THE DINNER PRODUCTION DIARY
By Mother Brain
As I write this piece, I am currently in the editing phase of my latest short film, THE DINNER, a co-director collaboration between myself and my former Emerson College classmate, Anna Snead. This is the third project I produced this year following my ambitious Florida shoot for CIVIL WRATH: THE CONFEDERATE and my long-delayed short comedy TEMPTED. As one can imagine, each project can be draining to do, especially when the short gaps between productions are tight. Despite the exhausting process, I always try to remind myself that this job is all I have ever dreamed of doing.
Anna and I met in the fall of 2005 when we attended Emerson College together. We both had the same film production, screenwriting, and film business classes during that period. The only time we worked together during our studies was when I directed my first short film, OVERJOYED, as she volunteered as part of my crew. Five years passed following graduation when Anna reached out to me about possibly co-directing a short film with her; however, the idea we came up with proved to be too ambitious to produce and life experiences for both of us put our collaboration on hiatus.
After I gained some momentum on the professional front and had some film festival success with my newest short film, NIGHT STREAM, Anna (now working for the Discovery Channel) and I decided the time was right to make a new film. Instead of reviving our past idea, we found ourselves drawn to the idea of gated communities and how the perfect couples don’t appear as happy as they present themselves in public. Themes of identity, infidelity, jealousy, and class are blended into what we would write into THE DINNER. Once the script was completed along with months of casting, hiring crew, and fundraising, production was set to begin in September with locations in MD, Reston, VA.
THE DINNER shoot would mark my second time visiting the outskirts of the Washington D.C. area. A month before then, I visited D.C. for the screening of NIGHT STREAM at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in the National Navy Memorial. It was an exciting week full of sightseeing, networking, visiting old friends, and a great victory at the awards ceremony for us as my fellow costar, Reginald L. Barnes, won for Best Supporting Actor in a Short Film. As wonderful as it would have been to have a sweep with the other three nominations, the success we enjoyed on that film gave me the motivation to stay productive and the desire to win more awards someday.
As THE DINNER was scheduled as a two day shoot, I would stay in Arlington at the family home of my friend, Wilma Jones, who was more than accommodating to me. I even got to see her youngest son play high school football the night before the shoot which was a nice change in pace after a four hour drive that day. Once I got on set the following morning, we were on the move right away.
For the most part, the first day went well in spite of the unfortunate circumstance of replacing one of our actors. I won’t go into details and names, but the actor we originally cast for one of the roles had a home mishap that put us behind schedule. So Anna and I decided to take one of our grips who had the look we liked, made him shave, and immediately filmed him in the role. This actor had to be guided along throughout the day since there was little time to memorize lines, but we did feel his performance came across more natural than the actor we initially cast.
Many will ask what the process was for Anna and I to work as co-directors. In the past, I had attempted co-directing projects with other filmmakers that did not work out so well due to miscommunication or creative differences. Anna and I agreed to split tasks on set as she would work with actors on performances while I acted as the cinematographer working closely with the gaffers and grips. This shoot gave me a good opportunity to work with my new Canon 70D DSLR camera as well as my new slider dolly. I’ve owned the camera since last Christmas and only did a handful of small shoots with it. Fortunately, I had help from my gaffer, Ishmel, who showed me all the functions of the camera during the shoot.
Once the cast and crew got used to each other, it made the second day in Reston, VA go smoothly. The joy about working on THE DINNER was that the set was drama-free and everyone gave their full effort. I could go into more details about stories from the set, but then I’d risk spoiling the twists of our premise. What I can say is that the shoot made me more inspired to work on more productions outside of NY and perhaps consider reworking one of my scripts to take place in and around the D.C. area. Anna was a fantastic collaborator to work with as she had a strong handle on bringing out the best in our actors and finding subtle ways for them to tell the story. It’s hard to find people willing to take big risks like she did and I’m grateful to be part of it.