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VIDEOS: FilmOut Q&A with JC Calciano, filmmaker behind "eCupid" and "Is It Just Me?"

SAN DIEGO -- It's not every day that a talented filmmaker gets one of his movies selected for a film festival, so it's something special when he gets TWO of his movies selected.

The up-and-coming filmmaker JC Calciano will make a huge splash this weekend at FilmOut San Diego's 13th annual LGBT Film Festival at historic Birch North Park Theatre, where his first two major movies will be shown.

First up will be “eCupid,” a 93-minute film that will be paired with a 7-minute short, “Finding Judy,” directed by Gary Riotto. The screenings begin at 8:15 pm Saturday, Aug. 20. Tickets are $10.

In “eCupid,” Marshall (Houston Rhines) is a cocky young man who feels trapped by his dead-end job and comfortable seven-year relationship with his boyfriend, Gabe (Noah Shuffman). Desperate for a new life he stumbles upon a mysterious app called “eCupid”. Once downloaded, Marshall suddenly gets everything he thinks he wants. Newly single and ready for adventure, “eCupid” overwhelms Marshall with sexy guys at every turn, each promising to be the man of his fantasies. Marshall soon finds all the attention is more than he bargained for. With the help of a wise and mysterious waitress (cameo by Morgan Fairchild), Marshall is given one last chance to listen to his heart and figure out what (and who) is really important.

Then Calciano's first major film “Is It Just Me?” a 93-minute film that will be paired with director David Jones’ 5-minute short, “Poised And In The Throes.” The screenings begin at 10:15 pm Saturday, Aug. 20. Tickets cost $10.

In “Is It Just Me?” Blaine (Nicholas Downs) is a typical young gay man looking for love ... without much success. Enter "Xander," (David Loren) the man of his dreams. After meeting in an online chat room, they quickly fall for each other and start a virtual relationship. Before long, they decide to meet face-to-face for a coffee date. After realizing he's been chatting with his new online boyfriend under his roommate Cameron's (Adam Huss) profile he persuades Cameron, a sexy go-go dancer, to pose as him during the date until he can win over Xander with his wit and charm. It's Blaine's brain versus Cameron's brawn as love blossoms within this threesome.

In an exclusive interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Calciano dishes the dirt on his movies, how his films represent his own dating insecurities, and discusses the challenges of being out in Hollywood.

Q: FilmOut San Diego audiences will get to enjoy two of your films, “Is It Just Me?” and “eCupid,” your first two major movies. Do you consider them both to be for mainstream or niche audiences?

I’d consider them niche films for a mainstream audience. What I mean by that is: GLBT films are a niche type of film for a specific community; however, my films are about universal things like love, friendship, relationships and things that everyone can relate to. I make my films for my community and me, but I certainly hope that everyone can relate to what’s happening in the films and that everyone in the “mainstream” can enjoy them.

Q: "Is It Just Me?" looks at online dating and the quest for finding love, and "eCupid" also has a subplot involving computers and text messaging. Is this a common theme for your films?

For these first two films, yes - I think that computers are undeniably part of who we are today. They affect every part of our lives… especially dating. I try to make films that are both timely and relevant, and computers, texting, online dating and the internet are part of our lives and how a lot of us are trying to find love.

Q: What was your inspiration for "Is It Just Me?"

When I wrote IIJM? I wanted to make a love story about people today. I loosely based the character of Blaine on my own dating insecurities and thought about how I could potentially find my dream man online, despite my own issues. I also wanted to tell a story about a young man people could relate to in a fun and modern way. I think we all dream of finding that perfect person in the most romantic way. For me, IIJM was just that.

Q: What was your inspiration for "eCupid"?

I try to make films that have subject matters that everyone can relate to. I think we’re all immersed in our phones and tablets today. I also think that most people who have been in a long-term relationship at some point have wondered “is this the right person for me…forever?” In considering those two things I wanted to make a classic “80s” type movie like “Splash, “Mannequin” or “Big” – where something fantastical happens to a couple to help them find love. I guess my inspiration was to combine today’s technology with the movies I grew up loving.

Q: You cast two well-known actors – Morgan Fairchild and John Callahan – to key supporting roles in “eCupid.” Is it difficult getting mainstream talent to work with young, up-and-coming actors in a film with a gay plot?

Actually it’s quite the opposite. Both Morgan and John were contacted through their agents and asked to read the script. Once they discovered it was a film that supported and celebrated the GLBT audience in a positive way, they both were very excited about doing it. Morgan and John were tremendously generous in their contributions to the movie and I think that in is largely because they want to support the gay community.

Q: Houston Rhines and Noah Shuffman seem like inspired casting in “eCupid.” How did you find them and what was it like to work with them?

Most don’t know this but Houston Rhines was up to play Xander in my last film “IS IT JUST ME?” I think Houston is very talented but just wasn’t right for the part of Xander so I cast another actor, David Loren, to play Xander. I kept Houston in my files for an opportunity that hopefully would arise later. After writing “eCUPID,” it occurred to me that Houston would be the perfect Marshall. I had tried to contact him, but his information had changed since he auditioned for me. I finally found him on Facebook through another actor I had cast in a horror film (they were friends). Once I found him; I offered him the role immediately.

Noah Schuffman’s role was difficult to cast, he was essentially cast to be the movie version of my real life partner. I wanted him to have some characteristics of my boyfriend: someone who could put up with a challenging person, but always with a sexy, caring, warmth and wisdom about him. I was looking for the kind of guy we all want to come home to at night. Noah had all the qualities that I thought Marshall would need in his life. Once the two actors met, they had an amazing chemistry as a couple together and I knew that on screen they would be terrific. Working with Houston and Noah on set was great. They’re both total pros and they came in and nailed their roles within 2 takes. Shooting with them was great, too, but I must admit, getting to know them as people is really the best part. They are both amazing guys and we have a lot of fun together when we are on the road screening the film.

Q: You cast Mike Manning of “Real World: D.C.” in a small part in “eCupid.” What is your impression of his performance? Does he have a future as an actor?

Mike Manning was an amazing find for me. He has tremendous instincts as an actor. When I shoot, I usually wait to see what the actor brings to the character first before I adjust them. I’ve found that good actors will come up with very interesting choices that shouldn’t be ignored by the director. Sometimes the choices they make aren’t exactly what I’m thinking, so I adjust them. But often they’re really great choices that improve the film. Mike is one of those actors who came to set with his choices and an idea of how the character should be played and he nailed it the first time. I fully expect to see Mike break out in a big way on screen and TV in a lot more projects… Watch and see, Mike is going to be very successful!

Q: You are listed as producer, writer and director of “eCupid.” This gives you enormous control over the final product. What are the challenges of being a triple threat like that?

The challenges of being the writer/producer/director is that you really can’t blame anything on anyone but your self. Producers can blame the director, the director can blame the writer and the writer can blame the producer, but in my case, if the movie doesn’t come out good, I’m going to be the only one to blame. That said, the other side of that is that I get to do whatever I want, however I want to do it. That’s the good thing about being in total control. No one can tell me no. That’s the part I like the most.

Q: Many of us can relate to the plot of “eCupid” … the seven-year itch in a relationship, the dread of turning the big 3-0, the way text messaging has overtaken our lives, and more. Where did you come up with the idea or what inspired you to create this romantic comedy?

I think that we all share a universal sense of angst about the same things: aging, relationship anxieties, personal insecurities, dreams and secret desires. Those are the things I try to tap into when I write my movies. Once I get a general theme or message I want to share, I look for a fun and unique way to tell the story. For me, I always wanted to make a film that had elements of “It’s a Wonderful life” – having a character like the angel Clarence somehow teaching the James steward character a lesson about life. I thought “if an angel came to us today would he use an app and our computers as a tool to help us?” – I also have seen how many people today (myself included) lose themselves in their own personal technology. My partner and I have a deal that when we are together we have a moratorium on iphone/ipad usage and we spend our together time talking not texting… I thought that could be an interesting start of how a relationship could fall apart and then be brought back together.

Q: What are the challenges of being an openly gay in Hollywood, and do you feel like being out has helped or hindered your career?

I think that the challenges of being gay in Hollwyood for people behind the camera like myself are never an issue. In my case it’s been a blessing because I get to make movies for a community that seems to enjoy and appreciate them. I get the most amazing and encouraging emails from fans of GLBT films. As far as an actor being openly gay, I could understand both points of view: the need to stay in the closet and the desire to come out. I respect the decision of the actors who prefer to keep their private lives private, and will support their wishes of confidentiality. As for me, though, I believe that we have one ride through this life and I plan on enjoying it as much as I can and be who I was born to be. I’m not planning on letting any group of ignorant, small-minded people take that opportunity away from me.

Q: Why is it important to support independent movies?

It’s not important to support indie movies, it’s IMPERATIVE to support these movies if you want to see more of them. Myself and other GLBT and indie filmmakers are not doing what we do for money (since I barely make a living making these movies). I do it for the love of the craft and for enjoyment I get from the fans. The small amount of revenue these films make go to support the infrastructure of the filmmaking community (festivals, small distribution venues and other ways the films can be seen). If fans don’t pay for the DVDS or downloads, no one makes any money and without money, there will not be any more movies. Every filmmaker I know struggles with the problem of how to not only fund their next movie but how to pay their bills. Without the support of the fans, we can’t survive and without the filmmakers, there will be no more films and our stories will go un-told. I think that’s a shame because without our voice, all you’ll have is the Hollywood blockbuster and those are great fun, but they don’t speak to our community and us.

Q: What’s on the horizon for JC Calciano?

I’m currently working on promoting my last film “IS IT JUST ME?” as well as “eCUPID.” In my spare time (between festivals) I’m writing the next movie and hope to be able to raise enough money to start shooting it by the end of this year. My goal is to keep making GLBT films that have strong positive messages about love and the community. I also encourage fans to “friend” me on Facebook at “cinema175” and “cinema175.com.” I’m always looking for ideas for films, friends to help out, and actors for the movies. I’m very excited to use these films to raise money for charities and local GLBT centers as well as getting other members of the community involved in my projects. I enjoy making movies, but even more than that, I love what these films mean to people, and the opportunity they give me to meet other people who are passionate about supporting the community and each other.

The details

The makers of "eCupid" have created an eCupid iPhone app, sold for 99 cents, to help you determine if you have found true love. For more information, click HERE.

FilmOut San Diego’s 13th annual LGBT Film Festival will be conducted over two weekends: Aug. 19-21 and Aug. 26-28.

Almost 60 films and shorts will be shown at the historical Birch North Park Theatre.

To buy individual tickets, click HERE.

To buy a film festival pass to see all the movies and attend the opening night party at Top of the Park in Hillcrest as well as the closing night party at URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park, click HERE. The cost is $150.