With all the classic elements of a televised Christmas show — spirit-possessed eggnog, chainsaws and an all-out battle for creative control — fans can expect that “The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special” will be making its mark on 2020’s winter festivities when it debuts on film on Dec. 1 followed by its soundtrack release on Dec. 11. Even after the success of such holiday stage staples as “To Jesus, Thanks for Everything” and “All I Want for Christmas Is Attention,” the Special is arguably the most ambitious creative project yet from critically acclaimed drag queens and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” veterans Jinkx Monsoon and BeDeLaCreme.
In collaboration with Monsoon, this project is the first full-length holiday film experience directed, co-written and executive produced by BenDeLaCreme under her production company, BenDeLaCreme Presents. In advance of the film’s release, Between The Lines got ahold of BenDeLaCreme herself to fill us in on the creative process behind the film, why the Special is the perfect way to reevaluate one’s familial traditions and the ultimate lesson in it all: celebrate the holidays however you wish.
So, if I’m not mistaken, the pandemic caused this former stage show to be turned into a film?
Jinkx and I have been doing our live Christmas day show for the last two years, so that was sort of my biggest production, undertaking and producing that tour. The first year, we did it throughout the U.S. and it was kind of like, “I don’t know, let’s try this and see if it works.” And it went over so well that it sort of blew up the second year and got way bigger in the U.S. We had more cities, bigger venues and we also brought it over to the U.K. And then the third year, it just sort of kept expanding, so this third year we were really excited. It was slated to be the biggest tour yet, and then, of course, all of that got shut down. So Jinkx and I and our other producers — my good friend Kevin and my partner Gus — we all said, “OK, what are we going to do if we can’t do this major chunk of our year?” And we sort of thought about, “Well, maybe we could stream a filmed version of the live show.” But then I was like, “Eh, I don’t know. That’s really not as exciting to me.” And then we made this last-minute pivot and said, “OK, if we’re going to make a film, let’s make a film” (laughs). And we just dove fully into making a full-on movie in a much shorter timeline than would ever be advisable — I would not recommend anyone to do this in this amount of time we did. But yeah, I think it was the thing that saved Christmas for us and saved 2020 for us a bit, too, in terms of seizing control in some of the out-of-control aspects of the year.
I’ve heard we can expect a sort of push-pull between you and Jinkx, where you want to uphold tradition while she is looking to create something new.
Yeah! Essentially, the plot of this special is that it takes the form of a classic TV holiday special. So, it’s on a soundstage and it’s addressed direct-to-camera, etc. That’s how it starts. But both DeLa and Jinkx think they’re putting on very different shows. DeLa wants to put on this hyper-nostalgic, carrying on the traditions, sparkly and fun. And Jinkx wants to do something bawdy with dick jokes and taking the piss out of the holidays and that kind of thing. So, the disagreement between the two is where the story sort of begins and it’s this ongoing struggle for DeLa to make Jinkx see that her way of doing Christmas is the right way of doing Christmas and for Jinkx to get DeLa to take it down a notch and to realize that Christmas really isn’t so great. And, for me, it’s really based on my experience as a queer person in relationship to Christmas. It’s really not a uniquely queer experience, I think a lot of people have a really contentious relationship with the holidays. I think this film is really about figuring out how to embrace and celebrate that complexity instead of trying to ignore it.
Absolutely, so many people can relate to these exact scenarios, particularly in the LGBTQ community. This year is a little different, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Was your intention also to bring some Christmas joy directly to people who won’t be traveling over the holidays?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been doing Christmas shows for 14 years. This would have been the 14th year that I would be spending Christmas Eve on stage, and that’s been a huge part of my experience of reclaiming Christmas for myself and making it into something I love and getting to make it my own tradition and sharing it with my chosen family on stage. And that, over the years, has really become a thing where even when those shows started small in Seattle with only a few hundred people in the audience, it became a tradition where it was sort of a respite from the stress of the holidays and all of those sorts of things to come and feel less lonely. Because even when we’re not in quarantine, the holidays can feel really lonely if we’re not feeling like we’re having a shared experience. So, that was always the point of my live shows, and it’s been the point of my live shows with Jinkx the last couple of years. That’s the point of this film (laughs). Worst-case scenario, it’s just for my benefit, because I don’t get to spend this season with my chosen family. It’s about finding whatever way you would need to find community and love and camaraderie and family. And, yes, we’re all going to be separate, but we — especially as queer people — are always finding new ways to navigate different and difficult circumstances.
That’s a wonderful message that a lot of people need to hear at this moment. I know that you and Jinkx have done a lot of film work, but what was it like taking something that was originally written for the stage and translating it to a filmed project?
Well, certainly production for film — I’ve been directing theater for many, many years and producing theater as well — it’s a different medium. And so, yeah, it was a ton to learn in a short period of time. Fortunately, I have a wonderful community of people within the film world as well who really came in and brought all of their various skills to make this happen. In terms of the scripting and the performance, I was very adamant early on and (laughs) aggressively not interested in taking a stage show and putting it on film. Stage shows are written for stage because there’s a certain kind of energy and just how the passage of time works and that shared experience with the audience. And as a director, I had complete control over mining every moment for maximum impact, so we really got excited when we started writing the script. One of the first things that Jinkx said was, “Isn’t it exciting that we’re going to get to whisper” (laughs)? And it was a really good point because you can use tools like quietness and stillness in a way that you cannot at a rowdy live show.
Jinkx has said before that you “thrive on stress and assuming that the world is going to end,” and I was curious about your process seeing as her style of planning is very different to yours. Now that it’s a worldwide pandemic, what was it like collaborating in the midst of something that nobody in the world saw coming?
Fortunately, Jinkx and I have worked together so much that even though this was a new medium, we have a strong collaborative process and relationship. Not only have we been creating work together and these huge projects for the last couple of years but we’ve been creating for a decade in various ways. And we’ve also (laughs) toured through the U.S. and U.K. together, which like airplanes every day going straight to the venue, checking the things, putting on a show, sleeping for three hours, getting back on an airplane. And that is the kind of bonding experience that either makes or breaks a relationship, so that closeness and sense of trust is a bedrock of our relationship. And she’s absolutely right. Jinkx’s approach to art-making is like an extremely talented bull in a china shop (laughs) and my approach is a meticulous artisan painting the roses on the china. I sort of brought this idea of doing a full film adaptation to her, and I said from the get-go, “I know this is our project, I know that we co-write, but I would really like to direct the thing.” And she was basically said, “You’re the only one with the anal-retentive qualities who is going to direct it into being its own thing” (laughs).