For years, Michael Doshier played the stages of New York as Johnny Darlin, a pop star alter ego that Michael used to reckon with his upbringing as a gay child in the conservative suburbs of Arkansas. Writing has long been a place for Michael to process his childhood, whether it’s music, dramatic work, or a combination of the two. He created two original cabarets, Johnny Darlin: In the Closet and Johnny Darlin: Songs About Boys, which he has performed at the New York Fringe Festival, Prague Fringe Festival, and New York FRIGID Queerly Festival to critical acclaim. Michael’s latest project, a film called Throuple, ties these threads into a brand new tapestry: a queer romantic comedy.
Set in the same New York clubs and venues where the story was conceptualized, Throuple tells the story of a twenty-something gay singer-songwriter named Michael, loosely based on the real Michael. One night at a show, Michael catches the eye of a married couple looking for a third. With his best friend Tristan and her boyfriend Zach egging him on, Michael pursues the couple, and what starts as a one-night stand turns into a life-changing relationship.
Last week, I talked to Michael about the origins of Throuple, the team behind the film, and the next steps toward making it a reality.
Adam Cecil: Can you introduce yourself and give Night Water readers the origin story behind Throuple?
Michael Doshier: I’m a writer and musician based in Brooklyn. I’m in a band called Darlin! the Band, and before that, I was playing solo at open mic, singer-songwriter-y shows. I really loved a lot of the songs that I was hearing from my contemporaries out on the scene that would have like 500 streams or whatever on Spotify, nothing that was going viral or launching careers, just a lot of stuff bubbling under the surface if you knew where to go listen to these people perform. So I wanted to write a movie that showcased these songs.
I was already playing with this idea of a romantic comedy about a non-monogamous setup, because at the same time that I was doing all of that, I was only matching people on Grindr and Tinder and Hinge that were married. So those two things happening in tandem with each other started the writing process of Throuple, this queer romantic comedy about an aspiring singer-songwriter who moves from one couple in his life, being his relationship with his best friend and her boyfriend, to another, which is a married couple that hits on him at the bar one night.
AC: Digging into the story a bit—what are the themes that you were really drawn to and are trying to play with?
MD: The script really clicked into gear when I realized open relationships depend upon a much higher level of open communication than I think a lot of monogamous relationships, or friendships, or roommate situations. So many feelings can get involved and you want to stay on the same page. You learn to speak more directly and communicate how you’re feeling more often and more openly, at least in the open relationships that this is based off of.
So I wanted to use that as a way to challenge a character who has, because of his own repression as a queer person who was closeted for the formative years of his life, is really struggling to communicate his desires and his feelings with his friends and family and boss and roommate. He’s bad at putting his foot down and making space for himself in his world and lets other people dictate how he lives his life. We’re using this mechanism of an open relationship to teach him that he’s allowed to talk about his lived experience and go for what he wants in life, and to be more open in his communication style.
When I realized this dynamic, that was when I was like, oh, I’m onto something here. I didn’t want to write the manifesto about how monogamy is for the birds or anything. I might believe that conceptually but don’t have the resume to really write that movie. But this, this I can write about.
AC: So you’re playing the main character, and your real life best friend Tristan Carter-Jones is playing the best friend in the movie. I’m curious how much is based on your lived experience and how much of it is fiction?
MD: So that main relationship, besides the romantic relationship with the couple, is between Michael, our protagonist, and Tristan, his best friend and roommate. And that is real. There is a real Michael, which is me, and there is a real Tristan, which is Tristan. And it’s set in the music world of New York City, where her band, Dakota Jones, is really impressive as a presence. Tristan is in her first serious relationship at the moment, and that part of the story, the part of Michael dealing with that, is based in reality.
Obviously, it’s a movie, so it’s dramatized and goes off the rails in ways that movies should to be entertaining. I haven’t behaved exactly how movie-Michael has. But those feelings and actions come from a real place of like, okay, now my best friend is less available to me. And on top of that, she’s experiencing this thing, love, that we both spent our formative years wondering about. Now the mystery has lessened for her, but not for me, and she’s not able to explain it in a way that’s satisfying.
Tristan helped me dramatize the real ways in which I behaved when that happened, and told me how it made her feel, which helped me sharpen the script.
AC: Can you talk a bit about the New York music scene that inspired your first bits of writing?
MD: I started writing this script while I was in the audience of open mic nights, waiting for my turn to perform and hearing these great songs. So a lot of the soundtrack is made up of songs that I think are just super special gems and unheard marvels. But the story is also about a reluctant and aspiring performer, and there are these big concert scenes. It’s kind of like a combination of narrative film and a concert film, which is one of the most exciting parts for me, that these scenes take place at iconic New York City venues, whether it’s backstage or in the audience or onstage.
So we go on a tour of the underground music scene of New York City while you’re falling in love with this character and his love story. It gets at this living-life-to-the-fullest vibe, this type of energy, that is very pre-pandemic and hopefully post-pandemic. I have a Spotify playlist that is essentially a soundtrack of the real Michael’s favorite local indie acts and a mood board for the film’s music.
AC: So you have this script—where are you in development or production now and what has the journey been like to get up to this point?
MD: I started writing the script in 2017, and it started to get really sharp as a script in 2019. We’ve done a lot of readings, and the script has placed in a lot of screenplay competitions, which we’ve then used to apply for grants. Right now, we’re kind of in between development and pre-production. We’ve been putting the team together, and we ran a successful Seed & Spark fundraising campaign, which did give us part of our budget. We are still fundraising, and we have a fiscal sponsor that people can still help us out by contributing to.
Right now, we have me and Tristan as the lead roles, and the rest of the roles we’ll be casting. We have two producers right now, Emmi Shockley and Phillip Hughes, and then we have our director Greyson Horst, who is this really forward-thinking filmmaker. I came across his short The Bugs and the Slugs, and it’s this beautiful queer love story that blew me away, and its heart is in the same place that Throuple’s heart is in.
AC: So you’re in the middle of raising the rest of the budget. From there, what are your hopes and dreams for getting it made and distributed?
MD: We’re hoping to raise the rest of the money by the end of this year, and then set up for a spring 2022 shoot. We’re on track, which is exciting. Every day we’re closer than we were the day before, which I’ve learned to just be okay with as an independent filmmaker.
Once it’s made, we’d love to get it distributed by a queer-leaning distributor who gets it and sees how it’s special. I just want it to be seen by as many people as possible because I think it tells a really unique queer story. I know that as a kid living in Arkansas, representation was hard to come by. Everything that I do is geared towards young queer kids in small towns and red states. And this story deals with that trauma through its main character, but also just shows a version of life that is available to future generations too. So that’s what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping once it’s done, it touches a lot of lives.
AC: If someone is interested in giving money, what can they do?
MD: We’d be honored and grateful to anyone willing to help us out! We have a partnership with the Film Collaborative, which is a fiscal sponsorship, meaning that if you give through them, you can get a tax write-off as a charitable contribution. Our URL for that is throuple.movie, which is super easy to remember because it’s the name of the movie and the fact that it is a movie.
That’s the main way to help us right now. And if you’re interested in joining our team in any way, if you’re a filmmaker yourself, reach out to me personally, because we’ll still building our team and will need as much help as possible.
If Michael’s previous work is anything to go by, Throuple promises to be a unique and invigorating film that celebrates queer identity and the music of New York City. For updates on the production, follow Throuple on Instagram.