‘Roxanne’ dir. Paul Frankl

A cold and isolated transgender sex worker takes in a young girl who has been abandoned by her mother, and her life is thrown into question.

Writer-Director: Paul Frankl
Executive Producer: Ohna Falby
Producers: Akua Obeng-Frimpong & Paul Frankl
Cinematographer: Rina Yang
Key Cast: Miss Cairo, Thea Lamb

C8: Where did the idea for Roxanne come from? What inspired it?

PF: I’ve always been someone that’s interested in the non-binary aspects of gender, and believe that gender is fluid, that we aren’t defined personally by our sex. When I was about 18 I used to go out on the London club scene, and became friends with a trans sex worker, who would always look extremely glamorous, wearing expensive clothes and drinking champagne, and always in the VIP areas of the clubs I’d go to. On getting to know her better, however, I realised that things weren’t as happy and exciting on the surface for her as she wanted to make them seem. Then, when writing the film, I wanted to create a character, like her, that was relatable to everyone. I didn’t want to stigmatise trans sex workers further but to show someone with universal insecurities and hopes, someone with heart and humanity.

C8: The visual aesthetic of the film is very strong. How did you work with cinematographer Rina Yang to achieve your vision?

PF: We had a lot of visual references in mind when planning the cinematography and production design, and Rina and I created a mood trailer out of some of these films to help show what the film would look like. Soho and the neon lights played a big factor in the visuals, and we wanted to make the most of those, and their strong colours. I also was keen to highlight the visual differences between her daytime and nighttime. So the night scenes are dark, have high contrast and the neon colours, while the daytime scenes are very ‘white’ and fairly washed out. This was to highlight the difference between her glamorous nighttime mask and her daytime reality. Rina’s an incredible cinematographer and we’ve worked together on everything I’ve ever made. We are also good friends, so very used to each other on set and understand each others style and vision.

C8: Had you shot on 35mm before and what advice would you give to filmmakers who are about to use it for the first time?

PF: This was the second time I’d used 35mm and I’d say pick your projects wisely! This was definitely the right film to shoot on film as we had a fairly decent budget in place that would allow for it, and the visual style was so important. I think film a beautiful medium, and captures light and creates a texture that digital just can’t replicate, no matter whether you add grain or not. As my exec producer Ohna Falby put it ‘it has a more human feel’. The way we did it was to get second hand stock, and then we managed to get quite a good deal from the lab to develop the film, which helped a lot with budget. In terms of shooting on set, be aware that it takes a lot longer! Loading the film and checking the gate can take up valuable time, and we ended up having to cut some of the less important setups in every seen to keep on track. So I’d say do it if you can afford it, and if you have enough time!

C8: Were there any influences from film, photography or fashion that had an impact on the narrative or visual style of Roxanne?

PF: Visually I was very inspired by photographer Daido Moriyama, the cinematography of director Wong Kar Wai and of the film Morvern Callar by Lynne Ramsay. Other visual references were Innaritu’s Biutiful and Audiard’s Rust & Bone.

In terms of the story, there are a few other films that deal with the unlikely mother relationship – Central Station by Walter Salles, Leon by Luc Besson and Julia by Erick Zonca. And of course Gloria by Cassavetes. I made sure I rewatched all of these while writing the script to make sure I was doing it right!

C8: How did you fund the film and at what stage did Absolut Vodka come on board?

PF: Absolut came on board pretty much at the beginning, in March 2014. I approached them in January of 2014 and they took two months to decide whether the project was appropriate for them. In that time we began casting, and found our lead, Miss Cairo. Then in March Absolut told us they were on board, and that we could run a Kickstarter campaign along side their funding, which we did from May to June and thankfully was successful. So in the end we had a total budget of £30K, which was amazing. Proper preproduction began in April, sped up through June once we had our full budget, and we shot at the end of July.

C8: The film had a tremendous run on the festival circuit. What do you attribute its success to?

PF: I think in general the originality of the theme, coupled with the visual style has helped it on the festival circuit. Festivals like to see something they haven’t before (which is pretty hard to achieve). I don’t think I’ve really seen a film before that treats trans sex workers as human beings rather than turning them into tropes, so I think that helped. But festivals are very hard to predict, and it’s impossible to make a film with the aim of getting into a specific festival. You just have to do your best and hope some places like it!

C8: Do you think that film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

PF: I think it definitely helps if you’re looking to gain industry recognition. But that can also come later, so if you have a great short and stick it online and it gets millions of views, and then you run a Kickstarter campaign for your feature and make an amazing film, which then gets a great distribution deal - festivals don’t have to count for much. But it can definitely help with funding applications to have certain festivals on your CV - a lot of people in the industry look for festival validation when making choices about who they think is the next ‘hot talent’. I guess it depends whether you’re going for a wider audience reach, or for industry cred as to which route you take. We’re lucky enough to have had a great online presence as well as a fair festival run, so if you can do both I would say do it that way!

C8: What had you done up until this point in your career and what have you done since?

PF: Before Roxanne I’d won Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series competition, and wrote a five-minute film, which was produced for £40K by a London production company and premiered at Tribeca. This enabled me to approach Absolut, as I’d already worked with a brand before, but was a steep learning curve! Before that I’d made one other short, and a few music videos.

Since Roxanne I’ve been focusing a lot on the festival run and online marketing etc. I’ve also been working as a freelance editor as a money earner and am trying to build my career on that side of things, and then I’ve been working on a couple of new scripts.

C8: In your opinion what is the essence of a good collaboration?

PF: Collaboration is super important in filmmaking. It’s essential. For me, the way it works best (as a director) is to have an initial chat with someone to discuss my ideas, to help them understand where I’m coming from and what I want to achieve. Then I find the best way is to let people do what they do best! So I gave quite a lot of space and freedom to my HODs (composer, production designer, etc.) and let them create based on our chat and their own ideas and inspirations, and then come back together and tweak slightly if needed to fit the story. But generally you have to have mutual trust and respect for each other. The same goes for the way I work with my actors, really. I believe the best performances come from someone finding it within themselves rather than being told what to do and how to move at every moment. And my job is to facilitate them doing the best they can.

C8: What’s next for Paul Frankl? Any exciting projects coming up?

PF: I’m actually working on the feature version of Roxanne at the moment, so watch this space. I’m also working on a new short script with another writer, to stop my brain from rusting over, in the slog it takes to make a feature film!