When I last chatted to L.A. based but Rochdale-brought-up actress Amanda Fleming (no relation) it was as an actress in the 26-minute short Titans of Newark. Now she has produced and directed her own short film.
“It’s called What a Drag,” she told me at London’s Soho Theatre this week.
“How did it start off?” I asked.
“David Carlisle, a friend of mine, does a lot of personal dressing for people.”
“He’s a stylist.”
“But he also has this pseudonym Candy Floss – a drag queen character – I’ve seen him go out as Candy Floss and…”
“You mean he performs as Candy Floss?” I asked. “He doesn’t meander the streets in drag?”
“Well, he dresses up and he gets paid to make an appearance every now and then. We used to talk about Oh, let’s do a webisode – some banter between a drag queen and a drag king – a female dressing up as a man.”
“So you were going to dress up as Burlington Bertie or whatever?”
“I was originally. But another friend of mine, Cherry Blossom, is a drag queen.”
At this point, if I were capable of raising a Roger Moore eyebrow, I would have done.
“I know,” laughed Amanda, “my whole life is full of drag queens. But they both came down to London from Manchester in drag to see me for Gay Pride and…”
“They came down in drag?” I asked.
“Yes. When they came down, I thought we should do a short 10-minute film, documentary-style, about these two characters. But then I thought Do you know what would be really great? If it was a proper 25-minute documentary – but a comedy version – a mocku-docu-drama. You know how you get these reality TV shows now where they’re supposed to be real but aren’t?
“So we discussed doing a spoof documentary where they are asked about their lives, but there are flashbacks to their past – little drama clips in between – that shows the reality was the complete opposite of what they’re actually saying.”
“With you directing?” I asked.
“That’s a bit of a…” I started to say.
“I am a bit eclectic,” Amanda explained.
“Yes,” said Amanda, trying to get back to the subject. “Mike Leigh gets actors to improvise scenes from basic bullet-points…”
“Perhaps Mike Leigh should create Queens With Machine Guns,” I suggested.
“So,” said Amanda, forcing the conversation back on track, “I got together the basic outline – the beginning, the middle and the end – and then the important thing was to get the right questions which would provoke outrageous answers and good improvised scenes. We did all that and then, right at the last minute, the guy who was playing Cherry Blossom got taken into hospital. So I had to stand in for him.”
“As a drag act?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Amanda. “But it changed from being two drag queens to being a drag queen and a cross dresser.”
“So,” I checked, “you were a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?”
“Yes,” said Amanda. “We did one scene and played it back and we were pissing ourselves laughing because it looked so wrong. When you watch it, you don’t really know it’s me. It’s really dodgy.”
“Dodgy in what way?” I asked.
“Dodgy as in funny. Quirky. The thing is that one of the characters is oblivious to a lot of the insults which the other character is throwing at her and it’s not until towards the end you suddenly realise it has started to sink in and they end up in this massive…”
“Has it got a twist at the end?” I asked.
“Of a type,” said Amanda. “Some people we showed it to loved it; some people didn’t. We are going to do a mini-screening in Manchester and then hit the international film festivals with it. We are going to try to get it into Cannes next year. I got Titans of Newark in there last year, so I know some of the organisers.”
“It is a very good elevator pitch,” I said. “A drag queen improvises with a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.”
“It could turn into a full-length feature or a TV comedy series,” said Amanda.