I Wrote and Directed a Short Film: Here is How It Went and Here is What I Learned
Matty Kerr is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to full episodes on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.
I think judo involves using one’s opponent’s weight and strength against them. Instead of pushing back against force, you become fluid and step out of the way and/or use the other person’s momentum to throw them off balance.
When making films, obstacles pop up all the time. You plan and plan and plan and then someone gets sick, it rains, a van breaks down, etc. If you let every obstacle stop you, you will never get anything done.
There’s always something.
So you need to be fluid and use some judo.
ANN WHITE and her sister KAREN WHITE, two white women in their forties, talk about Jeff’s shortcomings while on Face Time.
We shot this using Face Time. It seemed appropriate since everyone was using technology to chat since we were all quarantined. It actually worked out well because the actor paying Karen, Ann’s sister (played by Mary Steiner), actually got Covid but she did not have to be on set. She was the only one that tested positive out of all the cast and crew. Sometimes the films gods smile on you.
We propped a phone on the counter and had Mary call in. While they are talking, Ann is on the Massachusetts Unemployment site to see what the deal is with benefits. They talk about how Brian quit his job before the pandemic so he doesn’t qualify for benefits, making the family dependent on Ann as the sole source of income. This adds to her frustration about being married to someone who is telling jokes in the basement while she works twelve hour shifts as a nurse.
Steven had the idea to have Angie come in from her run and have a brief interaction with her mom. That is why filmmaking requires collaboration. I hadn’t thought of it and that simple idea gives depth to scene and establishes the relationship between mother and daughter. Without any words, the audience can make connections between Ann and Sarah and Ann’s sister.
LANDEN WHITE, a ten year old white male, is on doing his class online. His teacher, MS. THOMPSON, appears on his laptop screen.
I am a teacher, so I was quite familiar with the whole Zoom class deal.
The pandemic had added layers of complication to the process of shooting a film. Everyone had to be tested before coming on set. Anyone who tested positive obviously could not be there. This caused me a great deal of stress on a daily basis because if one of the main actors tested positive, we would have had to delay shooting which would have cost more money.
Scenes like this allowed me to use the pandemic to my advantage. It would not have made sense before everyone was quarantined and so many students had to stay home and attend classes via Zoom. It also meant that the woman playing Ms. Thompson did not have to travel from Connecticut to be on set; she lit herself in her living room and it looked great.
Ms. Thompson had had the class draw pictures of their families. Landen tells the class:
My mommy is a nurse. She is a hero
because she is making sick people
Oh, that is wonderful! You’re mommy
is a hero! And is that your dad?
Yeah. He’s in the basement telling jokes.
I’m not sure Ann and Brian would have been thrilled to hear Landen reveal that to his class. Maybe Brian would have; he needs an audience.
- You need a clear plan but it has got to be flexible. Something is always going to come up. You need to have the mental ability to make adjustments while still keeping to the core of the project.
- It is tempting to use any obstacle as an excuse to not move ahead. That’s fear talking. Keep moving forward. (Watch the documentary Hearts of Darkness, by Eleanor Coppola about the making of Apocalypse Now for inspiration. Talk about obstacles.
- Focus on what you can do. I know what I can’t do; that list is 49 years long. If everything goes to shit, what can I do? What can we shoot? Do that.