Q+A: Screenwriter/Producer Rodney Johnson of Guesthouse Films
Two part question!
1) Exciting news last weekend we all know: anyone can now have a legal same sex marriage in the USA! Did you ever think it would happen in your lifetime? I felt I would be old before it happened. And at the same time, the fact people couldn’t get married felt surreal to me. Like when you’re watching WWII documentaries and you can’t believe that at one time, people were dumped into concentration camps on the basis of ethnicity and sexual orientation. It seems like science fiction, but you know it happened.
2) The theme here on my new website is how men — of every sexual orientation — are awesome the way they naturally are. What first attracted you to your life partner and real life business partner, Rob Williams, and how are you an example to all those straight people who insisted gay relationships don’t last? Straight men should keep zipped on this, for after all, they gave us ABC’s The Bachelor.
When I first met Rob, it was a kind of blind date thing. We met at a hip diner on Beverly Blvd. here in Los Angeles. And he walked up in full-on grunge attire (this was in the 90s, after all) — jeans, Docs, plaid shirt, the whole nine. And he looked like Eddie Vedder! We bonded over grunge bands and “The X-Files.” And when he agreed to go to the Fairfax Flea Market, I knew he was a keeper. That was over 21 years ago – which brings me to answer the second part of your question: As an example to straight people who insist gay relationships don’t last. 21 years is a good amount of time for people of any sexual orientation. Rob and I are in a committed, monogamous, long-term relationship. Now, we can finally make it legal (Thank you SCOTUS!). Which is only just. I mean, why is it that the folks who rail against marriage equality, proclaiming “gay marriage” will demean the sanctity of “traditional” marriage always seem to have multiple marriages of there own? The hypocrisy and stupidity boggles.
As you’re the king of LGBT cinema, I must ask, when will we see a gay or bisexual leading man as a superhero or bad ass action hero? And I’m not meaning as part of an ensemble cast like X-Men but rather, someone macho like Channing Tatum in a cool, mainstream, very masculine story whose love happens to be a man, and the gayness isn’t part of the central theme?
Well, sadly, I think we still have some work to do as far as leading characters who happen to be gay go. Especially super heroes, as they tend to be hyper-masculine and the gay stereotype is anything but. I know that major comics are introducing gay characters as super heroes, so that’s a very promising start. Eventually, I see it evolving into film and TV. But right now? Not so much. I mean, have you read any of those tweets and Facebook posts by the hate-mongering, religious right? Palin and Cruz have been very vocal about the SCOTUS decision, and they have A LOT of followers. So does Fox News. Again, we still have a way to go.
As far as Guest House Films goes (our “totally gay production company” that Rob and I own/operate), we try to make movies where gayness isn’t necessarily part of the central theme. I’ve always said, we don’t make movies about people being gay, we make movies about gay people BEING. Whether it’s a romantic comedy, a drama, or a murder mystery. I feel that the most par, you could take the original shooting script, change one of the leads to female, and it would still work.
When you were younger and it wasn’t so cool to be openly gay, what films did you turn to for inspiration? How did they help your life experiences? And just flat out film about anything in general that inspires you? I know it’s a little wonky, but a film that was my fav at a younger age and resonates more with me as I live is Gladiator, because I always imagine myself seeking vengeance in this life…not the next…against people who’ve been mean to me in terms of work. I won’t die off this planet until people take me seriously. In the past, I’ve endured a lot of sexism both in my past goals of working in media and…basically, any time my whole life I ever wanted to say, “I want to be a famous film director and compose my own music for my films!” I get met with, “You’ll make a great actress.” Tell me your story and how it matches film!
The films that really resonated with me as a young, (very) closed gay guy were Maurice, Brideshead Revisited, and Less Than Zero, to name a couple. Back in the 80s, when I was a teen and struggling with my sexuality, there wasn’t a whole lot of movies with gay themes/characters that inspired me. Plus, the AIDS crisis was raging and there was a lot of fear and loathing associated with gay men. It was a terrible time for gay youth to find themselves. But as the years wore on, we started seeing more and more gay themes and characters in film – which I personally believe was a backlash against the hate that permeated our culture during the 70s and 80s. Gay film festivals started popping up and as I became more “adult” and eventually came out (to myself and then others), I realized that a community was starting to grow and there was no stopping it. Then the term LGBT became part of the vocabulary of queer culture and the conversations that began to form regarding equality and tolerance.
The other day, I don’t remember if it was you or Rob, one of you felt bad how an Amazon user negatively reviewed a film of yours. Why? Because it didn’t have enough sex scenes. But the bad thing is, amongst straight people, there is still a stigma of “all LGBT movies are pornos.” And I’d say, sadly, this may include a small flock of gay men. Let’s clear this up. Why is the gay film genre worth watching when sex isn’t the whole story? How are we going to move this along so gay movies don’t get called “gay movies” but “drama” and other genres?
I’ve been saying since we started Guest House Films that our mission was to create stories that fit into Hollywood genres WITHOUT the word “Gay” in front of it. We’re not there yet, but Rob and I continue to try and produce movies with that in mind. However, we’re still at a place where we qualify our movies as “gay.” As in, OUT TO KILL, a Gay Murder Mystery. Our niche is still very small (the gay independent film world), and our product is geared toward a very specific audience: The Gay Male. That’s mainly because we, as gay men ourselves, are intimately familiar with that consumer. Of course we would like to make a lesbian — or even a mainstream – film. But the Guest House Films brand is all about the gay man.
The gay film genre is worth watching when sex isn’t the whole story because sex isn’t our whole story. As a gay man, I don’t look to the gay independent feature film for sex — there’s porn for that. It’s abundant and FREE! But, sadly, after producing SEVEN feature films (our 8th is in pre production as we speak), I’ve learned that there are a minority of filmgoers and a majority of distributors who want to see male full frontal and hot sex scenes — and they are VOCAL about it. To me, it’s sad and immature. I mean, there were those who wanted sex scenes in Make the Yuletide Gay, a family-oriented Christmas film! That’s just ridiculous and insulting to me as a filmmaker. Some distributors keep demanding to see peen on the big screen and filmmakers are providing it so they can sell more DVDs. Sorry, but after doing this for 10 years, this is what I have witnessed. I know that the only way I can respond is to tell stories that don’t provide gratuitous sex and nudity. Yes, our films do contain sex and nudity, but I would argue that it isn’t gratuitous – it’s part of the story telling or the character. I should probably duck now, but that’s how I feel. 😉
One of the big movies I’ve wanted to make ever since I was in school is my unusual take on a classic story…actually, I want to remake lots of classic tales…and one changes the lead female character to bisexual. I know how I want to write it, but how would you suggest I and other people wanting to explore LGBT characters can do so, hot scenes included, without making them gimmicks? Because I’m so sick and tired of the old “let’s throw in a lesbian scene!” gimmick every male film director uses. No kidding, the other day, I was rewatching Mulholland Drive thinking, “I forgot how David Lynch threw that lesbian/bi storyline out of nowhere. I know what he Googles late at night!” LOL! And don’t get me going on the faux bisexual actresses/models telling GQ every month about their exploits for PR. What if people want to write a bi/gay/trans character who is a gender other than yourself? And your opposite gender in general? What’s your advice?
Ha! Hollywood is the world-renowned dominator of pop culture via filmed entertainment BECAUSE of the gimmick! There’s just no getting around that. You use the “gimmick” to describe your story to production executives, money men, and even the movie-going public. It’s the sell that puts butts in the cinema seats. But to answer your question as to how to explore the LGBT characters without making them gimmicks — my advice is to write them as REAL people, not caricatures of the lesbian, gay man, bi woman or transgender. Put them in real situations, make the sex scenes a natural progression of the story-telling and perhaps something that moves the plot forward. If uncomfortable writing a character who is, say, Trans, then maybe meet with a transgendered person and discuss what you are writing. They can tell you if something doesn’t work and may even provide inspiration to you by sharing their experience. Plus, you’re bound to meet a wonderful person who will support you. Bonus!
When will we finally see you getting something like an HBO series? I imagine you doing well for that!
Haha, let’s pray to the Queer Gods for that! It would be awesome!
About Guesthouse Films
Founded by Rob Williams and Rodney Johnson in 2005, Guest House Films LLC has become one of the industry’s most prolific and acclaimed independent gay film production and distribution companies. It has released seven of its own films to date, including Long-Term Relationship, Back Soon, 3-Day Weekend, Make the Yuletide Gay, Role/Play, The Men Next Door and Out To Kill, and has numerous projects in development. It has also distributed three short film collections (Black Briefs, Blue Briefs and Green Briefs) and The Doctor’s Wife, an award-winning Australian documentary.
For more information on Guest House Films and Shared Rooms, visit www.guesthousefilms.com or www.facebook.com/guesthousefilms, follow Guest House Films on Twitter (@guesthousefilms) or check out the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign at http://igg.me/at/sharedrooms.
About Rodney Johnson
Rodney Johnson created the production company Guest House Films with his life and business partner, Rob Williams. He also is an accomplished writer, having written the Lifetime Television movie “Queen Sized,” which starred Hairspray lead actress Nikki Blonsky and serving as story editor and associate producer on the cult hit Wasabi Tuna. In addition to a successful screenwriting career, he is the author of the “Rinnah Two Feathers” young adult mystery series.
Rodney has served as producer of all seven Guest House Films’ productions (Long- Term Relationship, Back Soon, 3-Day Weekend, Make The Yuletide Gay, Role/Play, The Men Next Door, and Out To Kill). The movies have screened at film festivals around the world; winning audience, jury and acting awards, and securing distribution deals in North America and foreign territories. Along with partner Rob, Rodney was named to Instinct Magazine’s “Leading Men of 2008” for their contributions to gay cinema.
Rodney is a member of the Writer’s Guild of Canada, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Mystery Writers of America where he serves on the national committee for MWA: Reads, MWA’s national youth literacy program. He lives in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles and is hard at work writing screenplays, teleplays, pilots and his next young adult novel.