Television is over. According to the 2013 US Digital Future In Focus report, Americans watch nearly 40 billion videos each month. If big-budget streaming series like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black or House of Cards whet your appetite, be sure to check out lesser-known hits like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks, Husbands, and F to 7th.
Now, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Tahir Jetter brings us Hard Times, a new webisode project chronicling a broke personal trainer’s experiences as a male exotic dancer. The New York University Tisch School of the Arts graduate’s short film Close. premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and he expects to release Hard Times online in November 2013.
While stories about men who pay female sex workers are as old as an expired condom, stories about men selling their schtick are less prevalent. Nothing short of courageous, such storylines include oft-ignored women who pay men to strip and much more.
If there was any question about the audience for this film, strip flick Magic Mike hauled a 73 percent female audience to theaters. Preliminary analytics of Hard Times’ online following reveals women are the most engaged on the site.
I talked to Jetter to get the inside scoop on his latest project.
A male stripper. Why did you pick this particular topic?
“I figured, as a young director, it would be best to pursue something to get people’s attention. There are three ways to get people’s attention in this day in age — and probably always have been: the threat of violence, sex, [and] drug use. Americans have gotten to a point where they’ve become particularly fascinated with exotic dancing. We’ve seen a number of documentaries, films, and TV shows that have gone into the world of exotic dancing. I thought a new context around that subject would be very interesting to people.”
Older movies such as Showgirls, Pretty Woman, and Striptease feature women performing sex work for men. And then somewhat newer movies like Full Monty and Magic Mike, and TV shows like HBO’s Hung and Showtime’s Gigolos are about men performing for women. Can we talk about what’s changed?
I don’t want to say gender roles are changing because it’s like they are and they’re not […] But I felt a story like this was really timely. It almost feels like, in many ways, you have to get buck naked to make a way for yourself in this country, to get ahead. I guess that was kind of an idea I [was] toying with over the past several years, as I myself have been moving to different freelance jobs, different part-time jobs, trying to get on my feet. I felt like there was a new paradigm that needed to be explored.
You mentioned gigs. Was stripping one of your part-time jobs?
[Laughs.] Ummmm … No. It wasn’t. Uh … But, it was … [Laughs.] Um, I did work as a personal trainer, though. I met a lot of people that were not making as much money training as they had initially thought. So, a lot of them were doing all kinds of other weird things and odd jobs, and I’d heard stories of people doing things like modeling for calendars. Some people that I know did actually strip, and they had a fun time doing it!
Through these stories, I cobbled together this narrative of what happens when this guy goes out on a limb. He’s this broke personal trainer that starts stripping to make ends meet.
In Hard Times, there’s a woman who convinces a male personal trainer to strip. How did you come up with that scenario?
All right, I’m not gonna lie. I did it once. I did [strip] one time.
Much in the way that Close was kind of an exaggeration of certain things that had happened to me, I developed a narrative from just this one instance and basically exaggerated things that [occurred] during a certain period of time in which I was extremely low. I was not making a lot of money.
American film and TV audiences expect the “College Co-Ed Strips for Cash” script. How does the story change, if at all, when you’re showing a man taking off his clothes?
It very much starts off kind of like a comedic, “Oh what happens when this guy starts stripping?” It’s a very fish-out-of-water kind of story. But, as it progresses and things get a little more complicated, you start to see certain story lines get very complicated in ways that I’m hoping people will not expect.
How many episodes can we expect?
Basically, it’s like we’re shooting a feature film. The whole thing is about one and a half hours, but we’re breaking it up into about 11 to 13 episodes. We’re kind of shooting as we go in the hopes that we release this fall, but we’re also writing throughout filming. We’ve shot about four episodes so far, and we’re kind of editing and revising as we go along.
Your short film Close was selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Will you take Hard Times on the festival circuit, too? How is the distribution of Hard Times going to be the same, or different, from Close?
Both are very similar. Most of the projects I work on are very naturalistic and based off things that I’ve actually experienced; Things that exist in the world that most people recognize in the modern world.
It’s a bit more freeing to work on a web series. In a short film, there’s a lot of pressure to get something done in a set amount of time.
I like the idea of being able to get content out directly to an audience without any kind of middle or intermediary presence. I think that is really the future of independent content creation. I’ve seen it in many other forms — with music, different kinds of shows, and other web series as well. I feel like it’s a real opportunity now that a lot of people have to cull their resources together and do whatever they can.