Contribution by Gaby Mawson
Gaby Mawson speaks to Abel Rubinstein about how Dungareess depicts his own queer relationship on screen as well as the filming process and upcoming projects.
Dungarees is a short film that was shortlisted for the Iris Prize ‘Best of British’ films in 2020 and was also played at the London Film Festival. The storyline is about the relationship between a transmasculine teen named Blake and a cis-gender teen called Cane. Based on the writer and director Abel Rubinstein’s personal life as a gay man in a relationship with his transmasculine partner, Abel’s portrayal is a light-hearted ode to the queer community.
You can watch Dungarees on All 4 now: https://www.channel4.com/programmes/dungarees
During my conversation with Abel, he told me about what influenced him to make a film that depicts his own queer relationship on screen as well as the filming process and upcoming projects. We were also joined by cast members Pete MacHale who played Blake and Ludovic Jean-Francios who played Cane, to talk us through their time on the set of Dungarees.
What influenced you to write Dungarees?
Abel: I wrote it because there wasn’t much representation out there and it represents essentially me and boyfriend. Rather than having a trauma piece, I just wanted to show queer people and a little argument on screen and show a little character development. I knew who my characters were going to be and I wrote a script. I then shaped it afterwards and found the beats of the story.
The relationship between the two main characters Blake and Cane, feels very natural – how did you go about casting the cast members?
Abel: We had a casting director, Cameron Culver. I spoke to him and he ended up doing research and we compiled lists. I had met Pete before and I made sure he was on the list so we brought him in and he was cool. Then Ludovic was also awesome, he’s obviously a star. We then brought them together and it gelled. We just wanted to find people with a lot of charisma and could make the characters their own.
How did the cast members develop the relationship that was portrayed on screen?
Ludovic: We went to the pub, had a chat and Abel said to us “do the scenes how you would act” so there was a lot of freedom which I liked.
Abel: I wanted to make sure they had a good relationship. The worst thing I would have wanted from this was for them to be forced to say lines I wrote when my intentions going into writing the script was to give them the freedom to make the characters their own.
There was also a third character called Rachel in the film. What was her role in the storyline and why did you decide to bring her into the script?
Abel: She was a really fun character who played the sister. I wanted that sort of pull and tug relationship and a female role model I suppose. Someone who could help the journey along to reach full character development. It also just brought more tension to the script and into the relationship. It just added a new dynamic.
This question is for Ludovic and Pete. How did you find getting into character and how did you develop your characters?
Ludovic: I think having the freedom to run with it and do the scenes so many times in loads of different ways that eventually, for me, there was a pattern that I stuck with.
Pete: Something that came up for me was how the short film feels like a really important experience as part of me figuring out my identity as a transmasculine person who identifies as gay. You know, that conversation around how do you express queerness in a way that also validates your gender when you haven’t been able to do that is an experience I’ve been through so I wanted to be really careful to ensure I wasn’t playing myself. Although, I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that as a character he didn’t come from a younger version of myself as a starting off point and then with that kind of headspace in mind working with Ludovic, and Abel leading us to find where that starting headspace took me.
How did you find acting the more intimate scenes?
Ludovic: I didn’t feel pressured at all and it was very natural and nice. It was a safe space. I feel like if there were loads of people I might have felt uncomfortable being in my underwear, but I felt great!
Abel: In the future, I want to bring in intimacy coordinators and make sure that we are well prepared for stuff like that. I feel like it was a small crew and I feel like we just about got away with it because Pete and Ludovic were very confident in themselves but in the future, I want to be more careful going forward and make sure that we have tonnes of robes and every opportunity to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.
Pete: I think when you are an actor it’s really easy to feel replaceable, there are a lot of people who want to be actors, there are a lot of people who want to do certain jobs and it can be really easy to push your own boundaries in a way that you don’t feel comfortable doing. Not that I felt like this in the situation on this specific shoot because I did feel really comfortable but it is a really big problem in the industry.
Who was the film aimed at – was it aimed at a particular audience?
Abel: It was partly for me, I wanted to make it! Secondly, it was for the queer community, something that wasn’t just about trauma, just something we can watch, escape and feel reflected in. There are so many rom-coms out there about straight people, we deserve a little one. There was also a small part of it that was just telling a story how we wanted to tell it rather than feeding into the ‘look at us poor gays give us your support’ so straight people can feel pleased about themselves and say oh wow I am such a good human.
What responses did you receive about the film after it was released?
Pete: There’s a number of short films that I and all my transmasculine pals and the wider community know because it’s ones we’ve scoped out online and found. It’s sort of an in-joke to know them. What was really sweet was to have messages from people who were like this was that film for me.
Abel: I totally agree, in a way that’s why I wanted the film to be for the queer community rather than for straight audiences, because we’re not trying to get them to understand, we’re trying to push the conversation forward.
Have you got any more films coming up in the future?
Abel: Yeah, I am hoping to shoot another one that is a little bit similar to Dungarees but with a greater world-building aspect. It’s called ‘Uxbridge’ and it’s about me and my boyfriend moving to Uxbridge which is Boris Johnson’s constituency, so that’s fun being a queer couple in a place filled with stories. Before that, I’m shooting this bigger film towards the end of the year but I can’t share many details about that at this point.
Contribution by Gaby Mawson