According to out producer and director J.D. Disalvatore, film is the kind of business you’re simply born to be in. "I was always a lover of film and wanted to go into it from about the time I learned to talk," she recently told AfterEllen.com. My first words, as my mother tells me, were ‘I want a director’s cut in my contract.’"
Disalvatore made waves in 2002 with her short film Gay Propaganda, which took iconic scenes from popular films and gave them a gay spin. "I took all those films I watched as a kid … Casablanca, The Graduate, On Golden Pond, From Here to Eternity and so on, and made them gay. Gay, gay, gay!"
She went on to produce more short films as well as Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, a gay male film billed as "the first gay sequel." Her latest movie, Shelter, premiered at Frameline in San Francisco earlier this month and will also be featured at Outfest in Los Angeles this July.
The self-described "Cecil B. DeMille of 84th Court" has a dry sense of humor and is quick to share war stories and offer advice to the next generation of aspiring lesbian auteurs. And if anyone knows the filmmaking process in and out, it’s Disalvatore, who has worked as a producer, director, editor, visual effects coordinator, script reader and even actor in productions of all shapes and sizes — from a stint doing special effects in commercials and blockbusters to jobs producing independent films on shoestring budgets.
Disalvatore explained her ever-winding career path with characteristic humor. "I went into producing because one of my first professional gigs out here was supervising graduate film production at the American Film Institute, and who knew," she said with a laugh, "I had administrative and management skills!"
She continued: "I went into visual effects and commercials because producing skills are producing skills: If you can manage a mad house, you can do it in any field. I cut my teeth on indie film. Once you can do that, making the jump anywhere else is easy."
And though she’s worked on a wide range of films, she prefers working on the smaller productions. She cited the lack of creative control in larger undertakings as a real selling point for the indies. "Making smaller films, you have more of an opportunity to make stories you really care about," she said. "Take risks. Be creative."
It seems that she followed her own advice with Gay Propaganda. "The inspiration for Gay Propaganda was the whole concept of ‘What would it have been like when we were growing up if we could have seen images of ourselves in film?’" she explained. "When I was a kid, the only gay person I ever saw was Paul Lynde in the center square [of Hollywood Squares]. And that’s pretty sad when you consider the hundreds of movies I saw before I came across my first lesbian [in] The Hunger. I was 19."
J.D. Disalvatore in a scene from Goodfaigolas