Jacob Brown—formerly of V Magazine and VMAN, now the features editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine— certainly knows his way around the magazine world. This weekend, he takes a big leap into the world of film with the screening of his début short film “Blinders” as part of NewFest. Starring Luke Worrall, Nathaniel Brown (no relation), and Byrdie Bell, the ten-minute work is a study of beauty and youth and the special privileges that come with both. Jacob Brown spoke with MDC about his first time as a director and the inherent bizarreness of being a male model.
“Blinders” screens as part of program of short films on Sunday and Monday as part of the NewFest. It will also be screened on September 10 as part of the Austin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
MDC: What made you decide you wanted to direct a film?
Jacob Brown: Well, I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. Early on it was a lot of angst-driven, imitative stuff, copying people like Dennis Cooper or Jean Genet. Maybe five years ago I started becoming more inspired purely by things I saw around me, and less by things I thought my favorite writers would like. That made things more interesting. Concurrently I started working at Visionaire, first as an associate editor at V Magazine and eventually as the editor of VMAN Magazine. That meant working and learning from the best fashion photographers in the industry. When you’re on set with people like Hedi Slimane or Mario Testino, and then go back to the office and learn how the images they create work, how they communicate emotions to people—well that’s pretty enlightening. Similarly I got a lot of experience working with young photographers, directing them, getting them to create images for me based on ideas in my head. So suddenly it dawned on me, “I have all the requisite skills to tell a story through images, to direct.” I actually had a sort of light bulb moment at a dinner with the singer Lykke Li. She wanted to get into film and asked me to write or direct something. That project never took off, but after saying yes to her, it was easy to say yes to myself.
MDC: What was the inspiration behind “Blinders”?
JB: Something that really interests me is this extreme of youthful male beauty that the fashion world constantly seeks. We’re not talking handsome or hunky or even sexually attractive, but the truly beautiful male faces possessed by a Luke Worrall or a Cole Mohr—kind of unusual and alien to the point that you could call them art and say they belong in gallery. It transcends gay or straight—anyone who comes across them wants to stare at them, like they’d want to stare at incredible art. I’m also really interested in the way that modeling can affect a young guy’s sense of self, his sexuality, etc. How does it feel to be a normal dude from a small town who ends up spending his days in New York and Paris subject to a constant male gaze, being objectified, etc. It can make guys feel like hustlers a little, like characters from a Gus Van Sant movie or something. So all of that describes the inspiration behind the character that Luke Worrall plays. The other two characters (played by Nathaniel Brown and Byrdie Bell) are based on experiences I’ve had or seen people have interacting with these types of ultra-beautiful boys. Some of these ideas are rehashed in a feature film I am developing.
MDC: What was the thought process behind casting the film?
JB: From the beginning Nathaniel Brown was going to play the lead. I wrote the story for him. I’ve known him since he was a crazy 16-year-old coming to New York on weekends. We have a kind of love/hate friendship, but he’s my muse in a lot of ways. Byrdie Bell came to me through the casting director Douglas Perrett. I only knew her name as a socialite and wasn’t expecting much, but she blew me away at her audition.
Luke Worrall was a lot harder to come by. I knew I needed a very specific type of boy. At the time I was the editor of VMAN and I had this idea in my head that because of the power of V, model agents would just send boys to my audition from the four corners of the earth, but it didn’t really work that way. I met a few but they weren’t right. Basically I had this picture of Luke Worrall in a tree that Hedi Slimane had shot, and I was trying to find someone that felt like Luke looked in that picture. Eventually someone said to me, “Why don’t you just get Luke?” So we called his agent, and of course the answer was no. But then my friends Aimee Phillips and Drew Elliott came through for me. They are friends with Kelly Osbourne, who was dating Luke at the time, and Kelly read the script and liked it, and convinced Luke to do the project. Thank Jesus for Kelly.
Also sort of funny. At the time that I was working on a casting for Hedi Slimane for VMAN. Hedi is relentless. He won’t settle ever. If the casting is not 100% perfect, he would rather just skip the project. That makes it very hard if you are helping him with something, but as a creative person it is incredibly inspiring. And I sort of was like, well, I should be like Hedi and look for perfection. So I stuck to my guns and ended up with Luke.
MDC: Do you have any interesting or funny stories from the process of filming?
JB: There’s a scene shot on a roof where Luke is lying on a blanket in the sun almost naked. As we were shooting, he was literally glowing white. White hair. White skin. White briefs. My cinematographer Bobby Bukowski turned to me at one point and said, “He looks like a different species doesn’t he?” That was pretty perfect I thought.
Also, we filmed over Memorial Day weekend, a three-day weekend. I hosted this weird, one-off soccer tournament called the Male Model World Cup with my buddy Mathias Lauridsen on the Friday, and began filming Saturday morning. It was intense.
Images courtesy of Jacob Brown. For more information visit www.jacobmbrown.com.