Leo LeBeau & James Bell
Originally published For Pride Month 2020
Indie Film can only survive by supporting filmmakers and crowdfunding is just one way everyone can play their part to ensure Indie Film continues to thrive. We interview Leo LeBeau & James Bell who talk about their latest short film BIRTHDAY BOY.
Hi Leo & James you've just launched your Kickstarter which is gathering a lot of attention, has it surprised you to get the reaction you've gotten for Birthday Boy?
We were very optimistic that there would be a good response to the campaign, however, the attention we have gained so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so happy that people are coming together from all over the world to share their stories with us, and we are so grateful to every person that has pledged to support our film so far.
How important are crowdfunding campaigns for independent filmmakers like yourselves?
Crowdfunding is a unique way to get a project off the ground. We could not possibly make a film on this scale without outside financial support and crowdfunding is a brilliant way to achieve this. Anyone that wants to see a film go into production can come together and give whatever they can afford, and if enough people come together something magical can happen!
You've been busy last week launching social media campaign #MyTransStory on Trans Day of Visibility, how did this come about?
We decided that one Trans Day of Visibility wasn't enough, why shouldn’t there be an entire month? Together we came up with the idea of using the hashtag #MyTransStory as a way to link people’s stories together in one place. We reached out to many Transgender people through Instagram and were honoured by the level of response we received. Every day in April we are posting a different Transgender person’s photo with a short inspiring story about their lives.
What do you hope to achieve with #MyTransStory?
One of the core themes in Birthday Boy is that friendship and understanding can be found online. We want #MyTransStory to showcase that there are so many beautiful, successful and happy Transgender people all around the world. To bring people together and create role models for young people going through hard times to know that they are not alone and they have so much to look forward to. There is not enough positive Transgender representation and we want to use our platform to celebrate Transgender voices.
What are some of the misconceptions about Trans narratives that are regularly picked up by the media?
Trans portrayals in the media tend to rely on negative stereotypes. They are too often shown in a negative light. The fact that they are Transgender is seen as a problem. They are always the Victim. Or the Deceiver. The villain - sometimes reaching so far as to be portrayed as murderers.
Trans people are just like anyone else and they deserve to be given normal narratives.
You are working with five Trans Activists as Ambassadors on this film, was it easy to convince them to get involved?
Originally we reached out online to our ambassadors Cairo, Maxine, Cambell, Loro and Hugo. We then met for coffee and to discuss the script, as we really wanted to hear their feedback! They all loved what we have written and agreed to get on board and help us to promote the campaign!
Photography & poster design by Alfio Sambataro
What do you think their contribution is going to bring to the project?
As Transgender people themselves, this is ultimately their story, not ours. We wanted everything we do to be respectful and authentic and having our Ambassadors on board really ensures that. It was amazing to listen to their stories and we are excited to share more of them over the coming weeks.
Can you tell me how Birthday Boy came about?
Young LGBTQ people can have a very difficult time as Teenagers, where we start to understand and come to terms with ourselves. As gay men, we personally found comfort in Online Forums and Role Playing Games when we were growing up and this was our starting point. Our protagonist - Alex - is a Trans boy that feels he can be his true self when creating avatars online.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
We wanted to create a positive portrayal of a Transgender boy, set within a storyline that doesn't focus on his transition or coming out to his parents. We also wanted to explore the themes of Digital, Community, Bullying in Schools and Coming of Age. Alex is a normal Teenager and he just happens to be Trans.
Is Alex based on anyone you know?
The character of Alex was inspired by a real person who is very close to James.
A Trans man will be playing Alex was there any doubt that a Trans actor will play the lead?
Casting a Trans actor is something we both agreed on from the beginning. It’s also extremely important to every Transgender person we have consulted with whilst writing Birthday Boy. This is a chance to create more opportunities for a minority group, whilst also crafting an accurate, honest portrayal. There are so many talented Transgender actors waiting to be given a chance.
"Keep striving, actively look for opportunities and take them when they come."
As co-writers what has the process been like for you both working together on this film?
We have known each other for eight years and have collaborated many times before. We have written together a few times and feel that we compliment each other in many ways. Being a part of the LGBTQ community we feel very passionate about positive representation in film. There have been a lot of long sleepless nights writing and producing this film alongside our other life commitments, but we are so happy when we are doing it. We have a strong work ethic and will continue working hard to give us the highest chance of reaching our Kickstarter Goal.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking for you?
Collaboration is one of the things we love so much about film. Working with talented, passionate creatives and coming together to reach a single vision. At The National Film and Television School, we have met so many incredible people such as Michael Filocamo, our cinematographer, who recently had a short in the BFI Flare Festival. Collaborative Filmmaking, especially with an LGBTQ crew, feels like creating our own family.
Why do you think there is such a lack of films, characters, narratives that focus on male Trans narratives?
Historically women’s stories have not been taken seriously in the same way as men. Female to male Transgender men have likely been seen as women and therefore erased. Many Trans men talk about experiencing sexism from both sides of the coin and how differently, with more respect, they are treated after their transition by anyone that doesn’t know that they are Trans.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
When you’re feeling low make a list of your achievements. You’ve come further than you think.
Now you can be reflective do you have any advice or tips you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Unless it’s someone important to your progression then don’t worry too much about what other people think. Just because someone ‘doesn’t get it’ doesn’t mean your work is bad. Keep striving, actively look for opportunities and take them when they come.
And finally, what do you want people will take away from this film?
We hope that the positive visibility in this film will inspire young Trans and LGBTQ+ people in their own lives. We want to inform and educate audiences that don’t know much about Transgender people, who want to learn. Ultimately we want to show that a Transgender character can be the lead in a story that isn’t just about them being Trans.