Private Project

Front Stage & Back

Tragic comedic character study of a gay 58 year old, New York actor who has been in more than a hundred totally unheard of films.

In a poignant, funny, and unflinchingly honest piece of cinema verite, the camera follows Theo in his daily struggle to retain his integrity and keep his head above water in an industry that offers so much and gives so little.

Punctuated by clips from his many bizarre totally forgettable films, Theo takes us on a muddled journey through painful auditions, awkward rehearsals, and drunken dinner parties that describe his life in New York’s Upper East Side, where he shares a small apartment with his brother.

As we see his image gradually emerging on a portrait artist's canvas, the camera searches out the real story beyond this actor’s resilience and flamboyant wit and unfolds a tale of deeper hurt and familial complications.

  • Charlie Williams
    Bag Boy Lover Boy, Indiana
  • Charlie Williams
  • Andres Torres
    Bag Boy Lover Boy
  • Bill Mack
    Black Table
  • Theodore Bouloukos
    Key Cast
    Hell House LLC, Jobe'z World, Bag Boy Lover Boy
  • Adrian Sandu Yota
    All Or Nothing: Juventus, Busby, Sunderland Til I ide
  • David Burns
    Tracker, Making Waves
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 33 minutes 35 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 5, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    200,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, 4K
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Eric Doctorow, Random Media
    Country: United States
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Charlie Williams

Charlie Williams is a documentary filmmaker, film editor, cinematographer and screenwriter from London, England based in New York City since 2010. He has a masters in Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh where he developed a passion for ethnographic filmmaking.

He is known for his work as film editor on multi award winning feature 'Bag Boy Lover Boy' that broke out at Fantasia 2014 and was positively reviewed across board from publications such as The Hollywood Reporter and Indiewire.

In 2021 Charlie's served as cinematographer on BBC4 documentary 'Painted With My Hair', directed by Mike Dibb, about a man condemned to solitary confinement who used M&Ms for ink, and his own hair for a brush, to produce stunning works of art.

Charlie edited and wrote the screenplay for 'Indiana' which premiered at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in 2017, and his first documentary 'The Guitar Is Their Song', about a unique town of guitar makers in Mexico, was nominated for Best Documentary at the New York City International Film Festival and was distributed on DVD globally in 2009/10. Since 2014 until the present Charlie has also worked as video editor for YouTube channel 'Pasta Grannies', growing the subscribership from 0 - 930,000.

His latest documentary - 'Front Stage & Back' - is a tragi-comedic, warts and all character study following prolific yet totally unknown New York actor, Theodore Bouloukos, as he muddles through life in pursuit of work, dignity, and self truth.

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Director Statement

In 2014 actor Theodore Bouloukos played the lead role in a film called Bag Boy Lover Boy that premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It received rave reviews from publications such as Indiewire and The Hollywood Reporter, and on Theodore's performance Horror News wrote -

“He’s kind, friendly, understanding, sleazy, conniving & perverse - all at the same time. It’s so good a performance that I have to wonder what Mr. Bouloukos is really like as a person.”

In many ways this assessment of Theo’s performance was a starting point. I came to know him during my time working as the editor on this film. I saw that despite there being nothing unusual about a struggling actor in New York City, Theo was quite unique. He was eloquent, resilient, funny, and self aware, then also preposterous, inappropriate, and utterly shameless.. in and out of eviction hearings with rips in his clothes. Underpinning all of this, there was something deeper going on.. something I could not yet put my finger on.

He was a powerhouse of an actor with the strangest of filmographies. He loved a spotlight of any kind, and it came as no surprise that he’d be willing to be the subject of a documentary.

As German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote “There are men who struggle for a day and they are good. There are men who struggle for a year and they are better. There are men who struggle for many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives: These are the indispensable ones.”

At that time I’d come across a book called ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ by the sociologist and social theorist, Erving Goffman. He likened people in social life to actors on a stage, each playing a variety of roles to an audience. Within this analogy he distinguished between the front stage self, where actors are conscious of the audience’s expectations and how they should be influenced, and the back stage self, where an individual can relax and ‘be themselves’. I found this idea interesting, and in Theo, quite apart from hime being an actor, I believed I had an excellent subject through which to explore this distinction, and this is why I called the film ‘Front Stage & Back’.

On top of this social theory, I also wanted the film to explore the price an artist pays for the pursuit of their passion. I wanted the film to shine a light on the life and work of an unknown, middle aged actor, who hasn't 'made it' and likely never will. All the while, in the highly competitive, creative hot bed of New York City. Many documentary portraits explore the lives of famous people, or exceptional people who do exceptional things. By contrast, Theo is far from famous, that isn’t his goal.. though he certainly wants to be seen. He is an outsider living in the shadow of a Hollywood success story. He’s an iconoclast, a shipwrecked aristocrat, or perhaps even Shakespeare’s Fool… and he’ll do anything for the role.

Theo’s contradictions are what first drew me to him as a subject; cultured yet crude, generous yet selfish, sociable yet introverted, and proud but shameless. In Theo, there existed a clear tension between the things he said and the things he did. I wanted the film to explore this tension with a gentle hand, and by following his muddled journey through life over the course of two years. I was confident the film would also take on a life of its own.

During filming I wanted to be as agile as possible. This meant bringing lightweight equipment and often no other crew apart from myself. This helped me to minimise my influence over the surroundings and stay discrete. I am a long time admirer of the Direct Cinema approach championed by documentary filmmakers such as the Maysles brothers and Frederick Wiseman. I wanted to be an objective observer imposing myself as little as possible. Of course the camera can never be truly objective or unbiased, but I did want to be as ghost like as I could. However, I was quickly challenged by the fact that Theo enjoyed having the camera around too much to ignore it and he always had a lot to say. Theo naturally took control of proceedings and this was what I wanted. I didn’t need to engineer, nor lead him anywhere. Everything happens organically and nothing was scripted.

It is also important to mention that Theo enjoys sitting for portrait artists, and the walls of his bedroom attest to the fact that he’s done so many times throughout his life. I therefore wanted to use one of these portrait scenes as a mechanism for structuring the film. This mechanism was certainly on the nose, so to speak, a portrait within a portrait.. but in cutting back and forth throughout, it would serve as an anchor, and show Theo’s image emerging on the artist’s canvas just as our own understanding of Theo would develop during the course of the film.

Francis Bacon wrote "A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object; but there is no tension in the picture unless there is a struggle with the object’.

At the films core I wanted the struggle with the object to be a struggle with truth.. Theo’s truth. Who is he? Why is he? Does he know who he is? Do we know? Can we know? Indeed, the true self may not be knowable at all. By playing different roles and wearing different masks, what does this reveal? An artist might be limited by the tools at their disposal, stubbornly doing what is to some degree impossible. Perhaps the portrait artist, the documentarian, and the actor are all searching for truth of some kind, a search which is likely to fail, but can hopefully describe something true enough and therefore valuable. I wanted to explore self truth as something that is continuously oscillating between the front stage and back.

‘Words and images are like shells, no less integral parts of nature than are the substances they cover, but better addressed to the eye and more open to observation.’ (George Santayana, in 'The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ by Erving Goffman).

When I finished filming I had accumulated over 150 hours of footage and it was time to begin the long process of editing. Aside from building around the portrait scene, I also wanted to use clips from Theo’s own eclectic body of work. These would not only illustrate what Theo does for a living, but also serve to punctuate the film and drive the narrative, sometimes in a direct way, sometimes in a more tonal, abstract way. I also wanted these clips to help compliment the emotional arc of the film and have them relate to what Theo was feeling at the time.

I wanted to use a light touch for the edit, and reflect Theo’s chaotic existence in an organic way. That said, I did want to keep a classic three act structure in mind to shape the narrative . Every day life arrives at an inevitable moment of disappointment or rejection which leads to a period of self reflection, an emotional low at the midpoint, catharsis, lessons learned, and ultimately some kind of redemption in the third act.. a victory perhaps, no matter how small. In real life, however, I wanted to show that sometimes we do not make much progress. Sometimes we may instead find ourselves back at the drawing board, with familiar challenges ahead and the same old wounds to carry.

As Diane Cole said, “The artist’s struggle to transcend his pain can become the seed for many others hope, transforming a personal journey into a vision for us all”.