Focus on Australian Revelations: Director James Pontifex discusses ‘The Meet Cute’

Tanya Jade in The Meet Cute Photo by James Pontifex

Tanya Jade in The Meet Cute. Photo by James Pontifex.

A man questions whether or not he has the guts to ask out a perfect stranger.

Written by James Pontifex (Writer/Director):

Two days before the submission deadline for funding, my producer fell out of the project.

I was alone.

So what do you do? I could give up… but… I was really annoyed that I would have to let yet another opportunity pass. So of course, I did what the majority of indie filmmakers have to do at some point in their early careers, I would produce the film myself.

Producing and directing a project, especially a low budget one, comes with huge compromises. How are you supposed to focus on working with the actors when you are always worrying about budgets, locations, permits and of course making sure the cast and crew turn up at the same spot at the same time.

So, I had two days to strip the project back to the barest of bones. Something that can be easy to produce and won’t take too many thought cycles away from directing. I just needed a guy, a girl and a family friendly conundrum that could appeal to the funder’s (The City of Vincent, my local council) target audience.

I’d like to touch on three different areas of the production process.

Tanya Jade (Left) and Justin Snowball in The Meet Cute Photo by James Pontifex

Tanya Jade (Left) and Justin Snowball in The Meet Cute. Photo by James Pontifex

WRITING

What I love about movies is going to the cinema and getting lost in another world for two hours. You just don’t get that with short films. By the time you get settled in, you get smacked in the head by a bunch credits. So how do you make an entertaining short film when you aren’t a huge fan of the format?

The few short films I actually do like are almost all non-dialogue short films. Like those you see in front of your favourite Disney / Pixar joints. The charm of these films come from actors and animators portraying naive characters who convey emotions solely through body language and physical comedy. So that was a jumping off point, but I didn’t just want to just follow this well-worn formula.

I also wanted to explore the thought process of a character, lost in in their own cyclical day-dreams. I hoped getting lost in the mind of a character for 10 minutes and getting carried away with thought tangents would distort time somewhat and make the film feel like a longer experience than it actually is.

So I decided to set the film entirely within the bounds of the protagonist’s inner monologue. While the protagonist speaks to the audience, the scenarios he is exploring in his head play out on screen almost like a silent film.

As for themes, one area I really wanted to subversively explore was the future of common movie tropes in our current rape culture climate. I wanted to ask the question is it ethical for a man to contrive a scenario to gain the attention of a woman he finds superficially attractive? Can “Hollywood-esque” romantic ideals exist in the modern world?

From here, “The Meet Cute” was born.

Justin Snowball in The Meet Cute Photo by James Pontifex

Justin Snowball in The Meet Cute. Photo by James Pontifex.

CASTING

Since the only dialogue in the film is the monologue of the male lead, and strong voices are something I really value in a film, I decided to try something unorthodox during auditions.

Instead of video-taping actors who came into audition, I took a cue from my podcasting experience and recorded the auditions on just a nice microphone. The actors performed a monologue or told a story to mic. Afterwards I would sync the MP3s of the auditions to my phone and play them all in a playlist.

Their voices triggered my memories of the auditions as I experienced them live. As I listened, I could close my eyes and go right back to where I was sitting opposite them, experiencing their performance as the audience would do. This captured the essence of their performances much better than a static camera on a tripod could ever do.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Director of Photography was Calum Perey. Although Calum is a talented photographer, this was his first major tilt at cinematography. The exciting part of working with a fresh cinematographer is they are often not afraid of breaking the rules.

Although I received some funding for the film, after we rented equipment, bought essential props, paid the crew and organised a live band for one of the key scenes, there wasn’t much left in the kitty without eating into our marketing budget.

I wanted to film in rich environments that would provide a great atmosphere for the audience to get lost in, but we didn’t have an art department. So I had to rely on the cheapest special effect you can get: Magic Hour.

We shot mostly half days, between 4pm and 8pm at the height of summer to make the most of Magic Hour. We took advantage of natural light wherever possible to give it a down to Earth feel and tried to get as much of the look in-camera as possible. This included waiting for the sun to be at a certain heights each day to film certain shots.

The opening and closing shots of the protagonist are identical except we filmed the first shot after sunset, so his environment is duller and has less life. The final shot we filmed right as the golden sun was beaming on his face to show that his mind is illuminated having gone through the thought processes that the film portrays.

The night scenes were filmed using an ultra-fast F1.0 prime lens. This not only allowed us to film in practical locations at lower ISOs where it was hard-to-impossible to control the light, but the shallow depth of field also allowed us to isolate the characters from the extras and put them inside their own little intimate bubble.

When the female lead first interacts with the male lead, we overexposed the image and used 60fps slow motion to give the scene a slightly angelic aura. When the male lead is alone in his home, sulking rather than living, we filmed under cold lights to contrast strongly when cutting to the warm light of magic hour outdoors where life should be lived.

Tanya Jade in The Meet Cute 2. Photo by James Pontifex

Tanya Jade in The Meet Cute 2. Photo by James Pontifex.

LOOKING BACK

I don’t recommend writing, directing and producing a short entirely by yourself. When I look back at the film now, close to a year on from its completion, the flaws I see are almost all opportunities lost to push more out of the actors which I couldn’t achieve under the time pressures that not having a dedicated producer created.

However, I did found the experience a rewarding challenge and I hope the film is good enough to attract the attention of aspiring producers that may want to collaborate with me on a new project in the future.

You can check out my film projects or listen to my podcasts at www.jimmerish.com or follow me on twitter: @theguycalledtom

The Meet Cute is showing at the next Australian Revelations screening in Perth on the night of February 23rd 2015. Future sceenings will be posted at meetcute.jimmerish.com

 

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