A queer F.L.Y. on the wall during Lockdown

F.L.Y. stars Rafael Albarran and Trent Kendrick who also wrote the film and co-directed it. Photo: Supplied.

F.L.Y. is a slice-of-life comedy about two exes turned friends, Max and Rafael, who get stuck together at the onset of the COVID pandemic after not seeing each other in years and stars Rafael Albarran and Trent Kendrick who also wrote the film and co-directed it.

They spoke to QNews in an exclusive interview in the lead up to F.L.Y. having its International premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival on Friday.

QNEWS: How did you two originally meet and how did you decide to write a movie together?

TRENT: We serendipitously met on 02/02/2020 on the dance floor. After Raf gifted me a book of poetry he wrote I instinctively knew we could write together. I had also been looking to write a film that was contained and could be made with a small budget. Soon after meeting, the pandemic hit while I was dog sitting and the idea naturally flowed from there.

RAFAEL: Trent kidnapped me and took me to a cabin in the mountains of Colorado after they announced the COVID lockdown. It was just him and I and no internet. I’ve always been a writer but never had written a script myself so F.L.Y. was meant to be that writing exercise for Trent to teach me screenwriting. After the first draft was done I told him we needed to actually make it happen. I think Trent didn’t believe we could make it happen till the day of our World Premiere at Outfest Film Festival in LA.

-What’s it like acting as the leads in a film that you’re also both co-directing and were there any funny moments around that?

TRENT: I’m a director but had not professionally acted and Raf is an actor but had not directed. We just trusted each other so much going into it. I will say it was a lot to have to perform in front of the camera for the first time while simultaneously juggling so much behind the scenes. There were many “tests” along the way that in hindsight are quite comical, like the day I chipped my front tooth midway through shooting. We had to emergency fix it the next morning to avoid major continuity issues. We were just dealing with so much outside every single take to pull the whole thing off. We joke that we could make another feature about the “making of” this one. Sidenote, Raf also did costumes which is a feat in itself.

RAFAEL: It felt like playing most of the time. I’ve been an actor all my life so that was something that I was very comfortable with. It was funny to me sometimes when Trent was having trouble with a specific line or a scene. I would direct him through my acting whenever we were shooting his close-ups and as a director/actor this was trippy and fun for me.

-Max, the main character of the film is someone who is very straight acting and quite traumatised about being perceived as camp or being put in the spotlight. Why was that something you wanted to explore in the film?

RAFAEL: As a community and a society we’re all trapped in the binary walls created by our cisgender culture. There’s a freedom drag queens and gender non conforming humans possess as they are constantly revolting against it or playing with it. For us it was important to tell a story of the journey to authenticity and the freedom that comes when we put down those walls.

TRENT: I think there are many people like Max who don’t always feel represented in the gay community or by gay culture. I think we need to expand our ideas of what it means to be gay or who can be gay. We’re all so different and unique- if anything I think we need to be careful of too much homogeneity within the gay community. There are a lot of “straight acting” guys who are totally gay and are not “acting” at all.

-That part of the character resonated for me as someone who has PTSD as drag performers do have this tendency to pick uncomfortable looking people and pull them up on stage so I usually hide at the back. It’s not just the fear of being put in the spotlight as someone with a social phobia but also a fear of being perceived as prejudiced against camp gay men or drag queens if I refuse to participate when I actually do enjoy the other aspects of drag shows.The one time it did happen to me, my friend and I were virtually the only people in the audience and the drag queen got me to soap down an underwear model in speedos so that wasn’t so bad but I still live in fear! Do you think drag performers should be more mindful of that?

RAFAEL: As a drag queen I always say you should always be aware of how your actions are affecting your audience but also as a drag queen I know we are clowns that are here to push boundaries and show that sense of freedom and joy that you came to be entertained with. So my advice to a fearful human is to be aware that you’re entering at your own risk to this clown show!

TRENT: I think you have to meet people where they are and encourage them to have fun and blossom without being overly forceful. It’s important to respect people’s boundaries, we might’ve carried enough trauma already.

-The film focuses on two characters who were once romantic interests but are now friends. It’s very common for gay men to be friends with their exes or people they have slept with – almost to the point that it can be hard making friends with people that you haven’t slept with. Why do you think that is?

TRENT: Yeah, I’ve noticed that in my own life too. Some of my closest friends are exes. I think when you’re gay, intimacy is shared in more casual ways and then we find some of our chosen family through those connections. But I do have to say I’ve also found it difficult to make friends with other gay guys if one person is interested sexually and the other is not. That feeling of rejection might have something to do with why it can be hard to make platonic gay friends.

RAFAEL: I personally think that’s a strength from our community. Sex is either shamed or romanticised by straight cis culture when in reality sex can be many things. It can be a way to get closer to a human without any end goal more than that of getting closer and enjoying the pleasure of one another. In queer culture this is normalised in ways that it isn’t in straight circles and in my opinion this can be healthy and make stronger bonds as an effect of it. As queer humans, a lot of our first friends or chosen family members are lovers. For us it was important to tell a story about the importance of that chosen family. When shit goes down we have each other’s back and love doesn’t have one face, it’s infinite and there’s space in it for all sorts of love and relationships.

-I’ve sometimes found it hard to make friends with guys that I have no sexual history with, even when we’re both tops. Do you think maybe there’s an inherent sexual tension between gay men in the early stages of friendship even when they both aren’t interested in sleeping together?

RAFAEL: There’s sexual desire and tensions between all sorts of humans. Every human regardless of gender or sex holds sexual energy. We just happen to act more on it than straight or other humans because of our circles and culture. But trust me everyone wants to sleep with everyone. And we all should!

-The main characters in the film are trapped together when COVID hits and they have to go into lockdown. And there are so many aspects about that that were really universal experiences that will ring true to Australian Audiences like Tiger King and the phenomenon of toilet paper hoarding. Why do you think there were these sorts of crazes that ripped around the whole world during the pandemic?

TRENT: Short answer… because we were all stuck inside with nothing to do. One of those jokes that we really loved when we were wrote the script was when Raf asks Max “What day is it?” and Max responds, “April. Still April.” Do you remember when April dragged on for like five years? We really wanted to capture the zeitgeist of the time. One thing I wish we had included the washing of groceries, which many people did, myself included.

RAFAEL: We were writing the movie as soon as lockdown happened so I think we were capturing the moment because it was happening to us as we wrote it! Makes me happy you felt it. As the hoarding comes it just tells you so much about the human race and our relationship with fear. We often act from a place of lack instead of abundance and we definitely wanted to make fun and show this universal quality we all shared in that specific moment in time.

-One thing that will be different for Australians is how present the fear of dying from COVID is for the characters in the film and the people that are dear to them. Could you talk about that?

RAFAEL: Lots of people lost loved ones during COVID and it was impossible to have funerals at the time because of it. We wanted to pay tribute and show love to all those families that experienced loss during COVID lockdown.

TRENT: People were on edge in America in the beginning as the virus started spreading. Everyone was paranoid about COVID because there were so many stories of people dying. We didn’t feel like we would do the period justice without working in the story of loss and grief.

-The actresses who play Rafael’s grandmother and mother almost steal the show even though they mostly only appear in video calls. How did you find them and did they know each other before the movie?

TRENT: That was all Raf reaching out to his connections in Puerto Rico. They really do steal the show! There were a few more scenes with them that we had to cut, including an entire scene in Puerto Rico at Raf’s family house in the beginning. That was a real bummer to remove but in filmmaking, as they say, you lose babies along the way.

RAFAEL: They had never worked together! The actress that played Mama Yoly was my first acting teacher in college and it was so special for me to have her in my first movie as a writer/director. The actress that played my grandmother was submitted by one of Puerto Rico’s leading casting directors, my very good friend Patricia Alonso. When I sent her the character breakdown asking her for help because we were struggling to find her she immediately told me with confidence “This can be my mother! Send me a scene and I’ll send you a video of her!” And that’s all it took. They were perfect and we are so lucky to have them.

-Writer-director-actor Rafael Albarran will be in attendance for a Q&A after the film when it screens on 6.30pm on Friday, February 23 at the Ritz Cinemas in Randwick

For the latest LGBTIQA+ Sister Girl and Brother Boy news, entertainment, community stories in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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