Serial Short Filmmaking
This blog entry is part of my ongoing examination of how women break into filmmaking using short films. My idea to write about this came after spending a day at Independent Film Week 2009. I started the series off by looking at how Jessica Burstein was using data mining to distribute her short, Abbie Cancelled, I looked at how film school thesis films fare as calling card films here.
This entry is dedicated to the phenomenon that is director Rachel Gordon.
Gordon is a filmmaker superhero. She runs her own film marketing business, Energized Films, helping independent filmmakers market their films by day and working on her own films by night.
Actually it’s more like work most of the year to save enough money to make a short film every twelve months or so. She’s made six short films this way: Room Tone (14mins, 2002, SD), which Gordon wrote as well as directed, though she says she “can’t bear to look at anymore,” but Film Threat gave it a glowing review.
She followed that up in 2003 with Writing on the Wall (9mins, 2003, SD), about a young woman (Amy Fowler, who also stars in In The Family Way) who is slowly disappearing from her own life. Written by Carl Kelsch. This was Gordon’s first participation in the New York 48 Hour Film Project, in which filmmaking teams have two days in which to produce a short film in New York City locations. It was awarded the “Best of NY” that year. It also screened in the Reel Venus Film Festival, Annual Program Without Borders, the San Francisco Short Film Festival, the Short Film Festival of Los Angeles 2006, where it won Best Photography, and it was an Official Selection of Festival de Cine Internacional de Barcelona. You can read more about that year’s productions here.
Gordon followed that up with another 48 Hour Film Project, Bench Warmers (8mins, 2004 SD), co- written by Carl Kelsch and Jonathan Jacobson. Bench Warmers takes a humorous look at discarded imaginary friends in a halfway-house waiting on the sidelines of reality to be reassigned. It was awarded Best Script in the 2004 New York 48 Hour Film Project and screened at A Taste of Art, New York City, the Valley Film Festival, the Miami Short Film Festival and the New Filmmakers Series.
In between she made Open Shutter (8mins, 2004, SD) co-written by Nadine Graham and Carl Kelsch. They synopsis:
After a chance encounter with a stranger, self-absorbed photographer Travis finds himself suddenly able to see into the pain of those around him.
She then had to take a couple of years off for a series of eye surgeries:
“Basically my eye muscles had to be detached and reattached again because they were loosening from being operated on when I was an infant…but they couldn’t do them at the same time because one of them has to be the baseline of seeing – so I had to have them 6 months apart. Took me another 6-8 months to fully recover (i.e. not have a lot of headaches, make sure my balance was okay).”
It took her two years to save up the money to make her next film, Loose Ends (12mins, 2008 HDV), written by Carl Kelsch with contributions from Nadine Graham. Loose Ends had a long post-production phase, partly because at first she tried to license some existing music, then gave up on that and commissioned an original score instead.
Loose Ends screened at the Gasparilla Film Festival "Women Power Hour", the Kent Film Festival, the Emerging Filmmakers Series, and was programmed by Kellar and myself as part of the CineWomen/NYWIFT Series: Women in the Reel World. It’s a comedic look into the private fears of Jasmine as she navigates the post-20's singles scene after a break-up.
Gordon is now working on a feature version of Loose Ends, eager to continue making comic comment on feminine fears of commitment. So far she has an outline and is working on a script.
In the meantime she continues to make shorts. Her latest, currently in post-production, is In the Family Way, starring Ylana Kellar as Belinda, Enga Davis as Marcy the Mom, Jim Willis as Rob the Dad, Amelia Fowler as Rose, Tobin Tyler as Steve, Samantha Marine as Alexandra and Mason the Dog as himself.
The title of In the Family Way is a play on words: Belinda, the “golden child” of her family, finds out she’s pregnant by a man she doesn’t want to marry right before a visit home to her traditional parents.
Gordon came up with the title over two years ago, when she applied to the Directing Workshop for Women at AFI.
She didn’t get admitted to the program but decided to make the film anyway, and asked Nadine Graham to develop a script. It was Graham who suggested they make the family in the story a middle-class black family. Gordon says that by the time the film is edited it should be about fifteen minutes long.
“The biggest challenge was casting,” said Gordon over a dinner at the Sangria46 Restaurant in the New York theatre district. “It took six months to cast, even after we resorted to a casting service, and we were only casting five people.”
Even with the help of the service, Gordon found some of her cast through referral and serendipity: she had done the marketing for NYWIFT-member Maria Pusateri’s film, Vito After. Pusateri introduced her to Ylana Kellar.
Gordon and Graham auditioned Ylana and Graham immediately said she wanted her for the lead. “They called me and told me I had the part right after the audition – I hadn’t even gotten home yet,” said Kellar. “Then I read in the rest of the auditions, while they cast the other parts, the mother and daughter and the guys.”
Gordon found Enga Davis, who plays the mother, when Davis was doing her cabaret version of Condoleeza Rice. “Enga made me laugh so hard, I knew I had to work with her,” said Gordon.
The hardest part was casting the male roles. It was incredibly difficult to find older black men. Gordon got references from everywhere she could, and after three months of searching found them both through nycasting.com.
“Four out of our five actors are SAG” said Gordon. “We used the SAG short film contract and shot over two weekends.” Gordon estimates that her final budget will be in the 25K range. Like most indie filmmakers, she has to rely heavily on in-kind donations.
In the Family Way was shot on the Sony eX1, using P2 cards.
“Our biggest problem was the noisy audio environment. We had a lot of traffic noise. I have a sound editor cleaning up dialogue now. I don’t want to foley the dialogue because the performance loses out,” said Gordon.
Gordon has lived in New York for fourteen years.
“I didn’t go to Los Angeles because I didn’t want to,” said Gordon. “I’ve always wanted to live in New York.” Her plans for the future, in addition to the feature version of Loose Ends, include a documentary on homeopathy, which she hope will become a series on alternative medicines, and a horror film. She has already co-produced Under The Raven’s Wing (2002).
Trailers can be seen here.
“I’ve always wanted to make a horror film,” says Gordon. “Ever since I saw Poltergeist.”
Watch this space for future screening announcements as In the Family Way nears completion in the coming months.
CAST AND CREW FOR IN THE FAMILY WAY:
Marialuisa Ramirez Ernst, Director of Photography
, also here and here: