Daniel Armando On How His Gay-for-Pay Drama ‘Daddy’s Boy’ Is an Ode to the French New Wave

Titling your film Daddy’s Boy takes some balls. Thankfully, director Daniel Armando is interested in thinking through that type of macho masculinity. That he approaches this issue within a black-and-white film that pays homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and features scenes in gay porn studios and male burlesque photo shoots makes his latest feature film all the more intriguing. Described as a “Latino French New Wave” film, Armando’s camera follows “four young men leaving boyhood behind and shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions,” a vague synopsis that nevertheless tells you all you need to know to experience it.

Set in New York City, Daddy’s Boy offers an almost timeless and placeless meditation on same-sex attraction. And while there’s plenty of suggestive male nudity the film is — as its title suggests — more interested in staging a poetic meditation on fatherhood. In one scene, for example, two brothers reminisce about their father’s disapproval over finding one of them dancing in their mother’s heels, a practice the grown up young man still enjoys. In between conversational scenes between men by the Chelsea piers, in lonely hotel rooms, and in park benches, Armando offers us musical interludes where we see a bearded male dancer (James Koroni) rehearse shirtless in heels, lovingly exhibiting and admiring his movements in the mirrors around him. It’s one of the many moments in the film that’s as much a celebration of the male form as well as an attempt to rethink what it means to be a man.

It’s definitely a change of pace for the California-born director. His previous film, What It Was, which played the festival circuit in 2014, focused on a bisexual Latina actress in New York and tackled issues of family and female desire. While that earlier film homed in on sexual identity and minority representation, Daddy’s Boy feels less beholden to the drama of these characters, presenting instead a collage of character portraits of men adrift in the city.

Ahead of the film’s debut at Cinequest in March, we hopped on the phone with Armando to talk about his cinematic influences, how What It Was gave way to Daddy’s Boy, and what he hopes audiences take away from the film.

On How The French New Wave Inspired Daddy’s Boy

“Whenever things are very sexual, they’re not very sexy.”

As a Latino, as a gay filmmaker, I’m at the moment very influenced by the French New Wave stuff. My cinematographer Ryan [Balas] introduced me to a lot of Bergman, and Godard, and then I started watching a lot of François Truffaut’s films. I just got immersed in that whole cinema of the late 60s. And I think in writing Daddy’s Boy, it all of a sudden came together.

In writing it, it was a very short script. And it was just these two people trying to get to know each other but not in a very emotional kind of way. They’re trying to figure out what this relationship is now. And then with a lot of the other characters, it’s just trying to figure each other out. But in watching [Godard’s] Breathless, or watching [Bergman’s] Persona, I saw these scenes where people just talk to each other, they’re talking about their lives, whatever comes to mind. And that’s when I thought, I think this will fit with this. Especially in these scenes where they’re in bed talking about life and their situation.

On The Tasteful Nudity In The Film

Using the backdrop of the porn industry, this gay-for-pay side of the adult industry, with the hustler and the sessions and all that, I was interested in finding out like who are these guys who go into this business. Because a lot of people just see them as these objects of sexual desire. You never think of them in terms of how they get to this position to making these videos. But in this scenario what we were interested is their issues with their fathers. So I kind of made that the thread throughout. The effects of not having that father there or having a father there who wasn’t really supportive in some way. So these characters find escape, or find a way to express themselves in these kinds of mediums.

That said, whenever things are very sexual, they’re not very sexy. The one sexual scene — the blowjob scene — you kind of don’t see it. I think, for me, there’s always a difference between the experience and the reality. Especially in that climactic blow job scene with Manuel and Max. There, I wanted to showcase more the experience. I focused on Manuel’s face. That’s how we discussed it with Jonathan [Iglesias] who plays Manuel. I told him, your face is gonna sell it all. We really want to be able to see the full experience that Manuel is going through. From being unsure, uncomfortable, to accepting, to enjoying, to the end. For that, I never felt like “Oh, I need to show the actual moment.” And that, I think makes it more erotic. And the other parts where you see the nudity is more like seeing the reality of who these characters are. I never wanted the nudity to be just for show.

On Making New York City Look New

“This gay-for-pay side of the adult industry… I was interested in finding out who are these guys who go into this business.”

I knew we were gonna be shooting in a hotel room for Max’s scenes. So that’s why I chose to shoot in black and white, because I thought it’d work well with this type of room where there’s not a lot of color and the ones there are are not very pretty. The black and white would give a nice set of contrasts, with shadows. But then my cinematographer suggested we could have this giant window where you kind of oversee the city. So we were able to find this hotel in Long Island City in Queens that had that nice view. So we just put everything against that backdrop. And the other locations, I was walking down SoHo or Chinatown and I’d always thought, these are such great locations because they have a lot of texture and little hidden alleyways and little parks. And you get a real sense of that old kind of New York. So that’s where I put these characters, just wandering around there. It was nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets.

On The Festival Experience Of What It Was

So the previous film that I’d written, called What It Was, it was about women, Latinas, and when we went to a lot of the festivals, of course, it was a theater filled with women, with lesbians. And for me, I guess I hadn’t realized how divided film festival audiences can be. So we were there, these three gay guys who had made this film about all these women. But afterwards, in the conversations we had, we talked about these issues of mothers and daughters, and what I found fascinating was these topics on family. And I thought that would be a great film to make to have these conversations about what it means to be a son, what it means to be a father, or a brother. And I started thinking about what that conversation would be like. And so that kinda really made start to make the film. Like, create a film that would allow us to have those sorts of conversations we had after What It Was but with a theater full of gay men.

Daddy’s Boy is playing at the Cinequest Film Festival which runs March 1-13 in San Jose, CA.