Filmmaker depicts a ‘brown and gay’ man’s coming of age

Former Hollister theatrical artist enters work at the Poppy Jasper Film Festival.

As a performing artist, Robert Jerome Pagan found it more difficult than most people to “sit around and do nothing” during COVID-19.

“You couldn’t really do theater when the pandemic was going on,” he said.

As the shelter-in-place policy kept the actor, director and producer from creating live theater, Pagan took his theatrical experience in a different direction, which eventually led him to make films.

His film, “The Last Gasp: Chapter Two,” will be appearing during the 2022 Poppy Jasper International Film Festivaltaking place April 6-13 in venues in Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy, San Juan Bautista and Hollister. The film is the second of nine that Pagan developed into a series for television.

“Chapter Two had moments that were filmed in Morgan Hill, so we said, we have to get this into Poppy,” Pagan said. “I didn’t grow up in Hollister, but I moved there when I was 20, so I really do identify with that area because I grew up into my adulthood in that area.”

In 2009, Pagan starred in San Benito Stage Company’s “Guys and Dolls” as Nathan Detroit and directed SBSC’s “Willie Wonka” in 2010. In 2011, Pagan started Fifth Wall Theater Project theater company in Hollister with his husband, Hollister native Geovani Sandoval and Hollister resident Dana Scribner. The theater produced a handful of plays, such as “Jekyll and Hyde.”

Pagan and Sandoval now live in Los Banos, where Pagan is the artistic director for the nonprofit performing arts group Workshop 44. Sandoval serves as its production manager and Scribner is its technical director.

At the start of the pandemic, Pagan said he and his group did “Zoom cabarets and stuff like that.”

Later, he decided to pull out an old script he had written while studying at Las Positas College in Livermore and Chabot College in Hayward, to turn into a stage play reading on Zoom. The script, however, ended up in the hands of cinematographer Craig Vincent, who told Pagan the script was too good to be a Zoom production.

Pagan said Vincent convinced him to make a television series out of it.

“I had never done film before,” Pagan said. “So COVID kind of made me into a filmmaker!”

From May 2020 to August 2021, Pagan said he and his production team and crew “were just deep into filming, creating and writing.”

Inspired by Pagan’s own experiences as a teen in the early 2000s, The Last Gasp series is set in the East Bay Area, and follows Damien, a 20-something gay Puerto Rican actor and director, struggling with a drug addiction, while also selling cocaine on the side.

“It focuses on him and his friends, and his BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] friends and his queer friends and what they go through in life, as he puts together this play, ‘The Last Gasp,’” Pagan said.

He said that chapter one introduces the characters and Damien’s love interest.

“And chapter two is months later, and we have already cast the play. And they’re in production of the play. And then something has affected Damien to a point where he has become a different person. The move flashes back from segments inside his mind where he is talking to who he perceives is the archangel Gabriel. The audience then becomes that character of Gabriel, because he talks directly to the audience. So you go into his mind about him, and he starts to question things.

Pagan said he brought his own experiences growing up, where “it wasn’t easy to be brown and gay” in the early 2000s.

“A lot of people have this perception that the millennium happened and all of a sudden gay rights were better,” he said. “Maybe for white people, but it wasn’t like that for people who look and love like me, and that’s what I wanted to show in this film.”

The film’s editor, Frida Gonzalez, who was in her last semester of film school when she accepted the job, said she felt excited, but also nervous. Not being on set for filming, Gonzalez said Pagan eased her nerves.

“Robert would talk to me through the camera as if I was there—which I found hilarious,” she said. “I have made every meeting and interaction enjoyable!”

Sandoval, the film’s executive producer, said it has been an “amazing experience” entering ‘The Last Gasp: Chapter Two’ into the Poppy Jasper Film Festival.

“I feel extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished, and it’s such an honor to have our film entered into a local film festival that’s based in the county I grew up in,” Sandoval said. “I am thrilled for our film to be screened as an official selection. Robert has such a creative and captivating style of telling stories that he continues to inspire me and many others where representation matters. ”

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