IN THIS ISSUE
Feature: The Natural
by Tara Thorne
Tech Corner: Post-Pro To Go
with Abner Collette
with Kay Slauenwhite
The Shot List
Calls, Grants, Opportunities
Stephanie Joline breaks down why she used only available light to shoot Night Blooms
by TARA THORNE
The writer, director, and occasional actor Stephanie Joline lived the local filmmaker’s dream this spring: In April, her feature film Night Blooms had a two-week run at Cineplex Park Lane.
Shot in 2019 and delayed multiple times by the pandemic, the high-school drama follows a rural teen named Carly (Jessica Clement) who, during a bored summer of kinda-sorta starting a band with her best friend Laura (Alexandra McDonald), instead finds a much more enticing hobby: Laura’s dad, Wayne (Nick Stahl).
Joline worked for nearly two years with cinematographer Paul McCurdy to achieve the film’s grimy, naturalistic look, which makes its working-class surroundings—the never-named town is a stand-in for the director’s hometown of Yarmouth, NS—feel authentic and lived-in. Add some Sub Pop stickers and Babes in Toyland songs and you’ve got yourself something we haven’t seen much of around here: a ’90s coming-of-age story.
Joline spoke to WorkPrint by phone.
WorkPrint: At what point in the process did you decide on this aesthetic?
Stephanie Joline: It was after we got the Telefilm funding—I started thinking about the look. I had a lot of meetings with the DP about what I liked, and didn’t like. But I didn’t know how to word a lot of it, I didn’t have the language—I would bring the laptop and show him clips and stills, and say “I like this” or “I don’t like this.” Eventually he said, “You don’t like wide lenses, you like dark-looking, 16mm film.” He was able to figure it out. Two years before we even shot we were prepping.
WP: And what did the actual day-to-day process of that prep look like?
SJ: It was my first time directing a feature and one of Paul’s first features—he also did Koumbie’s Ariyah & Tristan’s Inevitable Break-Up—and he and I both really wanted it to look good, but fully understood that we weren’t doing this to get paid. That’s something I realized I’m very lucky that it happened, because you can’t really ask people to do that, work for no money for two years. We were a bit nervous that it wouldn’t look good, so we wanted to be over-prepared.
He would rent his own smoke machine and bring it to my house, smoke up the house and light things with my lamps, tell my friend Haley to sit on my couch and just shoot it. Then we’d watch it and I’d be like I don’t like this and he’d change a lens. When it comes to low-budget movie-making you have no time to figure it out on the day, it’s just go-go-go. I’ve heard people say, “Your first week is when you get in your groove,” but who has time to reshoot your first week when you have three weeks, total?
We wanted to show up on the first day knowing what we were doing.
WP: And how did it work out as an approach?
SJ: It was way more complicated than I anticipated it would be. [laughs] I thought you’d go into a room, move some lamps around until you like it and start rolling. I thought it would save us so much time.
If you’re outside, we don’t know in Nova Scotia what the weather’s going to be like. Cloudy is great. But we had to assume every exterior was going to be sunny. If it was, we had to plan to shoot the exterior high school scenes from noon to 2. We had to do that for every exterior in case it was sunny.
And Paul has an app—where the sun is today is not gonna be where it is in a month, so we had to plan the date we were going to shoot on too.
We had to figure all of those things out. And I thought when we turned to interiors it would be a lot easier. We can’t control where the sun is, I get that, but when you go inside, you just put the blinds down and start shooting, right? But Paul was so picky—if you saw bright sun outside the window, we had to schedule what time we were shooting in each room in each house based on where the sun was shining in the window. If the sun is shining bright on a house outside a window, it’s just washed out, you can’t see any detail, it looks a bit cheaper. Because it was my first time doing it I was like, “I trust you, if you say it looks good I believe you,” and the truth is, it really does.
One of my favourite parts of the film is how it looks. That’s not by accident. We didn’t just get lucky, it was very annoying. [laughs]
WP: Did it make shooting coverage faster?
SJ: Yes. Where more traditionally you might shoot a wide shot, relight for a closeup, relight for a closeup again, you stop and do three different setups. What we would do is a lot of that same coverage—wide, close, close—but we didn’t need to move any lights. Instead of taking any breaks in between—you know, “Actors step down for 30 minutes”—for us you don’t have a second to break.
WP: Did the actors like that? They could stay in the moment without being interrupted.
SJ: I don’t want to speak for them, but I think there’s pros and cons. The pro is you’re staying within the scene and not breaking out and trying to remember your emotional state. But if you want a break, you don’t get it.
I think their performances ended up being much better. Even the best actors, if you give them two shots at it, they’re not going to get it every time. But this way we had five, 10 takes. You can find different stuff in the performance that you might not otherwise, where you might just read it as it is on the page and move on.
Night Blooms has its flaws and I’ll pick it apart forever but I’m most proud of how it looks, and the performances. Both of those things happened because of how we decided to shoot it.
WP: There must have been, once you were set up in the shot, more freedom too?
SJ: Because we shot it all handheld and there weren’t a bunch of stands and lights blocking our space all around us—we were able to move with the characters. So in one shot we could move from their face to their hands back to their face. That was a cool thing I didn’t know I liked.
And in the edit—traditionally you would cut from the wide to the closeup while she talks and to the other closeup while she talks. But because we had so many moving shots—from her face to the guitar to her hand back to her face—they were all one shot, so it was a cool bonus I didn’t think about that, I think, gives it a different look.
WP: Would you shoot this way again, do you want it to be your signature approach?
SJ: I would love it if it was my signature approach. I mentioned it to Paul after we shot. I said I’ve got a great idea: “Why don’t we just do this?! We’ve done it so well with Night Blooms, we’re both very proud of how it looks, why don’t we do that? That’s what our movies look like when we work together!” And he reminded me that we’re not always going to have a year and a half to prep.
I will definitely push to do it again. I have a time travel movie I’ve been trying to get made for a few years—who knows if it’ll ever get made, it’s sci-fi but it’s a psychological thriller—but if so, I really think this aesthetic will work for that.
WP: You had this experience that all filmmakers want, which is to see their film in their local movie theatre. How was that for you?
SJ: It’s kinda cheesy to use the word “surreal,” but that’s how it feels. It was surreal to walk by the movie posters and mine is one of them. It looks like my movie is a legit movie, next to Batman and The Lost City. Then my imposter syndrome kicks in: “This isn’t a real movie.” But it is, though, it’s here next to the other movies.
WP: And what has the response been like, now that it’s been able to reach a wider audience?
SJ: I’ve had a few people message me that have seen Night Blooms, and the consistent feedback has been, “I can’t stop thinking about your movie, it’s really sticking with me.” They’re not saying whether it’s good or bad, but it sticking with them is a big compliment for me. Any artist feels like they can get lost in the noise, so the fact that people are thinking about it after they see it, that’s a pretty big compliment.
Night Blooms arrives on VOD later this spring.
POST-PRO TO GO:
FREE SOFTWARE FOR FULL MEMBERS
For this week’s Tech Corner, AFCOOP is excited to announce a new Full Member benefit, POST-PRO TO GO, which will provide Full and Lifetime Members with free remote access to fully licensed post-production software.
We know it can be tough to navigate post-production workflow as an independent filmmaker, and while our media suite is a great resource, we wanted to provide you with something that you could tinker with in the comfort of your home (or wherever).
HOW IT WORKS:
Step 1: Book the software using our online Rental Request form.
Step 2: Use it on your own projects, anywhere you want.
Step 3: Bring it back, or tell us when you’re finished.
After one month, the software license goes to the next person in line. If no one else is requesting the program you are using, you can hang onto it until someone does! That’s pretty much it.
To start we will be offering the following programs:
PREMIERE PRO CC: Completely Online
No need to come in and pick up, we will send it directly to your email.
Returns are done remotely online.
DAVINCI RESOLVE STUDIO 17: Physical Dongle
You can pick up a DRS7 dongle in person at AFCOOP.
Returns are also done in person at AFCOOP.
BONUS – FINAL DRAFT 12: Media Suite (Sorry, this one is not portable — We tried!)
You can use our newly installed full version Final Draft 7 when you book the AFCOOP media suite.
Tip: You can export your Celtx screenplays in “text” format and bring them into Final Draft.
Happy shooting, everyone!
Do you have a tech question that needs answering? Ask Abner!
Send your questions to: email@example.com
with KAY SLAUENWHITE
Every month, we ask AFCOOP members and staff to share a few memorable discoveries that have come across their screens.
Crimes of Passion (US, 1984, dir. Ken Russell)
My roommate and I had a Ken Russell movie marathon over Easter weekend. We started with The Devils (perfect for Good Friday btw) and couldn’t stop! Crimes of Passion was the last in the marathon, and it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Crimes of Passion is a poetic portrayal of Joanna (China Blue), an intelligent student and sex worker who is stalked by two men; one a protagonist and one an antagonist, both of them obsessive and delusional. I found the film to be very visually and auditorily captivating, which for me, as someone who never really knows what’s happening (in a movie plot and otherwise), is usually necessary for my enjoyment. This film impacted me on an emotional and creative level—I recommend letting it wash over you like a funny, sexy fever dream.
Arrebato (Spain, 1979, dir. Ivan Zulueta)
Arrebato was recommended to me by fellow [AFCOOP Archives] team member and human-film-encyclopedia Meg Shields. I literally take notes when she starts talking about movies, and I’m especially thankful for this recommendation. I found Arrebato perfectly bizarre, dark, sexy, and kind of relatable. I watched this film in bed with chronic pain and depression flare ups while struggling to finish editing my own experimental film. I thought, “Why not take a break and watch this three-hour movie?” Arrebato presents an intoxicating perspective on interpersonal and creative obsession, and I think many experimental filmmakers and artists will find parts of themselves in this film, especially if you’ve experienced addiction.
Female Trouble (US, 1974, dir. John Waters)
I watched Female Trouble recently as a part of a John Waters marathon hosted by Annie Rose Malamet of the Girls, Guts, and Giallo podcast. Edith Massey is iconic as Aunt Ida, and I’ll always be inspired by the fat, queer, punk energy of Divine. It’s a treat to watch a film where being queer and filthy is centred—no one can do it like John Waters!
Kay is an intermedia artist and experimentalist based in Kjipuktuk/so-called Halifax. Interested in technology and science fiction, they might not be upset if one day they woke up as a cyborg. They’re excited to help AFCOOP build and preserve an accessible digital archive; their work and ways of moving through the world are informed by their experiences as a queer, trans survivor, and survival of stories is very important to them.