SKINNYFAT

A discussion about body image and other things with Andy Bydalek, creator of a queer comedy that will
have you binging and purging for more.

Tell me what sort of film is Skinnyfat and what it’s all about.
As a friend described it, Skinnyfat is a short comedy about two skinny ass gay guys who think they’re overweight. Lead character Chaz, played by Jayson Jaynes, has cultivated a total fear of fat. So he drags his best friend Davy, played by Evan Johnson, on an increasingly insane quest to trim down. At first glance, the story is a kind of silly satire about their efforts to get six pack abs. But there’s a lot going on underneath the surface: internalized judgments, friendship dynamics, the complexities of dating, the gulf between gay social groups, etc. I had a lot to say with this film, but I tried to be subtle about it.
Do you now or have you ever had a six pack? Abs that is?
I once had a scientifically verifiable six-pack. Something to do with flesh drop off angles, shadow casting degrees, etc…I’ve no mind for that sort of thing. I can’t really brag about it though, because most men who grow up stick thin have six-packs by default. Now that I’ve gotten older, I have a bit more padding. So as for the current state of my abs…well, that’s up for interpretation. And appropriate mood lighting.
Do you think it’s important to have a chiseled tummy?
Only if you plan on modeling for Men’s Fitness. Actually, I think six packs are kind of creepy. For most guys past their early 20s, it suggests an unhealthy obsession with personal appearance and “fitness.” Fitness, of course, being a code word for personal appearance.
Why do you think a large majority of gay men obsess so much over the way they look?
Cuz we wanna get laid! Digging deeper, though, I think we all want to feel accepted by others and ourselves. We live in a society where we are still told we’re sick, sinful, not worthy of equal partnership/marriage, we should kill ourselves, etc.. That’s a lot of psychic baggage to carry around. Becoming fabulous, attractive and fit is one means of dealing with it. Getting laid is another. More than the social messages, though, are the media messages. Open any gay magazine—even community-oriented magazines such as Frontiers, POZ, and the BAR—and you’ll see the vast majority of imagery is of the culturally-defined “perfect” body: tight tanned muscles, six pack abs, etc. And padding every issue are advertisements for teeth whitening, personal trainers, weight loss supplements, liposuction, hair removal, hair implants, pec implants, butt implants, and crotch enhancing underwear. Is it any wonder gay men are dissatisfied with their body image? Or that entire communities form around body types?
Who is your audience?
Our audience is primarily gay men, but we’re finding that folks from all walks of life really like the film. Open-minded straight men (yes, I had to qualify that) and women in particular find it funny. Maybe it’s easier for people to watch a comedy about really personal issues that has characters they don’t directly identify with. But that said, the gays are loving it. At every screening I’ve attended, audience members…and usually heavier-set men…have come up to me afterward to thank me for making this film. It’s been very touching and totally unexpected. Here I had been a little worried that the humor might be too sharp! But in talking with folks, I realized the power of making a film about these issues: it isn’t just about my voice or my assessment of the situation, it’s about starting a conversation. It’s about giving people a chance to laugh at something that may have pained them, and showing audiences they are not alone in their insecurities and fear of rejection.
If someone wanted to see Skinnyfat, where could they do that?
The film is currently traveling the festival circuit, but I am looking toward a late spring DVD or release of Skinnyfat. I’ll be putting together a big package that will include a bunch of fantastic extras: behind-the-scenes featurettes, cast auditions, the dirty sexy “ManMilk” short film, and much more.
Why do you think that Skinny Fat appeals to such a wide range of men?
One of the things that makes Skinnyfat such a unique film is that it shows guys on all ends of the spectrum deal with body image issues. I think it’s often assumed that thin men have it easy or that heavier-set men are not considered attractive. The film counters both those ideas in humorous ways, and I think that’s why it’s resonating well with audiences.
Was your film based upon any experiences you or your friends have been through?
Indeed it was! When I began to put on weight, it was very exciting until I realized it was all going to my gut. Actor Jayson Jaynes and I were trying on skimpy costumes for Burning Man a couple years ago when I first noticed the uh…imbalance. Our jokes inspired me to write the story for Skinnyfat. Actually, I didn’t realize at the time there is a whole culture around the term, mostly relating to women. Perhaps that’s why women have been some of the biggest fans of the film! Or maybe they’re just happy to see that guys are finally dealing with the same crap they’ve been dealing with for centuries. Either way, I’m happy to have tapped into a something that is speaking to a diversity of audiences.
What sort of physical attributes of the male form do you find attractive?
Attraction is an interesting subject. Besides childhood influences, there are a lot of deep-layered, self-image factors that affect what we are into, esp for gay men. And “hot” is culturally defined. In SF, we are lucky enough to have subcultures for almost every body type and look. But in mainstream media messages and porn, we are definitely in a time when dark featured, hairy and uber-masculine is highly valued. If you look at media from 25 years ago, you’ll notice it was more about smooth and blond. I admit I’m a sucker for a nice chest…but I’m not talking about a six pack, haha. More of the v-shaped thing. I might describe the overall effect as “balance,” which is something I seek in all areas of my life.
Do you discriminate physically or are you pretty open when it comes to your male attraction?
My tastes evolve a lot with time and experience. I think it’s healthy to be open to the world around you. I definitely have some favorite types, but that’s best discovered rather than announced.
Describe in detail your most perfect gay lover. (What you would currently go for at this very moment.)
Decisions, decisions. Well like many guys, I’ll make it easy by focusing on the physical. I was just at the gym (believe it or not, I try to work out and eat the top fat burning foods) and saw at least five guys I found really hot. They varied in age, race, build and look. I have no idea if any of them had six packs, and I honestly don’t care. I AM hoping they’re all hung, though. (Duh.) This isn’t easy. Let’s just say James Franco. He’s incredibly sexy and I think he’d be so much fun to hang out with. Wait, he isn’t gay? What?
When speaking of body dysmorphic disorders I can’t help but think of a large number of gay men who need to spend five to six days at the gym. Pumping iron all day and still feeling like they are small in muscle development. Have you known anyone like this?
Oops, did I just say I was at the gym pumping iron? I was actually shopping…for a new therapist. Yeah, I have met a number of well built guys who are convinced they’re way too thin. It’s interesting because I usually find this out as we’re having sex. It sends very mixed messages to me as a skinny guy; so I usually choose to ignore the messages and focus on the sex. Fortunately, so do they.
Did it take a few good friends to help out to finish the film?
Yes!! Although I’d written, filmed and edited small projects in the past, Skinnyfat was my first true narrative short and the most ambitious project I’ve ever done. It’s funny because it was originally intended to be a very simple creative exercise between friends, but it snowballed into a mini-feature as more people came on board and I got more excited. I am forever grateful to everyone who helped bring it to fruition: the actors and extras, the production crew, the Comfort & Joy community, the sound mixing facility, etc. I also had particular support from my associate producers Jayson Jaynes and Chris Forbes. Jayson (also the lead actor) was with me right from the start and wore a lot of different hats over the last two years. For most of us, this was the first time undertaking a project of this scope or nature, and I’m really happy with the results.
Was it a big challenge bringing the body dysmorphic disorder issue to your audience in a 40 min film?
Oddly enough, no. The story and the themes came pretty naturally. The challenge was more in trimming it down, no pun intended. There was so much good material from the actors, I had a hard time parting with any of it in the editing room. I now really see the value in having someone else do that for you.
How long did it take for you to complete the film?
I started writing the screenplay in early 2009. After months of intense planning, we went into production that summer. I started editing in the winter, and it was a fairly long and arduous process. Graphics, music, sound mixing and titles were completed in the spring 2010. Then Skinnyfat made its world premiere at the Frameline Film Festival in June! So all in all, it was about 18 months.
Can we expect a full length queer based feature film from you in the future?
Absolutely! The fuller and longer, the better, I say. I’m developing ideas for a few different projects about the world of gay sex and relationships. After living and loving in San Francisco for 15 years, I have quite a lot of fodder.

(image by Jose Guzman Colon)

Topic: Random

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