Sunday, December 7, 2014

J.T. Tepnapa and Something Like Summer

J.T. Tepnapa
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Mahatma Gandhi

I feel more and more with every passing day that my purpose for being on this planet is to preserve the history of our arts. As passionate as I am about its past, I am just as excited about its future. I love it when I get the opportunity to share a rising talent or a talented artist who is not known on a wider scale, but should be. It amazes me on a daily basis how much attention is given to those who have very little to offer beyond the crap that is foisted upon us on a daily basis. Thank you TMZ for celebrating this!
I desire through my work to celebrate those that deserve to be celebrated, so today, I am excited to share with you JT Tepnapa.
I first became aware of JT because of a crowd funding campaign for an independent film called Something Like Summer.JT is an American writer, producer, actor, and director. Tepnapa has made several short films since 2000 with his company, Blue Seraph Productions. His most awarded film is Masturbation: Putting the Fun Into Self-Loving.

We sat down recently to discuss the journey that has brought him to this point and his plans for his own future.
Like most, it started with exposure to acting when he was a kid. He credits his high school choir director for starting him on this path. As it is in most of these cases, she needed more boys for the high school musical. She asked him to audition and he got cast in his first musical, Guys and Dolls.He got the part of Lt. Brannigan.He was so nervous to play this part. However, once he was on stage and under the lights, and got a few laughs, he was hooked on entertainment. He ended up doing a lot of musicals in high school including Barnaby Tucker in Hello, Dolly!, and the Artful Dodger in Oliver!
When he graduated and went to college, his major was acting. Living in Hollywood, he eventually got an agent and tried doing the Hollywood route. He just wasn't getting the parts he desired. Because of that, he started writing his own stuff. He started off by writing short films and putting himself in them. He didn't have anyone to direct so he directed his own projects.
He ended up finding a love in directing. Even more so than acting. He feels that there are so many talented actors out there. It has been so much fun to work with them and to create a performance.
There isn't anything else that JT loves more. He has had nine to five jobs, some he actually liked. They paid the bills and certainly entertainment jobs don't always do that! This passion that JT has to create makes him feel like an artist. He isn't a painter, for example, but he IS creating something and it is a collaborative art form. A lot of people are helping to create. It feels good and it is allowing JT to express something and to share something with as many people as possible. It feels great and he is compelled to keep doing that.
As stated earlier, this journey began in high school and continued through college. His first short film was Sunflowers, which was a gay romantic short. That was in 1999.

What does JT do when he desires a little "nonsense" in his life?

He turns to his husband. He is an artist, too. He paints. He is very funny and he always makes JT laugh. They also have an annual pass to Disneyland.
They just go out to Disneyland for a few hours and have fun and be kids for the day.
What does JT desire more than anything?
To win an Oscar is the easy answer! In all honesty, what he truly desires is to inspire people, to tell stories that He wants to make a difference in people's lives. Movies can have that opportunity, the really good ones can do that. He doesn't feel that he is at that level now, but it is a goal.
One director that inspired JT was Stephen Spielberg with Schindler's List. It is a teachable movie. That is what JT loves seeing and that is what he desires to create, movies that only entertain, but teach.

Something Like Summer
Judas Kiss was JT's first movie which he wrote. Something Like Summer, his current project, is based on a best selling novel by the same name, written by Jay Bell. 
The novel came to JT via Tom Ly who needed a director attached to it. 
JT suggested bringing on his entire production company to produce it. 
Carlos Pedraza, who also helped JT write Judas Kiss is also writer on Something Like Summer's screenplay. 
Something Like Summer tells the story of the relationship of Ben Bentley and Tim Wyman over the course of a dozen years, starting when they get together in high school, go their separate ways, then try for a second chance, only to face the worst kind of failure. 
The novel won widespread praise from readers on (4.6 stars out of 5), Apple’s i Bookstore (4.5 stars) and Good reads (4.2 stars). 
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr — all have proven themselves as platforms for readers of all ages, genders and backgrounds to share their heartbreak, joy, nostalgia and inspiration from this story of true love discovered, sundered, rediscovered, torn apart and delicately re-knit.
The main characters are both artists, which appeals to JT. The main character, Ben Bentley is a musician, and the love of his life is a painter. 
It is about artists growing up and learning, not necessarily about coming out, but coming to terms with being artists. Although all of these elements are there, it is more about coming to terms with who they are and what kind of people they desire to be and that, kind of, fires JT up and makes him want to make a great movie. 
Is JT sure that he is doing what he should be doing?
He is sure that he is doing EXACTLY what he should be doing RIGHT NOW. 

That can change. He started out as an actor. That's what he loved doing at the time and he loves performing, but then, he found this love of directing. He doesn't know what his future will be.
He thinks he will just go where his gut takes him. Right now, it's directing and making movies that feels right for him at this stage in his life. Ten or twenty years from now, it might be something else. 

One issue that is facing a lot of film makers these days are free downloads. 
People are streaming films on iTunes and Netflix. Since the industry is fast
changing into a digital industry, JT would like to see a "one stop" shopping site for people to have access to these movies and that it would be as easy as it is for people to go buy a movie ticket. Certain aspects of ticket purchasing has already been ingrained in most of us. 
It should be so easy for everyone, whether they are in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, and easily, and economically, purchase a movie. Currently, the film industry is suffering and losing business. JT is not blaming the consumer. 
He feels that it is up to those in the film industry to find a way to "allow" people to have easier access to film. It has to be a one click kind of deal. 
iTunes is getting close but it needs to be universal and his major goal is for people to be able to see his movies. He would like it to be whatever people can afford. 
JT cannot imagine NOT dong what he does. He has been in a couple of places in his life in which he was not doing what he should have been doing.   
One was a nine to five job, but that led him on his journey to Judas Kiss. It is about a "thirty something" being given the opportunity to go back in time and talk to his younger self and try and convince his younger self to take a different path. 
That came out of a rough patch in JT's life. The second time that JT found himself not doing what he should be doing took place last year. He was between movies and it was a very difficult time for him. It felt like a block. That occurs when he feels he cannot create. He just doesn't feel like an artist. He doesn't feel like he can express himself unless he has some kind of an artistic outlet.

JT doesn't know if he STANDS out among others in this industry. There is no denying the fact that this industry is over run with talented artists. JT is still learning. Something Like Summer is his third movie. He admits that he still has a lot to learn and a lot to grow upon. He thinks, for independent movies, he has a lot of opportunities that maybe a lot of people that are in the same boat don't have.
He shares his passion with people and he thinks that because of that, that doors open up and opportunities come his way. That is how this third film has come about.

That is so incredible! There are so many people out there who don't get the opportunity to make their FIRST film for whatever reason. Then, there are those that make their first feature, and then, for whatever reason, that becomes the only thing that they make. JT is pretty excited that he can continue to make movies and that will hopefully continue. 
JT has been told that he is an actor's director, someone who really focuses on performances and really "gets in there" and loves the nuance and the texture and everything that is needed to craft a "perfect" performance or, to JT, is as natural as possible. He loves that part. As for "hands on" or "hands off", that is an area in which he is still growing as a director. When he did his short films, he was
Working on Judas Kiss (JT with flag)
"hands on" because is was everything, the first AD (Assistant Director), the costume designer, AND the make up artist, so he was obviously "hands on" with that! In Judas Kiss, he was somewhat "hands off" because he was focused on the acting. He allowed all the departments to do their thing.

For this movie, Something Like Summer, he is going to be much more "hands on" because the movie covers twelve years. There has to be this cohesiveness between the production design, the makeup, and the costumes, especially. 
It is his job to make sure everyone is on the same page. His hands will be in a lot of different pots. 

Even though JT lives in Los Angeles, he is not really a part of the Hollywood scene.His opinions of the business in the short time that he has been a part of it hasn't changed. His idea has always been that it is based on the BIG productions. It is a difficult wall to break through. He also knows that you don't have to break through that wall to have a career. Create your own career. 
That is what he has done with Kickstarter and Indigogo. They have gone straight to the fans and have asked, "Hey! Do you desire to see this movie made? If you would like to see this movie made, please be a part of it and help us make it." The only thing that has changed is how much they have gone straight to their audience.
JT and Adam
That is what these small independent movies have to do today. As it is for so many other independent filmmakers, crowd funding makes up an important part of the financing mix for our projects. It proves to potential investors and distributors that there's an audience for the stories that need to be told.

We've already touched upon JT's husband, Adam Browne. As mentioned, he also is an artist. How do they balance it all? They have had discussions on this very issue. There is a bit of craziness in making movies. JT tries to keep a lot of that out of the house.
Whenever there is some big production happening, instead of having meetings at their home, JT tries to take it to a restaurant or some other place. 
JT tries to, in some way, shield him from that, because he doesn't necessarily like it. 
When JT is in business mode, he is very serious. He desires things to be done a certain way. Adam can get caught up in that because JT can ask HIM for things since he is an artist. JT will ask him, for example, "Hey! Can you design some wine bottles for me?" or "I'm shooting a video. Can you..." JT tries and puts a limit on that. 

However, that being said, right now, JT has taken apart their living room and have created a mini studio where they are recording videos for the next thirty days for their campaign, but JT keeps telling Adam, "It's only thirty days, baby! We'll take it down. I promise." JT asks as politely and nicely as possible and hopes for a yes. 
The advice that JT would give to anyone desiring to go into this profession is that if you desire to go in to it, you should. 
Don't start off with a feature. Start off with short films. 
Short horror film IN THE CLOSET, starring JT Tepnapa

There are a lot of "mistakes" along the way. Make those and learn and grow. 
JT also worked on Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, a web series, for seven years. It was a great place to learn as well.He played an openly gay star fleet character, Lt. Corey Aster. A movie can be made for practically nothing with the right resources. JT has a friend that made a film for five hundred dollars that toured a hundred film festivals and won many awards. It's possible. Just jump in, give it a try and see if you like it. You may go in thinking you like directing, only to find out that what you really like is acting or costume design. It's a great learning experience doing short films.
Check out the campaign video for Something Like Summer 
More and more young people are "coming out" these days. It is great that they feel comfortable coming out at a young age. At the same time, it doesn't necessarily make things easier for them. They are still getting bullied in school. Even more so, because of their openness. A movie like Something Like Summer, and not just this film, but many LGBT movies need to be out there. They need to be made. They need to be on screen to show that we need more representation of who we are on screen. Something Like Summer is just that.
Often people don't go for what they truly desire. They may have an idea of what they want in life, but it has to be acted upon. Sit down and think about what your heart desires. This is IT! Make the best of it and inspire each other. 
JT first got attached to Something Like Summer, the book, because he, too, went through similar experiences. He had a high school crush that turned into something romantic. That went on for about four years. They never called each other "boy friend". They never thought of each other in terms of a "relationship". 
That period forged many of the opinions of JT's own sexuality and the kind of person he desired to be.When he read the book, he connected to it. A lot of people have had similar experiences growing up with puberty, love, and confusion and trying to make sense of it all. Something Like Summer responds to those thoughts.Many have been able to put themselves into the book, and, now, put themselves into the movie and see themselves and their experiences acted out. We get to make sense of that chaotic period of our lives. For younger people, there is hope that it will all make sense as you get older. People in their thirties and up can look back on this in a nostalgic way and enjoy reliving those experiences. In some ways, maybe some of those moments can be reclaimed from our teenaged years. 
Click HERE to read another article on JT Tepnapa.

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Dancers Over 40 Honors their own, at the 6th annual
Monday, December 8th, 6 – 9pm
LIPS RESTAURANT, 227 East 56th St., NYC

Hosted by Richard Skipper

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Richard Skipper,
Judas Kiss director JT Tepnapa and star Richard Harmon on Times Square, late night, New York City

1 comment:

  1. Once again, another wonderful article about a charismatic and interesting person in the arts. I know that JT will go on to bigger things!