Meet Cassie Glenn (“totally rockin’ superstar extraordinaire — you’re welcome!”). She’s the brassy new girl in school who puts the “trans” into “transcript” in First Period, the uproarious film now out on DVD from Screen Media Films and Falling Anvil Productions in association with Delicious Mayhem Productions.
Most notably though, this film is from the delightfully unconventional minds of writer and star Brandon Alexander III, producer and co-star Dudley Beene, and director Charlie Vaughn. Alexander stars as Cassie, a (slightly) plus-sized Molly Ringwald type who, along with her best gal-pal Maggie (played by Beene), sets out to conquer the world, starting with her quintessentially ’80s high school.
Think of this rip-roaring, cross-dressing comedy as John Hughes meets John Waters, setting out to prove that high school is anything but a drag if you have the right attitude and a good friend on your side.
The story opens just before Cassie’s Sweet 16 birthday. “This is the point I go from being a cute, fashion-savvy girl to a sensual, sexual, fashion-forward woman!” she says, adding, “All I need now is a popular group of friends and a hot, hunky boyfriend!”
Standing in her way are the kids in the school’s “in crowd” — who each have the odd ability to walk around in slow motion, whipping their too-big, over-moussed hair. There’s Heather, Other Heather, and their none-too-bright, too-gorgeous-to-be-straight, toy boys, Dirk and Brett.
On the other hand, Cassie herself once posed in a magazine for Catholic school girls (on girls). “But it was totally tasteful … mostly,” she explains breezily. “After all, isn’t that how all totally rockin’ superstars got their start? It’s the filler for the first night of their four-part mini-series starring Kristy McNichol!”
Heather may be the perfect blond mean-grrrl, but no worries — Cassie soon meets up with Maggie.
Maggie has all the self-esteem of something old and withered that was left at the back of the freezer, and her classmates regularly mistake her for a coat rack (“It’s the pointy shoulders,” Cassie observes). Nonetheless, she, too, dreams of better things and even has a smoldering crush on her sex ed teacher, Mr. Klein, despite his abruptly telling her that his class is for the fairer sex only. (“But I'm a girl!” she protests. “Really?! For how long?” he responds.)
These girls have their work cut out for them — particularly because they only have five days to achieve their goals and rule the school in time for the Big Talent Show.
Thankfully, Cassie’s mother comes to the rescue, telling her and Maggie: “You girls are missing the point of high school entirely. … There isn’t anything that you do in high school that’s gonna have anything to do with your future whatsoever! Just get out there and have fun — go crazy with it!”
In the end, Cassie and Maggie realize, “We may be freaks, but we’re the freakiest freaks and we’re gonna go freak their mother-freakin’ minds!”And that they do, making for a comedy that’s worthy of several viewings to discover new and bigger laughs.
Director Vaughn says he’s been interested in filmmaking since second grade, when he first read about James Whale’s classic 1935 movie Bride of Frankenstein.
“Whale was a gay filmmaker,” Vaughn says, “and it described what he did and how he made this masterpiece, and I thought that was really awesome — I wanted to pretend and get paid for it, too!”
As a teenager, he wrote film reviews for a local LGBT publication.
“I feel so horrible now at some of the reviews I gave to some of those films and filmmakers,” Vaughn says with a laugh, “because I have come to learn that just getting a film completed is the gargantuan effort. So I wish I could retract some of my early reviews, which might have been a little cynical and maybe unfair.”
After earning a filmmaking degree from San Francisco State University, he returned to Los Angeles, where he re-connected with a bunch of his actor and fellow filmmaker friends, and eventually met Dudley Beene. Noticing how much fun Vaughn was having making his short films, Beene approached the young director about working on a larger feature project, “and that’s how we ‘green-lit’ First Period,” he says.
Vaughn allows that, while in high school, he may have envisioned himself becoming the next Steven Spielberg, but after making First Period, he understands that “For me, the satisfaction comes from the idea that a thought can truly be realized into this tangible thing. It’s a great feeling!” (Incidentally, Vaughn makes a clever, last-minute cameo as the hot, angry homeless guy whom Cassie winds up with.)
The film’s script, by Brandon Alexander, is loaded with refreshingly irreverent humor.
First Period originally started out as just a short film that I wrote called Becoming a Woman,” he says. Alexander, who describes most ’80s movies as “terribleness, but with bright colors,” said that he and his former roommate always enjoyed watching old melodramas on the Lifetime Network.
“We’d watch these really bad movies from the ’80s and make fun of them and talk back to the characters, so I thought it would be really fun to make a parody movie like that,” he says.
Alexander says he presented the idea to his pal Beene, and “he was totally on-board with that, although little came of it at the time.”
About a year later, the two met again, and they expanded the concept into a full-length feature. Then it was all go from that point forward.
Alexander praised his director, stressing that Vaughn understood everything that he, as both writer and actor, was trying to convey.
“As a writer who has had to write for other producers and directors before,” Alexander says, “usually it’s their vision that takes over. But Charlie and I really got in sync and were on the same page on everything. I really lucked out there — he totally understood.”
Beene, who shared co-starring duties with Alexander, also served as executive producer and wrote all the songs on the soundtrack.
When he was growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Beene remembers, he would go to the local video store and see the latest gay releases, which inspired him to want to tell his own stories.
Playing a character of a different gender is not a new experience for Beene. When he moved to California, he played the title role of Hedwig, the star-crossed transsexual singer in the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
If Cassie was modeled after Molly Ringwald, though, Maggie was inspired by ’80s teen star Jami Gertz, known for such films as Lost Boys and Less Than Zero, as well as the early ’80s cult TV show Square Pegs, in which she played the preppy, chipper leader of the high school pep committee.
“As Muffy Tepperman on that show, there was such an uptightness to her,” Beene says. “Everything was just layers of sweaters and coats and high collars, and I could tell that she felt she was pretty and fashionable, even though everything was saying ‘Please don’t talk to me.’ So I guess I loved that closed-off, ‘goody-goody’ nature of what she was wearing. When you think of all these other people at that time who were pushing that limit, she was somebody who was aggressively un-fashionable and conservative.”
Some celebrated comic talents also offer terrific support in the film, not the least of which is Cassandra Peterson, renowned as TV’s favorite over-the-top horror hostess, Elvira, who plays Cassie’s mother, Ms. Glenn. And Judy Tenuta appears as Madame Mulva — a psychic who, after revealing to the girls where the cool kids are having their secret pre-talent show pool party (that neither has been invited to), gives them the very best advice yet: “Nobody is gonna rescue you,” she spits. “You have got to rescue you. … You have got to become a Teen Bitch!”
Diane Louise Salinger is a riot as Miss Mallow, the daffy, paint-sniffing art teacher, and Jack Plotnick is both hysterical and unsettlingly identifiable as the sarcastic, wise-cracking Mr. Klein. Lauren Rose Lewis, too, is totally spot-on as Heather, Cassie and Maggie’s beautiful-but-brutal antagonist.
“We really lucked into Lauren,” Beene says, “finding a Heather who could play that combination of Chris Hargensen [from Carrie> and Heather Chandler [from Heathers“> and all of those other great ‘evil’ girls that rule with that absolute authority. Then again, we were extremely fortunate to pretty much get our dream cast. Everyone who auditioned for the kids were exactly the ones we wanted. Of the adults, all the names we approached — Cassandra, Judy, Jack and all the other great character actors — agreed to take a chance on this, and all were incredible!”
Beene, Vaughn and Alexander are definitely not afraid to “go there,” then come right back and do it again. In fact, they send up so many classics of the teen genre that the movie could make for a nifty drinking game — taking a swig every time you recognize a film they’re spoofing. It’s like vintage midnight movie madness at its most magnificent!
“I’m a big fan of midnight movies,” Beene confesses. “I was raised on John Waters, and I love campy classics like Clue, Rocky Horror, and Hedwig. If First Period became something that people could get together in a big group, laugh their heads off, eat popcorn and just hang out, that would be amazing!”
First Period is now available on DVD and video on demand. For more information, go to firstperiodmovie.com, or facebook.com/FirstPeriodMovie.”