Family Is What You Make It in ‘Shared Rooms’

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If the Hallmark Channel included gay-themed holiday films, “Shared Rooms” would fit right in.

Writer-director Rob Williams is “a huge fan” of holiday movies, so it’s no surprise that the filmmaker behind “Make the Yuletide Gay” returns with “Shared Rooms,” another holiday-themed feature, coming out on DVD and digital release through Wolfe Video on Nov. 15.

“I love the general feel of holiday films [and ] this happy, positive, fun message,” says Williams. But one thing missing from most of those films are characters that he can relate to as a gay man.

“What’s really true to my life is you pick your own family. Even if you’re out to your families, you don’t talk about it over the holidays,” says Williams. “With your friends, you can talk about anything.”

"Shared Rooms" Director Rob Williams

Director Rob Williams

“Shared Rooms” reflects this dynamic with a group of gay men friends in Los Angeles, who celebrate the joy of the holidays together. This is counter to the negativity that Williams says he sees in a lot of gay-themed films.

“They always seem to say, ‘look how horrible it is to be gay, and how difficult it is, and that just wasn’t our experience,” says Williams of himself and Rodney Johnson, his partner in business and in life.

That’s what initially lead the team to start Guest House Films 11 years ago, with the release of “Long-Term Relationship” (2006). Now their goal is to represent gay life as they know it, including singles and couples living life, loving life, and building relationships that are recognizable to them.

So what we see in “Shared Rooms” are feel-good moments between the roommates and renters, hook-ups and long-time couples, sprinkled with relationship drama that always seems to seep into the holidays.

Williams, originally from Texas, married Johnson earlier this year on their 22nd anniversary. They reside in Silver Lake, where the entire film was shot.

“There’s no real autobiographical element” to “Shared Rooms,” Williams says, but things are “very much pulled from our lives, from our friends’ lives.” One incident that rings “remotely true,” he says, involves the young gay nephew who comes to live with Cal (Alec Manley Wilson) and Laslo (Christopher Grant Pearson) the longtime couple who host the New Years’ gathering.

“My husband’s nephew stayed with us for six months several years ago,” he said, which inspired a plot point in “Shared Rooms.”

The film generally takes a lighthearted approach to issues that arise, including an awkward situation in which roommate Julian (Daniel Lipshutz) rents out Dylan’s room (Robert Werner) while he’s out of town; and the sarcasm that follows the announcement that friends have decided to have children (“oh, we’ll never see them again”). It also touches on the loneliness that some gays are prone to experience over the holidays. One character, Sid (Justin Xavier Smith) fills the gap by answering a singles ad.

Williams uses this holiday hookup as a sounding board for some serious conversation, but also as sort of a running joke, since Sid and Gray (Alexander Neil Miller) remain naked for most of the film.

“Some audiences have found it funny, we come back to them and yup, they’re still naked,” says Williams. “I just thought it would be kind of fun to make these characters free in their bodies and their thinking and their relationship, and just make them very exposed in all sorts of ways.  We were able to juxtapose their nudity with their conversations, which are some of the heaviest in the film. People have said, ‘I really love the sex scene,’ but there really weren’t any sex scenes.”

Williams hopes to shoot his ninth film, “Happiness Adjacent,” in 2017. Again, the subject matter is upbeat, as he calls it a “gay romantic drama with a comedic element.”

“It’s important to put a positive image out there, so people see that it is possible to find love and it is possible to find family, and that happily ever-after ending that everyone else gets.”

For more “Shared Rooms” see: https://www.wolfevideo.com/products/shared-rooms/

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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