Bay City-born J.C. (John) Peterson describes his first full-length feature film as a "mockumentary." "POP-U-larity!" airs at the State Theatre at 7 p.m. on March 2, which is a Friday. Admission is $5.
Peterson is a 1983 graduate of Essexville Garber High School who first gained an interest in screen writing and filmmaking when he took a photography class at Delta College. He moved to Hollywood to pursue his interest in 1995.
"POP-U-larity!" depicts hilarious antics at a talent contest in the fictional small town of Penskeegee. Peterson says that h came up with the idea when he attended an evening of karaoke at a Los Angeles country western bar.
The lead actor is Marcellas Reynolds, from TV's hit reality show "Big Brother," playing himself. Peterson says he tried "to depict a broad diversified mix" among the fictional contestant characters, portrayed by an ensemble cast, "proving there is no wrong way to be popular in seeking "15 minutes of fame."
The independent film was fully funded by the film's producers, without studio backing.
Peterson initially earned his living in L.A. as a fund-raising grant writer for non-profit organizations. He made significant entertainment connections by working on benefit galas honoring people such as Tom Cruise, Martin Scorsese, Milos Forman, Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are sympathetic to charitable causes. He now works with Phoenix Houses of California, where he helps to raise funds to support adolescent substance abuse treatment programs for at-risk youth throughout Southern California.
Peterson also helped to edit and publish a book in partnership with Judy Shepard entitled “A Face in the Crowd.” She is the mother of Matthew Shepard, slain at age 21 in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime at the University of Wyoming. The book supports the educational mission of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was instrumental in persuading Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act to combat hate crimes, signed by President Obama in 2009.
Another notable Peterson project was his screenwriting for “A Mother's Love,” which features a character with Down syndrome. Inspiration for this screenplay came after he met Gail Williamson, director of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles. Williamson heads the Hearts and Halo program, a casting liaison service for talent of all ages who have Down syndrome and other developmental challenges.
As "POP-U-larity!" begins reaching audiences, Peterson is producing a new film, "The Blue Room," about a family with five boys (ages 9 to 19) who have adjusted their lives to living in a house that has had "ongoing paranormal activity."
Peterson emphasizes that his writing/producing partner on “POP-U-larity!” is Michelle Ehlen, who won the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress from the Outfest Film Festival for her first feature film, “Butch Jamie,” as well as “Best Feature” from the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
“POP-U-larity!” received a four-star review from TLA Video.