Through Steam Room Stories, a series of short but hilarious interludes on YouTube, writer-director J.C. Calciano is making his mark, attracting male and female fans of every orientation from around the globe. This ribald comedy sketch show features more than a dozen of the hottest hunks (and a few sexy sirens) ever to wrap themselves in towels.
Set in a steam room of a West Hollywood gym (the costumes are, uh, condensed, to say the least), each segment is three to five minutes long. Dispensing levity that’s insightful, off-beat, sometimes biting, and bracingly honest, all three seasons are now available on DVD in a new three-disc collector’s edition from Cinema 175.
In the series, Calciano — an out and proud gay man — has found a type of humor that both gay and straight people can relate to. Clearly, the director of the LGBT hits Is it Just Me?, eCupid and, most recently, The 10 Year Plan, knows what makes us laugh.
But what exactly does he think makes for particularly good satire?
“Truth,” he replies. “Truth makes it funny, in any piece of material — comedy or drama. If an audience can look at it and feel, ‘Boy, that’s something that I thought only I thought or noticed’ – if it can resonate with a person on that level – then you’ve got something.”
As a writer, he says, he tries to put himself in his audience’s place.
“I try to proceed from a position of seeing things that I would like to see — or things that I think that other people may have thought about but haven’t spoken. Things that they may have noticed, but haven’t bubbled up to their consciousness yet. If you could hit that chord when they watch and think, ‘Oh my God! That’s so true,’ that’s really the essence of storytelling, both comedic and otherwise.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Calciano grew up on Long Island in what he calls “a very small blue-collar community near the beach.” He attended New York University, which allowed him spend his 20s in and around Manhattan during most of the 1980s. But back then, he says, he stayed on the periphery of the local gay community.
“It was an interesting time in the city,” he recalls. “AIDS was very much happening at that time – and I was also in the closet and just didn’t feel that I fit into the community then, so I would just be kind of an observer. In fact, one of the things that colors who I am today is having not been a real participant — which is NOT something I’m proud of, but this was what I was capable of at that time as a young person.”
In his late 20s, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career as a fledgling filmmaker, working for several major studios. It was around that time that he was deeply shaken by the suicide of an executive he was working closely with. Only after his death did Calciano find out the executive was gay.
“I was devastated by that,” he said. “He hadn’t come out to me, and I wasn’t out then either, but I felt that if he had known about me, maybe I could have helped him – and maybe we could have helped each other and it could have saved his life.”
Calciano was so moved, he said, that he was inspired to produce a documentary in which he interviewed various people about their own coming-out stories.
“Especially in the ’90s, there wasn’t that kind of information. People weren’t seeing other gay people, and they weren’t hearing their stories,” he said. “So I did this as both a cathartic exercise and film project. I wanted to tell the world.”
To his great surprise and joy, he found those within the community to whom he had shown the film to be extremely supportive.
“I realized then that this was a community I wanted to create projects specifically for. That was what really gave me that first taste of being an LGBT filmmaker,” he said.
Calciano has tried to make his films entertaining, yet socially relevant.
“They’re all strong in themes like respect and love, and there’s always a positive message for the community,” he said.
His real challenge, he said, is finding material that encompasses all of these “tones.” He counts the story as being so important to him that it is the most trying element of any project he chooses to take on.
“Acquiring, developing or writing good material is the hardest part for me,” Calciano said. “Coming up with a story that I feel is worth telling and that the audience will want to receive remains tough. For me, making a movie is at least a year process, so to invest a year – full time – of my life, I have to really feel like this is something that’s worth doing.”
Certainly one such project worth doing was The 10 Year Plan, released in late 2014. The winner of numerous audience-favorite awards at LGBT film festivals, this comic romance centers on two best friends: Myles (played by Jack Turner) and Brody (Michael Adam Hamilton), who are complete opposites. Myles is a hopeless romantic perpetually looking for Mr. Right, and Brody is a hot-blooded player who’s constantly on the prowl for Mr. Right Now.
Having once proposed that they’ll get together if both of them are still single in a decade, they find their self-imposed deadline fast approaching and try to do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a couple. Of course, they find that they really were meant for each other all along.
The story is based on real life, Calciano says.
“All my films come from things that I have done—or what my friends have done. Each one starts with that element of truth and that question in my brain – what if?” he said. “With The 10 Year Plan, my two best friends had actually settled on a proposition that if both of them were still single in 10 years, they’d get together and explore something more serious. A decade later, we were all out and individually they each came to me and said ‘Oh my God! We made this deal 10 years ago — do you think he’ll still remember?”
Although Calciano himself has been in a stable, committed relationship for 17 years, he readily grants that he doesn’t have all the answers to such questions.
“Which is why I make these movies,” he said, chuckling. “It’s kind of my own personal exploration as to what love is. I hope I don’t sound like an authority on any of it — but I do have opinions, and my opinion is that being in a relationship is a lot of work. It requires you to put a lot into it — to be (to some extent) a bit selfless. … It requires honesty and truth. … It requires you to put somebody ahead of yourself, and that’s not always easy.”
In addition to producing his own projects, Calciano teaches filmmaking at UCLA.
“One of the things I enjoy most about that is the way I get to take students and introduce them to the tradition of filmmaking and teach them how to be a filmmaker,” he says. This includes keeping them appraised of the latest innovations in getting their projects seen and marketed to as wide an audience as possible – something Calciano knows a lot about.
“One of the amazing things I found about YouTube and platforms similar to it, is that you are immediately in touch with your audience,” he said. “You are putting something out there, and it’s either liked or disliked. There are comments, there’s feedback – your fans become part of who you are, and that’s an incredible thing. I’m a big advocate of learning by doing, and this is an unparalleled device for young people, aspiring filmmakers, or anyone who has stories to tell.”
He says that for Steam Room Stories, his movies, and his philosophy of comedy, his priorities are: story first, then relationships, and then being gay.
“Although I’m an active gay man,” he said, “I don’t always lead with that.
“I lead with my perceptions of society, my political views — with everything else, and so my sexual preference really is not all-encompassing of who I am. The truth about Steam Room Stories is, it’s about being guys — and about being friends. … Whether you’re gay or straight is really inconsequential.”
Both The 10 Year Plan and Steam Room Stories: The Collector’s Edition are now available on DVD. For more information on each film, check out: www.SteamRoomStories.com, www.10yearplanmovie.com, or like them on Facebook. To see Calciano’s films and get more information about him and his future projects, go to Cinema175.com.