SFF 2016 Directors' Workshop

Cinematography by Miles Nera

Cinematography by Miles Nera


I received an email from Professor Jesse Wolfe of the Savannah College of Art & Design. It said that I was invited to take part in the Savannah Film Festival Directors' Lab Workshop with five of my peers, and, oh yeah, I have four days to come up with a scene. 

I scoured script banks for days until I found a particularly poignant scene from Barry Levinson's 1986 film The Diner. In this scene, a couple, Shrevie and Beth, argue about how Beth keeps messing up Shrevie's obsessively orderly vinyl record collection. What we learn, though, is that they are communicating so much more to each other with the records acting as a conduit for deeply held emotions.

To Shrevie, the records are a timeline of his life with each representing an important moment. Beth just sees them as music and wants to enjoy the music with no baggage attached. In the end, they are two people who deeply care about each other who do not understand each other. Beth needs to know that he loves her, and Shrevie desperately wants her to know how much he loves her, but neither can articulate their needs to each other because of how disjointed they have become. By they time they truly understand each other, it may be too late. 

Monday was casting day. The directors first met our instructors, DW Moffett and Mark Polish, and then our supremely talented pool of actors from LA and from the SCAD Performing Arts Department. We read through our scenes before finally selecting the perfect cast. 

Early in the auditions, I knew who my cast would be. Two SCAD students, Zane Harris and Ellis McAllister, seemed to shine on the stage with mature presences that could stand toe to toe with the professionals with whom they were running lines. 

On Tuesday, we rehearsed for most of the afternoon in order to feel out the space, simplify our design, and really get to the heart of what our characters are trying to say. 

In order to visualize this disjointed relationship, I chose to work liberally with the 180-degree axis between my characters, shifting it slightly so that it angles between them rather than connecting them. This, coupled with low key lighting, enhanced the tension in the scene while simplifying the technical side of it. 

On Wednesday, we loaded in and shot for our allotted one hundred minutes before turning to the editing room where we remained until our critique the following afternoon. 

Overall, this was an fantastic learning experience and a stimulating artistic endeavor. It was a fantastic exercise in adapting an existing work and transforming it into something new through emotion and staging. I am fortunate to have had such a talented and supportive cast and crew whose suggestions made all of the difference in discovering this story during rehearsal and production. 

W. Grey Gowder