“BECOMING “LESLIE” tells the story of a cross-dressing vagabond from Florida who winds up becoming a cultural icon of all things weird in Austin, Texas. He was best known for shining a satirical light on police accountability with the treatment of the homeless population. At the heart, the documentary is a character portrait of a man searching for acceptance and a place to call home.” Director Tracy Frazier on BECOMING “LESLIE” which screens in the 2019 edition of SxSW Film.
Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
Yes! This is my first time here as a director. I’ve been working on this piece for almost nine years but it originated 14 years ago. I plan to go to all three screenings.
Tell me about your favourite part of Austin!
Do yourself a favor and hang for a bit at Jo’s Coffee and Hotel San Jose on South Congress.
So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.
I started as an assistant editing intern on a documentary called Slam Planet: War of the Words released in 2006. Post production was cool but then I got swept up into production on indie films as a PA, assistant directing, and worked my way up to producing. Well, we all know that making a living is not sustainable with indie films so I took a break to open up a neighborhood gym with my husband on South Congress Ave in Austin. I ran that business and did everything from customer service, marketing, maintenance, bookkeeping, infrastructure…everything but personal training. But about three years in, I was introduced to Leslie by Ruby Martin who was already filming with him. So I asked if I could help. This is a big jump in time but I currently work as a production accountant for a network television production company based in Austin.
How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!
Here’s where the jump in time get cleared up a little. While running the gym, I needed a haircut. So I went upstairs to the salon and met Ruby Martin who was already filming with Leslie. We got to talking and we started going out and filming with Leslie together. The preparation to shoot was very rough. Leslie lived on the streets and was either not around when it was time to film or he would show up when you’re in the middle of something else. He loved that we were doing a film with him and about him. But as I got to know him more and his rhythms, it started to become evident that he was really struggling with reconciling his fame with unrelenting life on the streets. So it made us pivot to chronicle how he would navigate getting help… from his friends and the community who loved him while he maintained his identity and dignity. He passed away on March 8, 2012 and we took time off to mourn and regroup. Post production was a bear. We have about 7 different formats of footage with a ton from the community and organizing it all was only because one of our producers Lauren Barker is also our post production supervisor, who won an Emmy for “Disgraced” in 2017. Without her, Sandra Guardado our fearless editor, and Michelle Randolph Faires, our fearless producer along with Ruby Martin, this project would’ve never seen the light of day.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
Story…it all comes back to telling a good story that hits you in the gut in a meaningful way. And coffee.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
Managing a project on less than a micro-budget was very challenging. It made us more creative but next time, we can have both! The most rewarding? Showing a cut to Leslie’s closest friends, some who still mourn that he’s gone, and having them feel a sense of closure and a bigger sense of connection to each other.
I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
We started with the magical Lee Daniel (DAZED AND CONFUSED, SLACKER, BOYHOOD) and worked with a Convergent Design nanoFlash which is a mountable HD/SD recorder. He’s a master at capturing people in such a lyrical way. We also worked with the talented Russell O. Bush who shot with a Sony FS7 for our Colorado production and a portion of our interviews in Austin. They both shot recreation and I would say there’s a dream-like, nostalgic feel to all of the recreations that get us more into a narrative feel rather than a straight up documentary feel.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
Bringing Leslie’s story to the community here. Because he was a zeitgeist of an individual that people, more than I realized, not only remember but celebrate. No matter how brief the encounter, people seem to remember him and his spirit. In his heyday, he made many people laugh and feel a sense of belonging which, in turn gave Austin a vibe that’s accepting and free-spirited. So that’s a vibe we should protect and nourish.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
We’re on the festival circuit after SX!
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
I would love to show it in Berlin and see if the universal themes of acceptance, identity, freedom from pain in this unusual character… if those themes would resonate in other countries.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking or texting, during a movie?
Please go if you can’t be present.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
Be good with details while seeing the big picture and always say yes.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
I would have to go with CAMERAPERSON!
This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to http://www.sxsw.com/film!