..be humble. People are much more likely to not only work with you, but enjoy being around you if you are humble about your successes and are not the first to spout off your resume.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Reid Lawrence.
Reid Lawrence is a cinematographer in New York City, and the creator of the indie brand Sickening Drag Performances. Reid has spent years documenting all facets of the queer-based drag community and has helped hundreds of small international drag artists reach millions of viewers via his platform. Reid is from Charleston, SC and has been filmmaking for 8 years.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Hi there. Thanks for having me. Believe it or not, it kind of happened by accident. Back in 2014 when I was freshly 18 I had just recently come out [of the closet] and I had the opportunity to actually start going to the bars where there happened to be drag shows. When I first started going out, I had a similar opinion of drag as everyone around me. I was in awe, in shock and a bunch of other reactions you would expect to have when a performer such as a drag queen boasts their presence. I got hooked fairly quickly and started befriending these artists one by one in the local scene. Keep in mind I was 18 at the time and had to pay a higher cover than people of drinking age, so I got smart. I started by offering to film these drag shows in exchange for an entertainer’s ‘comp’ for that night’s show. This got very popular very quickly and after a couple of months I was filming drag shows 5 to 6 nights a week. That’s how it all began, with an ambitious kid and his smartphone.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
This one is actually recent. Back in September 2019 was Charleston [SC] pride, and they booked Aja. Aja is a non-binary music artist based out of Brooklyn. I had worked with Aja briefly when I visited New York on business. For some odd reason, there was no transportation arranged for Aja and their team of dancers, and I found this out when I texted them about the performance later that day. To make a long story short,I ended up having the time of my life acting as a chauffeur for Aja and their entourage all evening in addition to having the privilege of filming the performances that night!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I would say that any drag queen or drag artist you interact with would qualify as ‘interesting’. But to answer your question a few talented individuals come to mind. Elecktra Lite is a drag queen based in New York City and can be found frequently performing in the Manhattan bars. Elektra is one of the most passionate and quick witted performers in the city in my opinion. Even just standing in a crowded bar chatting with them is a hilarious time. After filming performances for years, it can sometimes get repetitive, and when you find a performer who takes control of the stage and can make you laugh and hold your attention like Electra, it’s something to behold.
When I was in Calgary, AB I had the pleasure of meeting a queen named Perla Coddington. This queen is one like no other. Already a fashion icon in her own right, Perla is one of those entertainers that has kind of just always been ready for fame. From her hilarious impressions and friendly banter both on and off the mic, to her fashion couture runway looks, she is definitely not someone you want to sleep on. Perla has also helped me with honing my social media chops by advising on influencer marketing and some other social media tricks that have certainly played a role in my success.
Finally a third person that I had the pleasure of working with on multiple projects is Miss Toto. Toto is the ‘bodybuilder barbie’ of the Chicago drag scene and has carved out her own niche in the artistic community there. Miss Toto and I have an extremely valuable relationship that is flourishing after working on multiple projects together. Toto is also responsible for raising over 50,000 dollars in donations to the BLM movement and LGBT civil rights organizations in the last few months.
Meeting new people is always a thrill for me especially in this line of work. It’s also a continuous process, and I’ve found that the more people I meet the more open I become. I have too many stories to tell, so I’ll save those for later.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently working on a mini-docuseries following drag artists in the wake of the COVD-19 pandemic. It aims to highlight the importance of these people in their respective communities both in and out of drag. The series will show what has been difficult about their lives since the nightlife scene has subsided, and what these artist are doing to bring drag back into towns across the nation. I think this will be very impactful and hopefully encourage other filmmakers and artists to go out and make a difference!
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The people that inspire me are the ones who were bold enough to speak up and affect change in a progressive way. I try to continually embody that spirit through my craft. Humanity is still a work in progress and I have to try and be a helping hand to a better future.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
My success with Sickening Drag Performances is mainly due to a massive amount of persistence as well as an intense regimen of networking. A huge objective of mine is to help to give hundreds of small local drag artists in the lgbt+ community the chance to showcase their work world wide audience. I also do this at little to no cost. I also am dedicated to reaching a demographic of individuals who do not have access to go out and see drag performances in person. These individuals include younger queer & questioning people in rural communities and people in foreign countries where the artful gender expression of drag is prohibited by law. Reaching these people could possibly have a profoundly positive effect on their confidence in their gender expression and sense of self. Over time I truly believe this could have a massive social impact.
While many things are difficult because of the pandemic right now, I am still committed to having a high level of involvement in the BLM movement, as it is crucial to our community. Up to this point I have personally participated at demonstrations held at the white house, and contributed almost 20,000 dollars to social justice charities with BLM objectives. I’m also developing ideas for a short film showcasing Black LGBT youth and their experience through this movement.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I did it out of necessity! Filmmaking and videography started for me just as something fun I would do at the bar on nights that I would go out. But then it turned into something different. It turned into more of an obsession and I became self critical of how I was depicting the people that I was capturing. About a year after I started doing this I realized my passion was of significant value and importance. In the community it felt really gratifying to feel needed to tell individual stories through film. That’s kind of when the switch flipped for me.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Sure! About eight months ago a mother to a nine-year-old son reached out to inform me that her son had started experimenting with makeup, drag, and gender expression. She said this was because of her son seeing my work online. I was truly touched by this. Some people may think this could be a common occurrence, it’s a lot less common than you would think. We’ve been keeping in touch, and they have both asked me questions from time to time. I am grateful that I could contribute to someone else’s life in that way.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
I hope to never stop being an archivist for the LGBT community, but if you are a big supporter you can always donate. Otherwise I would just encourage the general support of the drag community. Individuals can do this by showing up to your local drag shows when they resume after the pandemic. If you are unaware of any near you, a quick Google search can tell you where to find some great spots!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Be careful who you invest in. Working in any field is difficult as it is, but you definitely need to make sure you’re putting your trust and time in the right people who value it as much as you do. I definitely had to learn this lesson the hard way.
Another thing I would tell someone who is just getting started is that persistence is one of the best qualities you could have in this industry. A lot of folks will just give up in the first couple of tries but it’s only those who are persistent and have a clear goal in sight who fully achieve their goals.
I would also say be humble. People are much more likely to not only work with you, but enjoy being around you if you are humble about your successes and are not the first to spout off your resume.
Being an entrepreneur is a lot like being a venture capitalist in the way that it takes a fairly long time to see a return on your investment. I have been doing this for a very long time and I am only recently starting to go from always being in debt to having the ability to make a profit.
I have always been interested in making a difference socially but obviously that comes at a personal cost. If you want to be successful you have to be willing to live with that for a somewhat significant period of time.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It’s all about the future. A lot of the work we are doing in our community these days seems futile, but rest assured it is most certainly not. Younger people should definitely consider contributing to the social causes for the future of their generation but also our planet and the human race. It will take all of us to make the kind of difference we need in the current climate.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I still think we are leaps and bounds behind in terms of LGBTQIA acceptance in this country. It’s one of the underlying social causes that is consistently a theme of my work. To that end I would be honored to collaborate with someone who has a large platform with a primarily cisgender or straight audience. I say this because I think education is key. In order to create social change and political policy we need to start by educating the people in a way that they already receive information. Someone like PewDiePie, the WWE, Talking Tom, or other major influencers on video based social media platforms.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail” this quote was on one of those random posters in the hallway in my middle school. It just sort of stuck with me through life and I’m not exactly sure why. Growing up I would always see so many people and students around me going through really challenging times because they were not prepared to deal with the hand of cards they were dealt. This somewhat generic quote has actually helped me a great deal avoid possibly devastating life circumstances. However, I will use a rather simple example of how this has helped. When I film content for my YouTube channel I generally post around 75% of the material I create on socials. Since the pandemic and the main source of my content (Drag Performances) has basically vanished, I’ve had to rely on stockpiled content that was saved for a rainy day. Since I had prepared for such a situation, the effects on my platform because of the pandemic will be negligible.
How can our readers follow you online?
Sure. Feel free to head over to my website ReidLawrence.com where you can see what I’m up to and connect with me on any social platform available. For most of my film and video projects I’d recommend following Sickening Drag Performances on all socials @SickeningDragPerformances
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure!