LEE & CHARLIE is the debut collaboration between Eli Sulkowski (he/they) & Leah Raidt (she/her). This film invites you into the intimate private moments of a trans man and his wife's as they journey to create a family. This project will shoot on a trauma-informed, queer/trans led set in Chicago.
LEE & CHARLIE is the debut collaboration between queer creative leader Leah Raidt (she/they) and trans interdisciplinary artist Eli Sulkowski (he/they). The film is inspired by real-life aspirations of Eli and his wife to start a family. The script, full of heart and queerness, invites us to bear witness to a trans man choosing to undergo IFV. The process to bring this story to life on screen aligns with director Leah Raidt’s commitment to uplift and advance queer, feminist narratives, and guide us out of a solitary headspace and into an embodied journey together. May LGBTQ+ folks and children of queer families see themselves in this narrative and recognize their unique struggles. For allies, may this film cultivate empathy and a more nuanced understanding of trans and queer experiences.
The project aims to create a collaboration space that celebrates, centers and advances trans & queer artists through a sustainable, healing approach to filmmaking. Trauma-informed director/producer Leah Raidt calls upon over a decade of experience in new play development to curate a full ensemble approach to the rehearsal and pre-production process. Closed rehearsals between lead actors, director and intimacy choreographer in addition to 1:1 actor/director prompts and discussions will occur prior to the shoot dates to build the intimacy and love of the relationship and ensure rich, nuanced performances. Actors will have the opportunity to contribute meaningful pieces of art, decor and wardrobe to the production design to support and ground them in feeling at home on the set. DP will be invited to a later rehearsal to support the building of an intentional, refined shot list and schedule. To further center community care, Leah will host a full team workshop day prior to the shoot, in which the team will collectively draft the project’s Community Safety & Accountability Plan. Eli will offer an educational lecture and Q&A on his trans experience as it relates to the script, and a meal will be shared. This incubation period will prepare the team thoroughly, freeing up creative headspace and time for spontaneity, play, and improvisation on set.
The film is a compilation of private moments that Lee & Charlie move through at each stage of family planning. The visuals will reflect the intimacy of the story, uncovering the poetry in those slice-of-life moments that become our most cherished memories. Natural, motivated lighting will lift the emotionally heavy scenes. For example, when Charlie is experiencing postpartum, soft and indirect moonlight filling the bedroom will create a more enveloping sense of darkness rather than shining a direct light on her. Depth of field and camera movement will visually build the contrast between Lee & Charlie’s sense of safety vs. destabilization. For example, hand-held camera movement will guide the audience into the destabilization Lee feels outside the hospital before his egg retrieval operation.
How will this project advance progressive social change?
LGBTQ+ parents and their children deserve to have their stories told. Investing in queer/trans creators to tell these stories is the best way to shift culture toward greater equity, dignity, and belonging for all. LEE & CHARLIE showcases a trans/queer narrative that isn't smothered in suffering. This film celebrates access to a diversity of choice and agency for LGBTQ+ people creating families. Through an aspirational lens, we acknowledge pressing social issues such as healthcare access, reproductive and transgender rights. This is a universal pregnancy journey that especially highlights the unique, often difficult differences involved in a trans/queer experience. At a time where the safety, bodily autonomy, and livelihood of trans people and their loved ones are under constant threat and attack, this film is a declaration of our inherent dignity.
With the intention to honor, advocate for and center LGBTQ+ folks at every stage of development, this project disrupts toxicity rampant in filmmaking culture. As a key creative team of marginalized identities (at varying intersections of privilege and oppression), we connect in our view of creative collaboration as a sustainable, healing practice. We demand that we get back as much energy as we put into this project. We resist burn out. We honor our capacity and needs. In uplifting and advancing one another, we uplift and advance ourselves, growing our capacity to show up fully in service to collective social change.
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Key Creative Team:
Eli Sulkowski (he/they): Writer / Producer / Lead Actor
Leah Raidt (she/they): Director / Producer
Trina Mulligan (she/her): Director of Photography
Ṭaüs Tamara Jafar (he/they): Composer
Chelsea Jean (she/her): Lead Actor