The “Honey Boy” Experience
How Alma Har’el is Changing The Industry
Ever since I saw “Honey Boy” for the first time, I’ve done nothing but live and breathe the film. I soon discovered the “Honey Boy Podcast” and the endless amount of behind the scenes content on director Alma Har’el’s twitter. After that, I saw it a second and a third time and with every watch I found new meaning. The film became more than just a movie to me- it became an experience that I already felt myself knowing I’d one day miss when it was all over.
If you haven’t seen Honey Boy yet, you should.
The film stars Shia Labeouf who plays his real life father, Noah Jupe who plays Labeouf’s younger self (Otis in the film) and Lucas Hedges who plays Shia’s current self. Labeouf, who wrote the film in court mandated rehab, takes audiences on a tour of his life growing up on “Even Stevens” with a single father dealing with addiction. It’s heart wrenching, yet cathartic. In the end, “Honey Boy” teaches a valuable lesson of empathy and forgiveness; a gift we can all take with us.
But, the film doesn’t just stop at the credits.
Har’el and the cast talk candidly on the podcast about the film and topics related to it like toxic masculinity and the performances we put on in our daily lives. The conversations and secrets from set shared in the episodes gave me perspective.
Going into it a second time, I felt and saw a different film. I understood the themes of resentment and admiration in a way I hadn’t been able to conceive on first watch and felt myself becoming even more impressed. I remembered how Labeouf had talked about putting on a performance to keep up with the unspoken guy code with his father to help him get women. I connected even more with the “apologize to pam” scene knowing the background behind it. It felt good to get to know this film on a deeper level.
After that, I couldn’t keep “Honey Boy” off my mind. I turned on Har’el’s tweet notifications and dug deeper and deeper into her account to find the moments I missed before I became a Honey Boy cheerleader.
Perhaps my favorite shared moment is a picture of Jupe leaning on Labeouf after a photographer had asked Jupe to whisper something in Shia’s ear. “I love you” was what he chose to whisper.
Har’el also shares a lot of the process it took to prep the film.
She posted Jupe’s audition tape along with a couple other contenders- one of whom they brought on to do a small cameo.
There’s videos of Hedges and Labeouf practicing and getting comfortable in their character’s shoes.
There’s also stills from a deleted scene that Har’el recounts as being one of the strongest scenes that just didn’t quite make the film- which I’m dying to see BTW.
I also found out that they filmed “Honey Boy” in just 19 days and Har’el rarely did the exact same take twice. It inspired me as an aspiring filmmaker to see Har’el take on this film with such unique agency that I didn’t even know was possible; it gave me a new outlook on filmmaking.
Har’el also highlights actors playing smaller parts in the film who are more than meets the eye. The pimp who lives across the way from Otis and his father in the film is played by Debra Jones, who once was a recruiter for a pimp. There’s also the AA member named Carlos, who was twelve years sober in real life.
Har’el found him while location scouting.
Har’el has a special way of making a film that is more than meets the eye- which is incredible since the film is already spectacular on the surface. All of these little touches are what make the essence of “Honey Boy” and what’s so great about it all is that it’s free and easily accessible. Har’el doesn’t wait or bait us to buy the DVD to get exclusive content. She shares openly and freely for our benefit.
Har’el who also founded Free The Work, a network for underrepresented creators to get jobs, said in a tweet reply, “The way we keep the structures of power is by holding information. Rise. I try to get filmmakers to pass what we learn to others around the world @FREETHEWORK as much as we can.”
Har’el is changing the film industry one step at a time. She may be the first woman of color to be nominated for best director this year (with Lulu Wang, hopefully) and she’s also making a change in the way we consume and involve ourselves in film. She’s created a platform for us all to get involved and learn from and I sincerely hope that other directors follow in her footsteps.
I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.