a bit, if I look back at the original draft, is I really focused more on the traumatic elements. How people deal with trauma. I guess if there is an examination in this film, it's all of these characters are dealing with issues and they each have a different way of processing it. The David character is processing his trauma in one way. His brother, Lex, is processing it in a completely different way, even though they experienced a similar trauma in their younger days. That's where the conflict is between them. That's where the big conflict is. They're not accepting each other's process in how they're dealing with it. They're not listening to each other, really.
Same thing with Shane and David. Everybody is making the wrong choices here. That's another thing I wanted to play on. I think almost all of us have had strong feelings for someone that didn't have strong feelings back toward us. We don't hear it. It should be obvious to us, but we don't want to hear it. We hear something else, even when it's obvious to everyone around them. So that's also what's at work here as far as all the love triangles going on here. They're all in love with the wrong person. That's what gets played out because of this underlying trauma between the two brothers.
What do you like best about character-based films?
I've always been attracted to these situations where characters have to deal with something. They can't get out. That's why I love movies like The Boys in the Band. The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter. I'm just attracted to that material in general, because they can't escape. They have to deal with it. I find that's inherently absorbing if it's done right and can bring about a lot of interesting tension and storytelling and character examination. I like all of the characters in Brotherly Lies. In a way they're brave, because they do end up facing it and letting the ash fall where it falls.
You started your own film company, Diamond in the Rough, with Mark Balunis in 2000. Was that a statement at the time that filmmaking was your future?
If you look at the root of it, attending film school in 1997 is where I realized, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I definitely have the head space for it.’
In 2001, we shot a film called Pins and Needles. That was my first LGBT film. First time I'd ever done anything like that. We had a great run with that film. We got into festivals and we got people talking about it. We won a couple awards. We had this screening at the Vogue Theater in Hollywood as part of the New York International Independent Film Festival. Something like 380 people showed up to that theater. I don't know who they were. I don't know how they got there. Mark and I were there, and we were just flabbergasted by this. I said, ‘This is special. This is a kind of a fantasy come true.’
Then I taught high school for 11 years, and when I left teaching in 2012, we formalized Diamond in the Rough as an LLC. It really wasn't until we made Shadows of Mind that we said, ‘We got to really do it for real. We've got to spend some money and see if we can make something that a distributor can pick up.’ We did that. We succeeded with that. So 2017, I guess, was really the point of no return that ‘I’m going down the rabbit hole, no matter where it leads,’ and still doing it.
What is the future for indie filmmakers like yourself?
The one thing I try and tell indie filmmakers who are discouraged or frustrated, I say, ‘There's still a huge need for content. People still want to see films. We should be grateful for that. They still want to watch. They still want to look. Let's focus on that.’ I'm proof right here that you can make the film that you want to make and it's getting out there. People want to see it. That's why I'm just super grateful to Cinema Diverse for programming it because they saw what I saw, which is great.
• READ NEXT: Gay Artist Marconi Calindas Shows His Work During Cinema Diverse.