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Lipstick City Creators Speak to Digital Television Students

By Zach Hyman

As part of Prof. Christian’s Digital Television speaker series, MSLCE students met two of OpenTV’s Lipstick City creators this past Monday. The short film focuses on drag culture and stars drag queen Shea Couleé, who also serves as the film’s writer and director. Shea – biological name Jaren Merrell – and producer Kelly Schmader had a lot to say about putting a spotlight on a “interesting and important subculture.”

Lipstick City is a hyperrealized version of the Chicago drag world,” said Couleé. Alongside Schmader, creative director Dan Polyak, and wardrobe designer Tiger Lily, Couleé has been working hard on this “visually arresting fashion film” since first conceiving it in July 2015. The team filled Pinterest boards with wardrobe and texture ideas to stay devoted to design specificity.

Raising funds and building buzz for the film was the team’s biggest hurdle. They contacted media outlets geared toward LGBT readers and reached out to fans of Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race to draw on an already-existing and incredibly passionate community. A social media campaign through Facebook and Instagram kept fans interested with customized cover photos and teaser videos. Lipstick City‘s focus on an underrepresented demographic let the film “tap into relationships in a really big way.”

However, while Couleé’s online platforms boast over 5000 followers, the team’s Indiegogo page still fell slightly short of their $10,000 goal. Schmader admitted that when making indie TV it can be “hard to get people to engage with content.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lipstick City is the relative inexperience of its creative team. Couleé and Schmader did not have extensive filmmaking experience before shooting and as such the entire process quickly became a learning experience. If they could do it all over again, Schmader said she would “want to think more about communication with the crew” to help prevent technical and venue issues.

The big takeaway? When making indie content, you need to be able to roll with the punches to reap the rewards. Being so involved in the film from start to finish gave Couleé the opportunity to “brand myself on my terms as a drag queen and performer.”

Couleé and Schmader, and Dan Polyak plan to release Lipstick City in April after editing and scoring the movie. Check out the trailer on Vimeo.