Interview with Sam Seccombe, Director of ‘LESSONS’

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LESSONS’ won best LGBTQ+ drama at London Rocks 2021. Deservedly so. It begins with an awkward Dan and a nonchalant Tommy the morning after a one-night stand. Tommy picks up on Dan’s nerves, wondering if he hasn’t properly come out. “Are you a virgin?” he asks, half in gest. But after some protracted banter and a much-delayed breakfast, we discover that Tommy has his fair share of issues, having yet to deal with a painful breakup. Gay or straight, the universality of their story hits home, and it is incredibly refreshing to watch a drama that dares to talk in such raw terms about love and loss.

Writer-director Sam Seccombe works in the film industry while aspiring to “truth and beauty in his work and future storytelling.” We interviewed this talented filmmaker to see what lessons we could learn . . .

.JR: How and when did you first get started on ‘LESSONS’?

SS: It was during the first lockdown and I was trying to spend as much time on writing as I could. I had several scripts and concepts on the go, but as soon as I got started with ‘LESSONS’ I knew that it was going to become something. It was an early challenge turning what, at first, was very much a conversation between two people, into an actual short film. Using details like different rooms and various props to explain what was originally just spoken word. With a lot of editing, advice and creative focus, I was able to bring the story to life.

JR: The dialogue and situation are very relatable, as if we are in the room with Dan and Tommy. How did you achieve this sense of realism?

SS: It was important for me that the boys felt like they had their own influence over the script. We workshopped and rehearsed to make sure everything felt natural. The last line of the film was actually improved by Guy Remmers, a demonstration of just how in touch the boys were with their characters. As the film discusses very relevant topics like sexuality and relationships, I wanted to present it in a way that allows the audience to project themselves into the scene. The sense of realism is so prevalent because anyone, however they identify, will be able to find something true and relevant in the film.

Ashley Byam as “Tommy” (left) and Guy Remmers as “Dan” (right) facing up to some home truths

JR: Both actors are fantastic, with Ashley Byam (Tommy) naturally confident and Guy Remmers (Dan) realistically nervy. How did you coax these great performances?

SS: In order to develop Dan and Tommy I wrote up a lot of information on their lives; hobbies, families, starsigns, taste in music / fashion and career paths / ambitions. I knew these fictional boys so well, which meant when it came to casting I was determined to find people who could bring them to life. Incredibly, I managed to find the two perfect actors. Ashley and Guy both recognised many things about their characters that paralleled their own lives and they worked hard to create that connection. It was this thorough preparation and deep understanding of their roles (as well as their acting capabilities) that made working with them such a pleasure and allowed for such impressive performances.

JR: Despite Dan’s protests (that he has dealt with coming out), is this drama, in truth, still about coming out?

SS: I think Dan’s journey in understanding himself is far from over. Everyone is different, so it makes sense that every ‘coming out’ story is different. Dan isn’t struggling to ‘come out’, that is to say, his sexuality isn’t a secret. His struggles lie in his reflections on his past and the complications and influences that led to the delay in his realisation and understanding of himself. He is afraid of what the future holds and concerned about the permanent affects of suppressing his sexuality. Coming out is a part, but not the entirety of what Dan is struggling with. His demons are many-headed.

JR: Tommy exudes confidence, but we come to realise he is brushing thorny issues under the carpet. Dan appears on edge and a little lost, faced with the question of how to be himself. Does one worldview win out over the other?

SS: It’s difficult to know if one individual is in a worse position than the other, as we are only hearing of their hardships from them. One of the issues that both characters struggle with is wallowing in self-pity. Tommy has progressed further than Dan at overcoming this, which is evident in the most heated part of the film. Quantifying emotional pain is impossible, and as their experiences are so different you couldn’t pit either against the other. The film does not aim to do this, but quite the opposite.

‘LESSONS’ is about realising what you need to learn. It shows how we can unite with others, and by owning our painful truths, we can hope to move forward to a better place, somewhere we hope both these boys can get to.

JR: Which part of their dialogue do you think resonates the most with audiences?

SS: There is so much going on in both these characters’ lives, the dialogue covers such a wide range of topics and painful experiences. One of the challenges I had in writing was actually pulling back and making sure there wasn’t a tidal wave of information which would become lost by the overwhelmed viewer. I think different aspects of the film will resonate with different people dependent on the perspective from which you are watching, as well as your own personal experience. You could say that the main theme of the film is voiced by Tommy in his line, “As long as you learn the lessons, otherwise what’s the point of all the pain?” Which basically means that we must not let our hardships defeat us but help us grow. No matter what a person has been through we must try to find the lesson.

JR: Do you agree that we don’t see enough of talk about love and life (aka “philosophy”) in UK drama?

SS: I think the superficial nature of love and life can often dominate our screens. Deeper, in depth, analysis of what love is and what it means to be in love are essential in our understanding of one another. Certainly, there are shows that do a great job of capturing these truths and struggles. Normal People, for example, was a huge inspiration for me while writing the script. I studied its beautiful portrayal of emotion and the way it bewitched audiences without being forthcoming.

JR: Will Tommy and Dan see each other again? Is there a follow-up in the works?

SS: The final scene was actually the first thing I came up with. I always knew it would end with their exchange out the window, echoing the beginning of this strange relationship. I think the only way these boys could be so vulnerable was that they were completely anonymous; they were removed from the consequences of their honesty. It wouldn’t be fair to give Tommy and Dan a “happy” ending because it wouldn’t be what is best for them. What they’ve gained from one another will benefit them far more than a romantic relationship. I wanted to play off the irony that to sleep with someone is so physically intimate, and yet it is actually far more ominous for many people to be emotionally intimate.

Sam Seccombe accepting the award for Best LGBTQ+ Film at London Rocks Film Festival 2021

JR: How has ‘LESSONS’ been received by friends, critics and festivals?

SS: I have been incredibly lucky to receive the support I have. I was very nervous to share the script with anyone, there were moments when I thought it might exist only as a draft, hidden on my computer, or that Tommy and Dan would exist only in my messy scribbles that make up my notebook. I sent it to a friend who immediately responded with excitement and it was her encouragement and analysis that pushed me to make the film. I’m indebted to my film crew who worked so hard. The film has been a way for me to start conversations and discussions that I never would have before. It’s had positive feedback from festivals and this affirmation and success is a blessing. Like I said, I’m very lucky to have the support that surrounds me, and I hope that the level of work I do will only grow and improve with time.

JR: Please tell us about your current and upcoming projects.

SS: I’m constantly working on ideas and have so many concepts on the go and in development I lose track of them with each new plan. There isn’t anything official in the works but my main energy recently has gone into expanding my knowledge of the industry and the aspects of filmmaking I want to improve on. I work professionally in location management for film and high-end television, which keeps me very busy, but is the perfect platform for experience, education and building a strong network in the industry. I look forward to being on set again, where I can sit in a director’s chair and watch my work brought to life.

‘LESSONS’ won Best LGBTQ+ Film at London Rocks Film Festival 2021

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