One of the struggles of being a writer/director is knowing whether an idea for a film is worth investing the time, money and energy to produce. This insecurity typically leads to a constant shuffle of projects, never quite committing to a single one, and ultimately never making anything. After months of excuses, I realized I needed one thing: a deadline.
Luckily a deadline was created when the New York Times decided to do a profile piece on my nomadic lifestyle. I would have five weeks to conceptualize, direct and release a film before the NYTimes article was to be published. After a thrilling month of constant work and sleepless nights, the resulting film is that much closer to the production quality I’ve been striving for and the kinds of stories I’ve been wanting to tell all this time. However, this is just the beginning. There are so many stories I want to tell and so much more I want to learn going forth.
Most of the scripts I’ve already written are in direct contrast to what many argue is necessary for a small, no-budget project. They don’t have limited locations or cast and many require extensive planning, preparation and execution to produce. This meant I would have to create something from scratch to work within this project's time and budget constraints.
A common practice for early filmmakers like myself is to develop a film around the preexisting objects they own, people they know, and locations they have easy access to. It’s what Robert Rodriguez preaches and a slew of other master filmmakers began their careers with. Keeping this in mind, I began looking around at the things around me for inspiration.
An old forgotten walkie talkie hidden among my belongings provided the first germ of an idea. Combine it with a surrealist, almost "Twilight Zone" scenario and suddenly the film began to take shape. Building upon my own experiences of solo traveling brought themes of solitude and isolation to the surface. And once I had locked-in the antique shop we’d be shooting in, I began to form the story around the environment, playing off various objects found throughout the shop.
The original shooting script (which you can download here) included a number of scenes that tiptoed between a diverse range of emotional tones. From curiosity and excitement to pensiveness and confusion, I wanted the main character to maneuver through the various mental states that we all experience during the pursuit of real, honest human connection.
Five hours. That’s how much time we had to shoot the entire film. The extremely compressed schedule was mostly a result of a limited budget. Because of this, the painful process of cutting particular shots and even entire scenes was the reality on set. The reduced shot list (full preproduction shot list here) and a schedule that only allowed one or two takes of every setup produced the bare minimum necessary to tell the story.
Luckily, with the immense help of a talented cast and crew, the bare minimum far exceeded my expectations. Led by cinematographer Pavel Brenner, the camera team produced beautiful visuals that were only elevated even further by our stunning location. The cast lead by Annie Monroe delivered nuanced performances even under the pressure of limited takes. My one hope for future shoots is that I have the time to be more deliberate with the camera and more conscious of my direction for actors. Always something to improve.
Music can make or break film. It can strengthen a story or completely ruin the emotional core. That’s why I find the process of searching for a composer so stressful. Fortunately, Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek graciously agreed to score this film and I’m so glad he did. Rutger was able to compose a piece that successfully balanced between a traditional, “classical" score and the experimental music he is so well-known for.
The process of working with a composer starts with an initial “spotting session” where I watched the film with Rutger and we discussed the shifts in emotion and tone that needed to be accentuated in the score. What followed were several rounds of broad experiments and subtle adjustments within the music. You can listen to the progress and development of the score below.
In the past, I’ve graded everything I filmed. With a background in design, I could produce something that—at a minimum—was presentable. However, to really get the most out of beautiful footage it’s best to have a film graded by a professional colorist with the knowledge and experience that can easily transform the look and feel of a film. That’s where Bryan Smaller saved the day.
Working on an admittedly absurd schedule, Bryan created a consistently alluring look across the entire film. For the grade, I knew I wanted a contrast in color to accompany the contrast in emotion explored throughout the film. Subdued golden hues brought a warmth and comfort while the colder blues emphasized the isolation of the main character.
NEW YORK TIMES: A Young Man Quits His
Old Life and Goes West
Project Credit List
WRITER, DIRECTOR, EDITOR, TITLE DESIGNER & PRODUCER: Zach Both
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pavel Brenner
1ST AC: Haonan Wang
GRIP & ELECTRIC: Leon Liao
STEADICAM: Pascal Combes-Knoke
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS: James Sowka & Andascha Pryor
STILL PHOTOGRAPHER: Ryan Lawton
SET DECORATOR: Paige Wassel
SOUND RECORDIST: John Rampey
COLORIST: Bryan Smaller
HAIR & MAKEUP: Glenna Bree
ZOE: Annie Monroe
SHOP KEEPER: Holly Kaplan
MYSTERY VOICE: Zachary Webber
CAMERA: RED Dragon
LENSES: Zeiss Master Prime Lenses