Q&A: Filmmakers talk creating authentic transgender short film ‘Frankie’

Thomas Casler

Currently screening at film festivals across the United States, short film “Frankie” is about a nonbinary transgender person who attends a cisgender men’s group codependency meeting to confront their ex. Created by filmmakers and spouses Morgan Ruaidhrí O’Sullivan and James Kautz, the film stars O’Sullivan in the titular role as they attempt to come out to this group of men and make their ex recognize them for who they really are.

The Texan spoke to the filmmakers about their short film and the future of transgender and nonbinary people in the entertainment industry. 

The Daily Texan: Where did the idea come from to have the film take place in a men’s alcohol recovery meeting? 

James Kautz: A few years ago, I entered into Al Anon, which is a codependency recovery group. I just stumbled into this men’s meeting, and it was kind of the first time in my life where I’d ever been in a room where cisgender men had been so vulnerable and had so openly shared their fears. There was this theme in the room for all of us, this idea that we had all since childhood, in some form or fashion, denied our authentic selves to cater to someone else’s fear, someone else’s rage, someone else’s addiction. 

At the time, Morgan was coming out as trans nonbinary, and they were experiencing very similar feelings and revelations. Just the commonality of that pursuit of your authentic self despite someone else telling you what you can and cannot do — that commonality was the seed for “Frankie.”

DT: Morgan, how did you use your own experiences of being transgender nonbinary for the role of Frankie?

Morgan Ruaidhrí O’Sullivan: Being a trans nonbinary person (myself), I didn’t have to do a lot to bring the feelings of terror and uncertainty and loneliness, and (the feeling of needing) to be seen on one’s own terms … It was (this) combination of knowing exactly what to do and also feeling terrified because it was the first time I’d had the chance to play a character that identifies the same way that I do. It was really special.

DT: After casting a nonbinary trans person to play the main role, how did you make sure the shooting environment was a safe space? 

O’Sullivan: Everybody who felt comfortable doing so, which I think was everybody on set, wore name tags with pronouns on them. Everybody was super on top of catching each other if somebody did slip up. I was really scared going into it. I had already had the experiences of being misgendered and deadnamed, both by accident and on purpose. And just going, ‘Oh, God, I really hope that isn’t this place.’ I remember our (Director of Photography) Tommy … he was correcting people if they misgendered me, and that was great.

DT: Do you think we will see more trans and nonbinary representation in film and TV with trans actors playing trans characters? 

O’Sullivan: The entertainment industry is moving towards a place where artists are becoming a lot more uncompromising in terms of their integrity and their values and saying, ‘You can’t separate who we are from our art anymore.’ I think that’s a wonderful thing. I really, really hope more trans actors get to play trans roles.