When filmmaking duo Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping first met, Freeman was working as a screenwriter; Ng was directing theater productions; and neither had made a film before. Nevertheless, the two artists discovered they were creatively compatible and decided to collaborate on a film project together.
“It felt like we spoke the same language in terms of storytelling,” Freeman explained in an interview with The Daily Californian. When the pair finally came up with the right premise for their first dive into the film world, the resultant short reached greater heights than either ever imagined.
“Femme,” starring Paapa Essiedu of “I May Destroy You,” follows Jordan (Essiedu), a femme gay man through a night of partying in a London nightclub. When Jordan decides to step into the car of a drug dealer, Wes (Harris Dickinson), the night takes an unexpected dark turn.
“(The premise) came from a shared love of crime thrillers and a dawning awareness that these kind of thrillers tend to be rather hypermasculine and excluding of the queer perspective,” Ng said. Together, the duo decided it would be both fun and political to put a gay protagonist at the heart of its thriller.
Throughout the film, Jordan experiences heterophobia — the discomfort and outright fear queer individuals may feel in aggressively heterosexual or heternormative settings — which the duo uses to propel the film’s action forward.
“Taking this genre, which feels so hyper macho, and flipping that to tell a story about heterophobia felt like an exciting, twisted way to do that,” Freeman said.
The film’s exploration of heterophobia not only captures a facet of the queer experience that is rarely depicted but also heightens the production’s anxiety and tension in a chillingly authentic way.
When Freeman and Ng first conceived the idea for “Femme,” they pitched it as a feature to Agile Films, a London-based production company. Although the company liked their pitch, it was skeptical about producing a feature-length project as neither creator had experience directing a film. However, Agile agreed to sponsor a short film adaptation of the duo’s concept.
“We said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ not knowing how rare and wonderful that kind of opportunity is,” Ng shared.
Freeman and Ng were offered the option to write a feature and produce a segment of their full project, but they instead opted to take their premise and tell a complete story using the short film form.
And so “Femme” as it is known today was born, with filming taking place over a four-day shoot in August 2020 and postproduction concluding in January 2021. Shortly thereafter, “Femme” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and was also exhibited at the BFI London Film Festival, both of which are British Academy Film Awards, or BAFTA, qualifying festivals. Today, “Femme” has won a British Independent Film Award and is currently nominated for a British Academy Film Award — the results of which will be announced March 13.
This success has been a pleasant surprise for the duo, who didn’t expect its first film — made to simply prove its directing capabilities in the first place — to have been received so well.
“It’s been quite exciting,” Freeman remarked. “You know, when you set out to make your first short film, you don’t really imagine that you’ll end up with a BAFTA shot — and you don’t really think you’re going to end up winning the BIFA.”
“I don’t think we even dreamt because (the short) was conceptualized as a proof of concept,” Ng added.
The duo’s creative chemistry and combined storytelling experience certainly made for an impressive first film. Before they began working on “Femme,” Freeman and Ng watched many films together and noticed that they dissected works in very similar ways. On set, when navigating their very own production, they found they were just as careful and in sync.
“We know what that story is, and we thought about how we want to tell it, then that’s what we lean on,” Freeman said. “Being a duo also means that you really interrogate every moment because you have to be on a page together when you get on set.”
With a very strong start to their creative partnership, Freeman and Ng plan to keep working together as co-writers and co-directors, and the duo already has a project lined up for after the March BAFTA results. The details of their next creative endeavor are still under wraps, but the two are excited for it to come into fruition.
For now, the humble duo can only kindly ask curious audiences to, as Freeman declared, “Watch the space and keep an eye on it!”