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In January 2018, Terracino was hired to write for a high-profile premium cable series he declined to name when he says he was sexually harassed by one of the show’s male executive producers. He complained, was told to keep quiet by another of the series’ producers and saw his writing offer rescinded. The one-name filmmaker, who is best known for writing and directing the gay coming-of-age comedy Elliot Loves, received a small settlement, which The Hollywood Reporter has viewed.
Out of work and growing despondent, the 48-year-old rallied and used the settlement money to co-finance his next film, Waking Up Dead. The pic would echo his real-life experience with nefarious Hollywood players and offer a cathartic release for the #MeToo era. Breaking Glass Pictures’ Rich Wolff kicked in the rest of the financing for the microbudget film and agreed to distribute it.
Terracino was in the middle of casting when coronavirus struck and upended the entire movie industry. But as was the case with his harassment incident, he decided to make the most out of a bad situation. Casting continued via Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, and the film is poised to begin production in late June in Los Angeles. Despite the promise of three sex scenes, the production will follow BAFTA’s protocols for operating a safe set amid the global pandemic.
“I want to be clear: We are not winging it,” Terracino tells THR. “We’re not going to do anything reckless. Eighty percent of the movie is in a single location, involves just a few actors and three scenes of intimacy, so it’s very, very doable for us. We may be the first film in cinema history to feature intimate love scenes with masks, latex gloves and [Formula] 409.”
In fact, Waking Up Dead might be the perfect antidote for the post-#MeToo and coronavirus era.
Written by Terracino, the story centers on Danny Maldonado (Veronica Mars’ Gabriel Sousa), a once-promising, hard-partying Hollywood actor whose life and career have hit rock-bottom. But when he’s called in to audition for the lead in the hottest new pilot, Danny sees it as his shot at redemption. Judy Geeson, who starred opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1960s classic To Sir With Love, will play a real estate agent who senses that Danny is spinning out of control and tries to intervene, marking the British actress’ first film lead in nearly a decade. And Traci Lords, the famed adult film star who became a legitimate actress, rounds out the cast as Danny’s caustic agent. Terracino is also directing.
“Traci was the last person to come aboard, and then COVID happened, and I emailed everyone and said, ‘To quote Rahm Emanuel, why let a crisis go to waste?’ I was like, ‘Let’s go forward,’” he recalls. “And everybody said they were on board to shoot as soon as possible.”
Achieving a safe set begins with hiring a so-called COVID-19 supervisor, which Terracino has done. The supervisor’s job is to make sure that all craft service meals are separate and that temperature checks are being performed regularly on cast and crew. The film will be insured but will not be covered for COVID-related shutdowns (as such, many of his actor friends will work as crew). “We will have to get waivers,” the director explains. “But a time of crisis is not when artists are supposed to be sitting on their hands, waiting for things to be safe again.”
As for those sex scenes, Terracino insists they won’t be particularly graphic. But they won’t be chaste, either. “Even Judy, who is 71, said the film has a nice robust sexuality,” he jokes.
As the film industry grapples with how to move forward as lockdowns begin to ease, the helmer’s mantra is to keep it lean and mean and predicts that microbudgeted films are best suited for the uncertain landscape ahead. And as a Dominican American who identifies as Latino, Terracino says it’s only fitting that his “black and brown” brethren will lead the way when it comes to COVID-friendly productions.
“Everyone who is keeping this country running during this quarantine — the supermarket employees, the Lyft and Uber drivers — we are all black and brown,” he says. “Now a bunch of black and brown artists are going to make a movie and show the way forward to Hollywood reopening. That’s how it goes.”
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