Here at In Their Own League, we like to support Indie Filmmakers and we were so impressed by Gavin Michael Booth’s latest film “Last Call” (you can read Caz’s 5 Star review here), so we jumped at the chance to talk to Gavin about how he managed to pull off such a marvellous film. Bee Garner spoke to Gavin about the inception of the film, what single-take films that inspired him and which female filmmakers he admire. Please make sure to check out the links below, especially the making of feature which helps gives a unique insight into the process of the production of this wonderfully moving and impactful film which we hope more people seek out.
Hi Gavin, thanks for joining me. I just want to start off this interview by saying how much I was moved by “Last Call”. Your film made me cry!
Gavin: We hear that a lot. The comment I hear the most often from viewers coming out of festival screenings is “Fuck you” as tears are streaming down their faces. The hardest thing about making a film without any editing was the thought of whether or not people would have an emotional connection to the story and the characters, especially when you don’t have the usual tools that you would normally use to get certain emotional reactions from the audience. We’re pretty pleased with how it all turned out.
How did Last Call come to be?
Daved Wilkins (who stars in the film as well as co-wrote and produced it), runs a group called ‘Coffee Talk’ which is a group for Industry folk so actors, writers and everything in between and the idea is that you’re not meant to discuss anything negative during the meetings. During one of these meetings we were talking, I’ve cast him in a couple of my music videos before, and he comes from a comedy background. He was trying to find a way to break into drama but people weren’t giving him a chance.
He came to me with this idea of shotting him in a single take calling a suicide hotline and that would showcase his acting range as there wouldn’t be any editing or manipulation so it would all rely on his ability as an actor. He knew that I have a long history of shooting single-take music videos and I have one two 20 minute short films including the first ‘Live’ horror film for Blumhouse for Halloween.
So, he knew I had no fear of doing a project like this. Over that one coffee, we hashed out the basic plot and everything seemed to fit into place. It’s like that moment in “Big Fish” where everything stops. As soon as David pitched me the idea, I was like ‘Oh, I can do this!’ A good friend of ours Katie Featherstone (‘Paranormal Activity’) works at a crisis hotline and we worked with her to research the story. We wanted to tell the story honestly and not make light of mental health issues.
And, then one night I had the idea about what if it was a random stranger who answered the call, and we played around with several variations of who that stranger would be. Ultimately, we settled on the character of Beth, this janitor who is having things go wrong in her own life. We thought this would be more compelling, as the minute you have it be a stranger and not a mental health professional, all the rules are out of the window, as they don’t know the protocols. You have what every great movie has, the “everyday man” being thrust into an extraordinary circumstance.
Was there anything that you had to exclude for the sake of the film’s structure? And what challenges did you face shooting the film?
Absolutely. We shot this on an incredibly tiny budget and we had 10 days to rehearse all performance and technical aspects of the film and then we had 4 days to film it and get it right. Our goal was to shoot two times per night, we did shoot the film simultaneously side by side, with one camera crew with Scott and one with Beth shooting on different locations at exactly the same time.
Our script originally was driven by Scott’s desire to have some to speak to rather than Beth’s decision to stay on the phone, and when we were in rehearsals Sarah (the actress) commented that personally, she would have hung up on the guy because he was kind of arrogant and annoying, and that she didn’t believe the character of Beth would have stayed on the phone with him. Daved and I sat down the night before we started shooting on the last day of rehearsals and we rewrote 35 pages of the script to make the adjustments as we knew there was nothing we could change in editing later. So, on the very first day of shooting David and Sarah had to learn 35 new pages of the script!
Wow, that’s incredible! Both actors deliver such great performances!
Well, they both have theatre in their background, it’s kind of in their DNA.
How did you find Sarah who plays Beth?
It was actually pretty simple because I’m married to her! There’s a great play called ‘Blackbird’ which Sarah performed in, and I had seen her perform it in Toronto when we were living there. It’s a one-act play and there are no scene breaks, you’re in this intense conversation style and I remember thinking “Wow this actress can do anything” and I knew she would be perfect for this film. Like any Indie film, we did try to find a ‘named’ star as it’s hard to sell Indie films without having a name attached. Although we knew Sarah was perfect, we did consider other options but things didn’t work out with timing. However, I can’t imagine making this film with anyone else.
Did you work with Sarah and Daved on developing their characters’ backstories?
It’s interesting with Daved being one of the writers because he’s steeped in that character from Day 1, and for me, every film is story and script first and then the actors breathing life into those characters. If you have those two aspects working then people will forgive you for little issues with cinematography or editing or sound. As long as you have the story and the actors, then the film will go because that’s all a movie is: story and characters. We made intensive character notes down to stuff like what kind of breakfast cereal they would eat and what their daily routine was like. We would discuss Beth’s backstory and developing elements about her personal life like what was going on with her son and her career. We were lucky because we had lots of rehearsals. Many films just have one table read and then actors have to prep independently and it doesn’t always match up to what the director wants.
Can you talk about how you managed to pull off the filming process, you were basically filming two films at the same time! What’s your magic secret?
The only magic secret on this project was pure insanity! Everybody we talked to said “do not do it, it will not work out, you won’t be able to pull it off, even if you managed to pull off the technical aspects, you won’t be happy with the performances” and to all of that, I just thought that I would rather try and fail than not try.
In terms of shooting, I was the camera operator for Scott’s side of the story and my cinematographer Seth was the camera operator for Beth so we were in our separate locations and communicated by phone. We would roll an extra minute so everyone could get into position. I was just so focused on shooting Scott’s story that I couldn’t worry about what was happening on the other side, and I knew if they were still going and Sarah didn’t interrupt to say that Seth had fallen down the stairs with the camera then I knew things were going relatively well!
I think what works about this film as well is the imperfections, if we had taken away all of the ‘Um’s’ and ‘Ah’s’ then I think we would have ruined the realism. Also, our musical score was recorded in one take which was another great trick we managed to pull off too.
Were there any one-take films that you used as a reference when making “Last Call”?
I’m a die-hard fan of single-take movies, the first one I saw was in HighSchool when a Film Studies teacher showed me “Rope” and explained how they did it by stitching together the edits. I saw “Russian Ark” when it was released and just thought “Wow!”. I still think “Russian Ark” is the craziest single-take film ever made because I believe it has 2000 live performers and 3 orchestras, and at the time it was the filmed, the camera couldn’t hold that much data so the camera operators were wearing a vest full of hard drives that were all connected to the camera in order to store that much footage.
And, I have also seen “Time Code” Mike Figgis’ film which was a big influence. And, of course, the big one was “Victoria”, our cinematographer reached out to the cinematographer who worked on “Victoria” for some helpful advice and tips on how to move from room to room and lighting techniques. There were some great exchanges between emails. That’s the thing if you can learn from the masters who have come before then you should take advantage of that. Most recently there’s been “1917” which I have seen three times now.
Do you have any advice to young filmmakers who are out there and looking to make their first feature?
Yes, I have actually been speaking at some film festivals about this very thing, the best advice I can give is understand the business aspect of filmmaking and make sure you’re making a film that you can sell. Not to get in the way of the art but to make sure you understand what’s required of a feature film at the end of the day. Yes, you may be able to film it for $10,000 in your Grandma’s backyard but you do need to have a 5:1 sound mix, you do need to have subtitles files, and all these things cost money as well. So, just understanding what’s going to be needed at the end will save you the trouble along the way. Beyond that, the best thing you can do is try and work on some feature film sets and also talk to filmmakers who have just made their first feature film and try to absorb all the information you can.
Also, keep rewriting! Don’t go out a shoot your first draft which is a common problem I see with many first-time filmmakers that they’re so excited to do it that they don’t want to do the scary hard work of rewriting their script and listening to people’s notes. You can’t fix it in post. Once you shoot a bad movie, you’ve shot a bad movie. You can have the best music, the best SFX but if you have a bad script then you’ve got a bad movie on your hands. That goes for Blockbusters too!
Over here at ‘In Their Own League’ we focus primarily on female filmmakers. Are there any female filmmakers whose work you admire?
There are the big ones like Kathryn Bigelow who I have been a huge fan of for years. She’s been a trailblazer that’s been around for decades now and her range of work is amazing. I mean “Near Dark” is one of my favourite Vampire movies and then she made “Point Break” one of the best action movies ever made, and then she goes on to make small Oscar contenders such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. She’s one of the best of her craft. Also last year at the Napa Valley Film Festival I had a chance to see “Booksmart” and meet Olivia Wilde. I’m always impressed whenever someone makes the change from acting to behind the camera. You never know what to expect and then when someone’s debut like that blows you out of the water, it’s really inspiring.
Thank you for Gavin for his time. Please make sure to check out the links below: