Melvin Gradiz doing sound work on the set of “Backstage.” Photos by Luigi Scarcelli

The last time I spoke to Portland filmmaker Luigi Scarcelli, he had this to say about his plans for the city’s public access Channel 5, also known as the Portland Media Center: “Channel 5 could be a real hub for filmmaking here in Maine – at Portland Media Center, we’ve got great equipment and studio space just waiting for young, hungry creative types to produce original programming.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Back then, Scarcelli was scrambling to put the final touches on the Maine-made and Maine-flavored Hallmark-esque holiday movie, “A Downeast Christmas.” Now, a scant eight months later, Scarcelli and a team made up of those young, hungry creative types are prepping an impressive slate of all-Maine programming, beginning with what may be Portland’s first-ever sitcom, “Backstage,” premiering at 9 p.m. Friday.

The show’s pilot, which will also be available on Scarcelli’s YouTube page, sees a rag-tag gaggle of would-be stand-up comedians vying for precious stage time at a run-down Maine comedy club. Said Scarcelli of the multi-character, multi-camera sitcom, “I think of it a little bit like ‘Taxi,’ but backward. There, the drivers all had dreams they were pursuing outside the garage where they hang out. In ‘Backstage,’ their dreams all involve that club. The pilot takes place at an open mic competition, which is a great way to introduce all these people.”

The cast of “Backstage,” a new sitcom about a Maine comedy club.

The show’s pilot, featuring a raft of talented Maine actors (including Tyler Costigan, Kat Stennet, Chris Newcomb, Zack Handlen, Al Ghanekar, Leonard Kimble, Nick Gordon, Veeva Banga, Greg Pomeroy, John Lindgren, John Muthyala, Ray Fletcher and others), forms another entry in the tried-and-true workplace hangout comedy genre. (Think “The Office,” “30 Rock,” etc.) The stand-up scene, with its unforgiving nights of flop sweat, outsized ambition, and occasional inspiration, provides a potent launching pad for the ensemble cast to delve deeper into their characters’ motivations and origins, and the entirety of “Backstage” is itself an ambitious, well-crafted and very promising start to a series that Scarcelli hopes will catch on with viewers — and some all-important sponsors.

“We’re hoping to get a huge response, especially locally,” said Scarcelli, who’s been producing Channel 5 content for two years now. “At the moment, I’m sort of paying for everything out of pocket, so we’re looking for sponsorship from local companies. It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg situation where we could expand if we get sponsors, but sponsors understandably want to know people are watching before they sign on. It’s a delicate balance.”


That delicate balance is right in line with the den of dreamers and hustlers that make up “Backstage’s” dingy but aspirational comedy club. Scarcelli extols the dedication and talent of everyone involved, both in front of and behind Channel 5’s state-of-the-art cameras, culled as they are from Portland’s film and theater scene. “We’ve got really great local actors, local stand-ups and a crew of professionals. The pilot is a great idea executed really well, with interesting ideas and funny characters. We just need to get a lot of people excited about it.”

Getting viewers interested is a necessary skill in local filmmaking, and it’s a skill Scarcelli has honed in his time at the Portland Media Center. “ ‘Never procrastinate – just do the things,’ has always been how I look at it,” said Scarcelli. “Just do it, even if it’s not perfect, and then get better. Too often, creative folks get bogged down with details, and I tell them, ‘No, let’s just do it and what we get will be better each time.’ ”

Scarcelli’s enthusiasm for Channel 5 to become a concentrated hub for Maine media and creativity is, indeed, an exercise in “just doing it.” Apart from “A Downeast Christmas,” which is currently prepping for a second life as a holiday streaming favorite, and last year’s first-ever Portland New Year’s Eve live countdown celebration, Scarcelli lists a number of other, holiday-themed projects he and his dedicated team have planned for Portland Media Center’s programming in the months to come.

Up next, Scarcelli touts “The Record,” an “Amazon-type miniseries drama,” set to premiere in September about a high-stakes heist of some valuable vinyl. And in October, Channel 5 viewers should be on the lookout for an ambitious Halloween film which will be shot live in the Channel 5 studios. Said Scarcelli, “It’ll premiere at 10 p.m. on Halloween night and will be about a live show that goes haywire. The acting and choreography will have to be very good as we run all around the studio.”

Pointing to the ongoing Hollywood strikes that have ground the major entertainment outlets to a standstill, Scarcelli explains that the time is ripe for energetic and exciting local film communities to shine. “I was out there for the last big strike,” said Scarcelli, “and everything just shut down. Not just that, but it takes a lot of time for things to start up again. For us in Portland, Maine, it’s a chance to show that great stuff is popping up in unexpected places. I see Channel 5 as a mini Hollywood where people from all over Maine can come together to collaborate.”

Kat Stennett, who plays Samantha in Channel 5 sitcom “Backstage.”

Like “Backstage’s” dreamers, Scarcelli notes that streaming and a less monopolized entertainment scene offer unique opportunities for those filmmakers working outside the mainstream.


“Back in the day, Hollywood was the gatekeeper,” he explained. “Now, for example, ‘A Downeast Christmas’ is being handled by (indie distribution company) Filmhub, who are resubmitting ‘A Downeast Christmas’ for the next Christmas season. They’re not predatory, they don’t require money upfront, and they have a whole distribution network and partnerships.”

First things first, however, with Scarcelli energized about getting the “Backstage” pilot seen by as many viewers as possible. So energized, in fact, that I heard him inquiring with Portland Media Center execs in the background of our call before the producer, writer and director got back on to say that “Backstage’s” premiere will now coincide with the publication of his story. (I couldn’t be more flattered.) The 30-minute episode, along with a Q&A with Scarcelli and members of his cast, will now make up the entirety of Scarcelli’s weekly Channel 5 show, “Friday PM.”

You have to respect the hustle.

The all-Maine sitcom “Backstage” will premiere at 9 p.m. Friday on Portland Media Center’s Channel 5. Curious viewers can also see this scrappy, funny local series at and at

Scarcelli has also provided an unlisted YouTube link to the pilot for those unable to tune in on the night.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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