FILM: “This is my London” director of hot new queer street-life drama Stud Life talks to TMC
by Stottie Cake, photos Paula Harrowing
A light take on the dark side of queer street life in London, new UK drama Stud Life is one of the most eagerly anticipated films at this year’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (LLGFF).
Centred on best friends – lesbian JJ (T’Nia Miller) and gay guy Seb (Kyle Treslove) - it explores how the friendship comes under strain when the beautiful Elle (Robyn Kerr) walks into JJ’s life, with the genderqueer turmoil set against a backdrop of East End skylines and multicultural London.
“I’m not making a point. This is my London” director Campbell X tells TMC . Filmed in just 13 days on a micro-budget, Stud Life was made a reality through home-grownqueer talent and the work of supporters.
TMC talked to director Campbell X and star T’Nia Miller who plays the androgynous JJ at the heart of the story:
1. Campbell,this is your first feature film. What inspired you to tell this story?
Campbell: Stud is African American slang for masculine female. There is a dearth of female masculinity representation images in LGBT media – print, TVand cinema. There are also in the UK so few images of queer people of colour(QPOC) of any gender. In addition London is multicultural in the broadest definition, we all have to live side by side with differences, and I wanted toreflect that.
2. T’Nia, in Stud Life you play the role of JJ, whose relationships both with her gay best friend Seb and love interest Elle the story centres around. What was the appeal of the project for you and how did you become involved?
T’Nia: When I heard about the project through my agent I was intrigued as it’s not often that a role like JJ comes up. When auditioning and learning more about the project through Campbell X my intrigue turned to excitement. JJ is a real meaty role that any actor would love to sink their teeth into given the opportunity. Campbell does a great job at giving you well rounded characters to play with. The film although fictional exposes an otherwise marginalisedgroup that are absent from UK screens and from a British prospective.
3. Campbell, many of your previous films have made use of documentary genres and experimental styles. Why did you choose to create a drama for your firstfeature, and would you say that there is an overall theme to your work and vision?
Campbell: You are limited by the documentary to form to some kindof ‘realness’. With drama everyone gets to play. And through dramatic fictionI want to show that we as queers and other marginal people have our ownbeauty, complexities and imperfections.
4. T’Nia how would you describe the character you play, and do you like her?What research and preparation did you do in order to play the role of JJ?
T’Nia: I think you’ve got to love JJ. Whilst she has a poker face exterior itmasks a vulnerable soft centre. She’s on the voyage of self-discovery throughlove. Her desperate need to be loved by a woman often sees her blinkered tothe reality of that person’s true nature. She is wild at heart always searchingfor the next high. Although she would never admit it her relationship with Sebis co-dependent and he had been the biggest love of her life until challengedby the arrival of Elle.
To help establish a sense of the character, I went to lesbian and gay bars, clubs and spoke to friends. Because her dress sense and manner wassomewhat urban youth – low slung jeans, trucker hats and high top trainers- I hung out with my teenage brother and his friends. Campbell convinced me to get a more masculine haircut which didn’t quite work with my normal wardrobe; I was forced to give up my dresses & lippy and don JJ clothes.
5. How did you overcome the lack of time and money, and what challenges and opportunities do you think this newfunding landscape presents for artists?
Campbell: We chose crowd funding as a way of getting some initial investment but thiswas not enough to pull us through the whole film process to completion, sowe had to get loans, donations and the precious time and craft of skilled technicians to help us through.
The main shoot was done in 10 days. Then we had 3 days pick ups. So with this crazy schedule sometimes we just had to go for one take!
Stud Life was made with community support which means we were freeof financiers breathing down our necks dictating cast, crew according to commercial constraints. However it meant we had to makes sacrifices to keepwithin our schedule and budget.
T’Nia: Unfortunately the lack of funding is never a good thing whilst it forces both directors and writers to find creative solutions to getting their work out, though all too often their visions nevermaterialise. On the plus side, the ones that do take their projects to fruition do not have to adhere to a suppressive funding criteria, enabling more diverse and dynamic pieces of work. I’m looking forward to a time where the appointed funding bodies support multifarious projects.
6. Campbell, you have mentioned that some people find your work challenging and that being a filmmaker does not necessarily make you popular. Why do you think this is, and why do feel it is important to expose the subject matter and raise the questions that you do? Would you describe your work as political?
Campbell: I am an artist not a diplomat. As a filmmaker I want to look beneath all the layers and the masks we show to the world. I look in the dusty dark corridors of culture and shine a torch on to it. I am aware there is pressure as minority filmmakers to show ‘positive’ images. But when peoplesay ‘positive’ images they usually mean a normative bourgeois version of ourselves which for queers usually means we do not see genderqueer people, QPOC, or awkward outsiders.
7. What are the challenges of finding diverse and interesting roles whilst also achieving mainstream success, and do you think this is changing?
T’Nia: I’ve been quite fortunate in that I’ve played a range of roles. Whilst I’ve yet to achieve mainstream success the truth is there isn’t as much screenwork available for black female actors; we are for the most part invisible in theUK. Whilst there has been some change in recent years, it’s unfortunate that these are too often regurgitated archetypes.
8. Campbell, you say you want to portray a broad mix of sexualities, genders and ethnicities, in contrast to most films that are predominantly straight and/or white. Would you say that Stud Life is an accurate portrayal of social integration in the gay community, or an aspirational one?
Campbell: Stud Life is my interpretation of a slice of life in East Londonqueersville. It has people of all cultures, sexualities, genders, abilities, ages,in front of and behind the camera because this is how I want to work. I am not making a point. This is my London.
We need to see many other films using different storytelling forms, economic scale and cultural perspectives. We are so used to seeing heteronormative patriarchal Eurocentric capitalistic imaginings in mainstream TV and cinema that we often have low tolerance for anything else. The problem is that when we tell the story of this particular construction of our queer lives it is usually to our psychologist!
T’Nia: I don’t believe Stud Life is aspirational at all in its representation ofintegration. London is wonderfully multi-layered and cosmopolitan, in it thereare many pockets to be found if you’re looking and listening. One only has towalk down Brick Lane, sip coffee in Hoxton, rave in Camden, party in Brixton,or any common or park be it Clapham or on the Hampstead Heath to meet the kind of characters that are in the film.
Stud Life is showing at the LLGFF on 30th and 31st March