Earrings (short) - A Film-Making Study

Making films seems to interest most, more than simply writing about them. I understand this urge first hand. Filmster Alex Withrow, writer of the film blog 'And So It Begins', has recently re-taken up the adrenalin pumping ('Making a movie is hard') experience for himself with his short film 'Earrings' [which I have embedded at the bottom of this post] staring Catherine Warner.

So far, it has been receiving rave reviews by his (somewhat bias(?)) blog fan base and 'drinking buddies alike' on many blogs and LETTERBOXED. I am not writing this to leave another one.

While staying very conscious of his blog, he decided to further include his community and friends by dividing the experience into 10 blog posts. 10 very interesting diary posts. Especially for anybody wanting to do something similar. Like myself. This is what I am writing this for. Learning from somebody’s achievements (and more importantly: their mistakes) is as flattering as it gets folks.

'Earrings is a short that will be part of an assumed anthology. I’ve spent the past two years writing and reworking 10 short films that are (very) loosely connected. Earrings is just first in line. I’m going to spend as long as it takes filming all 10 shorts, and eventually release them together. But until then, Earrings will stand as its own film. '

Withrow not living in L.A. where he shot it, resulted in Catherine Warner doing a huge chunk of the pre-production, location hunting, gathering a crew etc.

'With this project especially, my lead actress Catherine is lending a lot of herself to the material. The script forces her to go to some dark places emotionally, so I think it’s chiefly important to be aware of the vulnerability an actor is giving to your film.'

When discussing his previous short with Warner:

'It’s little things like having a brother hit on his sister, without his sister’s prior knowledge, that can make a scene spontaneous and authentic. So, yeah, I’m a huge fan of giving opposing direction to actors playing a scene together. As long as they stay in character, greatness has the potential to be achieved. '

Withrow describes some of the ways in which he came about his ideas. Some solely from songs that burst forth with images to one day be regurgitated onto page or screen. Some particular inspiration came from the brilliant Ingmar Bergman.

'For Cries and Whispers, Bergman describes how he was “plagued” by the image of a room bathed in red. The red room haunted him, it kept him awake at night, begging, pleading... I sat dumbfounded because that is precisely where my screenplays come from, that persistent image that won’t go away. '
The sentence 'the images are the dialogue' from Steve McQueen on the topic of Hunger (2009), is an idea he can also identify with 'wholeheartedly'.

'Images and coincidences, that’s what my writing stems from. The images force me to write, the coincidences make it worth it.'

While he was incredibly lucky to get such an accepting crew, especially when he hasn’t met them before, capturing sound in a public place was hassle due to the 'helicopters and airplanes and dogs and women on their cell phones'. Coming from his 3rd entry, and his first principle photography after-thoughts, he couldn’t help but have a greater appreciation for those who often go unnoticed. 'I’m an extremely visual person, and it has taken me until this movie to understand the importance (no, the necessity) of capturing crisp sound on a movie set.'

'I’ve never, literally never, begun a take with the word “action” and ended it with “cut.” It seems so… snappy to me. As in: Perform, now! But I’ve learned that many crew members on a set need those words to do their jobs.'

'making movies sure does beat working'

'We spent 25 hours filming the movie over the course of five days. Filming this movie was one of the most difficult and demanding things I’ve ever done. I haven’t the slightest shred of a psychotropic substance in my body right now, but damn do I feel high.'

After the shoot he did what he was 'dreading' and checked the footage only to find he had to re-shoot previous scenes that were ultimately ruined by the sound disturbances I mentioned above. During the end of the second extra day of shooting, Withrow says: 'As the actors delivered the final lines of their exchange, a few tears swelled in my eyes. I knew we had it, and I was ecstatic.'

While personally, the film seemed to hold together his thoughts through a seemingly rough patch in his life, he still came to the same conclusion as everyone else: 'editing is a bitch'. He then goes on to say 'All movies are made in the editing room' which I cannot disagree with enough. The fix it in post idea just never works out. It is ALWAYS better to just try to perfect it the first time. The phrase just undermines the work of the crew etc.

Withrow then discusses some publicity material: a facebook banner, a poster and a trailer. He claims the trailer is important by using this as an example of how much you can express in 2 minutes. Malick is always a great example.

In the end, it was his heart and soul he put on the line when writing and making this film and it seems to be the unanimous and selfless support from almost total strangers, like this, that kept him going. So main lesson to take out of the making of Earrings? Always keep a supportive group around you, just in case. 

'It’s weird that people who live on the other side of the world can be there for you in ways a good friend who lives next door can. But this thing of ours, this glorious, digital family I’ve fallen into… it’s something that I never expected'

Although I am not a big fan of the film itself, I cant help but wish him all the best of luck, from one filmster to another, and hope he gets everything out of it that he ever wanted.

And finally, I present:

EARRINGS: The Film from Alex Withrow on Vimeo.