The Blackout

Building the ensemble cast

This project was extraordinary from the beginning in the sense that nothing about it was customary or traditional. We were making the rules as we went along, starting with the casting process. With no set script and relying on our actors to flesh out the characters, we couldn’t possibly hold traditional auditions. Instead, we relied heavily on our casting directors, Alice Merlin and Barbara McCarthy, to matchmake the ensemble cast that would make or break this film. They reached out to multi-faceted actors who were also content creators, improv performers and stand-up comedians, and whom they thought Daniela would personally click with. We set up hour-long coffee meetings and walk-and-talks around Echo Park Lake.  Dani trusted her intuition and made choices based on the immediate connections she felt with the  people who would actively collaborate in bringing these roles and stories to life.

We shot mainly in chronological order, and one of the most gratifying things about making this movie was witnessing how, over the 12-day shoot, just as our characters grew closer and closer together as the night progressed, our actors did as well.

They came as individuals but left as a tribe.

 

When Rehearsal Pays Off

The improvisational nature of this projected meant that traditional rehearsals and table reads were out of the questions. Instead, the director (and occasionally key department heads) hung out separately with the actors in small groups: the three roommates, the two brothers, those with histories that would come up during the night, the birthing team, etc. We didn’t workshop any scenes, rather focussing on deepening the actors’ connection and understanding of one another through exercises or activities that would reveal something uniquely pertinent to their relationships.

One of the most memorable hangouts was the first one, with Leah Henoch (Zoey) and Alexander Chard (Enzo). They were asked to bring a poem or song that was meaningful to them. They read it to each other and shared why they had chosen it. They were then asked to start talking, as people, about their piece and life in general, allowing the conversation to flow naturally. Afterwards, they each chose a line from their poem/song and said it to the other person whilst looking into each other’s eyes, weaving the lines into the conversation they were having. We trusted something magical would happen, and what followed was an incredibly moving exchange, with pure subtext, emotion and intention giving layers of meaning and weight to what they were saying. They felt it too, and found a connection between their characters that carried over into our film.

 

Trusting the Film Gods

We shot the entire film over 12 days, substituting downtown Los Angeles for New York City. We were incredibly lucky in that our shoot dates coincided with an unprecedented torrential downpour of rain in Los Angeles, which helped transform Los Angeles into a hurricane-drenched New York.There was no script, just a 45-page “scriptment.” Which meant the writer/director and the actors would be shaping the scenes and creating the movie on set, before our eyes. This was a delightful challenge for everyone, including the cinematographer and camera ops, who had to be prepared to capture the natural, organic flow of a cast that averaged out around 7 people, and at times featured 18 actors in the same scene!It was an exercise in trusting our intuition, the process, and believing that we could pull it off!

 

CIRCLE OF TRUST

During the pivotal scene of the “Circle of Trust”, a confessional-type scene with 11 people, we didn’t have the time to do multiple takes of each, so the director told the actors that, as proof of her trust in them, they’d each get one take. That’s how it would’ve been in real life anyways, you only get “one take” to tell your story. This “constraint” raised the stakes in such a way that we were able to capture astonishing performances from all the actors.

In a synchronistic event, as Ludo (our DP) and Nich (steady-cam op) were setting up, pulling focus and sitting back to back on a dolly inside the circle, they revealed they were actually a married couple! This kicked off the confessional aspect and intimate tone the scene required in the sweetest and most spontaneous of ways as the cast and crew engaged in a meaningful conversation about couplehood, working together as a team, and dealing with a “badass-lady-boss-who’s-also-your-wife.”

 

On the Power of Ritual

Every morning during shooting, right before our first shot, we kicked off our day by holding hands in circle. We would set an intention, share a moment of silence, and play the Tibetan singing bowl. We would bring up relevant news that related to the story we were telling, or someone would lead a guided meditation. If a member of our cast & crew was having their birthday, they got to lead the circle as a special treat.

Circle time was hard at the beginning, as we were mainly strangers holding each other’s clammy hands. But, as days went by, it became easier and something we all looked forward to. This ritual allowed us to share our vulnerability as well as our hopes, aspirations and wildest dreams for the movie we were making together.

“The Blackout” would certainly not be what it is if we hadn’t done that.