Robert Gaston knew that his first feature, OpenCam, would feature some nudity. After all, it focuses on a serial killer who locates his victims through a gay-sex Web-camera chat room. “Some might say it’s too much,” says the 37-year-old Adams Morgan–based writer-director. “But that’s kind of what we were after, to…give an honest representation of what’s happening online, as well as an honest representation of sex between men.”
Gaston had trouble at first getting actors to commit to roles in the film—all of the casting-call ads mentioned the nudity requirement—and once he found his cast, they took their time getting fully into the, um, swing of things. “There was definitely a week where people were dragging their feet a little bit, but we persevered,” he says. “We stuck to it.”
Co-star Andreau Thomas says he and Gaston discussed how to create a film in which sex and naked bodies are almost characters themselves while “still keeping it as real as possible.” “Because,” Thomas adds, “how often are you at home and you’re fully clothed? How often are you at home with a lover and you’re fully clothed?”
Or how often are you at the afterparty for the Reel Affirmations screening of OpenCam, held at Chloe on Oct. 20, and the images of you on the restaurant’s TV screens are fully clothed? Apparently, not often. Viewers and partygoers got a double dose of a naked Thomas—and a naked Amir Darvish, who plays the film’s detective—that night with a rescreening of the film.
“A lot of my friends focused on the nudity aspect of it,” says Thomas, who adds that he’s usually the guy on the dance floor who’s too modest to remove his shirt. “It was either, ‘OK, I’m not going to go see the film, because it’d be like seeing my brother naked,’ and the other side would be, ‘I’m going to it because you’re naked.’”
But nudity wasn’t a factor in Thomas’ decision to do the film. For him, it was more about what the film didn’t contain that what it did. “What drew me into it was that it was a film that wasn’t about coming out or AIDS or coming of age,” says Thomas. “It was just about real people living their lives, and serial killers kind of came into the play, but it was real people.”
Certainly D.C. viewers will find parts of their reality captured in OpenCam. Set in the District, the movie includes scenes shot at Felix restaurant in Adams Morgan and G Fine Arts in Columbia Heights. “I think it’s really important to set the environment,” says Gaston.
The filmmaker says D.C. is an ideal city in which to shoot an independent film—especially one that portrays a police investigation into gay serial killings. Sgt. Brett Parson, of the D.C. police’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, took the New York–based Darvish under his wing, taking the actor on rounds and showing him how to hold a gun. “I was blown away by the…unit and what they were doing,” Gaston says. “We’re not accurately representing the police of D.C….Our cop…gets into a little more trouble than, of course, any of them ever would.”
As for the film’s nudity, Gaston is realistic about its target audience. “I didn’t invite my parents to see the movie,” he says. “I showed them parts of it, but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable.” —Rebecca Corvino