One of the most rewarding aspects of making a movie is when certain ideas come about that you hadn't originally intended. Sometimes, in the process of making the film, as you spend more time with the story and the characters, new ideas begin to emerge that end up bringing something extra to the film.
AFTERMATH proved to be one such example. After the rather long and strenuous production of A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING, which took about four months to reach completion, AFTERMATH was intended to be a casual, relatively simple project that would allow me to "unwind" from the production and subsequent promotional work on A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING.
It's one of those "one-man films" I write about so often. Although by calling it that, I do not mean for a second to devalue the contributions of my three talented collaborators. Only that in terms of the physical production itself, I was able to pull it off as a one-man operation (more on that in a moment).
The basic idea came to me a few weeks ago. The premise is quite simple: a man, holed up in his apartment following a catastrophic storm, slowly devolves into paranoia. But what I wanted to explore was just how the sense of isolation, boredom, and desperation snowball into resentment, which eventually conjures up all sorts of worst case scenarios in the man's mind, leading him into full-blown paranoia. The real twist comes at the end (spoiler alert!): just as we begin to wonder if perhaps it isn't just all "in his head", there is a knock at the door. Thinking it is a relief worker, the man goes and slowly opens the door. He stares out into the hallway for a moment before we hear a gunshot, cutting to black.
Going into the writing, I knew two things: 1) that the film would be largely silent, accompanied by a monologue narrated by the main character describing the thoughts racing through his head, and 2) that I wanted Bill Linzey to write the monologue. Happily he agreed, because without his masterful ear for dialogue, the visuals could have ended up being more of an illustration or accompaniment to the narration, rather than working in tandem with eachother. I knew that Bill's sensibilities would perfectly compliment the kind of bleak images I wanted to shoot.
In just a matter of days, Bill had delivered a draft of the monologue (we collaborate in writing online using the Celtx program, which allows us to have access to the screenplay document and make changes in realtime). He asked me if I thought a second draft was necessary, and I said absolutely not: what he'd delivered was just what I had in mind, and I set about recording the voice-over narration.
In terms of recording the voice-over, I ended up immediately recognizing the right approach as soon as I'd recorded it, which was a much more matter-of-fact, earnest voice. The flatness of the voice belies the increasing desperation and resentment in the man's words. Once I'd done a couple takes in this voice, I knew it was ready to use.
The real challenge of working on this scale is in trying to pull of the camera moves when you also have to appear in front of the camera! One point I often come back to is that I would of course love to be able to shoot with dollies, tracks, cranes, and the like. But for filmmakers like myself, who can't afford those devices, it need not mean limitations of creativity. One of the aspects of production I am trying to experiment with more is moving the camera and the effects it can produce. For AFTERMATH, I realized that the moving camera would play an important part in standing in for the main character's own thought processes, as he's trapped in the small space of his apartment with nowhere to go.
The solution to how to smoothly move the camera presented itself in the form of a shopping cart. Although it might seem ridiculously low-tech, it actually proved quite effective, as I was able to achieve several smooth camera moves, perhaps my favorite being the moment when the camera dollies in slowly on the door as we hear the sound of the intruder's footsteps coming up the staircase outside.
Realistically, I've never had much of a budget to make my films. Anyone who's ever worked with me knows that I try to get the most out of my limited resources as I possibly can. I prefer not to see my budgetary and technical constraints as limitations. After all, I never have to make the excuse that I don't have enough money to make a movie!
This is one of the aspects of the "one-man film" that I find most rewarding on a purely personal level. However, as I mentioned earlier, this isn't mean to take away from the contributions of some very talented collaborators. Although the physical production was completed by myself, I had the pleasure of working with some very talented (and generous) collaborators on the film. In addition to Bill's co-writing the film mentioned above, my friend Jim recorded and emailed the voice-over of the intruder, which I then edited into the soundtrack. And Brooke Hendrickson contributed the film's typewriter-style opening credits. The great thing about this kind of collaboration is that the different elements can be emailed to me and incorporated into the project, allowing for long-distance collaboration.
Making AFTERMATH was a fun and rewarding experience, its simple premise and less complex production logistics serving as a great exercise to keep the skills sharp.