If there were a prize for most outrageous premise at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” would be ahead of the pack. The film follows Ben (“The Puffy Chair”‘s Mark Duplass) and Andrew (“The Blair Witch Project”‘s Joshua Leonard), two hetero friends who on a drunken night out come up with a plan to shoot themselves having sex with each other as a submission to their local alt-weekly’s annual amateur porn festival — it’s art, you see, and neither is willing to be the one to back down when sobered up the next day. For now, though, “Humpday” will have to settle for being Sundance’s early buzz film, its mix of squirmingly uncomfortable comedy, painfully realistic dialogue and bittersweet exploration of the ins and outs of male friendship and adult relationships winning the love of audiences and potential distributors alike. I sat down with the Seattle-based Shelton, fresh off a meeting with one of the latter, to talk about homemade porn and best bromance.
So… is Humpfest a real event?
And are the films that actually play there as, well, high concept as the one planned in “Humpday”?
I will admit that I have never been to Hump. It’s actually now called Hump — I think it was originally called Humpfest, that’s what I always remembered it being. It’s put on by The Stranger and it just finished its fourth year this October.From what I’ve heard, it’s a wide array. It’s amateur. It really is. Some filmmakers do it under pseudonyms, but I think it really is [mostly] just average people. I’m told that it’s like 75 percent not real porn, a lot of humorous stuff, goofy stuff like Sock Puppet Sex. [There are] some really artistic takes, but it’d be rare to see straight up normal porn. People really take it as an opportunity to play.
Did the festival spark the idea of the film, or did the film come first, with Hump worked in after?
The starting point of the film was Mark Duplass, who was in my same circle of filmmaker friends, but who I’d never met him in person until he came up to Seattle to act in a movie called “True Adolescents.” We found that our philosophies really coincided, and watching him act just completely blew me away. For me, I start with a person and then fish around for ideas and interesting challenges. I have to admit that the sexy hook angle was an attractive one — the idea of having a movie that actually might be marketable, or provide opportunity for some humor and real dramatic tension at the same time. I called Mark and said, essentially, I have this idea: two best friends who were real close in college, they’re a little bit older now, with two different personality types and lifestyles. They get into a situation where they decide that that have to try and have sex — I wasn’t even sure it was going to be making a porn.
My buddy Joe Swanberg was in town staying with me, and he went to see Hump — with his interest in human sexuality, it was sort of a must-see for him. He was so funny for the next two days. He talked a lot about the gay porn he’d seen. He was really interested in it as a filmmaker and as a straight guy, the feelings it brought up in him as a straight guy…it was intriguing for him because he’d seen gay porn before. He couldn’t stop talking about it. It got my wheels turning. In the back of my head I have these themes I’d love to touch on in work at some point, and one of them has always been the boundaries of sexual identity. I’ve always been very fluid there and so I thought that most people were probably ultimately [the same]. [laugh] But I’ve realized that no, for some people, it’s much more rigid — especially for straight guys. Not all men, for sure, but a lot of straight guys I know seem particularly invested in being reassured and reassuring everybody else around them that they really are straight. So I thought it would be really great to take people who were particularly invested in their sexual identity, especially straight guys, who take each other so seriously and can be so competitive. That was where it all started.