Not long ago, a young J.T. Tepnapa was working an ordinary 9-5 and holding on to a dream. “It just wasn’t fueling my soul,” recalls Tepnapa. And so, he did something extraordinary. J.T. Tepnapa sought to fuel his soul through filmmaking.
Preparing to found his own production company, Blue Seraph Productions, Tepnapa began acting in a variety of shorts and fan films. One of his most noteworthy roles came as Lt. Cmdr. Corey Aster in a Star Trek fan film series, created by Rob Caves. “It was a lot of fun. Every other weekend we’d all go over to Rob’s house and shoot another episode,” says Tepnapa.
And Star Trek proved to be just the opportunity Tepnapa needed, too. In addition to playing the first openly gay character in the respected Star Trek franchise, Tepnapa was also entrusted with directing many of the 50+ episodes. Perhaps it was no surprise when, in 2011, Tepnapa was invited to perform in yet another Star Trek series playing the role of Mr. Sulu, he graciously accepted. Hikaru Sulu, of course, was the character made famous by actor, LGBT rights activist, and quite possibly the best part of facebook, George Takei. “It was an honor,” Tepnapa says of playing the role of Sulu. “But I don’t have that same deep voice as Takei. It was very difficult to do it, but I had to give a unique and honest performance.” Ohhhhh myyyyyyy.
2011 is also the year J.T. Tepnapa delivered his best directorial work to date. The film Judas Kiss follows the story of a struggling filmmaker who returns to his alma mater to judge a film festival. However, things aren’t what they seem when the work and the filmmaker he is evaluating hits very close to home.
Relying on some personal experiences with struggle and second chances in the film industry, Tepnapa and writing partner Carlos Pedraza manage to present a believable and engaging story nested within a science-fiction scenario. “We all go through struggles, and we learn from them,” states the director. “There’s no real time machine either. You start from today to improve tomorrow……I realize that sounds so much like a greeting card, but it’s so true!”
Already successful with crowdfunding (Judas Kiss had earned double its Kickstarter budget), Tepnapa and writer Carlos Pedraza are currently ramping up efforts for a new film entitled Something Like Summer. An adaptation of the Jay Bell novel by the same name, the film, “just speaks to your soul. It’s all about coming out and growing up, and first love,” explains Tepnapa.
Adding a twist to the film, Tepnapa embraces the significance of visual artwork by employing the work of artist and friend, Kyle Joseph Johnson. Tepnapa was quickly enthralled and inspired by Johnson’s latest works. “He sends me these images of his work and I’m like, ‘wow, this is beautiful!’ You can feel his emotion in his paintings.”
A passionate filmmaker, Tepnapa seizes every opportunity to engage in the creative processes of storytelling. Furthermore, Tepnapa wishes to share this experience with others, especially those in the gay-themed film industry. It’s no wonder why Tepnapa embraces the process of crowdfunding for most of his work. “It’s incredible. It’s more than just fundraising. It lets people be a part of the film,” explains the energized director. Recognizing the uphill battle niche gay-themed filmmakers face, Tepnapa and many directors like him are beginning to view crowdfunding as the secret weapon the LGBT film industry needs.
“We need more LGBT stories out there,” says Tepnapa. “We need more stories that feature our lives.”
There may be lots of LGBT stories to tell, but director J.T. Tepnapa is up for the challenge.
Read our film review on Something Like Summer