Beneath, Between, Behind the Scenes: That Homeless Man was Young Once

M. Francis Enright
4 min readMar 22, 2024
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

M. Francis Enright is a filmmaker. His first short film, HR, was accepted into zero of the 23 festivals to which it was submitted. His second short film, The Routine, was nominated for Best Dark Comedy at the Georgia Comedy Film Festival. His third short film, Say Your Name, won Best Drama and Best Director at the Top Shorts Films Festival and has been selected for the 2024 Boston International Film Festival.

Zair’s character is driving for a DoorDash type company to make ends meet while he pursues his acting career, which so far has consisted of being rejected for every role he has auditioned for.

We didn’t use the name DoorDash because the producer thought we might get sued which I think is bullshit. If the movie ever got enough attention to be sued by DoorDash we were doing something right.

We had the actor’s girlfriend walk in front of the car as an impetus for it to stop. It took a while to get the timing down and I didn’t think we needed it; cars stop for whatever reason. But I suppose it looks good on camera; a bit of movement never hurts.

Marcus glances over and sees a homeless man sitting on a crate behind the liquor store. He has his bottle wrapped in a paper bag. Marcus looks at him and he looks back, defiant. He sees the fear in Marcus’s eyes.

One day when we were sitting around the studio, chatting, Zair said, “I was looking at a homeless guy the other and I thought that I’m not too far from being that guy.”

None of us are.

The actor’s hands were chafed up by Sabrina, the hair and make-up person. I would not have thought of that but it is a huge tell, one of those things the audience probably would not notice consciously but makes a difference in whether they go away believing in the film’s authenticity. She added gray tinting to his hair and beard, made his beard a bit longer and rougher. We also managed to grab a shopping cart from somewhere.

There are a lot of homeless people around in the neighborhood where the company has their studio, the same neighborhood where we were shooting. I see them in pairs, groups of three. I see large numbers gathered outside of the food pantries and free clinics. I see them sitting and staring.

I wonder what they do all day. Walk from here to there. Wander up and down the avenue. Do they have friends to visit? Maybe they have to get to the hospital for a check up or to get treatment for something.

They were young once.

Marcus stares at the man.

Who is this man? Who was this man? Where did he grow up? Where did he go to school? What was he like in the third grade? Did he draw and paint? Did he make a Valentine’s Day card for his little crush? The one where you fold the piece of paper and cut out the shape of the heart and then color it red or maybe pink. Maybe he also did the arrow piercing through it. And maybe he taped a piece of candy to the back of it. Was he shy about giving it to her? Yeah. He was that type of kid. Soulful. The most vulnerable kind.

We did not use any close-ups in this scene. The camera stayed at a medium distance from the homeless man. Who gets close up to a homeless man?

Did he write a poem to his mother on Mother’s Day? Of course he did. Was it sweet? Of course it was. Was he just a little bit nervous that she wouldn’t like it? Nonsense. She loved it. It is still somewhere, in a photo album in a box in a basement where he and his family lived and played and were happy. Until…

One of the production assistants went to the liquor store for a pint of alcohol. I told him to get Cossack or if they didn’t have that get Georgi. No one buys pints of those brands except desperate alcoholics. Someone said the brand wouldn’t matter because the bag would cover the label anyway but I would know so yes it did matter.

When his teacher assigned the class an essay on what they wanted to be when they grew up, he wrote using his favorite pencil in big printing and his penmanship was quite good. “I wanna be a fireman when I grow up cuz they wear awesome uniforms and have helmets and get to use the ax and the hose and they ride in fire trucks, fire engines, that have a loud siren and flashing lights. And when the bell rings in the firehouse they get to slide down the pole and help people who are in trouble. They rescue them. That is why I want to be a fireman.”

When we got a shot of Marcus through the windshield, the DP asked if I wanted to use a polarizer on the camera which would get rid of the glare on the glass so we could see Marcus’s face clearly. I said, No. Having his face obscured worked.

Then he went outside at recess and played with his friends and ran and screamed. There was no reason for the screaming except that it was just so much fun. And he was happy. Until he had to go home and face whatever was there. Or not there.

At some point in his life, he was happy. Right? Please tell me that he was happy for at least a little while. I need to know that that boy, that man, had some happy moments. Until…

When I was living in Brooklyn I once glanced at a homeless man for a beat too long and he asked me, ‘What the fuck you lookin’ at?’

I didn’t know.

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M. Francis Enright

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!