Christian Detres: Let’s talk about Candice. How long has this story been rattling around in your head? How long did it take from the moment you thought about this character, to the point where you started production?
Tyler Martin: This is the kind of story I write a lot. I had an initial idea that was a very loose concept of what Candice ended up being. It mainly stemmed from the idea of a professional cuddler. I’ve had different variations of a script around that subject matter for a long time now, but I never quite found the right medium for it, or the purpose really. I just found that concept interesting.
So, I had it sitting for a long time. The producer of Candice, who was also in the film with me, David Gow, reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you write something for us? I’ll make it happen.” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I sat down and looked at a list of ideas that I maintain. Like with my other projects, I have another list of topics that I find interesting, and I just kind of see if any of them marry in any way. The one that ended up attaching itself to Candice was the idea of intimacy.
I thought it was a really cool challenge, specifically because I knew it was going to involve two male-presenting people. It’d be so fascinating to have a short film that felt genuine. We’ve gotten to a real raw place with intimacy between two guys in a non-sexual way. That felt justified. That felt like you actually were rewarded with something real. It came in under 15 minutes, and I thought that was such a cool challenge. That’s really where it grew from. I love dialogue so much. That’s how I find characters. It took a few drafts and me just writing in their voices and looking like a wild person in a few coffee shops talking to myself, but I found them eventually through writing different versions of Candice until I landed on the one that we have now.
CD: Danny, the character you so brilliantly play, in need of intimacy, or in search of intimacy, was incredibly convincing. You seem to melt into it. And I’ve seen your comedy roles; you’re hilarious. But this was bleak, a scar of a man. The first thing I was taken with was your range, but then I had to consider this particular performance and the maturity needed to make that character feel real. Were you drawing from anything inside, or is there someone that you know, or an amalgamation of people you emulated in building him? Or is this just from broadcloth; you just imagined this character?
TM: I found a lot of him through dialogue. But I’m also such a physical and visual person. There were so many aspects of his environment that were really important to me when I ironed him out. I really wanted his space around him to tell his story as well. I thought that was important, even though these aren’t topics that are talked about; I just really wanted them in the space.
And I also wanted his emotional journey to inform who he is, or how we are seeing him, I guess—not who he is, but how we’re seeing him right there and then. I’ll also say, though, a person who did inspire some specific characterization was Angus Cloud, actually, from Euphoria. Which, I don’t know if anyone would necessarily ever think that in a watch. But I’ve loved his character so much, and I do feel like Danny and him have some similarities. There are definitely some “-isms” of his that I really appreciate. I definitely use his character Fezco as a visual inspiration sometimes. But that would be really the only thing. I’m such a physical person that it usually starts with the hands. I figure out what the character does with their hands first. It’s kind of weird, but that’s just how it is.
CD: The hands are the hardest thing to know what to do with—the hardest thing to figure out, I guess. Hand movements are second nature to each individual. Finding a plan for your character’s hand movement is a great place to start when making a concept of a person into a fully realized thing. Everyone has their mannerisms. A lot of times when I’m doing a Zoom interview, just talking to somebody, I’ll do this (folds hands together, elbows on desk). The reason is, I’ve got way too much Latin in me. I would just gesticulate wildly the whole time. So, I try to restrain myself for that reason. But, you know, if someone were to play my character, they’d have to know, “Oh, no, he clasps his hands a lot,” because he’s trying not to look like he’s flagging down the police on the side of the road in a normal conversation.
I generally am drawn to performances that have really unique specificities to them. You can tell the bodywork was finely tuned—that this is not just an afterthought. You also directed this piece. Tell me a little about that experience. How does being in front of and behind the camera work for you on set?
TM: First, let me say I’m so thankful for my assistant director, Chelsea Childs. She’s a wonderful person but also a wonderful support to have on set. How I work as a director when I’m in it is I will have a little rehearsal. I’ll direct and then watch the first take. After giving notes, I like to give the reins to someone else, and I don’t really want to watch the other takes until we’re done. It’s just so I can live as an actor in the moment because otherwise you’re thinking too much about all aspects. So, it’s great to have someone on set that I feel so comfortable with and could talk to about all details in an explicit way.
I want to make sure I’m hitting my marks. I want to make sure, as a character, and in my physicality and vocal range, that everything is in sync. My speech pacing in this film is really different from how I usually talk. I wanted all that to be consistent. Chelsea and I had a lot of dialogue around that, and her being there for me was key just to have a set that was so lovely, where everyone was really there for the project.
CD: I mean, it comes across. It’s obvious. There’s a lot of love in it—a lot of understanding. In fact, on that point, this has been the summer some really hard, deep reflections on male fragility have been broached. I don’t know, maybe it primed me for watching your short because I was already in the mindset of “fighting the patriarchy.” But what struck me, I think, deepest as a man, is the sensitivity put towards male fragility or ego fragility—laying bare some things we hope nobody notices about us, about how we don’t cope well with certain things or have wounds that we’re not allowed to express distress over. Danny obviously has some affectations that are defensive. There are wounds there that are expressed and talked about, but there are things that he’s not saying—wounds so large that they’re just a canyon of hurt, cemented into a mental landscape. To see that embodied with such sensitivity and with a non-sexual sensuality is rare. Super, super rare.
There are times receiving affection can put a lump in your throat; just a stroke of fingers through hair, or just a meaningful hug, can bring a man to basically the brink of tears. It’s so saddening to me that that lack of affection is in our society. Was there anything that you were bringing to this project that enabled you to be more eloquent with it?
TM: The reason I was so interested in intimacy, and why that was such a major topic to me at the time of writing Candice, was that I had just come off of doing a reading. It was my first public stage reading of my play Bonded in New York, right before I started writing it. Bonded explores trauma bonding, which I’d actually say is also in Candice. The big topic within that is sexual abuse, intimate abuse, and varying forms of emotional trauma. I actually partnered with a beautiful organization called Men Healing. The organization provides resources to trauma and abuse survivors, specifically male-identifying, because it is so rare that we have any focus on those issues.
It’s even rarer for someone to step forward to say they have those issues because most don’t have resources, internally and institutionally, to deal with them in an understanding atmosphere. It’s such a crushing system we have against male-identified people, especially when it comes to abuse or intimacy, so I come from there. That is really important to me. I am a person who enjoys the subversive. I really enjoy something that doesn’t feel so in your face but is more about a character’s journey and you’re there for the emotional storytelling. And then you leave thinking, “Oh, I have actually all these topics that I could easily discuss with someone,” and that was the same as in Bonded. It’s a very nuanced piece.
CD: Where did Bonded show? Where did you put that on? New York?
TM: Yeah, so we did Theater Row, which is a great complex on 42nd Street. It was me opposite Bellamy Young. Such a beautiful person on stage and off. A big reason I wanted to work with her was she’s an activist. She is an artist who is an activist, and she was so vocal about the topics that we were discussing, which I thought was really important for the piece. And also with Thomas Caruso, a director who’s done a ton here in New York, Broadway and off Broadway. So, the team was incredible for that piece. It’s a three-hander. It’s a very small play.
CD: Yeah, I’d love to read it. I’ll try to look for it.
TM: I was in a good headspace to tackle Candice, especially in a way that didn’t feel like—I love laughing through tears, storytelling. I love it so much. I thought to myself, how can I tackle all these issues in a simple way that didn’t feel ‘in your face’ or ‘over the top’—that it felt genuine? There are so many layered issues like male fragility and where we are in society, right?
CD: Yes. And thank you for your comments on that. I want to bring it full circle back to the film itself. Tell me about the journey of actually filming it. Also, how has it been received since you started showing it? What have you found to be the things people have responded to that were surprising? How did the film develop, not so much as a project, but as a product, once you were finished? This could help a lot of aspiring filmmakers that are trying to do exactly what you’re doing.
TM: I fell into the editor role, which happens a lot when you’re working on your own stuff. Yeah, I actually love editing, but I had to do it quickly. That was a little stressful, but the editing—that’s when you find all your lovely beats that you didn’t know were there. You find aspects of your characters that you didn’t know were there. You can highlight the ones you love, tone down the ones you don’t love. That’s where all the magic happens. The edit and finding the right music. The music, oh, I love the music (ed note: Jack Lee, if you’re interested). And so, finding that artist and finding his work was really—it completely changed the film. I did a few edits of it. I would send it to the team and ask for feedback. I’m really happy where it is sound-wise, but it was against us. We were in an RV, and the generator went out on day one.
CD: You’re not really making a film if things like that don’t happen. Like, that’s the litmus test for whether you’re actually making movies if something disastrous happens immediately. Haha.
TM: We were literally about to do our very first take. So, we had been setting up for a while. We had done all the lines. We did my demo, right, like everything was good. The generator went out, and we were kind of screwed. We ended up stopping, so we lost a day, which was really sad. We had to go to Home Depot to rent a generator, and that thing was massively loud. So loud. So now we really only had two days to shoot it. We had scheduled three days, which was also a little bit of a beast. We had so many sound issues throughout the whole thing, so I was thrilled we got what we did.
CD: Yeah, I was about to say, how much of it did you have to do in the studio? ADR dubbing?
TM: We actually didn’t do any, but I thought about going back and doing the whole thing, but we’ll see. We’ll see if that happens.
CD: Oh, no, don’t. It sounds perfect. It’s great. Don’t change it. It’s amazing.
TM: That was quite a stressful time during the end of it. But then when releasing it to people, it was actually so… I don’t know, I almost said fun, but that seems like a weird word to use. Getting to share something that is… fragile—Candice feels very fragile to me.
CD: Oh, it’s straight gossamer, man. I bet it’s mad fragile. Yeah, but beautiful, beautiful in its fragility.
TM: Yeah, and so handing that to someone—like the first few people—I felt extremely vulnerable handing it to them. The responses were so special because of what happened with Bonded, my play, kind of a similar thing. People came back sharing their stories, which is like the best thing I could ever ask for. Putting any art out into the world that then inspires people to talk and share their own experiences is something very, very special to me. It brought back memories to people that they forgot about, or sensations that they haven’t talked about with someone. The urge to be held, to be touched, to be listened to is such a just a human thing that we don’t really talk about in a raw sense. I’ve had so many amazing conversations with women that have very similar feelings about sharing their vulnerability because of the patriarchy. Our times set them up to be vulnerable; they’re set up to be emotionally available. And that’s a lot. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. So the same things that are hurting guys are hurting women—and all the people in between. To be able to talk thoroughly about all these nuanced topics has been really, really special.
CD: I think it’s a natural inclination to ‘front,’ to pretend to be something else. Because whatever it is that you are just isn’t “good enough.” One of the greatest tragedies of modernity is that the idea of being close or intimate or just naked, metaphorically, and to feel you are not “good enough” inherently. All of you, and all of your parts together, amount to something shameful—something to be hidden and protected. So, put on this clown nose, put on this costume, or this mask, or whatever it is, then maybe then you’ll be good enough. Maybe. When you get locked into receiving intimacy based on that mask, or that clown nose, or that costume, and you know it’s not because of you—because of what’s actually going on in your head—that’s tragic. We create our own prisons, pantomimes we have to keep up. The falsity of it is even more tragic, and it’s a spiraling thing that just creates more and more uncertainty, and more and more awkwardness, and more and more despair. No one’s ever being reacted to because of who they are. They’re being reacted to because of who they’re trying to pretend to be. Your film made me think about all this. It’s not even part of an interview I wanted to do. I’m not even asking you a question. I’m just saying stuff, haha. I’m curious because you said that it was difficult bringing it out to people, sharing it with people, because of how intimate it is. Can you describe the first time you showed it to somebody who didn’t work on the film, like who wasn’t there with you while you were editing it or helping you run lines? The first time you showed anyone just cold?
TM: What is so fun about the film is that it is deceivingly simple. On a first watch, it’s been entertaining to witness them experiencing it. There are plot points that shift three or four times in the film. So they’re all, “Is this the film? Is this the film? Oh, this is the film?” You’re slowly learning about these two characters and there are, not “twists,” but shifts. It’s a journey you’re on with the two main characters. You never remain in a place where you’re thinking, “This is gonna be that kind of film. Let me be sad now, or let me just relax and laugh.” You don’t know exactly what to expect, and there’s something really exciting about that. It was especially fun to note at the beginning of showing it to friends that the film kept them off guard as to what it was even about. How it was intended to be perceived. With exactly what you were just talking about, we, as humans, have such an urge to label things. We want to be able to label all the people, places, and things, and all the nouns—to put them in certain boxes. But nothing usually fits perfectly in these boxes. One of the greatest compliments is when people tell me they have to sit and watch it again, to fully absorb it. That’s been really fun.
CD: I think the word “damn” went through my head the first time I watched it. Just “damn.” It was powerful in a very unexpected way. Each beat delivered something new either about the character or the situation that made you reconsider the whole piece. It didn’t just subvert my expectations, but my understanding up to that moment. I was very impressed by how strong, and sweet, and honest it was. What’s next on the path for the project? Film festivals? Streaming?
TM: No distro as of yet. Debating how I want to approach that. Festivals though? We just kinda started. Richmond will be our second, and I think on from there to New Jersey, one in Palm Springs, and we also have one in… Oh, where is it?
CD: “Oooo look at meee, I have too many festivals my film is in…” hahahaha
TM: In the next three to four weeks we have a lot of notifications to come in. We’re riding the festival train right now.
CD: I think my purpose in speaking to the filmmakers I chose to respond to for this series of interviews is to give up-and-coming filmmakers a reason to see themselves in your stories. Because they always start so humbly. It starts from having an RV and a generator that decides to break the first day. You have to deal with bad weather, wonder how much money you have invested in this, and question whether you’ll ever see any of it back. These uncertainties happen to everyone. No matter the talent level, no matter the investment. I think I’d like to inform the expectations new filmmakers have that are starting out. To calm them down when they inevitably hit these walls and feel, “oh shit, I’m not doing this right…” to “no, no, you are doing it right. This job is just really hard and relies on a lot of variables I cannot and never will be able to control.” It’s liberating when you finally get it. Randomness happens, and the beauty in achieving art relies on embracing that reality. Being able to come up with solutions, thinking on your feet, and changing direction—these are the base skills that make the filmmaker. At some point, you learn to use randomness to your advantage. You start planning with unpredictability as part of the experience.
I think people will look at what you’ve done and appreciate it the way I have. You’ve taken the most bare-bones of resources and turned accidents into happy accidents, limits into metaphors. You’ve elevated script and performance above largesse and opulence. There’s seriously nothing about this that is overdone, or lacking.
Do you have any wisdom or insight I can pass along via this interview for those looking to follow in the same path?
TM: 100%. To touch on what you said about scope, I think it’s pretty fun to work under certain parameters. To put myself in a box so I can break myself out of said box. Sometimes I think that’s really beneficial because we do have so much opportunity as filmmakers now that we didn’t just a few years ago. It’s continuing to evolve and grow. Give yourself parameters that benefit the story and focus on stories that fit the parameters of your resources.
There’s a person I was listening to the other day talking about the first feature they ever did. They were constantly “knocking on doors” looking for help but then realized that why would anyone help when he wasn’t willing to help himself first. That is such good advice: to be able to just get up and do the thing because you believe you can do it. There’s no need to overcomplicate things. No need to make it grander than it is. Use what camera you have, use your phone. Just go out and do it. But also, if you have a block at some point in the process, like “I really hate writing. I really hate being in front of the camera,” there are so many people that love doing what you hate doing. Invite some people along! That’s where the real magic happens. When you’ve got several people doing exactly what they love doing and doing it well. And for real, remind yourself, what are the stakes? I mean, really? Like, if that generator broke. What if we never got it to work or were able to replace it? We still would have made a film.
CD: It might have been darker, haha. Or really, you might have just had to shoot it in the day.
TM: Or a different location even. But the point is, it was going to get done one way or another.
CD: And when you know just how many movies get made with invisible compromises peppered throughout the whole thing, those hiccups we face on set don’t seem so scary. Thanks a lot for this time, man. Good luck and can’t wait to meet you at RIFF.