Gay Hollywood joins tidal wave of queer programming
Given television's gay boomlet, filmmaker Jeremy Simmons's concerns about his new documentary, The AMC Project: Gay Hollywood, appear misplaced. "With a name like Gay Hollywood, maybe not everyone will tune in," Simmons said. "Which is kind of unfortunate, because I think it appeals to much more than gay people." Other gay-themed shows certainly have. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has done so well for Bravo that parent NBC has aired the makeover show once, plans to air another episode August 14, and has arranged two Tonight Show appearances by the series's gay stars (August 14-15), in which they will spiff up Jay Leno. Upcoming projects include the ABC fall sitcom tentatively titled It's All Relative and Showtime's lesbian drama The L Word, coming in January.
"There are headlines about gays taking over television," said Gay Hollywood executive producer Randy Barbato. "Gays are not taking over television. Finally there are some gay people and gay programs on TV." He predicts the trend, which he considers "equalizing," will only grow. "The media gatekeepers and the network executives have finally realized gays can make money. At the end of the day, it's always all about money."
In Gay Hollywood, the immediate goal is securing a foothold in the industry. The film, debuting on AMC at 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, August 11, follows five openly gay men and their efforts to launch or further entertainment careers. The final result was less "gay-centric" than he first envisioned, Simmons said in an interview. "My reason for doing it, being gay and in Hollywood, was learning how these other guys deal with it" and whether their sexuality has helped or hurt professionally, he said. As the project progressed, its perspective became broader. "The title should be Five Guys in Hollywood Who Happen to be Gay," said Barbato, who produced the documentary with Fenton Bailey (their other films include The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Monica in Black and White).
Rather than a sweeping view of the gay experience in Hollywood, the film is an intimate and sometimes emotional take on how tough it is for anyone, sexual orientation aside, to make it in show business. The men include the endearing Micah McCain, an actor who introduces himself as "a part-time drag queen. Three-quarter-time drag queen," and then, grudgingly, "Full-time drag queen." His bravery isn't in being out, but being out onstage. He reluctantly tries to fashion himself into a standup comedian after being told it would be a smart move. Allan Brocka is a filmmaker-writer who agrees to write and direct a risqué gay romantic film, despite reservations. Writer Benjamin Morgan, actor-model Robert Laughlin, and filmmaker Lance Black--who expresses concern that he might be stereotyped by the project--complete the group. They don't make major leaps during the seven months of filming that ended in May, but their brushes with Hollywood are instructive for them and for viewers.
The most thoughtful and encouraging advice is delivered by writer-producer Larry Andries, whose impressive credits include Six Feet Under and Boomtown. "So many writers chase what's hot and what's new or what the marketplace wants and totally lose what they can uniquely bring to the marketplace or to the page," he tells one of the men. "You can tap into something really rich and deep." The value of networking, gay or otherwise, is called into question. Industry veterans say talent represents the ultimate trump card. "There's no secrets. There's no 'Who you know' or 'If only I could get to this party.'... There's nothing else you can do except make that script excellent," is the counsel of sitcom producer Richard Day. Day dismisses the idea that gays have any advantage over heterosexuals in Hollywood. Barbato concurs but notes the industry does include a significant gay population ("There are probably a lot more gay people than in Wichita"). "Being gay in Hollywood can get you in the door in a number of places, just as being straight in Hollywood can, or Italian or Jewish," he said. "There's always the ability to tap into your community to help a little bit. But at the end of the day, it's never going to get you the gig."
Simmons considers himself lucky to be working in the new environment. "What a great time to be a gay filmmaker. You mean, people will watch my shows? How exciting." Is he concerned that TV will overdose on gay shows, as it has on reality programs and just about everything else? No, he replied, comparing the emergence of gays on TV to the visibility that blacks gradually claimed. "Gays aren't like a pet rock, that this is our moment and then no one will ever be interested in us again."