Iris Prize 2021
Best British Shorts

Laura Jayne Tunbridge
Dragged Up
Iris Prize / 5 - 10 October, 2021
irisprize.org

Dragged Up is a comedy drama about family, identity and drag that follows a shy and awkward teenager who secretly uses her drag king persona to find the inner confidence she needs to show her family who she truly is.

Hi Laura thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you held up during these very strange times?

It’s definitely been a strange and challenging time over the last couple of years but I’ve been incredibly lucky to have several projects including Dragged Up to keep me busy!

Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

I think the pandemic has left me thinking a lot about connection - to ourselves, to each other and to the world around us - and it’s been really interesting to explore that thematically in my writing and creatively in terms of the shaping of Dragged Up as a film. Being so isolated from the people I love during the various lockdowns has really brought home how lucky I am to make film and television. Stories remind us we are not alone in our various experiences and throughout the pandemic people all over the world have turned to stories through film and tv to get them through. To keep them connected. To be a storyteller is a huge privilege and I’m very grateful it’s what I get to do for a living.

Congratulations on having Dragged Up selected for the Iris Prize 2021, how doe sit feel to have your film part of such an important LGBTQ Film Festival?

Thank you! The Iris Prize has been championing LGBTQIA+ stories and filmmakers for the past 15 years and is absolutely legendary. Having Dragged Up selected for the festival this year and being nominated for Best British Short is such a huge honour - I cried when I found out! It really means so much to me and all of the team that worked so hard to make Dragged Up a reality. It’s also especially exciting to be bringing the film to Cardiff, the home of our lead actor Gaby French!

Dragged Up is Nominated for the Best British Short 2021, what does it mean for you to get this type of recognition for your film?

Finding out about the nomination was a huge “pinch me” moment for both me and my producer, Danielle Goff! As a new director it means so much to know that the film has made an impact and that people like it. Dragged Up was shot during the November lockdown in England last year and we faced challenge after challenge trying to get the film made. Every single member of the cast and crew gave this film their absolute all and its success is a reflection of their collective hard work and genius. Dragged Up had a hell of a lot of love poured into it by so many people at every step of the process; the journey really has been phenomenal. To be nominated for Best British Short 2021 is absolutely the icing on top!

You are a graduate of the NFTS and last year you took part in the 4Screenwriting course, how much did these experiences help you on your filmmaking journey?

Both experiences have been monumental in my journey. Without the NFTS there would be no Dragged Up! While at the film school I studied MA screenwriting and wrote various short films over the two years. As a writer I’ve been lucky enough to see my shorts be accepted into the Cannes Film Festival and be nominated for the GSA Student BAFTA but the real opportunity to step out of my comfort zone was in being selected to take part in the NFTS’s Bridge to Industry scheme that supports students from non directing courses to direct a piece of work. With the film school’s support I was able to take the leap into directing and discover that it’s something I love just as much as writing. Taking my script through to production for the first time also helped me grow enormously as a writer and really challenged me to consider what is vital in a scene or in the development of a character etc.

4Screenwriting has been equally vital. I was lucky enough to be selected for the course in 2020 while I was completing my second year at the NFTS. The project I developed under the guidance of my script editors, Philip Shelley and Danny Moran, has now been optioned and has helped me get other writing projects off the ground with other production companies too. 4Screenwriting is known for nurturing its writers to tell the stories they’ve been dying to tell and is second to none at then getting those writers out to meet the industry. I encourage every writer I know to apply. If I could do the course again, I absolutely would.

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How did Dragged Up come about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

I’d been wanting to write about drag kings for a while before writing Dragged Up. Drag queens have very much entered mainstream media but drag kings seem to have been left out of the limelight. The drag king acts that I love, such as drag king group Pecs, are creative, entertaining, subversive and politically engaged. They deserve the same attention, audiences and air time as drag queens. Dragged Up was born out of a desire to showcase the artistry of drag kings but also as a way of reimagining my own childhood. As a teen I was deep in the closet and too scared of being different to explore my sexuality, gender identity or gender expression due to a fear of being seen as different within my small community on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. I wanted to tell a joyful coming out story and make the film my sixteen year old self desperately needed to see and in Dragged Up I got to do just that.

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

There were lots of challenges during the shooting of the film, including a three hour power cut on our last day which left us with only a handful of half-charged battery operated lights in order to get one of our pageant scenes! The one scene we couldn’t achieve as planned is actually my favourite scene in the film. About halfway through the film Sarah is being taught to curtsy by her mum, Alex, and sister, Amy. When we came to shoot the scene we had only an hour left in the day and there was no physical way we could get the shots we’d planned on between time constraints and the space we had to work with. While my cinematographer, Arushi Chugh, tried to figure out a work around I went upstairs to wardrobe and told the actors there’d been a change of plan. I told them there were three lines I needed from the scene but otherwise it was theirs to improvise with. Gaby, Donna and Bella all just instantly embraced the challenge and went for it. They brought the energy that naturally existed between them in real life into the scene and created this beautiful, loving moment between a family. It’s honestly the most gorgeous part of the film in my opinion.

When writing a screenplay do you ever pull from your own life and experiences?

Definitely. For me to get under the skin of a character I really need to understand where they’re coming from and that can often mean drawing on my own personal experience as a jumping off point for creating story.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I have always been surrounded by films ever since I was a kid. I’d watch musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Mary Poppins or Half a Sixpence with my grandparents on the weekends and spend sleepovers watching classics like Dirty Dancing or Pretty Woman with my friends. At home with my parents and sister we had TV shows that we always watched together as a family like Casualty or Heartbeat. Film and television have always been a key part of my life and how I spend my time with the people I love. I always knew I wanted to be involved in film in some way but I credit becoming a screenwriter and director to my Gran. As a child she’d encourage me to come up with stories in my head to try and help me get to sleep and while it didn’t help with my insomnia it definitely sparked a passion for storytelling.

"A film is only as good as the sum of its collective parts so give each and every part the space and the opportunity to shine."

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken from this experience?

The most valuable lesson from making Dragged Up has definitely been learning that planning is vital but being able to let go of that plan is even more important. Nothing in filmmaking goes to plan so while it’s important to know what you’re aiming for, understanding that there are many different routes to getting there will make life a whole lot easier and happier.

Should LGBTQ+ filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the narratives they want to tell?

I think LGBTQ+ filmmakers should tell the stories that feel true to them free from the burden of expectation. Our stories matter and having the freedom to tell those stories in the way that feels right to us is vital. To me, pushing the boundaries isn’t the most important thing. It’s being truthful that counts.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer a first time director or was there something you wish you had known before you started shooting?

Trust your crew! They are the experts in their respective fields and your job as a director is to trust them. Letting your crew become stakeholders in the project will only make it better. Every single member of the Dragged Up crew brought so much to the project and so much of what they brought was better than I could have come up with by myself. Let your crew surprise you. A film is only as good as the sum of its collective parts so give each and every part the space and the opportunity to shine.

And finally what do you hope people will take away from your film?

More than anything I hope that anyone watching Dragged Up will come away knowing that they belong. Being true to yourself is a strength and no matter where you are, you deserve to take up space and stand authentic in your existence.