Writer Amy Clarke and director Michael Beddoes talk to us about Sequins, their Kickstarter-backed new short film that's just wrapped up in sunny Blackpool. Michael's previous short film Bungee will be screening at the Exit 6 Film Festival this year.
Sequins is the ‘Frilly Elliot’ of drag. Set in late 90’s Blackpool, the town struggles onwards, the peeling paint and dingy weather-worn signs on the seafront battered buildings a reminder of glory passed. The Sequin Club drag and cabaret bar, home to the local LGBTQ+ community, runs regular drag nights drawing in the punters. It’s here protagonist and wannabe teen drag queen, Paul Bigsby (Robbie Gaskell), meets Mimi Le Purr/Roger Ellis (James Dreyfus), and his adventures into the world of drag begin.
Amy: Drag has been a part of my life since I was seventeen and I lived with drag queen housemates. I have been involved in the art form ever since, most recently taking Michael Twaits’ The Art of Drag course at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London and developing my own drag persona. I now perform as part of a drag collective, The United Shapes of Drag (USoD). The inspiration for writing Sequins came from my various friendships over the years with people exploring their identity, and the struggles it would often bring them for wanting to perform dressed as a woman, particularly at a time in the late 90’s when we were, as a society, becoming more liberal, but there was still a lot of judgement and misunderstanding surrounding those who did drag.
Mike: Amy told me the idea to the film quite early on. We were walking and she outlined the concept of a drag coming-of-age story, and I was instantly excited by the idea. On that stroll we threw around the tone, whether it would be US or UK based and what the world was. A few months later she sent me the first draft. The story was lovely, it danced between comedic and more serious dramatic beats to do with family, inclusion and fear.
Amy: Over the years, drag has become much more mainstream with the launch of reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Drag queens have evolved and are now more widely socially accepted. But it’s still on a journey of acceptance, and there’s obviously still a prejudice remaining. And with Sequins, I hope to appeal to an even wider audience, because it’s not just a drag queen film. It’s a coming of age film about a teenage boy struggling to find his identity, and just happens to want to do that through drag.
It’s a story we can identify with at base level, whatever our individual passions were. Wanting to be accepted and worried what others will think of us. We’ve all been there as teenagers, and Sequins explores that. I chose to set it in the late 90’s because we were on the cusp of the social media explosions, but finding your people and your community through the likes of Twitter and Instagram wasn’t an option. You had to physically go out and make it happen. It took an extra level of courage to find where you belonged if you felt you were slightly out of step with those around you.
Mike: The period was always something we had in the back of our mind, as narratively, it gives so much but on a production level it causes a few minor headaches. Tight, short budgets aren’t always the place to allow period costumes, set dressing etc. However, by planning our shots carefully and a brilliant collection of Heads of Departments we managed to find creative ways to bring 1997 to life (at this point a massive shout out to Elissa Morton our Art Director, Jenny Anderton our Wardrobe Stylist and Sian Revill our Hair & Make-Up Designer).
From day one we knew we had to get the casting right on the younger roles. We organised an extensive casting process in Lancashire and found our performers all at the same college! A stroke of luck that the guys from Blackpool & the Fylde College just walked into the room and blew us away. Robbie Gaskell, who plays our protagonist Paul Bigsby, came in and said he’d come to audition for Rick, the school bully! It was revealed later by his tutor that Robbie has seen some real young drag queens coming into audition and changed his mind through nerves. A small chat later, he was back in the room and wow! That nervous energy had manifested itself in the most magical way. The awkwardness of Paul was there straight away, and then when he sung for us it was replaced by a true drag queen confidence.
Amy: When I write characters, I don’t tend to think of them with a specific hair colour, or look, but more an essence of who they are. In some ways, I knew what I was looking for in the characters for Sequins but I was also waiting to see it come into the room to know I’d found it. And when I saw Robbie, I knew I’d found my Paul.
Mike: With the older cast, I’ve known Ben Willbond for years since working with him on a couple of shorts I produced that starred him. I’ve always wanted to direct something with him, and the role of Alan has to do so much emotional heavy lifting without much dialogue. I couldn’t shift the idea of Ben in the role. He would be perfect. Amy and myself had chatted about who could play both parts of jaded drag queen, Mimi Le Purr, and out of drag Roger Ellis. A friend of Amy’s mentioned James Dreyfus, and our response was ‘Of course!’ We spoke to his agent and got the script into his hands. The final part was Joanne Heywood as Paul’s mum, Debbie, after we met on a commercial shoot earlier in the year.
We heard back from James, he was in!
Everyone up in Blackpool and near has been helpful and lovely. We managed to get some incredible locations, support with last minute equipment and extras for the club and school show scenes. Donna Wade, Cinematographer and myself did a 24 hour recce, where we left London, visited all of the locations and then returned straight to the capital. Everyone was so positive about the project, welcomed us and were flexible with their time and access to the places we needed to see.
Amy: We were lucky enough to receive funding from the Genera Film Fund who provided us with all our camera and lighting kit thanks to Procam for the shoot, which has aided us in shooting an incredible looking film. We also received a chunk of our funding thanks to our Kickstarter campaign which ran for two months over the summer, and were overwhelmed with the support. On the shoot itself, I was aware of the taboo of ‘allowing the writer on set.’ But I looked at the talented cast and crew on day one, and knew my words were in safe hands. So it was easy for me to sit behind the monitor, sip lattes, and enjoy what was being created.
Mike: The shoot itself was incredible. It is one of the best crews I have ever worked with. It flew by and I only wish I could have had more time with those people. The talent was insane. Donna Wade and her team have brought images that have been in my head for nearly a year and made them a reality. Every single member of crew has brought their skills to Blackpool and have made a film that I feel we can all be so proud of. The performances from the cast are unbelievable and I’m just itching to get into the edit and start putting this together. Hopefully, we can be screening at Exit6 Film Festival next year!
You can follow Mike on Twitter: @MichaelBeddoes
You can follow Amy on Twitter: @HumourScript