Filmmaking is a difficult craft to practise. It's not like painting where you can grab some paint and a brush and practise a technique, or do a little study for a portrait. That's because filmmaking requires a lot of equipment and a lot of people to work that equipment.
This can become frustrating. I am constantly writing short scripts and ideas that I want to test and try but I don't have the time or the money to organise and pay a crew. The other problem can be that with a crew, you have to take suggestions and changes, and when I'm practising a technique on it's own, that can be annoying and fruitless.
But every now and then, I get to make a short film with just a few actors, me and Kevin and that to me is heaven.
"The Flu" is one of those quick projects that I really enjoyed making.
I wrote the script one day, after writing a series of short humorous pieces and finally landing on this one. I had recently watched a scene from a TV show that was a 4 minute moving shot, following two characters having a conversation through an apartment, up to the next level and back down. It was not the 'walk and talk' of the West Wing but beautifully blocked and timed and I was mesmerised.
I really wanted to try a dialogue piece in that style, using movement and blocking to create interest to what could be two people standing talking at each other. I love dialogue. I love taking normal, everyday situations and people and playing with it to try and make it interesting.
Kevin and I spent a week, every evening, practising dressing and lighting our living room and corridor. It wasn't perfect but it was getting there.
We used 3 Pro Photo Video Studio 800w Redheads to light the scene, softening them with makeshift diffusers using reflectors and white muslin doubled over. Lighting was difficult because the majority of the scene was moving so the light had to hit the right spots. Blocking the actors movements helped land them in the right areas and avoid dark patches as much as possible. We used two 800W in the living room and 1 800W in the corridor with a work light and an orange gel to add some light to the face.
I practised with my Yelangu Stabiliser using a 50mm 1.8 lens. This combination was decided upon after accepting that I needed a lens with a wide aperture and that was the only one I had. I would have preferred one with Image Stabiliser but the one I has was f4 and looked very dark and grainy. The 50mm wasn't as wide as I would have liked, I would have preferred a 24mm or 35mm but had to work with what I had. Since I wasn't using a follow focus, points had to be marked off on the ground to show the correct distance between the actors and camera and blocking had to work to those points so I would be in focus when landing at different moments in dialogue.
I will say that we did about 10 takes and only two were usable, which was what I was expecting. I had also decided earlier that because of the size of our living room and the lack of room to move, two points in the dialogue would be static. I made that decision not only based on location but because the two points that are static were major delivery lines and I wanted the emphasis to be on the words and facial expressions, not on the movement.
Somebody recently asked me on a Facebook Group what my thinking was behind this short. I was thinking about the trope of young women with friends who become mothers being bored by them constantly talking about their children and seemingly ignoring everything they used to be interested in before. Then I thought about how, actually, we are all completely concerned with ANYTHING that is important to us at different times in our lives, sometimes selfishly, no matter whether they are trivial or important. I decided to turn the trope on it's head and out came "The Flu."
Charlotte Evelyn-Gray and Aja Dodd did a beautiful job of bringing the two characters to life, almost exactly as I had written them in my head, and it was a joy to work with them again.