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.We Ho Stories is Queer as F*ck
a cautionary tale
an excerpt from 'Gimp' by alisa christensen
We Ho is West Hollywood Stories. My old distributor Harry called me one day and said he had an idea for a ‘Gay Soap Opera.’ He asked if wanted to write and direct it. He would executive produce.

Harry was cheap and problematic but also funny and creative - a trade off.

It was December 1997, I wasn't working on anything else and I knew boys would be fun.

(Look at them, how could I say no?)

I wrote a three hundred page script in a month, four one hour episodes.

I liked writing with a deadline but I worked so long and hard that I gave myself carpal tunnel. (Fortunately cured in a few weeks by acupuncture.)

My friend Crystal Carmen was playing ‘Melissa.’ She came over and helped me finish typing it.

We would sit cackling away as the script took shape.

We Ho Stories had good Doctors and evil twins, love triangles and lost weekends; kid napping, kleptomania, drug use, blackmail, insanity, a nude maid and a cross dressing nun.

It was provocative, sure to offend right wing wakko’s and everyone agrees that controversy's a great marketing tool.

I had finally gotten rid of my last bad roommate and my spare bedroom was free. My friend Maxi was looking to get out of NYC for the winter, so I invited her to come to LA and help me. The two of us were a three ring circus for the next four months.

I put out a casting notice and started pre-production in January '98. It was my most ambitious project to date. Ignorance is bliss.

Casting was hilarious, always is. We received more than a thousand submissions over the next few weeks and slowly waded through them. I'm always amazed at the things people submit themselves for.

The majority weren't right but we had plenty to choose from.

I even found an old friend that I used to work with nine years earlier, Aura Wright, who read for the role of Ashley.We scouted locations. Most production companies use a Location Manager but we were on the ‘no budget’ budget. We needed locations that were free or just a handful of beans.

My apartment complex became ‘We Ho Manor.’ Like Melrose Place, most of the main characters lived in the same building. My neighbor’s apartments became various abodes and friends houses filled out the rest.

My chiropractors office became the ‘Holloway Free Clinic’ run by good Doctor Rosenblume and his mercenary partner Doctor Whitley.

Vivian’s Café in Studio City became the diner across the street from the clinic and the No Tell Motel with Jacuzzi’s in every room became the Catholic convalescent home that housed crazy Sebastian.

LA has a huge talent pool of good actors, many of whom are homosexual. While I didn’t discriminate against straight guys and had a few brilliant straight actors playing queer, most of my cast was openly gay.

When we were reading actors for different roles, I had the luxury of incorporating what we saw into the story lines. John P. was really good and looked much younger than his twenty some years, so I wrote in the story of a teenage runaway.

Bob, a nice looking gentleman, could transform himself into ‘Bobby’ a tired, frazzled and frayed six foot five crazy lady. Maxi and I couldn’t believe the pictures he was showing us. Perfection! I wrote the character of Gigi.

Five major story lines with various intertwining sub plots. Twenty five actors and actresses. Murphey's Law in full effect - usually is.

Maxi and I climbed aboard the We Ho roller coaster and began principal photography Feb ‘98. We had organized over a hundred wardrobe changes, picked picture cars, wrote and re-wrote scenes with specific actors in mind; we were prop department, art department, FX, stunts and catering.

I was most proud of the shooting schedule. I had over three hundred scenes to organize. Actors with paying jobs that weren’t available on such and such, locations that were only available on so and so, equipment that was cheaper to rent over the weekends and always plan for problems. (Keeps me from getting bitchy.)

I hired the ‘crew.’ I use the term loosely because I couldn’t afford a real crew. I hired a makeup artist and camera man with his own equipment and he promised production assistants. He was my first mistake. Mr. Magoo I like to call him, Thievery Magoo.

Harry thought we should have a gay camera man. He envisioned long, steamy, soft core, sex scenes. It was the first of many fights.

‘I’m not wasting my time on soft core, gay porn, give me a break!’
I envisioned something for television - maybe not network but not Skin-a-Max either - HBO or Showtime.

He was thinking straight to video, I thought why not both?

I had known Harry for years. He was locked into ‘sex sells’ thinking.

He had long relationships with other distribution companies and had a formula, it never made him filthy rich, but he did all right.

His production company did the ‘Witchcraft’ series and I was an actor in Witchcraft 7. Detective Lutz; a tough cop tracking down vampires.

(Lutz was a 50, Balding, Man in W 6, ‘continuity is for sissies,’ laughed Harry.)

It was a humorous movie. Nobody was under the illusion that we were making Ibsen, it was a paycheck and we were all friends by the end of it. A few months after W 7 wrapped, Harry and I were having lunch and got to talking about the perfect vehicle for low budget R rated drama.

The first thing was to shoot it on Beta. Hard to sell in the US but the foreign market wasn’t so addicted to film.

‘It would have to be about one character, preferably with voice over…’
‘Day in the life kind of thing, with a tiny cast, takes place within a week…’
‘Get a big house that you can shoot different locations in…’
‘No stunts, no FX, no extras…’
‘Maybe a coming of age thing, it has to have a lot of sex…’

‘You know what? I have a short story like this...’

I had written ‘Jane’ a year or so earlier.

I had Catcher in the Rye in the back of my mind, thinking of Holden Caufield running amok in New York, looking for love.

He was short on change and dying to get laid. What if the character was female, having teenage angst in Bel Aire or Malibu?

A girl with an expense account could have sex whenever she wanted, which would cause it's own problems.

I faxed him the nine page short that afternoon.

Harry called, ‘Do you want to shoot it?’
Yes I did. I wrote a 90 page script and asked my friend Lana to help me produce. We shot Jane over a couple long weekends at my friend Savage Steve Holland's house.

It was a freshman effort but turned out fine. The only thing I didn't like were the love scenes - too long - but that’s the only stipulation I had from Harry. (‘You have to have a love scene every 15 minutes’ he drooled…)

Other than that he didn’t care what I shot.

Watching a character from my mind come to life was too cool. My actress (Tupelo Jeremy) was great and I loved the whole process. I loved directing, loved producing, I was hooked.

Harry sold Jane internationally but I never saw a penny of the proceeds.

At the time I thought, okay fair enough. I looked at Jane like a directing class. Instead of spending thirty K at UCLA or USC, I was given a fistfull of dollars and pushed out the door. Go forth and create! It was worth it to get a project under my belt but I wasn’t going to work for free again.

When Harry tried to hit me up with the same kind of Dickensian paper work, (no broken fingers if you’re good and a bathroom break on Tuesday) I said no, it's got to be back end and it's firm. I'm not changing my mind.

During one of our arguments he admitted the idea of a Gay Soap came from two gentlemen that ran a distribution company called Ariztical Entertainment. He was trying to freeze me out because he was just a go between. He wasn’t going to distribute it himself.

We couldn’t work out an equitable compromise so I gave him back his money.  Producing a project with your own cash is a big no-no, too many things can go wrong but I got hold of the boys in Tucson and they still wanted to distribute it domestically if it was ever finished.

‘It’s not going to be soft core,’ I warned them.
‘That was Harry’s idea,’ they assured me.

I already had this train rolling, so full steam baby, watch for livestock on the tracks.

Thievery Magoo had to go, unfortunately not soon enough. He had shot the first three day weekend.

A lot of scenes were out of focus or couldn't be heard. We tried but didn't have enough time to re-shoot everything Magoo screwed up.

A half blind camera man who steals? He seemed like a badly written character out of a French farce.

His last horror show was stealing a credit card and maxing it on the internet. Photoshop and porn, if memory serves.

The production assistants he brought with him were young cuties that he was hoping to seduce. They didn’t know the first thing about working on a low budget shoot.

I persevered. I fired Magoo and hired my photographer from Jane. A great camera man but turned out he was homophobic. Would it never end? I sat him down for a talk.

Listen baby, women view homophobia as a clue to hidden identities, where there’s smoke, you know, a real man doesn’t care what anyone else does.

He got me and stopped being such a pussy. He also hired a decent sound guy.

The boys Magoo hired wanted to stay. They just needed instruction and patience. They ended up being good PA's.

We shot long weekends through the month of February and into March.

That was the year of El Nino. Rain hardly let up. The sky was overcast and gave a surreal overtone to the shoot.

Always the rain, dripping, pouring, water-falling in, around and on the set, every once in awhile letting up for a minute, when we would hurry outside to grab exterior footage.

The cast was great, agreeable, humorous. Maxi and I handled production like a team of ten. When we finished shooting 12 hours, there was work to do on the next day’s schedule. Organize the props, craft service, put ducks in row. I slept two or three hours a night.

Lilly is a friend and the office manager of my chiropractor’s.

They were closed Sunday’s and I could use it anyway I wanted, just be done and clean by Monday am.

That Saturday at midnight my phone rang.

It was Rebecca calling to cancel, something seriously wrong with her kidneys. She was in St Josephs waiting for emergency surgery. She was to play Dr. Whitley, the bitch on wheels.

She was in half the scenes at the ‘Holloway Clinic’ and we were shooting more than thirty. I said ‘Oh my God, of course you have to cancel! Call me when it’s over!’

Then fell to pieces helpless with laughter. Maxi and I laughed until we couldn’t move. Midnight with a six am call and one of my leads had to bail.  The only thing to do was play her myself and that was funny. We were rolling on the floor of my bedroom clutching our bellies.

I was already wearing too many hats, ‘Actor’ was the icing.

We were almost finished shooting - taking a breather, walking through the American Film Market. AFM happens like Brigadoon every spring in Santa Monica.

Hundreds of independent production companies meet at Lowe’s Hotel and sell their wares. I loved the Kasbah feel of the place, the circus side show of it all, always amusing.

Maxi and I ran into our old friend Lloyd (Troma Films) and after listening to our crazy We Ho stories he said, ‘Alisa, put me in it! I want to be in your soap opera!’
I scraped around my brain and thought of what we had left to shoot.

‘Well…you could be the nun who throws Sebastian out of the convalescent home…’
‘I’ll do it!’

When principal photography was done, I still had to edit forty odd hours of footage down to four one hour shows and lay a sound track.

I looked for help with post production from my friend Bill. He’s the senior editor at a huge, busy, post house in Hollywood.

Bill hooked me up with Hank, a great guy who had an edit bay in his pool house and a mortgage payment two months late.

I did the rough edit at Hank's and Billl did and opening and closing credits and a final polish.

We Ho Stories was fun and I learned a lot but it took all of my time, I couldn’t do stunts. Financially, it was a drain. My car needed repairs, my phone bill was overdue and Maxi wouldn’t even pay for wine.

Exasperated one day, I snapped at her about money, buy groceries buy anything, she got teary eyed and reminded me that she had been working on my project for free, how could I be so cheap? I backed off but the water was getting hot.

We had been together day and night for too long and were getting on each others nerves. She had the luxury of a boyfriend (now husband) who payed the bills, she’d been with him for years, she had a different reality. One day she came home with her arms full of shopping bags.

‘There’s a big sale at SAKS!' Incredulously, I watched her pull out suit after suit after suit. ‘This one was only $400, can you believe it?’ I couldn’t. I sent her back with a sigh of relief and got a roommate with a job.

I finished editing the fourth installment in May '98.

I went to the UK to see Ken Russell, my friend and mentor. I was tired, needed to get out of the the country.

While there, I got the idea that Channel 4 might be interested in We Ho. Channel 4 is like ABC or CBS here - Network, corporate giant.

The UK was more open to new ideas than the big four in the US, and Channel 4 had recently done a week of ‘Gay’ programming.

Back in LA, I got a heads up from a producer of Ken’s that a producer from Channel 4 was in town, staying at the Hotel Bel Aire. After a bit of phone tag we connected.

I got my chance to pitch We Ho Stories to Maria Mac Monster in June ‘98. She was young, intelligent and about my age. She couldn't say yes on her own but could bring it back and show the decision makers.

I gave her a copy of the finished episodes along with all the marketing and promotional stuff I had been working on. I was so naive. I honestly thought that since it was a finished piece, complete with soundtrack and dated copyrights, I was safe from larceny.

Two weeks later I got a call from Mac Monster, back in the UK.
‘We looked at it quite seriously, it’s very funny, but we’re going to pass. Good luck with it.’

I didn’t have any reason to suspect foul play. I was a stupid retarded baby playing with snarling beasts and filthy vermin covered rats.
 
When I first heard about Queer As Folk it was more than a year later. It started airing in the UK in fall ‘99. Ken called when he noticed it. (Being straight, it took awhile to blip his radar.)

‘There’s a show on here that looks suspiciously like yours, sweetie…’

Surprise, bitch.

Channel 4 had hired a production company called Red to do a gay soap opera that July - a month after looking at WeHo.

In 2000 they sold it to Showtime, who of course bought it in good faith. There was so much buzz about this new show that Channel 4 released a ‘Making Of’ video, available at my local Video Store. They interviewed the writer, a cute gay Brit, and he enthusiastically told how exciting it was to write the pilot script.

‘They told me exactly what they wanted and then it was put on the fast track! I first got the call in July of '98 and we were into principal photography by February of '99. That’s unheard of! Usually Channel 4 takes years to get an idea going…’

 

Indeed.

I rented the first episodes of the UK version of Queer As Folk and watched as actors with British accents re-did the show I had produced almost two years earlier.

The attorney with no morals, the runaway kid - blatant as keeping his girlfriend black.

Even the opening scene with two hot male bodies in a steamy shower.

(recognize my marketing?)
I was sick.

Having a ‘Created By’ nod from a network (yes, she wrote this and look how much money it’s making) would have put me in the game. They could have bought my rights for 100 grand, in a word - peanuts.

I had 10 more shows in my head, with a track record, I would have been taken seriously.

I shopped around for a lawyer who specialized in plagiarism cases and found one in a Century City tower. He had just successfully represented Mike Myers in a suit against Paramount and did some pro bono for my friend Leslie's film festival. He listened to my tale and then asked to see the two shows.

A few weeks went by with his minions carefully watching each show and the smoking gun of ‘The Making Of Queer as Folk. ’ He asked me back.

I will waive my [four hundred an hour] fee but you’ll have to pay for litigation expenses and we’ll have to file suit in London. You have a case, he said.

You'll probably win but they will appeal.

The time line we are looking at is at least two years, maybe longer. Are you ready for a big, drawn out battle? That’s how the networks work. They know it’s wrong to steal, it’s just so easy.

They have many lawyers on retainer to handle their many, many plagiarism cases and they know that most writers don’t have the resources to combat them. He said I'd be appalled to hear how established this practice was but I believed him.

Plagiarism had happened to friends of mine as well. (Walter Hill, Ken Russell, Joe Tobin etc. etc.)

It was easier to sue for breach of confidentiality. Did I notify Mac Monster that West Hollywood Stories was not to be disclosed in any of my correspondence?

No - didn’t think of it.

He told me it would cost thirty or forty grand to cover air fare, court costs, hotels, hookers - did I want to spend every penny of disposable income I made over the next two years fighting Channel 4?

Think on it. The statute of limitations for plagiarism is two years, we’d have file soon. I thought about it for a week and decided to just let it go. Goliath take a bow. I was still in shock.

In hindsight, I don't know why I stopped fighting for my project. Giving up was a big blow to my psyche.

I had always known one of my projects would make a fortune. If I worked hard, nose to the grindstone and all that clap-trap, my ideas were interesting and I worked hard. Tenacity and perseverance would win in the end. What a bunch of shit.

The reality of the corporate network system had been slammed into me with a couple body shots and a punch right in the kisser. Yes sweetie, you are very good - we’re having you for a light snack.

Cheerio.

I went into a downward spiral. Why do anything / it will just get ripped off. I started drinking too much, sleeping too late, pissed off employers, gained weight. I couldn’t recover. Suddenly Every where I looked, Queer As Folk leered down at me.

Huge Billboard’s on Sunset Strip, tons of advertising. The show about LA’s Boys Town made here, stolen in the UK and brought back to Boys Town. Everyone loved it. My friends and cast members called to congratulate me - it was so obviously the same show.

I disconnected.

There’s an underground party scene that thrives in LA.

It’s dark / sexy / illegal / no tourists and no paparazzi.

It snakes through beaches, downtown, into the desert and back to start the loop again, a step or two ahead of the cops.

I had a nine month 'lost weekend.' I would do ecstasy and dance till dawn on a Tuesday.

Told myself I didn’t care.

Existentialism finally reared its goofy head and saved me. It had been lying dormant since my college experiment. I always loved it.

Life is meaning less, devoid of reason.

Winter of ‘00- '01 was cold. I went through all three of my walk in closets and brought clothing and blankets downtown to Homelet. There are so many homeless people in Los Angeles they make a third world city.

The poor, the disenfranchised, the hurt, the old, skitzophrenic's, alcoholic's, drug addicts - they’re more than homeless, they’re voiceless, invisible.

I was safe - I avoided drunks, junkies, box villiages - but not every homeless person has made a choice to be on skid row. Sometimes, you just get fucked. I’d give away a sweater, a blanket, an umbrella if it was raining and just listen.

The Native American couple, their old pickup had had died on the way to her sisters in San Diego, they were otherworldly. White hair, soft spoken, I had to lean in to hear them.

Teenage boys pushing a sleeping girl in a shopping cart, they'd been evicted from their squat. They bummed cigarettes, were animated, funny and loud as they told about the places they’d been that night. The girl slept through it all like a baby.

As I started trading hatred for compassion for Homelet - I finally could let go of some disgust with the entertainment industry

and also with my own failing to DO SOMETHING about it when I had the chance.

I said so long to the Underground and went Vegan.

Ariztical Entertainment had distributed We Ho domestically (the boys from Tucson) and it made some change.

It was nice to see it on the shelves of my local video store but it was bitter sweet.

I went to Oz in the fall after 911. What to do, what to do.

I still had a ‘five year plan’ for changing my career but I had been shaken like a rag doll. I needed to re-group.

I fell in the love with the country and a man named Wayne. I was heading back.

 

I could work there (married to an Aussie) and a lot of big films were being shot down under. Our money used to be doubled. I was moving after the new year.

'This city makes you feel so cold 
its got so many people but it's got no soul
and it's taken you so long
to find out you were wrong
when you thought it held everything…’

-Jerry Rafferty

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