Deny Nothing: The True Story Behind ‘Burning Blue’

Even though it’s largely gone, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy still serves as a significant piece of legislation in the persecution of gays and lesbians in American society. Before the law’s passage, though, gays and lesbians were still subjected to persecution based on the slightest of allegations.

In Burning Blue, the time period before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is shown through a witch-hunt that chases after two Navy pilots who were spotted in a gay club. As the story progresses, relationships are harmed and events take a deadly turn.

For writer/director DMW Greer, the story hits very close to home. Though the story is ultimately fiction, many of the situations depicted in the film are things that happened to him while he was in the Navy in the 1980s. Greer took his experiences to create the play Burning Blue, which has been performed all over the world. Now, two decades later, the film adaptation of the story finally sees release later this week. Before the release, David Atlanta spoke with Greer about the lengthy process of getting the film finished, his personal stake in the story, and more.

David Atlanta: It’s taken years for Burning Blue to reach theater screens – the play was originally produced roughly two decades ago. What took so long to get the story turned into a film?

DMW Greer: Well, when the play was produced in 1995 – I wrote it in 1992, and it was finally performed in London in 1995 – there was all sorts of interest, and there were some options on it. I wrote some drafts for a Hollywood/London production company, and we spent some time trying to figure out what it was going to be, and how the film was actually going to be made and all that. We all thought this was going to be a big Hollywood blockbuster kind of film. I don’t know why we thought that, because the story is so not that. It’s a pretty intimate, internal story, set against the backdrop of the military.

We just kept going back and forth, and we couldn’t figure it out, and then life happened and I moved onto other projects. In 2009, when the economy wasn’t doing so well, I took the opportunity to really focus on finally making the film work.

We started filming at the end of 2010, and then started our edit, then raised some more money so that we could actually do the edit the proper way, and then we actually shot more. We had some pickup days we had to raise money for. It was one of those kind of things.

DA: The story is based in part on your own story. Can you share more about that?

DMWG: It’s a work of fiction, absolutely, but many of the situations that are depicted in the film are things that happened to me. Some of the characters are pretty accurate – they follow the people in my life. Others, I would say, are the synthesis of multiple people that were, and still are, significant people in my life.

DA: Your story predates Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The play saw many of its performances once that law went into effect. Now that the film is coming out, the law is gone. How do you think the impact of the story has shifted over the years?

DMWG: Wow. Well, certainly, politically. It’s been a real rollercoaster. It’s been a huge, huge change since the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With the repeal of that, there was certainly a lot of political football, which ultimately brought some illumination and clarity, and ultimately the repeal. I think there’s been a lot of change. I think that the story itself is pretty basically…it’s a love story, and a story about being true to one’s self, and I think that thematically, those ideas are pretty universally understood, and I would think are fairly timeless.

DA: The relationship between Dan and Matt is pretty short, and it seems like it ends rather abruptly. Was that intentional on your part?

DMWG: It was. These guys are all around the age of 30, and they’ve had a significant amount of life experience, certainly professionally and I would say personally, too. Matt is married, and Dan has been dating Nancy for quite a long time. And I think that, as kind of lockstep as they are in the way that they conduct their lives, certainly professionally, emotionally a switch is turned and a door is opened, and those things happen like that. Certainly, it was like that with me. There was a lot that happened in my life up to the point where I finally met my husband, the guy I’m married to now. I had many relationships, and some of those evolved more quickly than others. But I think once you meet that person, it’s like a bolt out of the blue – at least for me, it was. And I feel like that’s what happened with these guys. It’s a sudden, and quite dramatic, recognition.

DA: How does it feel to have the film finally ready for release?

DMWG: (Laughs) It feels amazing. It feels great. It’s been a long time, a really long haul. But it’s been worth it to me. There have been so many people who have helped make it happen. I just hope that it in some way documents a time in our history, and illuminates in some way what happened to so many different people.

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Burning Blue opens in theaters on June 6, and is available through VOD services on the same day. For more information on the film, visit burningbluefilm.com.

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