Charlie Vaughn's First Period: A Nod to the 80's

Filmmaker Charlie Vaughn makes a cameo
as the Hot Homeless Guy in 'First Period'
Charlie Vaughn was born on March 12, 1977, close to Disneyland as he says. The family friendly and fairy tale, amusement park would not be an indication of the future filmmaker's sensibilities. He left the Disneyland area at the age of 18 and bounced around a bit before landing in upstate California and graduating from San Francisco State University. He returned to Los Angeles and started making or getting involved with independent and micro-budget films.

Even though all his family is in L.A. and all the better or at least the most opportunities for filmmakers are in southern California, Vaughn felt the need to experience other parts of the country. He got a taste of that, while attending film festivals. Therefore, nearly two years ago, he moved to the American northwest, living in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, making movies up there and getting a feel of what it's like in that corner of the nation and how people are, especially in relation to the landscape and weather.

Before leaving to the northwest, Vaughn was roommates with writer and actor Dudley Beene. Vaughn wasn't himself a writer or an actor beyond cameos here and there. Vaughn was instead a director who kept himself very busy and Beene was impressed with the number of projects Vaughn was doing. Aside from a few short films, and TV shows, Vaughn was able to direct two feature-length movies in the space of a year, and from 2011 to 2012, he was quite prolific, acting also as a producer who had his hands in various genre films like horror and lesbian stories.

Beene was friends with Brandon Alexander III, a fellow comedy writer who penned jokes for print and for television, but who finally crafted his first screenplay, specifically designed for Alexander and Beene to star. Beene brought the script to Vaughn and asked him to direct it.

That script would become First Period, the feature set to be released on DVD on April 21. For a full review, one can be read here. It's a film that pays homage to the works of John Waters, post Hairspray (1988), as well as to the late John Hughes, films from the 1980's, highly celebrating and satirizing that decade.

Dudley Beene (left) and Brandon Alexander III
as Maggie and Cassie in 'First Period'
Alexander and Beene are two guys but they star in First Period as two teenage girls named Cassie Glenn and Maggie Miller respectively. Waters was notoriously known for his inclusion of cross-dressing actors in his films. The most mainstream example from the Baltimore director was Hairspray, a film that Vaughn admitted to watching many, many times, a film that also marked a pivot point for Waters, according to Vaughn.

Vaughn said he read Waters' book Shock Value where Waters wrote that his goal or intention was to challenge movie-going audiences, to make them uncomfortable or outright disgust them. Up until Hairspray, Waters was on overdrive with that goal. Vaughn agrees that after Hairspray, Waters is a bit more tame with his outrageous humor. Waters still directed Serial Mom (1994) and A Dirty Shame (2004), which embraced insane crime and sex, but they were never as trashy as he was in the 60's or 70's.

Vaughn didn't want this movie to be that trashy. As written, it's not. It embraces some aspects of Waters, ignorant characters saying offensive things but not too offensive. For example, one white character, Beene's character, almost says the N-word but doesn't. There are a lot of sexist things that are said tongue-in-cheek. There's also a lot of female bodily humor said grossly by male actors, even some homophobic things by various characters.

Vaughn worried how people would receive these jokes. After the film was completed and started screening at festivals, Vaughn recalls a lesbian audience member approaching him in an accusatory tone but told him she wasn't offended because the movie was coming from gay men. Vaughn is himself gay and his two previous features either had gay protagonists or were seemingly homoerotic.

Michael Turchin as Dirk, the dumb shirtless hunk
in a scene from 'First Period'
However, Vaughn admits his gaydar works in cities like Philadelphia where his previous feature Saltwater premiered, but his gaydar is useless in L.A. The clear example happened when Vaughn was holding auditions for the high school students who become antagonists to Alexander and Beene's characters. One of those antagonists and love interests is Dirk, played by Michael Turchin. A lot of people, as of February 2015, know Turchin as the actor and artist who married Lance Bass, the openly gay pop star who was part of one of the biggest boy bands ever, N'Sync. Yet, back in 2012, Vaughn didn't know that.

When Turchin auditioned for the role, he came across as a very convincing 80's jock. Turchin was so convincing that Vaughn thought Turchin was straight. Vaughn had made it clear that Dirk would be shirtless a lot and would have a same-sex kiss at the end, but because Vaughn thought Turchin was heterosexual, he recalls having to ask if Turchin would be okay with a same-sex kiss.

Leigh Wakeford (far left) as Brett in 'First Period'
One of the other high school antagonists is Brett, played by Leigh Wakeford. Vaughn said during auditions Wakeford was like James Spader from Pretty in Pink. Of all the actors who auditioned and got the role, Wakeford had the most suggestions for his character's look. It was funny because like Turchin, there was something about Wakeford that Vaughn didn't realize. It wasn't until a phone call from Wakeford's mom one day that Vaughn learned Wakeford was South African. He was like the male Charlize Theron.

Yet, when it came to the main character, Alexander was clear on Cassie's actions and reactions in situations. The visual description though was scant. Vaughn brought a picture of Molly Ringwold from John Hughes' iconic 1986 film and modeled Cassie's look after that, even going to a wig store and personally picking out the hair. Vaughn would pattern other actors after Hughes' characters. His guidance counselor for another example was dressed like Hughes' Uncle Buck (1989).

But, Vaughn is in no way more nostalgic of the 80's with this film than in his casting of Cassie's mom. He, Alexander and Beene sat down, all as producers in addition to their acting roles, and brainstormed actresses for Cassie's mom. They were able to decide on all the adult roles by picking friends or people with whom they previously worked. It got to the point though that they wanted an actress who perhaps played a mom in the 80's in film or otherwise.

Growing up, Vaughn said in a previous interview that he loved the Universal Pictures' monsters. Vaughn also said he loves horror films and crime shows in general. His Netflix queue is filled with a lot of Hitchcock. He also admits his guilty pleasures are shows like Law & Order and Murder, She Wrote, which at times had its mysterious and scary aspects. One cartoon he's currently obsessing is Scooby-Doo, which has its share of ghosts and monsters.

Cassandra Peterson in 'First Period'
Therefore, Vaughn's suggestion for Cassie's mom was Cassandra Peterson who is famous for her character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark who hosted the TV series Movie Macabre. Vaughn was certainly a fan. He contacted her agent who sent her the script, which she loved. Peterson only worked one day on set shooting a couple of scenes, but helped to contribute a lot, including an unscripted comedy moment during a montage. Peterson was about to suggest an actress to play Cassie, but when Vaughn told her that Alexander would be playing Cassie in drag, that helped her want to be a part of this project more. She plays the mom as a June Cleaver-type out of her element.

Beene decided to model the look of his character Maggie after Jami Gertz in Sixteen Candles (1984). Playing second fiddle on screen didn't mean he was a slouch. Beene also was the lyricist for several of the songs featured in the movie. Beene even wrote the words to a rap battle, opposite the film's only black male actor, Adrian Burks. On a separate note, Vaughn said that aside from being a good actor and having some rap skills, Burks was hired largely for his personality, which Vaughn describes as infectious and extremely enthusiastic. Vaughn said he hired Burks because in addition to making him laugh, Burks also is the kind of person who one could envision spending 12 hours a day and when crap hits the fan, Burks is the kind of person who would react well in order to help get you through it.

Adrian Burks as John in 'First Period'
Vaughn noted that because they shot the rap battle in the yard of a church school that was in summer session, at one point he had to tell the school to shut the windows as some of the rap included references to prison rape, the most outrageous and the closest to John Waters, pre-Hairspray, that this movie gets.

Vaughn was recently invited to a screening of First Period at the Central Cinema in Seattle, which happened to fall by chance on his birthday. It comes a little over a month prior to the DVD release, which will be full of the usual DVD extras.

Before returning to L.A. from the northwest, Vaughn plans to head to South Carolina to work as a producer for the upcoming The Suicide Note, a thriller written and directed by Jake Helgren who wrote a Christmas film that Vaughn directed for television in 2014. After that, Vaughn plans to return to southern California.

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