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+TALK: JARED FRIEDER

Karl Schmid speaks with writer/director, Jared Frieder

KARL
A modern take on HIV, up next.

Hey there, welcome to +Talk on +Life, where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. And a film that is doing that right now is called “Three Months.” It’s available on Paramount+ and Amazon, and I’m joined by its writer and director, Jared Frieder, today. Hey Jared, good to see you.

JARED
Great to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

KARL
Hey, listen, thank you so much for creating a piece of art and a film that really speaks about HIV and what people go through in the testing process in such a fresh, modern way that isn’t doom and gloom.

JARED
I mean, that was our intention, and I’m so happy that people are taking that away from the film. And it’s really been a joy to be able to do.

KARL
Well, and I should say congratulations too, ’cause this is like your sorta big, big directorial debut. I know the film is sort of loosely semi-autobiographical. You’ve mentioned that in press before. What’s the overall message that you’re hoping to convey in the film “Three Months”?

JARED
I think the most important thing for me is to try and express to people who don’t already know it, that with access to medical care, HIV’s no longer a death sentence, and people live long, happy, healthy lives. They find love, they follow their dreams. And the next conversation that I wanna continue to have is that we have to do exactly what you guys do here on this program, which is fight the stigma, make sure that people know the realities of living with HIV today, which is, you take a pill, you take a couple pills, and there is no effects the same way it was a couple decades ago. And I hope the film can be a voice in that conversation.

KARL
I think it really is. I mean, touching on that, just how important was it for you personally to tell this sort of up-to-date version, versus, ’cause we’re so used to, when we see eight films or television shows about HIV, it’s typically set in the eighties or the early nineties, it’s all doom and gloom. I love that you incorporated Pedro Zamora into the film, because it touches on that. But you’re really just showing HIV as another thing that is kind of like diabetes or any other chronic illness.

JARED
Totally, I mean, listen, I grew up with that content. That content was some of the things that, as a gay kid, made me feel seen for the first time, like “Rent” and “Angels in America,” especially a lot of theater. But it felt time to tell a new kind of story to build on top of that canon to show what it’s like living with HIV today. And it was just really important for me to also make it fun and accessible and funny and exciting and show all the colors of that experience. It was really important for me.

KARL
I know that, we find this all the time here at +Life, and it’s a shame. I think it’s getting better. But telling any story about HIV or AIDS in mainstream media is often met with doors closed or a line I’m constantly told, “Look, we think what you’re doing is great, it’s just not the right time to talk about it.” Were you up against any challenges and obstacles when it came time to sorta getting this film on this topic out there and made?

JARED
Yeah, a decade of obstacles, actually. It was pretty surreal. I mean, I first wrote this script almost 10 years ago now, and it has had so many lives. I’ve once called it literally “The Cat” or “The Catwoman” of entertainment because people keep trying to kill it and it just keeps coming back. Back in the mid-20 teens, I tried to make this as a film and I got the response that you just so eloquently laid out, which is, “We love this, we love your voice, we love your characterization, we love the story, what else do you have? Because we obviously can’t tell this story because it’s too taboo or the stigma is too strong or we don’t think it is financially viable.” And that was the roadblock I just kept running into. And then we actually sold it as a television show, and I adapted it into an entire, for a major platform streamer. And then when it came time to greenlight the show, I ran into those same things, which is, not financially viable. And luckily, MTV read the six scripts that I had written for the TV show and was like, “We love this, we think it’d be better as a movie.” And I was like, “LOL.” It originated as a film and they let me do it. So it was really, truly, truly, truly eight/nine years of “no” before this “yes,” it was tough.

KARL
How daunting was it for you to take this project on as your directorial debut? I mean, looking at you, you can’t be older than 16 and a half.

JARED
You’re so kind. Oh my gosh, I gotta take you everywhere I go. It was very nerve-wracking, especially with two Oscar winners. Ellen Burstyn and Lewis Gossett Jr. are two of the reasons I got into filmmaking in the first place. Their films have inspired me, truly, to the moon and back. And so it was really daunting, but I knew exactly how this movie looked and felt and sounded. And I knew I was the right person for the job, so I was afraid, but sometimes when you’re afraid, it’s the motivator you need to give your best, you know?

KARL
Absolutely, I mean, you’ve got a stellar cast, Troye Sivan. You’ve got our friend, Javier Muñoz, in it, who does a great job. And we had him on a couple of weeks ago, talking about the role and what it meant for him to be able to play that role. When you present a story like this, was there any hesitation from any of them about dealing with a subject matter like HIV?

JARED
You know what, not from a single actor. That was never an issue. Actors are artists, and these people, they saw the subject matter, and especially for Ellen and Lou and I mean, especially for Javier and even Troye, it’s like, to be a part of a story that’s both entertaining and funny and has great character emotions but also has a greater message and a greater meaning, I mean, they were so, so, so excited. So to them, to the actors, it was actually like it made it almost more of a selling point ’cause they all wanted to put some good out into the universe, you know?

KARL
Yeah, and they all do a fantastic job. And as I said at the top, it is somewhat semi-autobiographical. You, yourself, sort of had a situation where you were waiting for test results and hence the name “Three Months.” And we should explain for those who haven’t seen the film, if you have condomless sex or unprotected sex, it can take up to three months for the HIV virus to show up in your system. Hence the name “Three Months” and the main character waiting three months across summer. I know you sort of went through something similar. When you look back at that time now and everything you’ve probably learned in the process of making this film, what do you sort of say to the younger person who went through that three months and felt the angst that we see your characters feel in this film?

JARED
Mm, that’s a really good question that I’ve not been asked yet. I think I would tell him that everything happens for a reason, and every challenge that you experience creates an opportunity for you to become a better version of yourself and to learn more about yourself. And also to stick around and to keep fighting for the better future. And also, just to reiterate to that kid that no matter what your diagnosis is, you’re gonna be okay.

KARL
Is that what you hope the message is for people who sit down and watch this?

JARED
Yes, absolutely, without question. There are a lot of messages in this, but for me, that is the the most important one, that is paramount.

KARL
Troye Sivan does a great job in playing your lead male in this. As a young, openly queer man and artist who’s been doing such a phenomenal job rising from YouTube to having the mainstream platform he has now, was it collaborative with you and him or was he just open to, “Whatever you want, boss, I’ll do it.”

JARED
It was incredibly collaborative. I mean, he is such a genuine artist, through and through, and such an incredibly gifted naturalistic actor. We had such an incredible working relationship. It sort of was like a duet on set where, we joked at one point that we had brain meld, where just our brains just became one and we could sense and predict what the other one was thinking or trying to express. And I feel like you could feel that in that performance. Troye is playing a version of me. And in many ways, we’re different, but in many ways, we’re just similar as people, we’re both nice Jewish boys, who have a great sense of humor and a positive outlook on the world. And so it was such a incredible experience working with him on this. He’s so talented.

KARL
Yeah, and what I really commend you for and all of them is that really, all of these characters are likable. I mean, you really feel for all of them. There isn’t really a bad person or a sort of a bad character, even HIV as a character, you don’t sort of go the big, bad wolf HIV. And I really wanna commend you all for that. Because again, that’s changing the narrative, and speaking of changing the narrative, what more should we be doing in Hollywood? In your position as a writer and a director, my position as someone who’s on camera, but producers, what’s our responsibility now in this day and age, when it comes to HIV?

JARED
I think it’s to continue opening doors and providing opportunities for people to tell stories and narratives that challenge the stigma of HIV and to allow different types of filmmakers, Black, Indigenous, people of color, queer, trans filmmakers to tell their individual stories and their lived experiences with HIV. Because those people don’t oftentimes have access to the resources that you or I have. And their stories are just as important or if not, more important, because we don’t get to see them often. So I think continuing to shout from the rooftops that Hollywood is for everyone, if only they have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of this experience. And so continuing to open doors and provide opportunities, for me, is the most important thing that we can actively be doing now, for sure.

KARL
Well, listen, Jared Frieder, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for creating this fantastic movie. The film is “Three Months,” it’s out now, you can check it out on Paramount+ or Amazon, like I did, really super simple. Sit down, watch it with your friends, watch it by yourself, watch it with your partner, whoever, and talk about it. Because like everything we do here at +Life, it’s about a conversation, and this is just such a beautiful, poignant, fun, happy film. So congratulations to you all and thanks for your time.

JARED
Thank you so much for having me.

KARL
Absolutely, that’s gonna do it for this episode of +Talk. If you want more information, check out the website pluslifemedia.com. Be sure to follow us across social media platforms, we are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, be nice to one another, stay safe. We’ll see you soon.

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