Making a Short Film: Spotlight on Truth

M. Francis Enright
4 min readNov 5, 2023
Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

M. Francis Enright is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. Listen to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify and watch videos on Tik Tok. His short film, The Routine, was nominated for Best Dark Comedy at the Georgia Comedy Film Festival. Say Your Name is his third short film.

When we were shooting the scene outside the audition space, I heard Paul say to Zair, “It’s nice to be directed.” Is that what I was doing? I was having so much trouble blocking the scene, I couldn’t even tell them where to stand or sit or when to sit or stand. My directions were too awkward for them so eventually I had to walk away and let them work it out on their own. Zair and Paul have acted onstage together numerous times; I was just getting in the way.

What was I doing there?

Watching. Learning. Telling them what I see, what I hear for all that’s worth.

And then we faded…

And then Lionel stepped into the spotlight.

INT. THEATER-DAY/NIGHT

Lionel stands on a stage. A spotlight illuminates his face, which stands in stark contrast to his black clothing which blends into the black background.

My sister-in-law asked me how I had come to the idea of directing movies. It was her nice way of asking why I thought I could do it.

I do not know.

I do not know how to direct movies or plays or anything else. I have no experience, no credentials. My first film was accepted into zero of the twenty-three festivals to which it was submitted. Everyone on every film set has more experience than I do, the actors included. Why should anyone listen to me?

I teach high school English and I really don’t know how to do that either. I’ve been doing for over fifteen years and every day I feel like a fraud. Why should they listen to me?

Maybe because I listen. I see things and I listen, and I try to communicate what I see and what I hear to the actors and the crew and see if we can get it on camera.

I do not have any answers. But I try.

Maybe that’s what Paul meant by his kind words. I do try. I will give myself some credit for that. I do try.

I read my students essays and make suggestions and read books with them and point out ideas in the plot and dialogue and ask them to consider them. I try to answer their questions.

When the cinematographer or the actors have questions, I try to answer them. If I do not have an answer, I say that and try to come up with one. I try to be honest about that.

I plan. I make lists. I write down ideas. It’s the most I can do.

We talk. I sit with the actors and talk and ask them to consider ideas and think about how a word like ‘suicide’ resonates with them.

I sat with Paul and talked about the word “suicide”. That it is a heavy word to be springing on this young man, who might be on the edge himself, desperate to make it as an actor. The conversation has progressed from lighthearted and casual:

EXT. AUDITION SPACE-DAY

Marcus walks out of the building. He has a disappointed look on his face, pissed off. He stands there, collecting himself.

LIONEL WRIGHT is standing just outside the door, on his phone.

LIONEL

Alright, baby, I’m waiting outside.

Lionel hangs up.

He and Marcus notice each other and nod.

LIONEL

What’s up, man? How’d it go in there?

MARCUS (MIMICING)

‘Thanks, we’ll be in touch.’

Lionel laughs.

LIONEL

Yeah, how many times have I heard that one?

To more serious,

MARCUS

You make a living at it?

Lionel snorts and shakes his head.

LIONEL

Nah, not even close. Most of that is unpaid. Indie features, short films, plays. But that’s the best stuff. You never know which one might hit, make you a star!

MARCUS

So how you get by?

Lionel hands Marcus a business card.

MARCUS

You sell real estate?

LIONEL

Well, I got my license. I can’t say I’ve sold much. Uber, baby, Uber. I got mouths to feed.

MARCUS

I’m driving for Door Dash.

Marcus gets up in frustration, a frustration that Lionel knows all too well.

To matters of life and death.

LIONEL

It’s hard man, it is hard.

Because recovering alcoholics struggle with that. I know. Paul knows. We have both had that struggle. Maybe it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Maybe life doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. You just have to try and listen to people.

Lionel took a long pause. He looked off to his left into the distance. He made a decision. He had to tell him.

LIONEL

I heard you doin’ that Hamlet soliloquy.

MARCUS

Yeah, I just found that online. I don’t know; I don’t really get it.

LIONEL

It’s about suicide.

Lionel cannot tell Marcus how to be a successful actor. He cannot tell Marcus what to do about his financial situation. He cannot tell him how many auditions to go on, or when enough is enough, or when to quit, or when to keep going. No one has the answers to those questions. Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, had been in Hollywood for ten years trying to make it and was about to call it quits. What if he had?

All Lionel can tell him is…

INT. THEATER STAGE-NIGHT

Lionel stands in the stark spotlight. Only his face is illuminated. With his all black outfit, the rest of him fades into the black background, giving his face a ghostly, otherworldly appearance.

LIONEL

Find something that speaks to you and make it your own. You gotta believe it. It’s the only way they will.

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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!