AFF Short and Sweet: “Titty Boy”

Austin-made funny and compassionate look at body image in boys

Anthony Ezell as Trey in "Titty Boy"

Welcome to Short and Sweet, our look at some of the short films screening at Austin Film Festival 2023. Today we talk with Austin Culp, director of Austin-made hybrid drama "Titty Boy" which screens today as part of Shorts Program 9: Best Lil' Shorts in Texas 1.

Austin Chronicle: So, relevant to the story: what was the oddest thing you did in high school to earn money?

Austin Culp: In my younger years, I had a few different ways of making money. I grew up around bars as a kid, so I spent a lot of time doing various odd jobs around the bars. From hawking waters and sodas at biker rallies to cleaning up after the drunks on weekend mornings, I had those two little moneymakers. Back then, before credit cards were prevalent, you’d find lots of bills and change on the ground – way more than you’d think. It’s still an important lesson that I still occasionally profit from these days.

“We’re all given different bodies with different issues that we hone in and focus on.”
Another one that I really got into was doing eBay sales. I’d go to the local Target and roam the aisles to see the clearance items at the end of each one. You’d find things like video games or toys marked down to practically nothing. Then, I’d just take them back to eBay and turn a little profit for myself. I don’t know if the Target in Amarillo just didn’t have enough sales or what, but you’d find really great gems in the clearance aisle.

Austin Chronicle: You've called yourself "the original Titty Boy" and said that you have a very personal connection to this story, but what was the process of deciding to tell this story?

Austin Culp: Back in 2021, we had a family emergency that put me back in my childhood home for about six weeks in Amarillo, Texas. I haven’t spent that much collective time at home since moving to Austin at 18. It allowed me to really reflect on my childhood and, namely my experience with gynecomastia, bullying, and the general awkward teenage angst of those days. So I started to pen down a few ideas about how to make it into an entertaining story. From there it just started to all fall out on the paper. Obviously, not everything is coming from real-life experiences, but the majority was able to be drawn from my personal life and tweaked for narrative reasons.

The first note I ever took on this project was oddly enough “90's Starz Commercial with boobies instead of movies.” As silly and childish as it sounds, that was enough to put me into the right headspace to write the whole project. And, I’m happy to say, we were able to make a version of the Starz commercial for the film – people know it better as Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy." It’s our credits song and an enjoyable one made with a choir composed of friends.

Austin Chronicle: I think a lot of people heard of gynecomastia for the first time when the Rock said that he had a surgical procedure to reduce his own breast tissue. Do you think that had any impact on the perception of the condition?

Austin Culp: Dwayne Johnson’s journey with gynecomastia just goes to show that we’re all given different bodies with different issues that we hone in and focus on. For me, the Rock was one of my childhood icons so it’s kind of shocking to see this icon of sports entertainment saying that he’s not comfortable with his body. I mean, the Rock has corrective surgery? Even he has issues with how he looks? He looked great, in my opinion. But, you can’t really ever judge a book by its cover. If he’s going to get this surgery, then obviously it’s something he’s been troubled with. For me, my gynecomastia journey didn’t look anything like his, per se, but I think such a high-profile actor having this same issue calls out that it’s more common than you’d think.

“The first note I ever took on this project was oddly enough ‘90s Starz commercial with ‘boobies’ instead of ‘movies.’”
Austin Chronicle: Even people who know what gynecomastia is tend to think that it's weight related, and Trey looks like your typical skinny teen. What lead you to casting Anthony Ezell?

Austin Culp: Anthony is actually a very accurate reflection of me in my high school years. Throughout my life, I’ve had my ups and downs with weight, but generally after my first year of high school, I was weighing in at about 120 pounds, 5’9” – so a skinny kid – maybe even too small. But, underneath the undershirt, overshirt, and backpack were these embarrassing, large lumps on my chest that I couldn’t do anything about. As hard as you can try to exercise or lose weight, they just tend to stick around.

Throughout the research process of making the short, I’ve joined subreddits and Facebook groups dedicated to gynecomastia and you see a lot of people taking shirtless pictures asking, “Is this Gynecomastia?”. This condition comes in various forms, shapes, and sizes. All sorts of different body types show up in those groups so it really appears like it can impact just about anybody, it just has different scales on how much it does. Relatedly, it's also been a little awkward to open up my phone to a social media app while in public only to have the first image be a shirtless man on the other end!

Austin Chronicle: There's a lot more discussion now about body issues among teens and men: what do you hope that "Titty Boy" brings to the conversation?

Austin Culp: Having always been a bit of a huge media consumer, I’ve spent most of my life turning to TV and Film to cope with issues. Coming out of this, what I’d want to be taken from the film is that we all have different body types. Gynecomastia is just one issue that people might deal with.

I’m hoping that some teenage kid out there dealing with it might be able to google “Gynecomastia film” and have a chuckle. It certainly won’t fix the issue. But maybe having an outlet will give you a chance to see how we’re all self-conscious about our bodies to some extent. Even the Rock!

"Titty Boy"

Screening as part of Shorts Program 9: Best Lil' Shorts in Texas 1
Tue., Oct. 31, 4:15pm, Rollins Theatre

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 26-Nov. 3. Badges available now at austinfilmfestival.com.
Find more news, reviews, and interviews at Austinchronicle.com/AFF.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Richard Whittaker
Memorial Announced for Film Giant Tom Copeland
Memorial Announced for Film Giant Tom Copeland
Former Texas Film Commission head oversaw massive growth in industry

June 13, 2024

In Our Day
Acclaimed filmmaker Hong Sang-soo turns his keen observational eye on an actress and an artist in South Korea

June 14, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Film Festival, AFF, AFF 2023, Austin Film Festival 2023, Austin Culp, Titty Boy, The Rock, Gynecomastia

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle