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Modern Family : The Saddest Boy in the World : Director's Q & A

Director's Q & A

Is The Saddest Boy in the World a queer film? Is Timothy Higgins gay?

My gut reaction would be to say no. I did not set out to make a queer film. I did not plan on writing a queer script. Is Timothy Higgins gay? I would say it is too early in his young life to say for sure. Timothy falls outside the mainstream of his specific culture, but his outsider status certainly does not make him automatically gay (perhaps it makes him more thoughtful than the average suburbanite). He is a nine year-old! Do nine year-olds even have a sexuality?

That said, watching the film now that it is done, I see a film that is quite gay. I cannot deny that my “touch” is gay—every film I have made has some undeniably gay element even though none of them have had as their concerns sex or sexuality. The precisely placed rainbow-coloured props, the dominant females, Timothy’s lispy voice, the Rainbow Ice Cream truck that offers him salvation—although these came together almost accidentally, they form an inarguable landscape of muted sexuality.

Is The Saddest Boy in the World autobiographical?

Maybe in spirit. I have never played Musical Chairs at my birthday party (although I have played it at other people’s parties). I have never been kidnapped (although I did concoct a stalker-saga when I was ten). I have never taken prescription drugs stuffed in Jello cubes (although I did take my vitamins this way). I cannot deny, as I assume is the case with most middle class suburban kids, that many of my life-forming moments involve the introduction and ejection of pets from my life. And I cannot deny that I was picked last for the team. I cannot deny, also, that I had a mild passion for cleaning coins with vinegar. Is the film autobiographical? Only in spirit. Is the film personal? Absolutely it is.

Did the making of the film go smoothly?

The Saddest Boy in the World was the Lawrence of Arabia of short films. I had never worked with such a large cast and crew, countless locations and August sun. Of course, as there was at one of my birthday parties when I was young, there was a bee attack—and of course, the lead actor got stung. He was a trooper, though—he performed some pivotal scenes with a giant welt on his thigh. This was the same day we found our crew Port-O-Potty melted into a puddle of blue, liquor bottles scattered like chocolate chips in a cookie. (We learned later there was a disreputable halfway house down the street from our location.)

The first day of shooting found me in front of a row of kids in a school gymnasium. Once they were all in place, maybe a second went by and then they all cried and whined about their legs being sore. They were standing for mere minutes! Two hours later, I am sure all twenty kids resolved themselves to discussing the torture I made them endure with their future high school counsellors.

What was your inspiration for making the film?

The mediocre Bette Midler film Stella affected me in a way in which most people my age, especially boys my age (I was ten), were not affected. I cried. Months after the revelation that was Beaches, which also made me cry, Stella was a tearful revelation for me. In the film, Midler’s Stella convinces her dowdy teenage daughter Jenny to throw a birthday party, to invite the cool kids and to wear pink taffeta. Stella’s intentions are good, of course; and her enthusiasm stretches out to her daughter, who temporarily forgets she is a social outcast. Mother and daughter bond and the whole thing is uplifting. But when no one shows up for the party, and there the girls are in their fancy dresses—and the streamers and the cake!—mother, daughter and audience are all brought down to earth to baste in the inevitable sadness of it all. And when the school jocks drive by and moon the naive duo, sadness is elevated to abject misery. How could they not see it coming? How could we not see it coming? The audience did see it coming: we are deliciously complicit in Jenny’s pain. We want Jenny to feel pain because pain is drama; and you can’t wallow in sadness if you haven’t first been willingly tricked into effervescent glee.

Stella elucidated my precarious relationship with birthdays—my sister, three years my senior, shared my exact birthday and thus the front lawn/back lawn divide will always resonate with me—and illustrated to me the necessity of pain in storytelling and the complicity of the audience in creating drama. I now seek to make the kind of film that can stimulate tears. The Saddest Boy in the World, admittedly, is not that film. But I consider it a stone in the road that may lead to what will be my teary career pinnacle.

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