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FilmOut: “John Apple Jack,” West-East comedy feast

(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 16th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 30 to June 1 at the historic North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S. “John Apple Jack” is the Closing Night Film and will be show at 7 pm Sunday, June 1, followed by the Closing Night Party.)

SAN DIEGO, California – John (Chris McNally) is a handsome young playboy whose coming out moment draws big yawns from his family, who own a string of fancy restaurants in Vancouver. But when his sister announces that she is engaged to Jack (Kent S. Leung), who happens to be John’s boyhood crush, things begin going sideways for John after he is unexpectedly disinherited.

A romantic comedy ensues in “John Apple Jack,” which will have its California premiere as the Closing Night movie at FilmOut San Diego’s 16th annual LGBT Film Festival.

“John Apple Jack” is set in the yummy backdrop of Vancouver’s trendy East-West restaurant scene, which serves as a fitting metaphor for the sexual tension between John and Jack.

Director Monika Mitchell, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Rick Tae, discusses the making of “John Apple Jack” and how post production problems almost derailed the movie.

Q: Your movie has the honor of being the Closing Night movie at the 16th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival? Will you and other cast members be attending?

Monika: We are so thrilled! The writer/producer Rick Tae, producer Selena Paskalidis, and both our leads, Chris McNally and Kent Leung, will be there to answer questions and enjoy the audience. I am particularly excited to attend because my parents and siblings live in La Jolla, California and will be seeing the film for the first time!

Q: Why were you attracted to this movie project, and what challenges did it pose for you as a director?

Monika: My agent sent me the script and immediately I loved it. I had a meeting with Rick and Selena -- it was love at first two-hour-interrogation-I-mean-meeting. There is a brightness to this film and I'm an optimist. I want my films to represent that visually and “John Apple Jack” is a "blue sky" comedy and we wanted a blue sky, even in Vancouver. I prefer films that are luxe and have a great depth of color and feel luscious. I really wanted that for this piece -- for this audience -- because with sex and food and passion -- you should be able to taste it. I wanted the audience to have the full sensual experience of the characters.

Challenges? Post production. We had technical difficulties, as many low-budget pictures do. Selena and Rick had to do so much begging and had to be so determined. Lesser producers would have quit -- filed an insurance claim -- gotten on with their lives. But those two just slogged through it -- they never stopped. And now they have a fabulous little film to their credit. Selena was relentless. They have really earned it. I hope they're proud of all the work that they created for our team and the results they produced.

It is absolute entertainment, and I could not be happier to be a part of something made from pure joy. I think entertaining people is a noble task, not always given the respect it deserves, as if making a film that's incredibly fun is low brow. No way -- I'm so proud of it and our people who crafted it.

Q: Were the interracial relationships original to the story, which just happen to be set in Vancouver’s East-meets-West dining scene, or did that just come out of casting?

Monika: Rick wrote the characters and the story as East meets West, and all the little things that trickle down from it are real, and represent a lot of the life he leads.

Q: The plot’s recipe for success is its use of the restaurant industry as a backdrop to this romantic comedy. Did you shoot on location at actual restaurants or on a set?

Monika: Both! One restaurant was closing and hadn’t moved everything out yet. Another restaurant let us come in on their day off. The dining scene in Vancouver really supported the film.

Q: What were your secrets to casting this movie?

We already knew Chris as one of our favorite characters in “Marco Chow Massage,” a web series we’d done the year before. Even so, he read more than once. He is such a wonderful person. I think we had to get past our own ideas of him being so sweet to believe he could be as arrogant as John needs to be. Our casting director Edward Rea helped us find Kent, a diamond-not-even-a-little-rough. And when the two had a chemistry read, Rick and I knew they were it.

Q: What is the buzz about the movie on the gay film festival circuit?

Monika: I know it got great press in Montreal, and the bloggers in Vancouver loved it.

Q: Not that it isn’t one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but why did you choose Vancouver as the setting of the movie?

Monika: Vancouver is, as John says, “the gayest place on Earth.” It is also completely about East meets West with almost a 50/50 population, and the dining scene is outrageous. People literally travel here to eat. It felt very real. And in our industry, with so many visiting productions, we often are hired to shoot Vancouver for … Seattle ... San Francisco ... New England. It was so refreshing just to shoot Vancouver for Vancouver!

Q: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?

Monika: That true love is a real thing and will find you if you are committed to growing as a person.

Q: Do you consider this an LGBT film or a mainstream movie, and why?

Monika: Both. It doesn’t get any gayer than our flick. And yet, mainstream audience members just love it. How can you not love a movie about the right people finally getting together? I think, as the movie says, it’s not 50 years ago. Less people are concerned with sexuality and that leaves a lot more space to simply be concerned with love.

Q: What’s next for you?

Monika: After “John Apple Jack,” I did a sitcom pilot. “The Switch,” which was a transgendered “friends” comedy. We cast all transgendered actors in the trans roles. It aired in Canada in February. Then I did an episode of “Outspoken,” a documentary series for OutTV. I just finished an MOW and am about to do another. And in August I’ll do another festival feature for the same producer, Selena Paskalidis, still unnamed, but a mockumentary about trailer trash and downtown gay men learning tolerance is a two-way street.

Q: What is something your fans don’t know about you?

Monika: I’m really just a soccer mom :) I have two young boys, 4 and 9, and they are the light of my life.

Q: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?

Monika: Make sure my children would always be 1) healthy, 2) happy and 3) live in a world of peace.

About FilmOut San Diego

FilmOut San Diego affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. We believe our work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBT community in San Diego County. We hope you will join us.

Financial support for FilmOut San Diego is provided in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture. While attending our festival, please spend time in America’s Finest City, support our neighboring restaurants, and enjoy the many museums, parks, beaches and other recreational facilities that out city has to offer.

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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.