The attraction of film is sharp: the over-exposure of identities, emotions and happenings to create a relatable falsity; a blemish of truth just barely noticeable, and all for the sake of entertainment.
Every individuals’ separate emotions are traced by the moving reveries; the glimpses of what could be, had there been an alternate means of existence. But beyond filters, effects and the sensationalized “lives” screened before us lies a story of someone’s reality, in this case, the reality of director, writer and film editor Alex Bohs.
Alex Bohs is currently “working [his] pantaloons off.” With multiple projects, pre-projects and presumably a few pre-pre-projects, Bohs has an instinctive way with life—understanding it, capturing it, and directing it to do as it would without.
Community is a subject used fondly by Bohs. As a source of inspiration and origin — a source he once feared would receive niche-y interpretations—raw people, raw places, and raw reactions have pushed Bohs’ three-pronged genius to create his brilliant, meaningful interpretations of life.
Who are you? Where are you from? What makes Alex…well Alex?
Aye caramba. The pressure! Well I guess for starters, my geographical backstory reads: born and raised in a teensy Hoosier town you’ve most likely never heard of called Battleground (or Battletucky if you have). Then a gal known by a select few as Lady Chi sashayed into the scene. With open arms, romantic summers and ruthless winters, she introduced stigma-free filmmaking, unsurpassed sleeplessness, cheap booze and the greatest collaborators I’ve had the pleasure of working with thus far, into my life. Naturally, like so many before, I left all that comfort and growth for the whackass world of LA in November of 2013. Thankfully I have no regrets to note thus far. Just smog. Lots of smog.
In non-geographical terms though, I guess what makes Alex “Alex Bohs” is the fact that he uses his ever-evolving knack for writing, directing and editing to try and answer that very spiel question – day in and out.
How did the Midwestern environment and isolation influence and inspire your first pieces of work. Do you still see those inspirations in your current work? Has your move to LA altered your films or ideas at all?
Let me give the short answer first in case I ramble: environment permeates everything, at least for me anyway.
Whether it hours spent riding the ‘L’ through Chicagoland or driving around the small, flat, corn-saturated confines of good ol’ West Laffy (West Lafayette, IN), I credit my draw towards nonverbal communication to all those years of solitude and quiet observing amongst the Midwest.
The more I think about this the more I actually realize just how dominant environment is in my films and so I’d say I’ve absolutely seen a shift in my work since being out here – specifically in how characters interact.
In a lot of my previous work, public transit and happenstance are what intersect storylines and force characters to meet. I didn’t quite realize this until leaving and living in a place where public transit is mostly just a myth. It sounds silly but it’s absolutely been a shift – moreso affecting my creative process – less in the actual stories I’ve been creating.
Personally, being a part of a large community – feeling like one with the gals / guys around you, is a far more inspiring environment and while I do love this whacky West Coast life, I know in my soul this isn’t my forever home and I do truly hope to get back into maddening city life sooner than later. Until then though, this environment will hopefully continue to further my ever-evolving way I live within an environment.
The world has never been bigger and I smaller. I love that and as long as the invigoration continues, I could really care less where home is specifically next in my near future. That’s kind of a relief to say since I don’t think I would have said that a year ago. I was much more adamant about having to be in a specific place (then, it was the move to LA). That’s not so much the case now. I’m getting much better at emphasizing and focusing on the aspects of wherever I am at to make it home. That’s a great feeling and one I hope to continually fine tune over time.
Who and what are your inspirations? Past and present. Where does the audience see these in your work?
Without using the obvious ties to other films / filmmakers of past or present, what I’m finding resonates with me most are simply the connections between people from all walks of life – preferably those farther from my own day to day.
For example, just the other night I was editing at a coffee shop and stumbled upon a couple artists who were presenting some of their work made around LA. It completely captivated me because both – while unique and vibrantly different voices – were each so candid and shame-free with what they were sharing. They didn’t give a single fuck what we strangers were thinking about their questionable decisions. It was intoxicating to watch and I found special inspiration from one of them, a photographer / writer by the name of Scot Sothern, whom you should look up right this moment.
Scot Sothern started his reading describing one of my favorite theaters out here (The Vista) and the surrounding area – an environment I’ve spent the majority of this last year living amongst. It was all very honest and frank and rich with visual detail (not too idealized but also not as grimy as it probably deserved to be). After fleshing out this familiar town, he introduced us to something not as familiar – a misunderstood woman working as a prostitute. He didn’t skip a beat and the way he had been describing the locale was the same way he was describing her – with honesty, humility and most importantly, humanity. It was the exact thing I look to accomplish in my work: taking a community the world is slightly unfamiliar with and allowing a chance to tell those stories – warts and all – with no pretentious higher-than-thou commentary. What a beautiful rare thing.
As far as where that shows up in my work, I can’t really answer that I don’t think. Not honestly. I mean I hope someone watches my films and feels that they are seeing an honest glimpse into another’s world but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where or how successful that comes across being still so close to each of my projects.
Your first screenplay— congrats! What is that writing/production process like, and how has your experience with directing prepared you for writing the intense directions and flow of a live performance?
First off thank you. Second off, feature film writing is still a very new terrain for me. Although I have ‘completed’ many revisions of one called “53 Christopher Street” (a retelling of the Stonewall riots from the perspective of a closeted police officer) and am halfway through completing the first draft of my second, (a brother-centric film that uses the world of drag to externalize many of life’s intricate unmentionables – currently titled “Nevermore, Bernadette”), I am still very much a minuscule tadpole in a giant, giant swamp of incredibly talented writers. I use swamp instead of ocean now after living on the West Coast because, well, everything just seems a little goopier out here (both terrain and people-wise).
As far as what directing has taught me about writing, it’s actually the editing aspect I’ve worked in tandem with that has influenced directing. For me, I’ve witnessed some of my strongest storytelling decisions transpire during the wee-early hours working and reworking scenes in the good ol’ editing dungeon.
With each new project I think I loosen up with what is filmed – leaving more options for post. When I think back to my first shorts, I was so adamant about filming only what was written. I thought that was exactly what a “writer / director” was supposed to do and while it is good to have that template, what I have thrived on in writing now is thinking up different routes it could go – planning accordingly and shooting options so that months after wrapping and I’ve changed as a human – or at least in regards to the project – I have the flexibility to allow a different meaning to sort of come out.
Look at MUM for example. When I started writing, I was all about the “boy meets boy” storyline. Personally, I was living and breathing that. Fast forward to wrapping and post-production where the most transitional chapter thus far in my life transpired and now look at the final product. Yes, it’s still very much about William getting over his own shit and letting Thomas in but there’s a whole lot more William deciphering and contemplating the world around him – much more than in the initial script. That wouldn’t have been possible had my trusty collaborators – production designer Amanda Brinton and DP Ben McBurnett not experimented so much in pre-principal – nabbing various versions / setups that allowed for different themes to come through later.
Your attention and promotion of expanding LGBTQ cinema is inspiring. What’s your connection to the LGBTQ community and how do the two converge— your connection to the community and your work in film.
Woah I adore the way you worded this. Usually people go, “how do you feel being pegged as an LGBTQ filmmaker” as if it’s a burden to be a part of such a rich filmic web. So, thank you for this fresh perspective because it truly brings me great pride (pun-intended) to fall under the G category of LGBTQ cinema. It brings me even greater pride that such a thing as LGBTQ cinema exists.
With all that said, it has certainly been a journey and it’s funny you bring this up because I’ve actually just recently talked about the initial fear of being seen as a niche-filmmaker.
I think with any art you fear how others will perceive you at first and that wasteful caring-what-others-think-attitude only really dilutes with age and the more you create. So, when I think about my deep-seeded connection with this community, I have to trace it back to the not-so-distant-roots of firstly becoming comfortable with the label of “homosexual” in relation to myself.
It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t had to come out as anything straying from the hetero-norm, but what is so difficult and awkward about that whole stagnant “coming out” process is not only figuring out you are who you are but by doing so you have to have this painfully silly “I am turned on by guys” conversation which almost always ended in a weird silent moment where you are just sitting there hoping your fears – that they are now visualizing you with said gender – is false. (I mean seriously did anyone else get this vibe when having that initial conversation?) I mean looking back it’s hilarious how nervous I was given how deeply liberal and supportive my inner circle was / is but it is also important to mention that I absolutely lost some relationships with people who weren’t so okay with it all and that is not so hilarious and definitely woke me up to the realization that others have it way worse in this community.
Now, I know it’s so arbitrary to state and by now everyone has certainly heard their fair share of coming out stories but in order to get a sense of why I am so passionate about this community, it must be known just how in tandem my growth as a filmmaker was with my growth as a homosexual man.
Come to think of it – and to further flesh this gargantuan response out – my first real introductions into the queer world were screening shorts of mine at Chicago’s Reeling Film Fest and San Francisco’s Frameline Film Fest. I’m not sure if anything will top being so warmly accepted into first the lesbian film world and then the gay. I mean I hadn’t even gone to a pride parade (or even a gay/lesbian bar for that matter) until at least a year or two after those initial screenings so I’m quite literal when I say that queer cinema was and will forever be my first safe haven. My deep-seeded love has only expanded over the years and I hope it never reaches a halt of any sort.
Tell us a little about your current projects without giving too much away.
Well I just literally wrapped a little mini-film in collaboration with KIND Healthy Bars. Random pairing I know, but KIND is actually working on some pretty solid collaborations with filmmakers so I couldn’t be more stoked to be a part of their community. I don’t have a release date yet but I can say it’s in the midst of post (I am editing once again) and it is called “Moving Day.” What was fun about this project in particular was how much lighter of a tone it was and since we jammed so much into one day of shooting (5 ½ pages to be exact) – that was a lifesaver.
Since moving to LA though I’ve been working my pantaloons off editing for various brands (most of which take forever and a day to go through post which has been an intriguing learning experience) but thankfully a couple of those projects are about to air (hallelujah), so be on the lookout for one in particular called “Evening in Space,” which is a short doc about the wondrous world of David LaChapelle, Daphne Guinness and FLAUNT magazine co-founder Luis Barajas. Found them to be pretty inspiring artists who are all at points in their careers where they create without any real boundaries. Pretty rare.
In final plug-worthy news, I have a couple short scripts I’m hoping to bring to life by the year’s end. One in particular has been in the works ever since wrapping my last narrative called “For Now” which sort of encapsulates the highly wonky / tremendously transitional last year for me – geographically and otherwise.
I have spent the good majority making homes in cities all around the US (thanks to some really wonderful video collaborations with the beautiful nonprofit Vitamin Angels) and as a result, I have never felt smaller. Which I adore. My worldview has never been richer and I must reiterate taking a minute to look up the immensely hard working Vitamin Angels team who spends their days changing the lives of women and children around the world with life-saving vitamins. Spend a couple weeks with them and I guarantee you too will start to rethink your path a little bit.
Are there any types of films or new projects that you hope to explore in the future?
Dialogue. Anyone in my close web knows this but I truly must flex my muscles in dialogue soon or I run the risk of just becoming a mime.
Jokes aside, I love a good challenge and for me, filling silence is one of the greatest. I love the unspoken spoken moments in life but I also adore good hearty words so my goal in the next few projects is to incorporate my love of strong visuals with words that strengthen and bring true-to-life energy.
I don’t see my films ever becoming driven by dialogue but I do see the potential for more layers exposed with the addition of the characters actually using their vocal chords.
What films do you watch? What do you watch for practical and inspiring work-related reasons, and what do you watch for fun?
Documentaries. As much as I can – whenever I can – wherever I am.
I just love people and the way they perceive themselves / those around them. I literally watch a doc every night before sleeping which I highly recommend as both a creative person and a human but I warn against those who run on lots of sleep because if the doc is good, it will keep you well into the wee hours. I personally find this a rewarding problem to have the morning after but it’s not everyone’s cup of coffee.
I think my draw to nonfiction though is just simply because this world is just full of too many good stories / individuals not to indulge daily and we luckily live in a world now with such accessible ways of not only telling stories but ingesting them. It’s crazy fucking cool if you ask me and while on the subject, if you want a doc that will shake you to your core, watch “Silverlake Life.” I still cannot watch it without weeping. It’s just so raw, so human and makes you really see life in all it’s intricate nature. Same with “How to Die in Oregon.” Those were real game changers for me.
As far as what I watch for fun? In Chicago, that would be anything playing at The Music Box and out West that’d be anything at either The Vista or Los Feliz Theater. As someone who still gets the biggest comforting thrills sitting in an actual theater, forgetting everything going on for a couple harmonious hours, the fun is more wrapped in the where than exactly what’s on the screen for me.
Fun fact to drive this big screen addiction home: there was a moment when I had less than $50 to my freelancing name and I unflinchingly used a fifth of it to nab something on the silver screen. I mean if that isn’t proof for being still in lust with movies as a whole, I don’t know what is.
If you could snag ANYONE to be in an Alex Bohs film, who would you pick and why?
I have to cop out here and tie with two incredibly talented folks: Lily Tomlin and Thomas Newman.
First and foremost let’s address the Lily Tomlin in the room. Aka my dream companion. Aka the absolute toppest of notches. Aka Ms. Frizzle. I mean for starters – her range. Whether she is making you ass-laugh-out-loud as Ernestine, the telephone operator, or arresting the screen with her understated – yet fully-realized – dramatic chops in 1975’s Nashville, Ms. Tomlin does it all and her filmography is a ripe one I highly recommend anyone plunder through.
Secondmost, and again I realize I’m really fussing this up considering he is a composer but, Thomas Newman and his vast body of work have been the soundtracks to almost every single one of my projects from the beginning stages. Even more impressive, no matter how tied to a film his scores may be, his work is of that rare transferrable kind where it can somehow manage to majestically mesh with whatever I am currently thinking up. Take his masterful “Little Children” score for starters – an album so completely in tandem with that film’s tricky tone and style – and mesh it with the feature screenplay I mentioned earlier – “53 Christopher Street.” It’s pure unadulterated magic and if I was able to properly externalize the images / ideas that score brought that script of mine, you too would smack a Thomas Newman answer any time you were asked this question. The man is one of the greats and I would love nothing more than to have a film of mine scored by him some day.