How to make a trans film

For their gorgeous short, Bertie Gilbert and Sammy Paul enlisted the help of the trans community to anchor it in reality

With the first ever trans only modeling agency opening in LA and H&M owned label & Other Stories launching an all-trans campaign that spurns the cis gaze, it’s clear that the mainstream media are becoming increasingly accepting towards gender and sexual fluidity.

Bertie Gilbert, the 18-year-old filmmaker who we’ve suggested could be on his way to becoming the next Wes Anderson, has teamed up with producer and friend Sammy Paul to create a new short film, Blue Sushi, which follows the story of Scarlett – a young trans man who plucks up the courage to come out to his band and friends, all before facing the awkward attempts of his manager to package him up as a product and make him a sell-out.

To authentically tell a trans story, Gilbert and Paul enlisted the help of trans people to ensure they hit all the right notes. Here, they tell us the steps they took to pull it all off.


Unlike the traditional script-writing process, the guys wanted to hold auditions before they put pen to paper, going only by a loose outline of a plot. “We wanted to educate ourselves,” they said. “There where things we had to learn about to be sincere on.”

“The original concept that I came to was that I liked the idea of somebody’s identity being turned into a commodity,” Gilbert told us, “the idea of a conflict where identity is based on the number and the figure.”


In order to develop their story, the guys interviewed a huge number of trans male, female and non-binary people, spending four months to develop and educate themselves before any of the solid script building began. They listened to and asked about real stories, real experiences.

“We made a call out on Twitter,” the young directors told us, “People of all ages very kindly took the time to speak to us, some young …one as old as 63. There was a good mix,” they said, adding, “Although we are credited as writers, the important thing is that there were a number of trans creative consultants and trans editors.”


When the time came to putting the plot together, they had recruited 15 trans writers, all of whom provided notes on every scene at every stage of the script-writing process. “We saw it not only from a moral and ethical standpoint,” Sammy said, “but also a creative one.” Sammy went on to recall how one gag we hear in the film, where Scarlett jokes about how there is nothing poetic about ‘Keith’, – the name his parents said they would have given him had he been born male – had actually stemmed from a similar joke made by their creative consultant Naith Payton.

“If you aren’t going to use a trans actor, I think it kind of undermines a filmmaker’s supposed want to give the trans community a voice” – Bertie Gilbert


Gilbert and Paul had no specific idea for their protagonist, other than there was no way that they were going to run the film without a genuine trans actor. “If you aren’t going to use a trans actor, I think it kind of undermines a filmmaker’s supposed want to give the trans community a voice,” Bertie told us.

Poppy, who plays Scarlett in Blue Sushi identifies as trans non-binary, and is using the short as their platform to express this. The guys told us about meeting Poppy on the second day of auditions: “They were the first person who really excited us. They have this innocence about them, a genuine vibe in the way they perform. You can see so much conflict and doubt in their face but it’s never over the top. Poppy rocked it every single day and we’re so happy to have a new friend.”


When we asked them about which of all the scenes was the hardest to shoot, Sammy recalled filming in the back of the taxi with Poppy, where their character of Scarlett is facing a huge amount of emotional trauma. “It was one of the most emotional scenes to film, with our actor genuinely crying on camera, it was emotionally exhausting.”

The duo then went on to tell us about the importance of ensuring that there was a safe space created on set, “We wanted to create a safe environment for that actor. Normally we are all cracking jokes and having a lot of fun, but we had a word with the crew. It was very important for those scenes.”


One thing the boys made clear is that they wanted to steer away from the clichéd trans storylines that often seem to express nothing but pain. Although they acknowledged it important to express struggles that the trans community face, they also thought it vital to bring a sense of hope and happiness to the storyline.

“The conflict isn’t based on ‘I have a problem with you being trans’ – it’s a bit more niche than that,” Bertie told us. Although Blue Sushi’s Scarlett faces social pressure and physical abuse, he is also depicted with a very open and supportive friendship group. Rather than exploring the prevention of a transition, they wanted to express the rush of it against will, at the same time providing a more upbeat ending to the film – something we could all use a lot more of in cinema.