Intersexual banker Alex lives as a man. When his intersexuality becomes public, Alex threatens to fail and lose everything because of the traditional perception of his industry of a binary understanding of genders and roles. It was our pleasure to speak to the writer of Alex, an award winning script by Joachim H. Böttcher.
Joachim H. Böttcher was born in the Rhine-Main area at the end of 1968. A few years ago, Böttcher moved to Switzerland with his wife and their twins. He lives in the canton of Zurich and loves writing in the evenings. Far from his job at a major Swiss bank, the connoisseur Böttcher is passionate about cooking and, when he's not painting, enjoys a bottle of good wine with friends.
What draws you to writing scripts?
This question I could potentially talk about forever. Key triggers where a Tuesday evening club, I, my brother Andreas and my two cousins Christoph and Thomas attended regularly when I was a teenager. Money was tight, but Tuesday was cinema day at a cinema nearby and it was affordable for us to go there. And luckily, my cousin had a car and driving license. I virtually sucked in all these wonderful stories. At this time I became publisher of my school’s magazine “Le Papillon”. My co-publisher and good friend Harald Dobmayer and I made a trip to High School for Film and Cinema Ludwigsburg (Germany) to interview Roland Emmerich, who had just released “Moon 44” and interviewed him and his sister. Roland Emmerich was just about to move to Hollywood by this time. A few weeks later we visited German actor Armin Müller-Stahl at his home on Northern Germany and did the same. I think those were the initial sparks, the moments when it started. I even suggested to my parents to go to High School for Film and Cinema in Germany – but they clearly were against it. Today I know, that I should have followed this dream right from the start.
Before I started writing screenplays I wrote crime novels. Volker Pleil, still my closest brother in crime, suggested that I should consider turning them into scripts for movies.
Reflecting now, I have to admit, that I always had this hidden talent for writing and telling stories. But somehow I lost track for a couple of years – I think, I am not alone with that. And I sincerely hope that my story someday will inspire others to get back on track again as well but hopefully even a bit earlier than me.
Just before “Alex*” I worked on “Lisa-Marie” a 90-minutes X-Mas-family movie with some funny mystic elements in it. I am still looking for a production company to realize that. Prior to that, I supported “Avaritia”, a 100 minutes film by German director Patrick Roy Beckert as a script doctor. The film is ready to see the screens but its publishing date was postponed due to Covid 19.
How and when did you start studying screenwriting?
So I went to Felix Meinhardt’s film making seminars in Munich and decided that my focus always had been and still is on writing. Consequently, I focused on writing screenplays. For my formal education I went through Urs Bühler’s screenplay writing seminars in Zürich (Switzerland). Urs worked in Hollywood for many years. He is a truly gifted writer and – most importantly – a phantastic teacher and coach, when it comes to the question, how to write good and dramatic screenplays.
What makes screenwriting stand out to you in the language of cinema?
To me it is one - if not the most - important part of the process to finish a project. It all starts with the story, followed by directing, acting, editing, adding music and sound. It is so fascinating to see these pictures in your head as the very first person on this planet!
Do you ever plan to direct and produce one of your scripts?
Deep inside I am more a writer rather than a director. But f I can’t find a committed producer and talented director I will definitely do it myself. I would simply hav e to do it! This script must see the screens of the world. The message is too important to remain unproduced on my laptop! On a side note: When I started working on “Alex*”, I wrote and directed the eleven minutes short movie “The Ticket to Be” (“Der Schein zum Sein”). Originally, this truly was intended to be a zero budget, sole fun project. But it turned out to be quite successful and the whole pack of people involved drew quite a lot of attention around our work. I am still grateful, that I got so many committed supporters, e.g. Volker Pleil, Anita Stenke, Katrin Klug, Christina Venus, Bülent Budak, Matthias Kraus, my sister. And the female football team of FFC Frankfurt e.V., who acted in “The Ticket to Be”. Some of the ladies play in Germany’s national soccer team and, trust me, they really have fully packed agendas.
Tell us more about your latest project and the inspiration behind the writing of your script.
Many of my ideas, even the ones for my horror books, are dreams or nightmares I have at night. When dreaming or being a little drowsy, I seem to be most creative. It’s always been like that. A while ago, I met Mx Pips Bunce from London at an event in Zürich. When Pips spoke about, how it is for her/him to be a person living openly as a transgendered person, I was deeply impressed. Mx Pips Bunce goes to work either as a man or as a woman, whatever he or she feels up to and whatever suits her- or himself best at the very moment.
When I was looking for a new topic after my work on “Avaritia”, I first wanted to do something about transgendered people. Then I read an article about intersexuality, conducted research and combined elements from both worlds. Finally, I came across the Indigenous model of so called “two spirits” an umbrella term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe people with a third gender in their communities. This term broadens the Western binary implications, such as implying that such people are both, male and female. Namida, one character in my script, a partially native Indigenous lady, actually is a sort of an homage to that.
The rest was easy (laughs). It was just having many, many drowsy moments and some good nights of sleep, with extremely inspiring dreams, which needed to be written down.
What were some of the challenges of writing your script and the research that went into it?
It was al about learning about the many nuances and facets of the topic. Why is that? One may be thinking that distinguishing biological maleness from biological femaleness surely is a simple matter. You just need to conduct some hormonal or DNA testing, throw in a physical examination - and you’ll have the answer. Most people simply don’t know that there are many cases, when it is simply not that easy. First of all understanding and then simplifying the academic speech around that topic made the work on „Alex*" extremely difficult. In the future, I think, we need to differ between sex, gender, and sexuality. Let me give you some examples. When filling out a document such as an application for an ID or university registration form you are often asked to provide your name, address, phone number, birth date and sex or gender. Usually, sex and gender are the same. But it can be different, even impossible to make an honest statement. Sometimes by birth, when you are born with male genitalia but female set of XX-chromosomes. Or sometimes by choice, for instance, the experience of transgendered people demonstrates that a person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, does not always correspond with her or his gender. Sex and gender are not interchangeable. A boy born with a penis will be identified as a boy. As he grows, however, he might feel happier identifying more with the female of his culture and vice versa – still lovable people though, aren’t they? To me - 52 years old - it was challenging my own perceptions and assumptions. In the end it is all a sort of traditional and cultural thing. And we can only overcome such obstacles by deciding on ways of tolerance, compassion and empathy – the way of love in short. Finally I finished my script. And love wins – as always!
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a writer?
Currently, I am in close contact with a Zürich based film director and her company. She is really interested in turning the German version of thescript into a movie and bringing it to the screens. Realizing the English version might again be the question of finding the right people with sufficient budgets (sighs).
Just recently I was approached out of the blue by Swiss based film makers Stephan Saschko and Beat Schmid. They contracted me to write a 110 minutes cinema movie mainly for the Swiss but also German and Austrian market. It’s likely to become an action-romance story about a refugee, who is confronted with xenophobia and a lot of further resentments, when he tries to resettle and bring his talent in in Switzerland. As I was born and raised in a family of world war II refugees myself, I guess, I am perfectly suited to write this story.
What kind of impact would your work have in the world and why do you think these themes are important in your script?
Everyone, whether man, woman, intersex, whether "straight", LGBTQ+ or anything else. Ultimately everyone only wants just one thing – being loved for who you are. My script „Alex*“ tries to illustrate that. Essentially, Alex, the hero of my story, goes on a classical hero’s journey and comes back as a changed person, who accepts both the male and female components as equal parts of Alex. When it comes to Alex as a character, I wanted to show, that intersex people actually are people like you and me. They have to cope with their everyday lives just like all other people. Many of them hide their intersexuality for fear of a society that only assigns and knows two genders.
As soon as Alex was born as an intersex child, the parents lack professional advice and support. They are urged by a doctor to take gender reassignment measures. Alex had to undergo cosmetic operations with mutilation, sterilization – castration even. This kind of mistreatment traumatized Alex’s physical integrity and the emotional self. In addition, the topic is taboo with the serious consequence that Alex believes, he must hide his whole life. This goes hand in hand with the fear of potential discrimination, especially in the job. Alex believes that if the intersexuality is exposed, he will lose status and the job in an old fashioned Swiss private bank. And Alex is right with the assumption, as Alex immediately gets fired by the boss once the intersexuality is made public. Alex does not accept the own feminine component. Therefore, Alex betrays his environment and on purpose pretends to be a man in his professional and private life. Alex is quite extrovert but immediately gets shy, when it comes to nudity and intimate sexuality, because here he would have to reveal the secret of being an intersex person.
Finally Alex accepts what Alex truly is: a kind and lovable intersex person. And Alex learns the hard way a lot about the own self. If Alex can learn that the hard way, society can learn that as well.