Jordan Firstman and Charles Rogers are the filmmakers behind the short film Men Don’t Whisper, which screened at Sundance and SXSW and is currently being expanded into a feature film. Jordan is best known for his celebrated darkly comedic works The Disgustings, Sold and most recently Call Your Father, which he is adapting into a television series. He is a writer on the TBS series Search Party, which Charles co-created and executive produces. Charles also co-wrote and co-directed the independent feature Fort Tilden, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. You can watch Men Don’t Whisper on Vimeo here.
Jordan Firstman and Charles Rogers are a real-life gay couple who made and starred in the short film, Men Don’t Whisper, which screened at Sundance and SXSW this year. The short, which centers on an insecure gay couple who attempts to act straight and have sex with women as a way to prove their masculinity to themselves and each other, is now being expanded into a feature film. With an hour and a half to fill, they poured their own relationship issues into the story, and in doing so, learned a lot about each other and their relationship. Here are 10 of the things they learned making the short and writing the upcoming feature of Men Don’t Whisper. Jordan didn’t know what Charles would write and Charles didn’t know what Jordan would write. No one knows who wrote this paragraph.
1. Basic people are fun to make fun of but they also have beautiful layers.
Even though our movie is a sex farce, in the vein of comedies like Some Like It Hot or The Birdcage, it’s set in a corporate world, chock-full of basic Americans. It’s really the first time I’d written something about basic people and it was strangely satisfying to skewer America’s common denominator. I have had countless interactions with basic people over the course of 30 years, whether it be a lovely lunch meeting with an executive who at one point calls my work “twisted,” or a ride with a Lyft driver who enthusiastically explains the plot of Halloween H20 to me, or even visiting a sweet aunt who keeps America’s Got Talent on far too loudly for me to hear her asking if I still like Los Angeles. Basic people are everywhere and their lack of self-censoring and self-examination is fascinating.
However, underneath this unwillingness to dig deeply within is a soul in epic turmoil. It’s the pain that comes from being unrealized, from not wanting to consider alternate possibilities, from not acknowledging mortality and the implicit imperatives of existence that we must leave behind some legacy of positive influence or else the unfolding narrative of humanity is doomed. They don’t think about that stuff.
2. If you’re going to satirize gender and sexuality, you have to know what you’re saying.
Early on when writing the short, we knew that if we didn’t watch every single intention and word in the script, a stranger from the internet would locate our families and systematically slit the throats of all our cousins until we publicly apologized for being offensive writers. Well, we didn’t want that future, and we also didn’t want to put anything problematic out into the world, so we made sure that at every step of the way to write a film explicitly about the kind of foolishness we are entitled to speak to – the foolishness of white gay men. That’s an easy task when you’re creating characters in a vacuum but it gets a little trickier when constructing a plot that focuses on lying to women about your identity so they’ll sleep with you. It’s a potentially disastrous writing assignment, but it was helpful to state at the beginning of this experience that we’d set out to write a movie about the shallowness and hypocrisy of gay men and how we’re victims of patriarchal influence – which leads me to my third point:
3. Everyone sucks because we are all victim to how much straight guys suck. But straight guys suck because everyone has let them suck for thousands of years. But straight guys also just suck of their own accord, as well. But also: everyone else sucks of their own accord, too.
It’s a powerful cyclical equation that may require some re-reading.
4. When you’re writing with your lover, establish up top who the funny one is.
It would have saved us hours of tension and disagreement if at the beginning we’d just established who the funnier person is. Everyone on this planet knows that we are both funny, but rarely is it established who’s actually the funnier person. It would have saved a lot of time and money if at the beginning of writing this we’d just said, “Charles, you’re the funnier one. If you disagree about a joke, the ball’s in your court.” I use myself as the example because it’s quicker to type my own name out on forms and paperwork, etc. But we could have just as easily decided Jordan was the funnier one, early on. It doesn’t matter. What matters is, we wasted hours disagreeing about whether my character should slip on a banana peel after every line Jordan’s character says.
5. You have to go to some real places together.
Without giving too much away, there are some important details in the feature that weren’t in the short about the specifics of our characters’ insecurities. In the feature, Jordan’s character feels inadequate in the face of my character’s career success, while my character feels inadequate in the face of Jordan’s ability to thrive in sexual situations. Sorry, I meant to say Jordan’s character.
So, a lot of the writing process required us to really lay out why we feel the ways we feel – especially given that those insecurities are true to life. So we had quite a few Adderall-fueled heart-to-hearts in pajamas with our laptops in our laps, disagreeing about how much of our dynamic is our own doing, how much we enable certain things in each other, how much we don’t take responsibility for … etc., etc., etc. …
It was kind of an exhausting process but I think it was ultimately rather therapeutic and cathartic to admit the things you’re most vulnerable about. I hope that at some point, everyone has the opportunity to state their most pathetic insecurities out loud and then turn them into a sex farce with their lover.
1. Gay competition is real even in a seemingly healthy relationship.
In Men Don’t Whisper, our two characters take their own insecurities out on each other. It manifests in a toxic competitive rat race to fuck women. Charles and I haven’t dared each other to fuck women (yet), but we have definitely experienced our share of competition with each other. I think this stems from the fact that in any marginalized group of people, there is a prevalent mentality that “there can only be one.” So when a good thing happens to Charles, it can feel like a bad thing has happened to me. But that isn’t really the case. A good thing happened to someone I love. That should feel good for me too. But at times it doesn’t. (Just being honest!!!) So in writing the movie, I think I learned that these feelings of competition are self-enforced and can be killed with a perception change. If I know where the feelings are coming from inside of me, and which insecurities they are tapping into, I can say, “Bye, bitch, let me be happy for another gay man!”
2. Gay men need to be better to women.
This is a very complicated subject for me, and something I think we both had to face while writing this movie. One of our favorite things to do as a couple is getting stoned, putting on a Nancy Meyers movie, and tearing it to shreds. It is truly heaven. But making Men Don’t Whisper and writing the feature version of it, we had to be hyper-aware of our own judgment of women in order to make the characters learn something about the way in which they view women. Gay male actress-worship is a tough subject, because on one hand, we are worshiping women, but on the other hand, we are just seeing them as these crazy fixtures that bring us joy and not as nuanced human beings. The characters in our movie use women in a much more direct way, but there are still subtle forms of misogyny that I became aware of in myself in the process of writing the script. I will still need to dissect and make fun of Nancy Meyers movies while stoned, but to balance it out I will try to do the same with an Iron Man movie.
3. When writing about your relationship with your boyfriend, expect to have to talk about your relationship with your boyfriend.
There were definitely some uncomfortable moments of severe honesty in creating this project. I am a firm believer that not every thought in your head needs to be shared with your partner, but when you are trying to write nuanced characters that just happen to be extensions of you and your boyfriend, it can get real. You find yourself saying things like, “Yeah, but YOU did that fucked up thing to me to make me do that other fucked up thing!” and then you have to correct yourself and be like, “I mean, Reese did that to Peyton. Not you. Reese … and Peyton … the characters.” So writing the movie was a form of therapy … that we didn’t have to pay someone for. Hopefully we will actually get paid for it!
4. If you speed-write a feature in Palm Springs and want to get a couples massage to relax after writing, don’t just choose the hottest men you find on the gay massage website without reading the reviews.
It was a bad experience that involved having to basically break into an apartment complex to go to a carpeted studio apartment with 25-year-old dogs running around. I didn’t learn much about my relationship in this experience, other than we both make rash decisions when we are on Adderall.
5. Learn from your characters’ mistakes.
Figure out what your problems are before involving a third party. Be nice to yourself and to your boyfriend. Don’t let things fester. Always apologize. Be as gay as possible.