Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Kevin Quinn
By Travis Trew, Programming Manager
Filmmaker Kevin Quinn made a splash with his Drexel senior thesis film The American Wake, which premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2018. His new film, Fragile White Boy, is a satirical, ultimately tragic story of a privileged young writer whose problems are contrasted with those of his house cleaner.
PFS: How did you get into filmmaking?
KQ: I’ve always loved film. When I was 11, my grandfather handed me a camera, and I’ve been making movies ever since. I just did it myself, and as I got older, the films got bigger. More people got involved and I was able to narrow down what kind of stories I wanted to tell.
PFS: What was the process of making Fragile White Boy like?
KQ: Paul Valentino had this script he wanted to share with me called Fragile White Boy. When I read the script, I was really shocked at how much I related to it, because it was about a guy who was out of school, really young, a little down on his luck, and suffering from a severe lack of motivation. He’s letting himself languish in this wasteland of suburbia. It’s sort of a timeless theme, but it’s also very relevant today because weeks after I agreed to work with Paul, the Covington Catholic High School scandal in Washington D.C. happened. There were a lot of people raising hell about these kids from Kentucky and bringing up the idea of privilege and white privilege, and how boys today are getting away with so much as they grow into men who then take advantage of women and minorities and rule our society.
PFS: Why was it important for you and Paul to include the character of Isabel?
KQ: Paul and I developed the character of Isabel as a counterpoint to the main protagonist, Tim. Tim can get away with doing anything he wants. There are no stakes for Tim. He can speak to his mother horribly and he can break things, but he still comes out OK on the other side. He’s somewhat invulnerable to true damage. Meanwhile, Isabel has a child and a job, and if she loses that job, she has to find another one. And that could sacrifice her relationship with her family and her child. Tim can afford to not be motivated and not do anything, whereas if Isabel ever acted the way that Tim does, she would be fired, and she wouldn’t be able to care for her child.
PFS: By titling the film Fragile White Boy, were you deliberately playing with the viewer’s expectations of who the subject of the film would be?
KQ: The title grabs you and is extremely polarizing early on. I wondered if it would be too polarizing, and if some people would be deterred. Whenever we went out to cast, were looking at locations, or had an outside vendor, the first question they would ask was, “What’s the title?” And when you talk about a film like this you have to brace yourself, because you never really know how people are going to react. The title “Fragile White Boy” is going to bring up a lot of emotions for different people, but I actually think that’s the film’s power. People have an idea of what this film is based on the title. But what we found is that people are pleasantly surprised by how the film unravels. The film is designed to be Tim’s film because most films are designed to be generic white men’s films. Except the film is aware of itself in the sense that it’s not actually about Tim and his problems; It’s about how Tim affects the people around him.
PFS: The film also plays with tone in interesting ways.
KQ: If you were to look at it in terms of its structure on paper, Tim is your protagonist who goes through his change. But it’s an artificial change. He’s the one who manufactures it for himself and the film is aware of that. Whereas Isabel’s story is more subtle and much more tragic. It’s not a comedy. There are funny moments perhaps, but it’s really a tragedy.
PFS: As a storyteller, is avoiding those kinds of “fragile white boy” narratives something that you’re consciously trying to break away from with every film you make?
KQ: You absolutely have to be aware of diversity in story and narrative and perspective. It’s not just about seeing someone who looks different than you on screen. It’s a matter of seeing what their life looks like through the viewer experience and film. Film affords you the opportunity to step into somebody else’s shoes and have a visceral experience. I need to be thinking about what people haven’t seen and telling stories that people haven’t engaged with. I’m always looking to shed light on people who don’t have a voice or don’t have the type of emphasis and audience they deserve. I think that the trend we’ve seen recently is pointing in the direction of films about real people going through real trauma that may not have been experienced by the vast majority of viewers or audiences.
PFS: Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
KQ: Of course! Sassafras is my most recent project. Essentially, it’s a film about acceptance, the price of independence, and how those two themes are interlinked with one another. It’s a very personal, unique story about another group of marginalized people in our society. I’m also producing another film called #Belief. I’m working with a very talented Philadelphia based director Kevin Giles, and production for that will take place in early August.
Fragile White Boy will be screening on Thursday, July 11 at the Philadelphia Film Center’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.