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Compromise and Creativity
Psychotria is a short, narrative film shot in Richmond, Virginia. The audience follows Jonathan through a series of both real and dreamlike states on his internal quest to find the route he wishes to take in life. Shot as one long take with minimal editing, Psychotria places you in the world with the character on a fantastical trip through his mind. As with many things in life, conception was our favorite part. But it was the ability to fall in love with something over and over again throughout the process which showed it was worth making.
Psychotria began like many good things, titleless and grand, with a loose plot, and too much ambition. I sat down with a talented writer and good friend, Dan Ardura. As we pondered the project there on the back porch, pulling options from the ethereal web above us, we found simplicity, and started from there. A man, a woman, and a baby. We began to pile meat onto the story’s bones, and settled on two very important artistic choices of how to tell the story we wanted to tell: Long takes and hidden themes. Long takes can be hard, really hard, but we pursued them nonetheless in order to force the audience into the scene, with the characters. Cutting has the special ability to choose what your audience sees, and what they do not see. Our goal was to deprive our viewers of that luxury, and allow them to feel the disorientation and emotion as if they are one of the characters. Long takes are rarely a tool one can use in conventional narrative due to its restrictions of time, space, and dialogue, so we knew we had to write for the long takes.
We also needed our themes to exist subtly throughout the entirety of the film, without throwing it in the audiences’ face at every corner. Our production designer, Paddy Moynahan, gave so much to the project. With Paddy’s help, our themes, which you’ll have to watch to discover, hint beautifully at the underlying truth of what’s happening to Jonathan, and where his trip is taking him.
For this style of cinema, we needed a small, tight-knit crew who was no stranger to long takes, and the various lighting, camera, and sound issues to follow. So we pulled from our alma mater, VCUarts Cinema. Students of the VCUarts Cinema program are trained extensively on how to be a fully functioning team during a long take, and how to move and feel the scene as it plays out. From draft one I had always placed certain actors with our characters, even wrote character traits hoping to attract them. But never did I think I would get such an amazing group. Our lead, Joe Carlson, is a truly talented up and coming actor I have had the pleasure of knowing for some time now. I try and use Joe in nearly everything I do. From commercials to WWII science fiction, Joe is extremely versatile. The female lead, Montrece Hill, has this terrific energy she can bottle up or explode, and say the same thing. The dynamic of our leads very much changed their dialogue. With such great internal acting abilities, our writer Dan and I cut a lot of the exposition and chatter, allowing our actors to show and not tell. The films emotional dynamic was truly completed by veteran actors Paul Stober and Maria Callier, playing the role of Jonathan’s parents: The father, a new-money drunk with abusive tendencies, and the mother, a battered wife who is blind to the truth.
Everything lined up beautifully. We had our script, we had our crew, we had our actors, and we had a fundraising campaign with a roaring start. We had an amazing editor and colorist, Leigh Hagan, approach us to do post. What could go wrong? Well, we lost one location. Then another. Our fundraising slowed down to a mere crawl but the time 'til our shoot dates only gained speed. Things were not as fluid as they had been, but we pushed on. Through compromise comes creativity.
Looking back now, I am grateful for our restrictions because we definitely got a better film out of it. I remember having a talk a few months before the shoot with the producer, Amy Fox, the director of photography, Jack Payne, and Dan, the writer about how we are going to bring this story into fruition. We all looked at the script with fresh eyes and two questions in mind: what is the story we want to tell? And what is getting in the way of telling it? This process not only allowed us to cut a ton of budgetary fluff, but it made the story more appropriate for the short film format; no subplot, no unnecessary characters, no competing themes—just a simple, streamlined, meaty story.
The day before our first shooting day, Amy and I went to visit the meadow location. The meadow scene was one of the most difficult scenes in the film. It required special effects, matching camera moves, intense blocking, and more. Once we arrived, we found a few problems before us with the meadow.
So the next day, Jack, Amy and I showed up an hour before call time. Amy, with her charisma and wit, Jack and I, with our machetes. Amy handled speaking with the location owners again, and Jack and I hacked a path through the six-foot high grass, just in time for first rehearsal.
Better yet having the grass high we could no longer see barns and other property in the background during 360 camera moves, giving us a more immersive and focused scene. Through compromise comes creativity, right?
Other issues were few and far between after day one, and our tight-knit cast and crew worked beautifully over the span of our three shooting days in Richmond. We would like to thank Willow Oaks Country Club for their hospitality and generosity where we wrapped the production. We would also like to extend our deepest thanks to each member of our cast
and crew for all of their individual and combined efforts, without which we could not have seen a final product. Psychotria is currently in post-production, and upon its completion is
intended for film festivals and competitions. If you would like to donate to or stay updated on this project, you can e-mail us.