April 23, 2007

No Cuts

Lindsey Shockley Shoots Non-Stop Thesis

By James Tella

The average eight to ten days of a thesis film shoot could very well be the most important and stressful time spent on a set for any SCA production student, so when third-year M.F.A. candidate Lindsey Shockley cut that schedule to three days and added the challenge of capturing the entire film in one take, the pressure was enormous.

Lindsey Shockley with DP Steven Edell.
Today, with The Truth About Faces completed, Shockley admits shooting a 14-minute film about a mother and daughter forced to come to terms with a tragic event ensured that everyone involved in the project was at the top of their game.

“This movie is all about very awkward tensions,” said Shockley, who has always been fascinated by long takes in movies such as Rope and Nine Lives. “There are all these private and painful things going on inside these two women and by never cutting away, we never give the actors a chance to escape their character.”

Filmed in a Glendale clothing store, whose owner “gave us amazing access to clear everything and literally take over,” Shockley added that the intense preparation was pivotal before she even called “action.” From repainting the store, to building a dressing room large enough to accommodate two actors, a costumer, the Steadicam operator and his equipment, to laying the lighting scheme above the action in order to hide the equipment from the camera, the physical challenges seemed overwhelming and were “a total team effort.”  
Turning a store into a movie set.

“There came a point when I had to give up all the pre-planning and let the film become real. I owe so much to everyone involved and knew that we were ready and that it would work,” Shockley said, commenting that the trickiest parts to film were the scenes in the mirror. “If an actor dropped a line, or we caught the camera’s reflection, we’d have to start again from the very beginning.”

Shockley with Steadicam Operator, Daniel Stilling.
Since the doors to the outside world were shut once the camera rolled, the Glendale store became a vacuum of movie making. With characters hidden behind props waiting for their cues, windows scrimmed over to control the lighting, actors equipped with body mics, and crew members strategically placed out of sight, Shockley had to “let my baby fly” and relinquish control. With each retake, Shockley’s sympathies were immediately turned toward her Steadicam Operator, Daniel Stilling, who “literally carried 85 pounds of equipment on his shoulders.”

“There was no net and no sleight of hand,” said the North Carolina native, acknowledging that her theater background helped her feel completely comfortable in an atmosphere where the action is live and there is no room to stop. “It taught me that you only have to be in one place at one time, and if you know what that place is, it clarifies what your story needs.”

Out of 27 attempts, the cast, which included Hanna Hall (Forrest Gump, The Virgin Suicides) and Julie Pop (Will & Grace) and
A scene from Shockley's non-stop thesis.
crew reached the finish line eight times, leaving Shockley with the difficult task of picking the best of the batch.

“It was definitely tempting to edit,” laughed the director. “There were nuances in one take that I liked over another, but this freed me from having to make knee-jerk reactions and made me love the one that we chose—flaws and all.”

Now that The Truth About Faces is completed, would she recommend others follow her lead?

“Don’t stress. You’ll hear ‘why?’ and that it’s ‘too risky,’ but do it and have fun,” Shockley laughed.