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“While I was studying abroad, I went to this wall in Prague where people can write things on it, and I thought it’d be funny to write ‘Prom King, 2010’ on it since I was being an obnoxious American, and was actually chosen as my high school’s prom king back in 2010. And then I thought to myself, ‘Wait, that’s a really good title for a movie.’”
Prom King, 2010, Seattle University Film Studies alumnus Christopher Schaap’s first full-length feature film, has been his intimate and special project since that inception of its title in Czech Republic. “After that, in fall quarter of 2013, during my senior year of college, I began working on [the film] bit by bit.”
And with the help of producer Isabella Jackson, it all eventually came to life.
Fast-forward to 2017, and ‘Prom King’ has not only been created, but Schaap is now—quite literally—soaring across the globe, promoting the film at festival after festival. Ranging from Toronto to Tel Aviv and everything in between, including two recent showings at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), the queer-centric Prom King, 2010 has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, and is currently sitting high and mighty on IMDb with an aggregate score of 8.2/10 (signaling universal acclaim). Christopher Schaap directed, wrote, acted as the lead star of the film. Not too shabby for an undergraduate from a university’s at-the-time new, nearly infant film studies program.
“I was the second or third graduating class from that program, actually,” Schaap mentioned. “The film studies department completely helped me create ‘Prom King.’ My whole language in how I talk about film, and how I watch films now, is what it is because I was a film major. I can articulate my thoughts of consuming film and reacting to it because of Seattle University. It was essential to me in making my own film; it was central to it. I loved film before I was a major; I learned how to actually make a film because of those classes.”
Little did Schaap know, though, that his creation would actually end up playing at theaters he used to go to all the time as a student, including the Cinema Uptown and the Egyptian Theater.
After graduation in 2014, Christopher Schaap packed his bags and shipped himself off to New York City, where Prom King, 2010 was eventually created. The film focuses on Charlie, the protagonist, and his navigation through young adulthood, homosexuality, and his complete naivety to just about anything related to love and romance. Not only did Schaap write and direct this film; he also played the lead role of Charlie, possibly leading some to wonder if there was any sort of autobiographical element to the film, considering how many pots his hands were in.
“It’s…semi [autobiographical]. That’s the safest answer,” Schaap nodded. “Charlie is certainly a character I’m close to. I took traits of my own and caricaturized them, and exaggerated them for the sake of the movie. I’m romantic, but Charlie is possessed by romance,” he emphasizes. This almost seemed to be the most glaring and obvious point that Schaap wanted to make in Prom King, 2010. There’s a difference between being romantic, and being driven by romance. Charlie undoubtedly ventures leaps and bounds beyond the latter, putting him in whatever category that may put him in.
“A lot of the characters are completely fictional. There are some traits that I picked up from people, and other traits were picked up from interactions I had with people beforehand,” he confessed. But as for Charlie, there were some things that most wouldn’t know were influenced by Schaap’s own personality.
Schaap is a huge lover of film—especially classic romance, and classic, well-done horror. When blending this into Charlie’s personality, it made it easy for the filmmaker to almost mock the overzealous romance that so many big-budget films tend to pack into 90 minutes, or mock the folks who so desperately want to live the lives that those films depict.
“Charlie’s the type of person that idolizes things at a very superficial level. If you asked him what his favorite movie was, he’d probably say [something by] Woody Allen, or Gone with the Wind, but has really only seen the films, like, twice. The idea of things appeals more often to him than the actuality of them. Everybody wishes fantasy; Charlie’s just explicitly tied to straight couples and old women.”
This is a common theme in the film for Charlie, where the timing of reality is marked in the film by his ‘retreat-to-my-female-best-friend,’ or Thanksgiving dinners with his family, which all tend to act as bookend moments for eras involving new love interests of his. This was done purposefully, though, to mark his journey through life as a cisgender, gay, white male who’s navigating the concept of dating, connecting through iPhone apps, and general hook-up culture in the Big Apple.
“Structuring that was pretty purposeful. And it wasn’t gonna be a clean arc—Charlie had to have highs with romantic moments, and massive lows with immaturity. You make mistakes and repeat them; let’s be real here. So, his progression is representative of his mistakes.”
Schaap’s take at this kind of romantic struggle isn’t one that’s often depicted in films, or on television. Or, at least, not appropriately or accurately. Generally, there seems to be this idea for some that coming out is a process that’s exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, but that’s not the case, says Schaap.
“I think it’s important to see that, as much as Charlie thinks there’s stereotypes that only apply to gay men and gay issues, even in terms of coming out, there’s forms of that for everyone. There’s universality to dating in general, such as arranged marriages, religion, etc.” It’s an honest and refreshing approach to a concept that Hollywood so often gets blatantly wrong. Something else that blockbuster productions also seem to get wrong? Sex.
“We were clear on dispelling a lot of urban legends and stuff about sex. Like, the first time for anal sex is not enjoyable at all,” Schaap puts pretty forwardly. But even that element of the film still managed to enchant some audience members. “It’s interesting, actually: a lot of straight people have been intrigued by the concept of how gay sex actually happens. Like, they’re surprised that gay sex can be beyond just one typical position. And honestly, that’s exciting for me, because it’s something that’s very real. It’s really cool, finding out that people are learning something from the movie.”
The scenes that sets those thoughts in motion for those movie-goers had Schaap blushing from ear to ear upon first introducing the film to the packed crowd at Seattle’s Egyptian Theater, where he addressed the audience with an apology to “any family and former professors who are in the audience.” The apology was met with chuckles, but little did folks realize just how detailed those scenes actually are. But that didn’t bother Schaap at all. Rather, he was actually worried for his costars that he was carrying those scenes with.
“Nothing in any of those [nude scenes] was titillating or sexy, so nudity didn’t bother me. In terms of, like, the actual intimate scenes with other people, though, I was actually more afraid of making them uncomfortable. A lot of those actors were straight actors, and I was afraid of coming off as predatory, because it was a small crew, and I didn’t want the scenes to seem super agenda-based,” he explained. And as it turned out, his costars were hardly bothered at all.
…all but one.
“There was poor timing with shooting,” Schaap confessed. “We shot the explicit sex scene right before we shot the scene where my boyfriend comes into the film for his role, so he was pretty grumpy with me.” Schaap’s long-time boyfriend of over two years, Matthew Luke Sandoval, filmed for his acting debut just one scene after he shot a racy sex scene with a romantic interest of his atop a church.
“I thought [my boyfriend] was just nervous, but yeah, it made sense that he was upset. It wasn’t the most seamless night of shooting,” he admitted, chuckling. But based on Schaap’s review, it sounds like Sandoval could venture into acting a bit more if he wanted to. “He did an amazing job! But, he doesn’t see himself as an actor.”
Whether his boyfriend works in more films (with or without him) or not is yet to be determined, but it’s absolutely certain that this is just the first of many, many films Schaap will write, direct, star in, and who knows what else, as his budding career is only just now starting to take its shape.
“I’m currently working on another film that’s very different in tone [to ‘Prom King’], but similar in theory. I like writing dialogue that sounds natural to me, that’s spoken by actors, that has ellipses and stutters and not complete sentences…because that’s how people talk, and it’s wonderful to see.”
And as for Schaap’s ultimate goal as a filmmaker? “A horror movie, because I have such high expectations and am so precious about it. It would have to be perfect. And I love atmospheric horror, but I hate jump scenes. They’re terrible. I’m not gonna take that home with me; it’s startling! It’s not scary.”
Scary, romantic, comedic, dramatic—you name it, Schaap will probably have his hands on it at some point in his lifetime. The young film aficionado is only just starting to find his footing, and if Prom King, 2010 is any indication of what future works of his will provide to audiences, we may see his career exploding faster than any of us could expect.
There’s still a lot of life left to breathe into ‘Prom King,’ though, before new projects begin to start taking center stage. As for when the general public can see it? Schaap mentions that he and his crew are hoping for a distribution deal, “but we want to give it a healthy festival run first. Hopefully people can see it online at some point. In the ideal world, it’d have a limited theatrical run, but that’s not realistic because that’s not the direction film is running in anymore. Streaming service is more possible, but if you can see it on screen, please do. It’s so essential.”
You heard him, folks. See it if you can, wherever you can. It’s too good to miss.
CRAIG JAFFE | Slay, king! | KXSU Editor