The word means “wild” and “untamed,” according to Merriam-webster, but “Feral” has been on a leash for close to two years, held in check by the uncertainties of a shifting entertainment industry.
Such restrictions end Thursday. A long-anticipated project for close observers of the Memphis film scene, “Feral” goes public with a screening of five of its eight episodes at Studio on the Square. That same day, the entire program becomes available as the first “original series” on Dekkoo, a subscription streaming service on the model of Netflix and Hulu.
“Feral” is the most ambitious project to date for Memphis filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox, a beloved figure who emerged from the do-it-yourself video scene of the turn-of-the21st-century to become a mentor to younger creators and a key contributor to significant “indie” projects here and around the country.
Shot on a tiny budget in and around Memphis in late 2014, “Feral” stars Seth Daniel (he dropped his last name, Rabinowitz, for credit purposes), Jordan Nichols, Leah Beth Bolton and Chase Brother as young friends working to shuck the husks of adolescence and emerge as independent, creative adults in a world filled with wonderful choices, fascinating challenges and attractive dangers (including drugs).
“To me, the show is about a group of Memphis artists who are in their early 20s, and they’re dealing with the same life issues that anyone is dealing with in their 20s,” said Fox, 37. “They’re trying to figure out and navigate life.”
Fox said the HBO series “Girls” and “Looking” were inspirations, but the loose, leafy Memphis vibe of “Feral” — brought to gauzy life by the luminist cinematography of Ryan Parker — distinguishes the program from its more urban and affluent counterparts.
The two lead characters in “Feral” are gay, “but what I try to do is focus on issues that are universal,” Fox said. “How to pay the rent. How to move on after being hurt by a relationship. The search for an identity — ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’ ‘Who am I?’
“These are people that are part of a greater arts community in Memphis,” Fox said. “They are not just part of an enclosed ‘gay community,’ and that to me is something very special about Memphis. As an artist growing up, I was part of a ‘film scene’ or an ‘art scene,’ not just a ‘gay scene,’ and that may be surprising for people who aren’t from the South.”
Even so, “Feral” was funded to be the first original series for Dekkoo, a longplanned digital network aimed at gay men. A start-up company funded by film producer and investor Derek Curl and headquartered in Philadelphia, Dekkoo launched Oct. 5. The impetus for the platform was the fact that such services as Amazon and Netflix target only a fraction of their offerings at gay audiences.
So far Dekkoo has acquired “no more t han 10,000 and no fewer than 5,000” subscribers, according to Brian Sokel, chief operating officer for the company (which takes its name from the EnglishHindi slang term meaning to take a look or glance at something).
Sokel said subscriptions have increased steadily A screening of five episodes of Morgan Jon Fox’s Memphis series. 7:30 p.m. thursday, studio on the square. tickets: $10. A cast-and-crew Q&A will follow. the full series becomes available thursday at www.dekkkoo.com. Dekkoo subscription: $9.99 per month.
each month, thanks i n part to a substantial library that includes most of the titles handled by such gay-focused distributors as Wolfe, Strand, Water Bearer and TLA. (Among these movies are such Memphis-made features as Fox’s “Blue Citrus Hearts,” from 2003, and Ira Sachs’ 1996 debut, “The Delta.”) A Dekkoo subscription costs $9.99 per month.
Sokel said Dekkoo plans a major publicity push to coincide with the debut of “Feral,” which will be followed over the next several months by other original programs, including “Love Is Blind,” a blind-date reality show. He said Dekkoo already wants a second season of “Feral,” assuming the response is positive. A recent story in Out — the highest-circulation magazine devoted to LGBT lifestyle and culture — praised “Feral” as “an authentic queer drama” highlighted by such “fragile” and Memphis-specific moments as “a romantic date in the cypress-strewn marshes along the Wolf River.”
Curl recruited Fox for Dekkoo because he admired the Memphis filmmaker’s early work. “He can express visually what is the Southern experience of contemporary gay youth, and the world loves Southern stories,” Curl told The Commercial Appeal in 2014. “I compare Morgan to Horton Foote and Tennessee Williams, except Tennessee Williams was a drunk and Morgan’s not.”
In “Feral,” Fox and his collaborators “express” themselves “visually” with what might be called manipulated realism. The lighting is natural, in that it comes from the sun or from artificial sources (such as lamps or streetlights) present i n the scene, but Fox and Parker very carefully staged the action to create poetic effects from the interplay of light, performers and environment.
Said Fox: “I know that I don’t have a Hollywood budget; I don’t have Hollywood actors or special effects or anything. But what I do have is an ability to capture something that feels real and that is authentic to this region and to what I consider my voice.”
the cast of “Feral” includes (from left) Leah Beth Bolton, Chase Brother, seth Daniel and Jordan Nichols. on thursday the series goes up on the streaming service Dekkoo.
Morgan Jon Fox