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Corey Sherman Talks About His Feature Debut ‘Big Boys’

8 min read
A film director, Corey Sherman, sits cross-legged and points out towards someone in a wooded area.

The London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival is back once again, celebrating cinema and showcasing queer talent in front and behind the camera. Some of the many short and feature films in the festival line-up are having their world premiere, including Corey Sherman's feature debut Big Boys.

This coming-of-age sees fourteen year old Jamie (Isaac Krasner) embark not just on a camping trip but a journey of sexual awakening. As he falls for his cousin's boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III), awkward hilarity ensues but not without tender moments that many people will surely relate to.

Ahead of the film's world premiere in London, Filmhounds sat down with Sherman to talk about cringe humour, positive representation and of course, big boys.

Are you excited to be premiering at BFI Flare?

This will be our first time with an audience and to picture a mostly queer audience, and also British people, watching this movie is exciting. I think it'll be a good crowd and I'm very excited to see what they think.

One thing that really stood out to me was just how much cringe humour is in it. Naturally 14 year olds are cringey, we were all super cringe worthy back then. But was that something that you had to keep in mind? Were you're thinking “ah, the audience is going to cringe too much.” and have to balance that?

I definitely really do love that kind of humour. To me, there's something about the deeper the cringe, the better it feels because it feels like it's getting at something really specific and unearthing something that is difficult to look at. It's really evocative of “Oh God, I remember I used to say things just like that” and there's something that I just love about that feeling. I definitely never wanted to make something that was cringy in a way that verged into something painful. And obviously that's hard to gauge because everybody has a different tolerance level but if it was cringy in one moment, I would want to give the audience a release – like something that really made it clear that there was permission to laugh, that it wasn't just purely awkward and painful.

So yeah, finding that line, both with the actors and then also in the edit, was a tricky balancing act. But I find that really fun. And it really helped that I think the actors were just also naturally really good improvisers and had a really good sense of the humour of the movie. If there was ever something that felt like it was just purely awkward and didn't have enough flavour beyond that, they would tend to add little details in that I think would make it clear. It's like “Okay, it's okay to laugh.”

Was there a lot of improvisation or did you have an extensive rehearsal period?

We did about a week of rehearsals and they did a lot of improv within that. And then I added some of that improv into the dialogue of the script. We also did improv on set some of the time, and I mean, you know, the characters just spoke the language of the movie so well. They were so tuned in that they were able to often generate dialogue on the spot that just fit perfectly and it was better than what I had written. But for the most part, we stuck to the script. There's a couple of points like the scene where they're playing taboo with each other where they're really playing that game with each other. So that was entirely improvised.

A teenager and a man, wearing hiking gear, sit on a log together in a forest on the mountain
Perfect Dog Pictures

The setting of camping in the mountains, I get a sense that it's completely ripped out of your own childhood because it seems so hyper specific, like a kind of time capsule for yourself.

I mean, I actually never went camping with my family growing up but I started camping a little bit with my ex boyfriend in the pandemic. I just thought that it was a really interesting environment, particularly for a story like this because of how exposed you are, there's just zero privacy. And I wanted to tell a story about a very private moment in someone's life, where they have no control over what's going on but this thing is coming out of them that they're reckoning with and there's nowhere to hide.

My ex boyfriend, Peter, he had a lot of experiences camping as a kid with his family and talking to him about those experiences was really influential and got me excited about telling a story like this. It allowed me to almost have him as like a surrogate where I could place myself into those sorts of memories.

How important was it for you to show larger bodies in a positive, queer light?

I just wanted to very earnestly and genuinely show somebody who was interested in a big guy. I mean, that's what I like, it's what I've always liked and I remember that was a big part of my own coming to terms with my own sexuality. I'm tired of it being something that's just presented as a joke, or like a non possibility that somebody like a bigger character in a show would, you know, even have a love life or be presented in a way where they just look attractive as they are right now.

It's not about how you'll be sexy once you lose 50 pounds. To do a shot of Dan's belly and, honestly, eroticise that, that was really exciting to me, because it's something that I've almost never seen. And I did want to make it very clear to people that Jamie is attracted to Dan but he's also attracted to Dan's size, that's part of it for him.

Jamie's age, 14, feels like a really specific age that you've decided to go for because typically, these kinds of stories feature 17, 18 year olds and focus more on physical contact. This is very much like a crush. I assume that this was a purposeful choice as well.

Yeah, I'm super inspired by shows like PEN15 and movies like Eighth Grade. Middle school is so the time to explore. It's just so specific and like you said, it's cringy because there's even less sort of self awareness. People really struggle to express themselves when they're just leaving childhood and there's a feeling of them coming into adulthood and coming into their own sexuality, but they're really sort of fumbling around in the dark. And so it's obviously really ripe for comedy, but it's also very emotional and also very shameful because you've barely built up enough of a sense of self to really protect yourself and look after yourself, particularly a situation like this. Jamie is very lonely. His parents aren't there, sure his cousin is there but there's still a feeling of trying to figure it out all on your own, which I really remember from that time.

There is this thing in movies where if the character is 17, even though they're underage, the movie is willing to play like Call Me By Your Name does – and I love that movie. But it's easier to play with the idea of eroticising the main character as well. That was never obviously the intention with this. I wanted to make something that was not like, “Isn't it sexy to watch these two main characters go after each other?” I wanted to evoke the feeling of being in Jamie's shoes, where there's a feeling of complete impossibility with the person you want but that doesn't stop you from wanting them at all. In fact, it makes you want them more. And that feeling, the desire, is so strong that it propels him to go after Dan.

A close up of a teenage boy with his face lit up by a nearby campfire, looking towards a man
Perfect Dog Pictures

As your first feature, what was the whole process like? Has it been very much a trial by fire or has it been a smooth process?

I've definitely been surprised at each step of the way at how somewhat natural it felt, like I never knew if making something for this long would lose my attention at a certain point, or that I would just feel totally overwhelmed by trying to keep an audience entertained for that period of time. But in writing it, it came out pretty quickly, like I was relieved that I just sort of entered a nice flow state with writing it. And in production, I really got into the rhythm of the shooting and luckily I was working with really good actors. I had really good people around me that were offering really helpful creative feedback and just like allowing me to focus a lot on the story and not think as much about production logistics.

I miss that a lot, being in the thick of shooting it. I just fell in love with directing more than I think I ever have, and in editing it, figuring out again how to keep an audience's attention and how to figure out the rhythm of the movie and just sustain interest over the course of it. That has been maybe the most fascinating challenge of the whole movie, so yeah I'm very excited to make more features. I definitely feel like it's my element.

What are you hoping that the audience is going to take away from when they finally watch Big Boys?

I think most importantly, I want them to feel like if they had any experience that was remotely similar to Jamie's, that they would have a renewed respect for it. And that by seeing it, this movie gives it just as much weight as any other experience, any other sort of growing up experience or even romantic experience, that they would have more compassion towards their younger selves and maybe themselves as they are now. For bigger people that watch the movie, I hope that they feel like the movie gives them the respect that I think that movies so rarely have, and that it celebrates them. And also the people who like them, you know, the people who are attracted to them being celebrated and validated.

From what you were just saying, there's this assumption that everybody is attracted to, or can relate to, a muscle god. Like, go to a spa, there's all kinds of bodies out there! I think that movies need to start paying better attention to that. I hope that people have a good time, like I've always wanted it to be primarily a very entertaining movie that still felt very rich, like I hope that people walk away feeling good. I want it to be uplifting but still feeling very like grounded in a reality people can recognize from their own lives.

Big Boys premieres at the BFI Flare Film Festival on Saturday 18th March