We had never even heard of him before we saw the documentary Trantasia but once watching the film which captured the behind scenes footage of ‘World’s Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant’ as well as telling the stories of six of it’s participants, we had to know more about the man sitting in the director’s chair. What we found was a humble, non-assuming genius of sorts who did not focus on being “gay” or capitalizing on “gay culture”, even though he could have since he was beginning to corner the market on transsexual documentary filmmaking, especially with the premiere of his new reality series Wild Things, following three of the contestants from Trantasia, cross country, in a series similar to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in The Simple Life. And although we wanted to find an arrogant, gusto driven director leading the path of gay culture instead we found…a simple man. And we are all the better for it!
1. How did you come up with the idea for Trantasia?
The idea for TRANTASIA came from a good friend Ted Smith who was working in Las Vegas and met the producer of the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant’ a couple of weeks before the event. Ted thought it might make a cool doc and called me up. We headed to Vegas with 4 camera crews and shot the pageant over a long weekend. After we had met the girls in person and looked at all the footage we realized we had something. I then traveled around the country to visit and interview six of the girls and their families. These hometown profiles became the heart of the documentary.
2. How did you pick the women who were featured in Trantasia?
We called as many of the contestants as possible before the pageant to interview them and get a sense of their stories and personalities. We also wanted to make sure we were following the top pageant contenders. Before arriving in Vegas we decided to focus on about 12 girls. As the filming progressed we changed this list as some new girls grabbed our attention and others proved to be not as compelling. Some girls recognized the opportunity, embraced the documentary and were open and honest for the camera. Other girls were more focused on the pageant and less willing to share their stories.
3. On a recent interview we did with Maria Roman, many comments were made criticizing Trantasia and saying that it was an unfair representation of the Transgendered community because it only focused on beautiful transsexuals. Any comment?
I understand that criticism, but we did not set out to “represent the community” so I think that is an unfair standard by which to judge the film. Our goal was simply to document a beauty pageant and to entertain the film audience. By their very nature, pageants attract a certain type of person and contestants are not representative of everyone or any community. As a filmmaker I was looking to profile girls with great stories and not just the “most beautiful” contestants.
4. There were also comments made about Tiara Russell stating that she wanted to be married as a man, not ID’ing as a true transsexual. Is this true and what are your comments about her participation in the documentary?
Meeting all the girls I quickly realized they all had their own unique and valid reasons for making (or not making) the personal life choices they had made. This particular pageant was open to both self-identifying pre-operative and post-operative transgender women. I know there are some in the community who feel the need to judge, and who believe that pre-operative trans women are somehow “less than” others who have completed the transition. I think those who are truly secure and comfortable with themselves embrace diversity within their own community.
Tiara stated in TRANTASIA that she was not certain she wanted to die as a woman. She expressed that uncertainty in terms of respect for her family’s desires and also a conflict with her religious beliefs. I appreciated her honesty and found her story complex and fascinating.
5. You directed a reality series, Wild Things, featuring Maria Roman, Cassandra Cass and Tiara Russell from Trantasia. How did you come up with this idea and how was the experience?
TRANTASIA first aired on Showtime and the film did really well for them. They were open to a new series which captured the same humor and heart as the documentary. After several unsuccessful pitches by our producing team, I actually came up with the concept for WILD THINGS by working backwards – figuring out what elements people would most want to watch and then refining the series concept to include those beats. When Maria Roman, one of the contestants in TRANTASIA, shared with me the news about her brother’s life-threatening battle with kidney disease, I asked if we could help. The girls’ road trip in WILD THINGS became a fundraising mission and we hit the road.
The shooting experience was rewarding, but unusually difficult. We had an extremely limited budget and a very small crew so I had to wear many hats. In addition, the girls were under the stress of production and they fought a lot… great for the audience, but tough on everyone.
6. Where did your interest in Transsexualism begin?
I would not say I started with any specific interest. As a filmmaker my job is to tell stories and these girls had intriguing stories.
7. What was your career background before filming Trantasia?
I graduated from USC Film School and started working with the legendary filmmaker Roger Corman. Before TRANTASIA I had directed 6 feature films, 2 television series for Twentieth Television and also many live non-profit events and benefits.
8. What are you currently working on and what is your next project?
Right now we are all busy promoting WILD THINGS which premieres on Showtime. I am also reading scripts and looking for my next project.
9. Are you gay and if so what do you think your responsibility is to the gay community as a gay filmmaker?
I am married to a great guy (and amazing chef) Paul McCullough.
I do not consider myself a “gay filmmaker.” In TRANTASIA (and also in WILD THINGS) I believe we treated the girls with respect and told their stories honestly. That does not mean shying away from the negative or controversial.
10. What would you recommend to someone who wanted to get into the film industry?
The digital revolution has led to the great democratization of the film industry. Now anyone can shoot and edit his or her own projects. That doesn’t mean everyone is a good storyteller, but it does mean the opportunity is available to so many more people today. I would advise anyone who is interested to study the films and storytelling techniques of great directors and then just go make your own movies. Editing your own footage is also an incredible learning process for a director. Above all you must have your own point of view.
11. How did you pick the six individuals you featured in Trantasia?
They picked me.
12. What would you like people to take away from Trantasia?
I would hope people’s hearts and minds were changed a little by meeting the girls and learning their stories.
13. Who are three writers, directors or artists that you draw inspiration?
Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese
14. The boys of raannt would love a reality series. What would you recommend to us to get our own reality series considering we already have an idea to pitch?
It is an extremely tough and competitive market and really hard to break through the clutter. I would recommend borrowing a camera, start shooting and create your own audience on YouTube. If it is good, people will notice.
15. Boxers, briefs, jockstraps…or nothing at all?
Depends on the occasion…
If you haven’t seen Wild Things, make sure to check it out every Thursday night at Midnight on Showtime!
And check out the Internationally acclaimed documentary that started it all Trantasia!
Eyes Open, We’re Watching!