Self Reflections

Still Life is a film noir short about an off the record interrogation of a former police sketch artist turned killer by a potentially corrupt cop. It is a power play between intellect and empathy and looks at the dynamics between two people who sit on either end of that spectrum.

Maddie Wilcox as the Suspect

The character of the Suspect is intended to challenge the femme fatale archetype. Rather than using her beauty and charm to achieve her agenda, she’s using her intellect and logical point of view. When discussing how to vocalise this, Maddie and I agreed on her speaking with a heightened version of received pronunciation to suggest an educated background to her character. I believe this delivery worked well with the content of her dialogue, specifically the art terminology, as it showcases her character’s expertise in her field as it’s an accent that promotes an air of confidence.

Maddie and I discussed her character having minimal movement in the film. This s because the suspect is so confident in her intellect that she doesn’t feel the need to exert her power in a physical way, which is why she remains seated throughout the entirety of the film. Her body language is relaxed and open, suggesting that she is calm and self-assured. As this doesn’t change throughout the film it becomes apparent that the Inspector’s attempts to get her to crack aren’t working.This lack of gesturing works well as it show that not only does the Suspect have command over herself, but she is in control of the situation as well.

The Suspect gains the upper hand

Maddie’s performance of the Suspect encapsulates what I had envisioned when writing the script. She’s intimidating and untouchable yet likeable. Against all odds, you feel yourself rooting for her and amused by her smugness. Despite this, it is something that I wanted her character to achieve over the course of the film, going from being intimidated to being the intimidator. If I had got Maddie to slowly work her way into these character traits over the duration of this scene, I feel as though that character journey would be more prominent than it is. If I were to redo this project, I would get her to build up the tempo and speak with a slightly posh intonation which then worked up to a borderline parody of received pronunciation.

Adam Dando as the Inspector

The character arc of the Inspector is the aspect of this film that I believe needs the most work. The Inspector is intended to be the archetypal corrupt cop with a psychological conflict. He is guided entirely by emotion, which is simultaneously his greatest strength and biggest weakness, but is internally struggling on wether to reveal that to the Suspect. The suspect knows she is felonious, which is why her eye-line never leaves the shadows. However, the Inspector’s eyeline at the beginning of the film is situated in a bar of light, and during the transition of power in the middle of the scene, his eye-line dips into the shadow for the rest of the film which is done to represent his inner turmoil and moral ambiguity.

The Inspector's eye-line is in the light

The Inspector's eye-line is in the dark

As for his body language, he begins the scene very open and reserved to show he is in control of the situation. When he realises he isn’t getting anywhere with the Suspect, he changes tactic and sits on the table, almost leaning over the Suspect. He tries to overcompensate and exert his authority physically by making his presence bigger, but his closed off body language, with his arms crossed over his chest, suggests he’s lost control of the situation and is no longer comfortable. I believe these two aspects adequately display the power exchange taking place in this scene.

However, while these ideas are apparent in the blocking and Inspector’s body language, I believe I could have directed his delivery of the lines to convey these themes much better. The delivery of the dialogue doesn’t supplement that power exchange as much as it could have, which detracts from the Inspector’s character arc. For a character that is driven by emotion, that trait isn’t very apparent in the delivery on screen. Adam’s performance was more emotive and passionate when shooting Maddie’s close ups where he was offscreen. I failed to create an environment where he felt comfortable performing on camera and as a result the delivery of the lines isn’t as visceral as I know he is capable of.

Perhaps if Adam and I had explored different actioning for his character, we could have achieved a different performance from the onset of shooting. If I were to redo this project, I would focus on making the grief his character is experiencing more apparent as this gives more purpose and direction to his dialogue. I believe I focussed too much on the Inspector trying to create an even playing field between him and the Suspect. Having him deal with the personal trauma of a murdered colleague during this interrogation opens up a broader range of intentions for his character that Adam and I could have explored. I believe this would have resulted in a performance that more closely resembled what I envisioned when writing the script.

In regards to the cinematography, I believe that it works well in conveying the themes of film. The chiaroscuro lighting emphasises the shadows created by the venetian blinds in order to mimic prison bars. The position of these bars to be cast solely on the Inspector was intentional. He begins the scene by interrogating the Suspect, but the scene concludes with the Suspect interrogating him and exposing his potentially corrupt ways. This lighting was used to foreshadow his loss of control over the situation. While this is effective in visualising the concepts behind the film, its execution could have been improved. The lighting between set ups is inconsistent and this becomes even more apparent in the edit with rim lights appearing and disappearing between takes. Ideally, I would have reshot this but I was unable to secure the location for reshoots which meant I had to attempt to correct these mistakes in post. Due to this, I have recognised the importance of allocating time for reshoots during a production.

Directing the crew to achieve my vision was a surprisingly simple task. All the crew have an amicable relationship outside of the workplace, and this translated well into a professional relationship. Knowing what makes my crew tick meant guiding them in an efficient way was second nature to me. It also meant that I could trust them to adapt and improvise when we inevitably encountered issues such as a lack of space interfering with the shotlist. Having faith in my camera department meant that this issue was tackled swiftly, and production could continue smoothly. What I have learned from this experience is that building a friendship with your crew is equally as important as building a work relationship as it strengthens your understanding of their behaviours and how to get the best out of them.

The Inspector behind his metaphorical prison bars

As a result of this project, I now know that giving actors room to breathe life into their characters in a good first step in developing their arc. Trusting my actors’ perspectives on this project has allowed me to develop trust and a strong working relationship with them, which led to an effective shoot and a shared creative vision. It’s an approach to directing that I will continue to employ on future projects.

This is the first project where I've had the opportunity to hot seat my actors and rehearse with them before shooting began. I learnt a lot from this process about how to build a rapport with my actors as it taught me about the different approaches to and styles of acting, such as epic theatre. This allowed me to adapt my directing technique to each individual actor to ensure they give their best performance and explore different methods of performance to see which best suited the narrative of the film.

I'm satisfied with the film I produced, but I recognise that there is always room for improvement. I have taken this project as an opportunity to learn from the mistakes I've made as to not repeat them in future projects, but also to identify what worked well for me so that I can continue to develop myself into a better filmmaker. My main objectives moving forward are to first work on my ability to make actors comfortable during their performance by exploring different techniques to achieve this. Then secondly develop my understanding of script actioning so that I can better communicate my director's vision.

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