New LGBT film ’Morgan’ tackles sensitive subject matter

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 5, 2011

Director Michael Akers and writer Sandon Berg were working in various movie industry jobs when they met 13 years ago in Los Angeles. The couple has made four films together and are completing their latest effort "Morgan" before taking it to film festivals this fall. Last month they had a test screening of the movie on the last night of Philly's QFEST for comments and reaction to their story about a gay bartender who becomes paraplegic after a cycling accident.

In a phone interview from New York, Akers said he likes to hear feedback from savvy, test audiences before he releases a film. Before Qfest, "we had a couple of questions about what we might change," he said. "I had been working on the ending; something was troubling me so we made changes before the festival screening. Based on the audience reaction in Philly, I think we solved it."

Positive feedback

"The Qfest audience took notice of a couple of things that we also had been thinking about changing. Audiences might not know the technicalities, but they can pinpoint a symptom of what is off," Akers explained. "But the main thing was positive feedback about the central story about a suddenly paraplegic man adjusting to his new life."

Akers and Berg previously made the TV satire "Matrimonium" and the break-up cheater drama "Phoenix." Their biggest hit so far "Gone, But Not Forgotten" was also a gay love story involving a character who also suffers physical trauma. "Morgan" took several years to bring to the screen. "We wanted to make this film for a long time, but felt we weren't ready," Akers said.

As part of their preparation, the filmmakers worked with paraplegic men and the issues they face. "Morgan had this image of himself as the hot bartender and cyclist before the accident. We focused the story on how does he regain his masculinity, attractiveness and self-esteem?" Akers said. "Sandon interviewed several men dealing with similar issues."

As real as possible

Akers said it was crucial to find the right actors for the sensitivity and intimacy required for the parts. They cast Leo Minaya as Morgan ("Manito," "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer") and Jack Kesy, in his film debut, who plays his new boyfriend Dean.

"We had straight actors and the issue of sexuality was at the forefront of playing these gay roles," Akers noted. "We rehearsed them in both parts, but as we got to know them, it became clear want role each actor should take. Then we used part of their own stories to help craft each role. The actors didn't really care; they just wanted to be part of this movie."

Akers wanted to make the sex scenes with as much realism as possible. "Love scenes are always tricky. I told the guys I wanted to make sure that was a pulse, a beat directly from the story -- this goes from the leads not touching to touching, to what has to be comfortableness. Like the rest of the film, I just told them, we are going to do this as real as possible. Morgan was aggressive before the accident and we didn't want to take that away from him in this situation. So we having him leading and seeing how it would really happen and we were surprised at how natural and surprising that scene turned out to be."

Berg and Akers will finish the post-production tweaks this month and the movie will be making the rounds on the gay film fest circuit in its final cut this fall. For updates check their website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.