Steven Walters on His New Film Love & Air Sex: "You Can't Just Hump the Air"
It's a sunny Monday afternoon in February and I'm sitting next to Walters on a bench outside of Crooked Tree Coffeehouse in Uptown. The busy Dallas artist works as a playwright, actor and co-artistic director of Second Thought Theatre, and he has just returned from a trip to Austin, where he was promoting his new indie film, Love & Air Sex.
When I press him for details on his recent victory, he gives me a little air sex 101. Firstly to successfully air sex, you need to build a narrative."You can't just hump the air," he says with a laugh. "My air sex name was the Concert Penisist and my routine was simply a guy at a piano who realizes he is alone in a concert hall and starts to make love to, well, a piano."
He stands up to show me a few moves, glances around and sits back down. Walters has been onstage in numerous shows, but making love to the air is still new to him. In fact, the pivotal plot point of Walters' film wasn't even in the first draft. In fact, he'd never even heard of air sex until he met director Bryan Poyser. Before the film has its Dallas debut at the Texas Theatre on Thursday, Walters took a few minutes to tell us why he wrote the movie in the first place.
In my head air sex seems kind of like burlesque.
Yeah, it is actually kind of like that, except there is a certain kind of sexuality to it. Even when the women are not beautiful by society standards, it's still kind of sexy. But air sex just isn't sexy.
What about the sexy pole dancer?
She was the sexiest one, 'cause she could do sexy things that the rest of us just couldn't do. And like Zack Cregger who's in the movie, was there and he and Sara Paxton were the celebrity judges. And Zack said to the pole dancer, "Clearly you're better at sex than everyone in this room." Because you know, you could see that she was in shape. While me and Brian were like out of shape dudes. But still, air sex is really not that sexy.
Are the competitions dominated by dudes?
No it's 50/50. If you Google it, a lot of the champions are girls. It's really weird. That's all I can say about it. It's just really weird.
Why did you write a movie about air sex?
Well, I didn't. I wrote a movie about couples and young love. That messy, ugly process about moving on from love. In the original version of the script that pre-dated our director's involvement with it, it wasn't about air sex. It was that the guys were competing in this Guitar Hero competition, Rock Band competition, because the original draft of the script was written in 2008. It was in the movie to do two things: One, it was the way this guy was to meet the girl and also, to show disparity between him and his friends. That he was growing apart from his high school, college friends. But then there was that movie with Vince Vaughn, Couples Retreat, and at the end of that movie they do a Guitar Hero contest. So we realized, one, it's already been done, and two, it really wasn't that funny.
So the director's wife, Kim, brought up air sex and Bryan went and saw it. Afterward he called and me and said, "Dude, this is it." Our other ideas had sucked, like poetry slams or hip-hop. All bad ideas. Air sex is just the funniest, weirdest thing ever.
Plus, the movie is set in Austin and air sex originated in America in Austin. Originally, it came from Japan. Japanese businessmen would get drunker and drunker, so karaoke turned into air sex. Then, Tim League licensed air sex to do these competitions at Alamo Drafthouse. He gave us the license for the film for nothing.
The movie was originally called The Bounceback, right?
Well, it was originally called The Rebound. Then, there was a Catherine Zeta-Jones movie with that name. So it became The Bounceback. Then, Tribeca, our distributor, changed its name to Love & Air Sex. Which of course makes people go, "What the fuck is that?" And I think it was just to make a splash in marketing. [At this point Walters' hand lifts his hand out of his lap to signal a different kind of splash.]
You can't even control your hand motions, can you?
It's fresh on my mind.
Are you happy with the title now?
What's funny though is that the title is perfect, because it is about love and moving on from love. In that sense, it is an earnest, sophisticated movie. But it has this wildly vile comedic backdrop. So it's perfect, because it is a movie about these two different things put together.
And maybe you could see air sex as a metaphor for what it takes to move on: You fake it and you keep going until it feels good.
I'm going to pretend that was the intention. But yeah, it is ugly. The first draft was really about me and my messy relationships in my 20s and I'm still just now getting to a place in my life where I'm not terrible at relationships, even just with friends of mine. It was something I was very aware of and I was trying to look back on my early 20s to mid-20s and strip away any sadness that remained or lingered.
When I saw Swingers for the first time as a kid, I thought I had found a movie that no one else knew about but me and my buddies. That's the kind of film I wanted to make.
Do you feel like you made the movie you wanted to make?
I have to say I think Bryan, the director, made the movie I wanted to make. He's crazy talented. The film wasn't flashy. It was simple, with a small cast. And when it was going through the studio system originally, it kept getting broader and broader. But what Bryan did was swing it back the other way. He made it great with his directorial vision and with the cast he assembled. It was definitely in the right hands. And around the time that the script was optioned, I had just moved back to Texas and was re-identifying myself as a Texas artist and Bryan is the Austin independent film darling. So it made sense.
He had never directed something he didn't originate before, so it was a new experience for him too. But he has enough integrity as a filmmaker to not make the easy choice. He walked the fine line of the tonal shifts that are implicit in the story, just beautifully. He nailed it, I think.
People in Dallas know you as a theater artist. Why did you write a movie instead of a play?
I think the original actually was a play. There is definitely a play version of the film that exists somewhere. The real reason is that I was living in LA and the writer's strike came down and I wasn't WGA at that time and so there were no rules that said I couldn't write. It was in the middle of season two of Friday Night Lights. I was unemployed because everybody was unemployed. I had just moved to LA and I was on the tail end of a bad break-up.
Everything I had written up until that point hadn't been personal. I'd never written anything that was personal to me. And this project is very personal to me. And so I thought to myself, what am I gonna do? I can sit around and spin my wheels, waiting for someone else to employ me. Or I can create my own opportunity. So that's what I did.
Since then, I've written a few screenplays and ghost written on several projects. Theater will always be my first love, but working on a different medium that's still so new to me is very fresh.
So Thursday you're having a party?
Yeah, it's the next stop in our road show. Our distributor Tribeca gave the film a limited release in just a few cities. So we raised money on Kickstarter and with that money we are taking the film on a rock star-style road show. We play the movie, we have local bands. There's music before and after the film. It's just a way to drive up awareness about the film, because while it's in theaters, it's also available on iTunes. We just want our investors to get their money back so we can make another one. So far, we've been to New York for the New York Winter Classic, we were in Austin last weekend and now Dallas. Then I think the next stop is Phoenix.
But no competition while you're in Dallas?
I think it's going to be more of a free-for-all. If anybody in the audience starts to feel amorous and wants to come onstage and have sex with the air, well, they're welcome to.
Don't you make an air sex cameo in the movie?
Yes, I do. I air sex really badly in the movie. You don't know my character's real name in the movie, but he air sexes by the name "Hugh G. Rection." He's supposed to be drunk and terrible at air sex, so that our emcee can tell the audience that to properly air sex you have to have a narrative and you can't just hump the air.
Originally, I wasn't supposed to be in the movie, but we lost an actor. When I was told I'd have to air sex, I didn't know what I was going to do so I just started taking my clothes off and humping the air. I think I peed into a beer bottle and mimed drinking it. It was very upsetting. My mother is so proud.
What is your relationship with air sex now?
Having just competed at the Austin Invitational and being crowned a true air sex champion for the first time and having tasted the sweet, sweet taste of victory. I think Ihave found my true calling.
You don't think you should quit while you're ahead?
I should. That's what my girlfriend says. "Now that you're on top you should never do it again."