FRAUD pushes the boundaries of what trans storytelling can be. Rather than engaging in a didactic and aspirational approach, FRAUD endeavors to create a much messier, morally ambiguous, trans narrative that is ultimately more dynamic and thematically thrilling than a transition or coming out.
Inclusion StatementIt is imperative for us that we have diversity in front of and behind the camera. The writer of FRAUD is a trans woman. The director is a nonbinary person. Our producing team is all women. Diverse storytelling must include diverse hires all around, and that's what we strive for.
About The Project
*FRAUD is fiscally sponsored by The Film Collaborative, a 501(c)3 organization. ALL donations are tax deductible.
THE THEMES AND STORY
If Rue from Euphoria grew up to be a rock singer who joins a Mr. Robot style crime ring, you'd have FRAUD.
FRAUD's central question is, are our identities something we get to create, or are they something we are born into? We explore this by flipping the ‘trans deception’ trope on its head. The ‘trans deception’ trope epitomized by films such as The Crying Game posits that trans people are imposters who are fooling people about our gender for material or sexual gain. In FRAUD, everything about Shira's identity is in question except for her womanhood. Furthermore, the deception about her identity is being used as a tool to fund her gender affirmation.
Shira is riddled with trauma from horrific bullying as a child and being raised by an alcoholic father. She convinces herself that she deserves to take a little back from a world that’s taken her peace of mind. She believes this surgery will give her authenticity. The truth is, she has absolutely no idea what ‘authenticity’ means. She’s desperate to be reflected by someone.
The film opens by launching the audience right into a 'credit card theft 101' montage. This serves not only as exposition, but also to explore Shira's character, the transactional nature of her relationships, the fear she has around men, the discomfort she has in her body, and the violence she has experienced due to her transness. We settle into the meat of the story when Shira meets Andre after her rock show.
At first, she thinks he's a perfect target. He's cute. He seems unsuspecting. But then something unexpected happens... she feels safe with him. She discloses that she's trans, it's nothing to him. She has a flicker of doubt that she can steal from Andre, yet her resolve wins out. But when Andre catches her in the act, it's revealed that their meeting was no accident. He'd been tracking her for weeks online. He needs a new recruit for his identity theft ring and he believes Shira is the perfect candidate.
Andre, as it turns out, grew up in Marseille. Being the child of an abusive father and a distant mother, he quickly found comfort in the arms of the Russian mob that ruled the French Riviera. Noticing his talent for being a fraudster, they quickly hired him and moved him around from city to city till he ended up in New York.
Andre constantly searches for a sense of security and a sense of home. However, he is also plagued by the insatiable need to one up his father to show him that he’s good enough to make a life on his own. When he meets Shira, he sees himself reflected in her and he immediately falls hard. Their mutual drive to prove something to their parents drives them to crime and to each other.
The pair enter into a dangerous dance of romance, seduction, criminality, and business over the course of one night. Shira and Andre are two broken shards of glass that somehow fit together. He is the first one who sees her darkness as well as her light and likes it all. Will Shira join him? You'll have to see the film to find out.
A NOTE FROM THE CREATOR
As a sober, trans, Jewish artist, I am constantly seeking out new and innovative ways to explore how we build our identities and how multiple identities can intersect in one lived experience. FRAUD provides exactly this opportunity.
In 2019, trans stories are at a premium, but the effort put into developing trans artists is not commensurate with the interest in our stories. Too often, our narratives are being written through an outsider’s gaze. These outsiders often can’t imagine a trans character navigating a story that’s not centered on our transness.
The greater issue at hand is that when trans narratives are focused on the stories that are entirely unique to our experience, such as transitioning or coming out, it inherently places that trans character in an objectifying lens in which they are more a tool to educate cis folks about ‘what it’s like to be trans’ than a lived in character. I was interested in centering a trans character dealing with more universal experiences, thus placing the character within a more relational perspective for the audience.
The script was inspired by an actual day I had during my days of active drug and alcohol addiction. In addition to the main character’s transness, many of the other issues in Shira’s life are pulled from my own autobiography; financial distress, familial co-dependence, substance abuse, and historical trauma.
These issues are rampant within the TGNC community and yet they haven’t been significantly addressed in entertainment. And yet these are probably more relatable struggles to an inherently majority cisgender audience. With debates about the validity of trans people’s existence, the time is ripe to expand people’s notions of who we are and move past this didactic ‘trans 101’ version of representation. The truth is, we have messy and complicated lives that stretch well beyond our trans identities.
To me, true parity is when we can have a showcase a trans lead who is grey, messy, complicated, and unafraid of the dark. It’s an opportunity that cis, straight, white, male characters are afforded without question. It’s time to let us trans girls show you just how messy we can be too.
A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
What is the single most powerful force in human history? Something that entangles, causes destruction, and creates life itself? Love.
In FRAUD, we see love as life and self-destruction through the lens of a character we don’t often see in today's media landscape; an outwardly broken trans person who crosses moral lines to meet her own needs. But the most fascinating moment for me is when she lets Andre see her for who she is. Marginalized people of all backgrounds are forced to keep people at a distance, because the fear of being seen can be overwhelming. This gendered world creates self-hatred, so to evolve out of that requires forces like love. Only trans people know this story. Because only trans people know what it's like to fight to be seen in a world that invalidates our identities.
This film includes elements of trans identity, but at its core it’s simply about a broken human who desperately wants to be seen. A love story. I think sometimes our identities can be fetishized, pigeonholed, and forced into roles that exist only to educate. Here, this isn’t happening. It shows that trans stories are so much bigger and louder than stories about transitions or coming outs.
While we find characters who can blend seamlessly into different identities interesting, FRAUD allows us, for a brief moment, to see how hard that actually is. It allows us to see the emotional and physical toil of living a life at the intersections of being. The film will start with the spark before the forest fire as we watch Shira's descent into a world of chaos.
I’m interested in countering this chaos with long takes in the style of Kenji Mizoguchi. The elegant and fluid movement we can get from the steadicam will allow us to sit on the actor and appreciate the grittiness of the production design of the film. By the end, you’ll feel like you’ve been holding your breath the entire time. To achieve that for our audience, pacing and movement will be a constant. For me this will be the most methodically and challenging piece of work I’ve had to date and the most important. These stories have to be told visually with the care that they were written with.
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About This Team
DANA ALIYA LEVINSON
Dana is an actor, writer, composer, and trans advocate whose work has been performed from San Francisco to Paris. Favorite acting credits include, film: Hazel in Adam (dir. Rhys Ernst, Sundance, 2019), Jess in The Dress You Have On (dir. Courtney Hope Thérond, OutFest 2018, best actor nom; Middle Coast Film Festival), Dana in November 9 (dir. Natalie Rae), commercial: Absolut’s Open Mic Project with Rita Ora, World Pride for NYC and Company, theatre: Grace in the world premiere of Ballast by Georgette Kelly (Noel Coward Award, Best New Play, San Diego Critics Circle) and various productions of The Vagina Monologues. Dana's visual album, FALLING, directed by Zen Zadih Pace and generously supported by Eve Ensler and One Billion Rising, is set to be released this year. Favorite writing credits include music and lyrics for 5th Republic (developed at NYMF, MTF, Prospect Theatre, and Broadway au Carré in Paris), and MADAME (developed at NYMF and MTF). They have also written extensively about trans issues for publications such as Huffington Post, Nylon, Women’s Health, and the Notice Blog. Dana is a proud alumna of the New School where they graduated with honors, completing both the majors in theatre and global studies with a middle east focus. They were a 2014-2015 Dramatists Guild Fellow and the runner up for the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award. Dana’s TV pilot script FRAUD was a finalist for the 2019 Sundance Episodic Lab. Dana is a proud member of the Buchwald Family where they are represented across the board.
ZEN ZADIH PACE
Zen is a big hearted non-binary queer originally from Flint, Michigan. They are a multidisciplinary creative artist in NYC whose primary focus is stories that unpack and dismantle gender, whiteness, and addiction. They hold a BA in Film Production from Brooklyn College and have trained at various conservatory acting programs, including the prestigious British Academy of Dramatic Arts as a part of the Yale Program in Oxford. Zen is a Content Director at one of the fastest growing mental health apps and Head of Production at Impact Movies, a boutique film company where they have personally helped to create 6 short films in the last 8 months. Zen has worked at BBC, Logo, Colbert Report, and was an Assistant Director on multiple award winning shorts. In June, Zen finished A Queer Love Story which premiered on Huffington Post Entertainment and featured the Grammy Award winning band "A Great Big World". Most recently, they directed FALLING by Dana Aliya Levinson, which asks the question, 'what would happen if our child self saw the destruction that we would become?' Currently, Zen is working on anthology web series with their creative partner centered around a queer AA meeting. Additionally, they are in post on 4 projects, one of which is a documentary centered on a family with two autistic sons. The documentary aims to reframe how we as a culture think of autism, thinking of it less as a tragedy for parents and more as an opportunity to shift the language of love.
Oren grew up between the United States and Israel, honing hobbies in painting and photography and watching Steven Spielberg movies. These activities laid the groundwork for what would eventually become a burning passion of all things film, and a particular focus on crafting bold, cinematic visual imagery. In 2017, a short film that Oren shot, Opera of Cruelty, won the Alternative category at the Student Academy Awards. Also that year, Oren shot two feature films that received theatrical releases. In 2018, a music video Oren co-shot for Avicii and Rita Ora, ‘Lonely Together,’ won the MTV VMA for Best Dance Video. During his studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Oren was nominated for the ASC Gordon Willis Student Heritage Award, and was a finalist for the Arri Volker Bahnemann Award for Cinematography. Oren has also shot dozens of commercials and music videos for a variety of clients including Nike, Crest, Viacom, HBO, Foot Locker, IBM, Grey Goose Vodka, Doritos, Marriott Hotels, Mattel, and MTV, and has worked on multiple feature films apprenticing under acclaimed Director of Photography Reed Morano, ASC.
Amanda Mesaikos is a film, commercial and content producer. She's had short films screen at festivals internationally including: Newport Beach, East End Film Festival, Aesthetica, London Short Film Festival, London Independent Film Festival, Milan International, Raindance and Encounters. She's produced commercial and content campaigns for a wide range of clients including: Google, YouTube, Channel 4, British Airways and Red Bull. Content she's produced has gone on to win a Webby and Shots Award and has been featured on Short of the Week and selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick. Most recently she completed a series pilot for Disney The A-Z of Modern Girlhood which focuses on different mental health issues facing teenage girls today. Her short film Pagans, which was just released on Dazed Digital tells the story of a group of young women coming to terms with the loss of a friend who was bullied on social media. What she values most about her job is being able to bring less told narratives to life and championing voices that are often not heard as loudly as they should be. She believes connecting with audiences through film is one of the most powerful ways to engage and raise awareness around issues.
Katie Rosin has been working in production and marketing for film, television and theater for over 20 years. She founded Kampfire Films in 2001, after working in production on such films as American Psycho and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Kampfire Marketing was instrumental in the launch of the Broadway musical, Brooklyn, and the National Tour of Mother Load. Kampfire has been integral in campaigns for NYIT Award Recipients, GLAAD Award winners, back-to-back NYMF Best of Fest winners, and Drama Desk nominees. In 2014, she helped launch Stage17.tv, a digital entertainment destination. Kampfire Films worked in association with MyCarl productions to produce the web series Gemma & The Bear and the upcoming Beckys Through History. Katie also produced the award winning feature film, Closure, the talk show Chic Chat, the Reality Series We Are The Jones, and the award-winning short film Speed Grieving. Some of Kampfire's current and past clients include: 14th Street Y-LABA Theater, Attic Theater, Convergences Theatre Collective, Esperance Theatre Company, The League of Professional Theater Women, MyCarl Productions, New York Innovative Theatre Awards, New York Neo-Futurists, The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, and R.Evolucion Latina. Up next is the comedy series Outdated, the short, Liza Anonymous, and the feature, A Woman Abroad. www.kampfirefilms.com www.kampfirefilmspr.com.