John G. Young ’85
Writer and director John G. Young is Visiting Assistant Professor of Screenwriting and Film and currently the department chair for the Film BFA program.
Young’s films include features, shorts, and documentaries. Talking about his work, John says, “All four of my features deal with the constructs of race, sexuality and privilege and how they intersect.”
The Village Voice called Young’s first feature film, Parallel Sons “…one of the best independent films of the decade.” After its premiere in the Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, it went on to win Best Feature awards at the Florida Film Festival, OutFest, and Frameline, and played in over 40 national and international film festivals before it was released theatrically. “Most of the folks who worked on it were Purchase folks,” Young says.
Young’s second feature The Reception opened in 2005 to rave reviews after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. Shot in just eight days for $5,000, the Los Angeles Times called it “polished, worldly and witty,” while Variety called the film “effortlessly cosmopolitan.” The New York Times said it was “quietly ambitious and memorable.” The Reception would go on to win the Best Actor at OutFest in 2005 and be released later that year theatrically.
Rivers Wash Over Me, Young’s third feature film, premiered in 2009 as Newfest’s Centerpiece, and played over 30 festivals, garnering a Jury Award for Best Feature from The Chicago International LGBT Film Festival, and a Best Actor Award for newcomer Derrick Middleton from OutFest. It made several top 10 lists for 2009. and was released on DVD in January 2011.
All three of these films are currently available through Strand Releasing.
In 2017 Young theatrically released his fourth feature; bwoy starring Anthony Rapp (Rent, Star Trek Discovery). Film Comment wrote that “Young’s direction and Rapp’s performance are extraordinary” while the Hollywood Reporter wrote that bwoy “is deeply tangled stuff, expressed with a powerful simplicity that turns the dual-screen connection into a world, hyperfocused and deceptively whole.”
Looking Back as a Film Student
“At the end of my sophomore year at Purchase I had serious doubts about whether or not I had what it took to make narrative films,” Young says. “The work I had created in class was frankly, mediocre at best.
“But something happened to me over that summer, and in the beginning of my junior year I pushed myself super hard and resolved to take chances creatively in my work, even if it meant no longer pleasing my family, which was a big deal at the time. That push and my resolve to take chances creatively resulted in a real milestone for me and changed my entire Purchase experience and for the better.”
“I took another year to complete my senior thesis film,” recounts Young. “During that time, I started to work at an educational company helping them convert photo slides to videotape. Eventually this became a full-time career and I became the Editorial Director at a small educational company. The great thing about this experience was that it allowed me to constantly be on set, whether it was interviewing people for documentaries or creating narrative scenarios. During this time, I also wrote and directed three feature films. The many connections I made through my educational video job helped me convince folks to work on my features.”
At work on two feature film projects, Young explains, “The first is an exploration of the Lower East Side art scene in the late 1980s through the eyes of Juan Dubose, who was Keith Haring‘s first boyfriend. The second film explores an actual situation which took place in 2006 where army recruiters, facing immense pressure to enlist new soldiers, started to commit suicide en masse.”
Words of Advice to Students
Passing down some insights learned from his former Purchase film professors, as well as his own experience as a professor, Young says,
“I always joke with my writing students that I don’t consider myself a writer. I mean this because my first love has always been directing films. The problem is that no one else is writing the stories I want to tell in the way I want to tell them, so therefore it’s up to me to create them. In the process I’ve learned the importance of understanding how stories are told, how characters are created, and how, no matter what, you have to take emotional risks in your writing.
“Thirty-five years ago, I had one of my Purchase professors, Dick Rogers, tell me that someday everything that was currently being recorded on spools and spools of actual film would be recorded on something the size of his fingernail. Of course, at the time it seemed like science fiction, but today that’s exactly what happens. His point was that the medium or technology of filmmaking is almost irrelevant. What matters, what transcends is the idea, the feeling and the emotional connection.”
—Written by Susan Kouguell, Lecturer in Screenwriting