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This month I spoke to Jammer Paul Frankl, a director and writer based in London.

Paul is a freelance filmmaker. He is passionate about telling ethically-driven stories, that attempt to raise visibility of those who are often marginalised. In 2012 Paul was selected as one of 5 winners from 700 international applicants for Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series competition. The film he wrote premiered at Tribeca 2013. He has also directed music videos for artists including Mt. Wolf and Bright Light Bright Light.

Paul attended Queen Mary, University of London achieving a 1st class Bachelors degree in Comparative Literature and Film Studies. Here he received an Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, began the development of his directorial style and wrote his first fully realised scripts.

What is the plot?

ROXANNE is the story of a cold, seemingly uncaring transgendered prostitute whose life is changed when she meets the newly motherless 11 year old, Lily. By allowing the girl into her home, the pair form a close bond and Roxanne begins to care for another person for the first time.

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Paul, what was your inspiration for your latest project Roxanne?

This film is important because there are too few positive representations of transgender people on screen.

The few instances trans characters are in film, they are often depicted as out of control drug addicts who end up dead or insane by the end. Or they are defined completely by the fact that they are transgender.

I wanted to make a film that, whilst containing a trans lead, didn’t focus on issues of gender, her physical body or transitioning. I wanted to create a story that focuses instead on a strong character in her own right, her relationships with others, and her personal journey to self acceptance (which many people go through).

Sex work is something that nearly every trans woman in the UK experiences at some point. The high cost of feminisation surgeries and hormones and the difficulty in getting a ‘regular’ job whilst transitioning, means it is a quick and easy way to earn a lot of money. While there is a danger that the film could be seen to stereotype trans women as sex workers, after doing our research and talking to many women in the trans community, we felt that it was a significant part of real life as a trans woman and needed to be included.

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Lily, the young girl who has been abandoned, is an important aspect to the story because it allows Roxanne to explore her maternal side – something that is important in Roxanne’s journey to self acceptance. Caring about another person is an important part of being a functioning human being in the world. Lily also acts as the eyes of the audience, who may not be familiar with the transgender world. As a young and innocent girl, she brings the audience into Roxanne’s world with her, and allows the audience to care about this complex and fascinating woman.

What were the highlights and difficulties of production?

Difficulties have been fundraising. We were rejected by all public funding bodies. In an attempt to look elsewhere, and with my Bombay Sapphire background, I decided to start approaching popular alcohol brands to ask if they might be interested in collaborating on the project. The amount we were asking for I knew was fairly insignificant compared to the amount normally spent on commercials, or even on the amount Bombay Sapphire put into their competition.

After reaching out to the head of marketing for a leading alcohol brand (which I can’t name just yet), they agreed to come on board with a ‘hands-off’ approach and fund us 2/3rds of our budget in exchange for distribution rights, which is very exciting. We’re currently running the Kickstarter campaign to reach our final budget of £30,000, which will allow us to pay our crew/post costs, shoot over 5 days to get the best performances and shoot on film, which is really important for the atmosphere I think the film needs and deserves.

Another difficulty has been casting from within the transgender community. I felt it was important to do this, especially in light of the recent criticisms of Dallas Buyers Club for not using a trans actor. I put an ad out on Spotlight, and from the 200+ responses I received, only one was transgender. So I had to go about finding women differently.

I created an advert/image to post on social media and posted in various transgender/drag/genderqueer groups, night clubs and events. I also spoke to people who work with trans sex workers at Terrence Higgins Trust and other organisations. Eventually I had a decent group of 8 trans actors and performers, from which the incredibly talented Miss Cairo was discovered.

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What recognition or support have you received so far?

The script has been nominated for Best Short Screenplay at Norwich International Film Festival, results of which will be announced next week. Obviously the support of the alcohol brand has also been hugely reaffirming.

Also the general support from the trans community has been amazing. It’s really great when the community of people that you are trying to help with your film support the project, and I’ve had some great feedback from people who are excited to see a film being made that could help increase understanding and awareness of their lives.

What did you learn from this project in particular?

I’ve learned never to give up! Someone said to me once that it’s not really talent that makes someone successful. There are lots of talented people in the world, but it’s the ones who don’t give up and keep fighting for the long haul that are successful. It really motivated me to keep trying any route I can to make this film happen. If I don’t fight for it, no one else is going to hand me an offer on a plate!

Also I’d say I’ve learned to lead with your best project. There’s no point saving it for later. Making a film is such a time consuming project you might as well make the absolutely best and most ambitious thing you can every time.

Finally for our Best of British theme, what is your favourite British Film and why? 

FISH TANK has to be one of my favourite films ever. I think Andrea Arnold’s incredibly realistic and emotionally driven directing style is an inspiration. I also love MORVERN CALLAR. Lynne Ramsay’s amazing use of colour and atmosphere departs from the well known gritty English filmmaking style, and I think she creates incredible dream-like worlds whilst maintaining emotional truths, which is what I aspire to do with my films.

For more of Paul’s work check out: www.paulfrankl.com and head on over to his Kickstarter page to support the work: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/paulfrankl/roxanne-by-paul-frankl

The Spread

The Spread is the official magazine of London-based film community Cinema Jam. We cover everything film, from movie and product reviews, features, editorials, news updates, interviews, and more. Follow @CinemaJam on Twitter for more updates!

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