Films and series with LGBTQ characters or themes.

How this LGBTQ Classic was Made in Just 12 Days

With a tiny crew, a low budget and 12 days to film, JC Calciano directed his first film Is It Just Me?. Growing up, he had not seen many LGBTQ films that had a happy ending, so he wanted to write a positive community story. “I didn’t want to make a movie that was about being gay; I wanted to make a movie about gay men who fall in love,” said Calciano. The story follows a young man who is determined to find true love, yet doesn’t believe that he is worthy of it. When he matches with a too-good-to-be-true man online, he finds hope, but quickly realizes that he is using his roommate’s account. The story follows the journey of not only his path to falling in love with another man, but also his path to loving himself.

As a first-time director/writer, Calciano faced a couple of challenges while filming. He struggled with his own insecurities of whether he could make the film. Till this day, he battles insecurities about the movies that he makes. However, he still creates films that he would personally want to see and hopes that the audience enjoys as well. Another challenge was having enough money to make the film. He and his two friends just chipped in some money and tried to make the best film that they could on a low budget. In an effort to save money, the film was entirely shot in Calciano’s apartment, the sound guy’s apartment and the art director’s apartment, all located in West Hollywood, Los Angeles.

In addition to his insecurities and low budget, another obstacle Calciano faced was the casting process. Although he wanted to feature LGBTQ actors, he quickly realized that it is neither legal nor fair to ask an actor’s sexuality. His alternative approach was to find the best actors that he could. Once he found a couple of actors who he liked through the audition process, he started pairing them together. He explained, “The thing about an actor is that it’s not only being a great actor, but you also have to have chemistry with your co-stars.” He would mix and match the various characters to see if they worked well together. He said, “So it’s really just a matter of me doing what they call “chemistry reads” and pairing up actors until I feel like I’ve got the perfect cast that all are what was in my head when I wrote the script.” 

Calciano explained that with the help of the actors’ talent, they were able to finish filming in just 12 days. He said that the key to making a film quickly is hiring the right actors for the role. Some of the actors in this film include Nicholas Downs, David Loren, Adam Huss, Bruce Gray and Michelle Laurent. Calciano stated, “If I was going to take credit for anything, I would take credit for being smart enough to hire great actors.” Bruce Gray, who played the character of Ernie, told Calciano that out of all the movies that he has been a part of, Is It Just Me? was his favorite.

Despite the film being released in 2010, it is still popular to this day. Calciano explained why the movie is still well-known today, “I think that if you use a timeless theme and tell a story that’s honest, no matter how old the movie is, people will enjoy it and be able to relate to it and will enjoy it for what it is. And I think that the thing about Is It Just Me? is that it’s just an honest, real, lovely story about two men who find each other and also about the hero who accepts himself and loves himself. Then when he heals, he’s able to find love and that’s really what I wanted to do. I think that it’s as relevant as it is now as it was 100 years ago. I think that these are just timeless stories that stand the test of time.” 

One of the techniques that Calciano used to engage and surprise the audience was to lead with people’s perceptions of the characters and then show who these characters truly are. He further explained, “For example, when they see the go-go boy, they assume that he’s just a vapid, pretty guy who just has no heart and no depth and no compassion. As the movie progresses, you see that this is a real person and he’s lovely. He cares about his friend and he’s part of the fabric of the community, just like the older gentleman. We all have to look out for each other and we have to care for each other. And when we band together, we are better off and I think that those are things that stand out today as they did 10 years ago.” Lastly, the film did really well because the filmmaking process was just fun and that translated onto the screen. Calciano said, “I’m thrilled that people picked up on the love and the care and the joy that went into making the movie.”

As to what Calciano wants the viewers to take away from the film, “I want the viewers to just know that together, we’re a community and that by helping each other and by leaning on each other, by supporting each other, we make each other better. All of us are slightly broken in our own ways and that’s okay, but together we can help each other and we can find our path, whether it be friendship, whether it be love, whether it be companionship, whether it be success in the business, it’s just really about community. I hope that that’s a message that people take away from it.”

Watch Is It Just Me? Now on the Fearless app.

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Dream Big: Tony Babcock on His Passion for Content Creation

Tony Babcock is the creator of three pieces of content on the Fearless app, namely It’s Complicated, Committed and Extreme Actor. He was also the lead actor in the film Josh. It makes sense to see how involved he has been with Fearless as he has always had an urge to tell stories, even at the age of four. He explained, “I was that little kid with boundless energy and my parents opted to send me to drama classes to use up some of that energy. I started to create my own work around 10 years ago when I realized that I had a lot of stories inside of me needing to come out!” 

His passion for acting began when he saw a theatre production as a child. That performance made him realize that he wanted to perform and sparked the acting bug in him. He looked up to Xavier Dolan, a French-Canadian filmmaker/actor/producer/director. Babcock was inspired by Dolan and his films because of his ability to telll hard-hitting, queer stories. Growing up in the town of Kingston, Babcock had only done theatre. When he moved to Toronto, he started to learn about the film industry and became enamoured with the filmmaking process. He also grew up watching tons of movies with his family and was always curious about how a film was made, which piqued his interest in joining the film industry. 

Babcock decided to get involved with Fearless when he came across an ad for it on social media. He thought it was genius to have a grassroots, independent streaming platform. When he found out that Fearless was accepting applications, he reached out to Matkai Burmaster, the Founder of Fearless, and applied. Once he was accepted, the two of them met and began working together on various projects such as It’s Complicated. Babcock explained, “It’s Complicated was a very personal story for me but it was also a universal story and an unapologetic look at being an LGBTQ teen.” The show was also inspired by the music video to Blue Neighbourhood by the LGBTQ singer Troye Sivan. It’s Complicated was filmed on a tight timeline, the biggest challenge being to shoot a whole year in the life of the characters and having 40+ costume changes. There were also a couple of flashback scenes that they had to keep track of, which was a whole other hurdle. Babcock stated, “Luckily we had a fabulous team that made it all happen.” 

Babcock had always wanted to do a documentary series that was a little “wacky”, which led to the creation of Extreme Actor. When asked what inspired him to create this series, he responded, “The concept was: what lengths would one go to in order to research a part? One major influence for this series was Lisa Ling’s This American Life, in that it was really a show about hearing people’s stories.” The production for this film was extreme indeed as they had managed to film six episodes in four days. Babcock described the filming process, “We changed locations a bunch of times. We were lining up guests and locations on the go. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”

Watch It’s Complicated, Extreme Actor, Josh, and Committed Now on the Fearless app.

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How Tom E. Brown is Normalizing the HIV/AIDS Conversation

Inspired by his own story of coping with HIV/AIDS, Tom E. Brown wrote and directed the film Pushing Dead to share how he formed a comfortable relationship with the illness. He explained, “I have been positive since I was 18 so I wanted to write a little something about my experiences kind of coping. I wanted to share a little something from my own HIV Survival Guide, which is, for me, it was settling into a comfortable relationship with the illness because it’s likely that it will be with me forever. So that was kind of what I set out to do.” He believes that HIV/AIDS is still a taboo topic, even in a city like San Francisco that is known for its progressive ideals. For example, in Brown’s experience, he has noticed that people are still afraid to reveal that part of their identity on dating apps. The film aims to inspire people to have a discussion around HIV/AIDS and to normalize that conversation. The movie started out as a Sundance Lab Project and the readers were impressed because this was the first time they had read an HIV/AIDS-related piece in which the person survived. Brown explained that people’s response to HIV/AIDS has changed over the past couple of years. It started with A Day Without Art but today, many people take PrEP while others have protected sex. The LGBTQ community is a little more accepting of HIV/AIDS, but some people still see it as taboo.

When crafting the story, the first scene that Brown wrote was the one in which Dan gifts Paula the monkey. This was inspired by Brown’s personal experience of receiving odd gifts from friends. Paula’s relationship with the monkey runs parallel to Dan’s relationship with HIV/AIDS in an accelerated manner — both of them are freaked out in the beginning, but then the more they get used to it, the more they are comfortable with it. Similarly, Brown was also freaked out when he found out he had HIV/AIDS at the age of 18, but over the course of time, he became more comfortable with the illness and learned to like who he had become because of the journey.

In terms of making the film, it took about 24 days to shoot with 2 days focused on special effects. The most challenging scene to film was the car scene in San Francisco. Logistically, it was challenging as they were using an old vehicle. The rig they planned to use did not show up, so they had to use an alternative towing rig. Other scenes that were a challenge to film were the poetry slam scenes as they had to do three poems in one day. Brown also had to eliminate his favourite poem because they were very rushed that day and he felt like he could not do the poem justice.

One of the most notable actors in the movie is James Roday, most well known for his role as Shawn in the TV show Psych. When the Casting Director of Pushing Dead sent over Roday’s reel, Brown knew he was the one for the role. He wanted someone who was likable; someone who would just walk on screen and the audience could sympathize with him. Roday was actually surprised by the offer because, at the time, he did not have much experience with dramatic work. A fun fact is that during filming, Roday had shown his kindness to the cast and crew by surprising them with a taco truck one day and as a wrap-up gift, Roday had given Brown a portrait of his dog. 

The film was very well-received and many people connected to the story. It went to about 80 film festivals and there were at least a couple of people at each festival who mentioned that they connected to the movie because of their own struggle with chronic illnesses. Brown described his end goal for viewers, “Ideally, I’d like them to be touched by the movie and have a better understanding of coping with chronic illness.” He further explained, “I think an important part of what I wanted people to get out of it is if they have a chronic illness, think of it less as war and more as a relationship.” Brown hopes that people are able to relate to the movie or at the least, get a good laugh out of it as it was a dramatic comedy. 

Brown was also satisfied that the movie played just as well in a place like Indiana (a less progressive state) as it did in San Francisco at the Castro Theater. He also explained that it was great to attract an audience that may not have known much about the LGBTQ community. He said, “That was one of the nicest things is that perhaps this is the first LGBTQ movie for some people that they’ve ever seen because at film festivals sometimes people don’t even realize what they’re, you know, getting a ticket for. They’ll grab tickets like “Oh, Danny Glover!”. And so that was the case with some of my actors too who had never really knowingly worked with LGBTQ people. I worked with an older actor, and he asked me a lot of questions about it. And so that’s always nice when you feel like you’ve kind of in a teeny tiny way have kind of helped the cause by just exposing somebody to it.” Brown is happy with the response from the movie as the film has helped to normalize the conversation around HIV/AIDS, expose people to LGBTQ characters, and help chronic illness survivors to feel understood.

Watch Pushing Dead Now on the Fearless app.

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