SAN DIEGO — “First Period” is campy, cool and fun. Director Charlie Vaughn calls his film an “homage to the teen comedies of the 1980s.”
And in a delightful deference to John Waters and “Hairspray,” “First Period” casts two men (Brandon Alexander III as Cassie and Dudley Beene as Maggie) as the outcast girls. Cassie and Maggie plot to win the hearts of the hot guys by winning the school’s talent show, but the mean girls vow to make them the laughingstocks of their classmates.
“First Period” will be shown at 7:30 pm Saturday at the historic Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave. Tickets are $10 HERE. Charlie Vaughn and the cast will be in attendance to pose for pictures and to participate in a question-and-answer session afterward.
Charlie Vaughn speaks with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about “First Period,” how the comedy came about, why two men were cast in the leading female roles, what it was like to direct the legendary porn star Ron Jeremy in a horror film, and more.
SDGLN: What is the back story on this film?
“First Period” came about like most of my projects do, with someone saying to me, “Hey, let’s make a movie!” This time, it was my roommate Dudley Beene. During the time that we were roommates, Dudley had watched me produce and or direct four indie features, and I think saw how much fun I was having. The first thing I asked was “Do you have any money for it?” to which he said, “Yes.” After that obstacle, I asked if he had a script or any ideas in mind. He mentioned a mutual friend, Brandon Alexander, who had written a short script for them to act in called “Becoming A Woman,” (which subsequently is what we decided to call the PSA that the girls watch in their Female Anatomy Class). Dudley and I share the same love for a lot of the same campy comedies, so I was especially excited to finally have the opportunity to make a comedy.
SDGLN: Movies about mean girls, bullies and outcasts are a dime a dozen, so what makes “First Period” so different from those films that came before it?
Ah, when I was working at a video store — back when those existed — one of my coworkers was lamenting the fact that “all film students always seem to go out and want to make a movie they have already seen before.” This statement got under my skin so badly. It really drove me nuts. But, to an extent, he was right. Naturally, film influences other film. No story is 100% original, and no film is created in a vacuum. Now, “First Period” is first and foremost an homage to the teen comedies of the 1980s like “Teen Witch,” and virtually any film that John Hughes did. That being said, the film is very self-aware that we are just like a couple of other films, yet, if you had never seen any teen movie from the ‘80s, “First Period” can be enjoyed on its own. I think the fact that our two main girls are being played by grown men, and NO ONE in the movie draws attention to this fact is what sets us apart.
SDGLN: What was the thinking behind the casting of Dudley Beene as school outcast Maggie and Brandon Alexander III as new girl Cassie? Was it always the plan to cast male actors in those crucial roles?
Yes, always. Brandon wrote the script specifically with himself and Dudley in mind. When we cast Cassandra Peterson as Ms. Glenn, I had sent her the script, and she was very excited, as it was definitely her sense of humor. In our initial phone conversation, she asked, “Do you already have an actress cast in the role of Cassie? Cause I have this terrific girl in mind.” I said, “Well, as a matter of fact, your daughter is being played the young man who wrote the script.” There was a 1-2-3 beat, and then she responded, “THAT is BRILLIANT!” She got it, and I knew we had made the right choice. The other “adult” stars of “First Period” were all people we had a connection to …. Dudley had done theater with Tara Karsian (the Guidance Counselor), as well as knew Jack Plotnick from a small role he did in the upcoming “Girls Will Be Girls” sequel. Judy Tenuta was someone Brandon brought in, and Diane Salinger (Ms. Mallow) was my acting coach for many years.
SDGLN: What do you hope audiences take away from this movie?
Let your freak flag fly was my mission statement while shooting.
We certainly never set out to make a message movie, we strictly wanted to make something that we would enjoy seeing. That being said, there is definitely the underlying currents of celebrating our inner freak. I list John Waters’ “Hairspray” as one of my top three favorite films. I watched that movie since the day it came out. It WAS my childhood. And even at an early age (I was 11 when it came out), I could appreciate what Waters was doing with making the non-traditional characters the heroes. It spoke to the closeted, awkward kid in me. When I read the first draft that Brandon wrote, I was so excited because — to me at least — there were a few parallels between “First Period” and “Hairspray.” “Hairspray” was my go-to movie to watch when I was feeling down about myself … is it embarrassing to admit I was having a bad day recently and put “First Period” on to cheer myself up?
SDGLN: You’ve directed movies about gay romance (“Saltwater”), horror (“Bloody Mary 3D”), horror romance (“Vampire Boys”) and LGBT aging issues (“Old Age Is No Place For Sissies”). What does this say about you as a director and the genres that you choose?
Ha! I guess it screams queer filmmaker! I think one’s sexuality — if allowed — can influence and inform one’s work. Sometimes when I say, “I am a gay filmmaker,” I don’t clarify, because yes, I am a gay man, and by and large, I make either out-and-out gay films, or at least films with gay sensibilities. “Vampire Boys” and “Saltwater” are both definitely gay themed films, as is “Old Age.” “Bloody Mary 3D,” which I can not believe I am admitting to directing because, personally, it’s my least favorite film, has a ton of camp. I asked the executive producer what type of movie he wanted, because the setting and the script was not going to turn out particularly scary per se, and he said, “I want it sexy, bloody, fun, and campy.” I heard one of my favorite words, campy, and delivered just that … a campy film. “First Period” is a wild card, because while it’s not an exclusively gay film, it does have two men wearing drag, and lots of camp appeal.
SDGLN: You’ve also acted in various movies, and have a cameo role as the “Hot Angry Homeless Guy” in “First Period.” Which is more difficult: Being before the camera, or behind it, and why?
I have a compulsion to tell stories, so being behind the camera is definitely more rewarding for me. It is so much easier to be in front of the camera — whether in my own films or someone else’s — than behind it. When I am directing, all creative decisions from the other departments have to be funneled through me. So all throughout the day I hear, “Charlie, how does this look,” etc. It’s part of the job, but I go to sleep during the shoot and can’t turn my mind off. When I act, I get to literally put myself in the shoes of the actors. That’s why I took acting classes in the first place, to have a better understanding of how to communicate with actors. But the decision to play the Hot Angry Homeless Guy was not mine. I was having a hard time asking a hot guy to jump out of a trash can, and then Brandon said, “Hey, why don’t YOU play him, then all three of us (the creative team: Dudley, Brandon, and myself) would appear in the movie.” I said, “I’m not sure if I could pull off …” and was going to say “homeless” when someone, whom I can’t recall, jumped in and said, “Hot? Yeah, you’re right, better keep looking.”
SDGLN: What was it like to direct porn star Ron Jeremy, who played the role of Allen Sussex in “Bloody Mary 3D”?
Well, Ron Jeremy is a legend, and notorious, and I really didn’t know what to expect. But he is an absolute pro! We only had him for one day, and the day he showed up, he said, “I never got a copy of the script.” My heart was in my stomach because these micro-budget movies are ALWAYS short on time (we shot “Bloody Mary 3D” in six days). Someone handed him the 10 pages of script, and he said, “Give me 15 minutes,” and disappeared into the dressing room. 15 minutes later, he came out, knew every single line word perfect, and even had some ideas to make the scene a little more humorous. He also knew all the lingo on set, and why wouldn’t he? He posed for pictures, told jokes, did his job, and left. Which is probably why he works as much now as ever before.
SDGLN: According to your website, you’ve been hanging around movie sets since your teen years. Did you learn by observation or by formal training?
Growing up with Hollywood as your backyard was awesome. I had my sights on making movies since the second grade when I read a book on the making of the “Bride of Frankenstein.” My parents were very supportive, and looked into having me work as a background actor, or extra, in TV shows and movies. It gave me the opportunity to be on big productions, like “Batman Forever,” “Baywatch,” or get to watch Tim Burton direct Johnny Depp in “Ed Wood.” I think every movie set I visit I always take something away. When I got to film school, I felt like I had some great inside information about how sets operate. It also showed me that I probably would not have the patience to do a studio film. I really admire people who crew film period, but my heart goes out to crews on studio films. The hours are absolutely grueling. And there is zero crossover from the various positions. I once worked as a production assistant on a network movie, and there was a cable that someone was asking for. I was closest to it, so I went to grab it, and the person whose job it was to move it politely said, “that’s my job.” I have spent way too much time on smaller indie projects where I usually wear a number of hats.
SDGLN: What are rewards and challenges of working in the indie industry?
The rewards are many, as are the challenges. Time and money are one in the same, regardless of budget. And neither is in abundance. Typical Indie challenges are securing locations, or asking talented people to work for less than they normally do. I once was trying to find a bar for a lesbian comedy I produced called “Heterosexual Jill” (see … queer filmmaker), and I walked into a gay bar and approached the owner. I told him the hours we would need it, and how much money we had to offer. He balked, and said, “Well, ‘insert expensive TV here’ pays ‘insert astronomical amount there’ to which I said, ‘Oh, I see. How many times have they approached you?’” He just scowled. It’s tough to live in the shadows of the studios when you shoot in Los Angeles. But as I said, I have a compulsion to tell stories, and hopefully entertain people. When someone from high school sends me an email saying, “You know, my wife and her girlfriends LOVE to host these bad movie nights … and one night I walked in and they were watching this vampire movie.” I get a kick out of that! I am very grateful to be able to do what I do, and do what I love.
SDGLN: What’s next for you as a writer, director and actor?
Well, on the “First Period” front, Brandon is penning some scripts to do some web episodes of “First Period” as well as working on “Second Period.” It would follow Cassie and Maggie to summer camp. Brandon also is writing a dark romance called “Mad About The Boy,” which I plan to direct sometime next year … after, you guessed it, we find some investors. Dudley and I have been talking about a gay comedy called “Abomination,” which Dudley is penning. I have decided to split my time between Los Angeles and Portland [Ore.], and plan to establish myself up there. Being a native to Southern California, I want to see what the rest of the West Coast and other communities which take a shine to Indie filmmakers have to offer. Oh, yeah, and attend as many festivals as I can with “First Period.”
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.