Chatter is an incredible 7 minute short film that manages to capture a lot in such a little amount of time. The film really draws you in and frightens the lights out of you. Lights Film School recently had the opportunity to interview the film’s Director, Leo Christopher Resnes, and Cinematographer, Espen Gjelsten.
The film along with our interview can be found below. Enjoy!
Before we begin I wanted to thank you both for sharing your insights into your film for our filmmaker audience.
Let’s talk about Chatter in its pre-production stages. Leo, you wrote the script. How many people did you have on board at the beginning and how long did it take you to write the script?
Chatter was really just one way of doing the opening scene of a project I wrote a couple of years ago. It didn’t take me long to write it, but I had to make a few adjustments along the way. In the beginning it was only myself and a story, I contacted Espen and he liked it. Together we found a way to make it happen on a very limited budget. I did most of the work when it came to the locations and the actors while Espen did most of the work when it came to camera and equipment.
Espen, the opening shot is beautiful (above). You really start out with a visually powerful composition. This opening shots gets my interest right away. Can you tell us how you lit that shot? What rig was your camera on to stabilize the shot?
This was actually the last shot we did on the film. We (Leo and myself) thought this would be a nice way to start the film, with something visually interesting while introducing the main character. This staircase was just outside the door of our main location, witch was an old wooden house in Ålesund, on the west coast of Norway.
The camera is on a jib and it is lit from below with two 800w tungsten lights bounced off the wall and ceiling.
Espen, how are you lighting the shot at :51 (above)?
This shot is lit with one 800w shot through some white de-fusion in the kitchen, one 800w with a softbox shot up in the ceiling in the hallway and one dedolight with some blue gel in the ceiling of the bathroom.
What camera was Chatter shot on?
We used the Red One camera, at 24fps and 180 degree shutter. The film is shot at 4.5K 2.35:1.
When you were starting out to make the film how did you guys agree on the look of the film? What was the Director / Cinematographer relationship like during the pre-production stages?
Leo: Our main focus was to see if we could make something scary. We had a great location and great actors so Espen and I spent a lot of time on the main location trying to figure out how we could use the different rooms to our advantage. We had a good Director/Cinematographer relationship, we had alot of fun.
Espen: I think the look came from visiting the locations and talking with Leo about what he wanted visually. It was a collaborative process that just came from talking about the characters and story.
When you’re using your camera handheld what emotional impact are you trying to communicate to the audience? How does your camera movement help you tell your story?
Leo: All shots were planned to tell specific parts of the story. We wanted to use the crane and the dolly in the beginning to open the story, I didn’t want to show the main actress’s face until the third shoot. This way we could use sound to create the illusion of the apartment building the main character is living in and make us curious about who she is. Camera movement can help you create these illusions and enable you to keep the audience’s attention. When we use handheld it enable us to come a bit closer to the main character where “the action” takes place, we felt that it would be the right way to film most of this specific project.
Espen: We wanted to do it handheld because it gives the film an edge and the camera can respond more to the emotion of the characters. It just felt right for this film.
Espen, what lenses did you use?
We used a Red 18-50mm T3 zoom lens.
Leo, your casting is incredible and your actor’s performances are really strong. Can you tell us a little bit about your casting methodology?
Karoline Stemre was the only person I wanted for the part of Liz. Luckily she liked the script and wanted to do the project. For the other parts I wanted someone who would be able to portray the action within an almost static frame. I knew both Tom Larsen and Anniken Løviknes and even if they weren’t professional actors I knew they could do the part. Tom had some experience, but I think this was Anniken’s first time in front of the camera. When I write I try to imagine who could play that specific part, but I don’t think I have a specific casting methodology. I use the best actors I can get and hopefully we enable them to give their best performance.
Leo, how do you approach design, wardrobe and styling?
With Chatter we had a great location, we just needed to make it look like there was a girl who lived there. So I went to a lot of female friends and asked if I could borrow specific items. Then it was just dressing the set. For the wardrobe, due to our limited budget, we asked the actors to provide for it themselves, however the clothes used for the “blood” scenes were provided by the production. We asked the actors to bring four different changes of clothes to the set and then I would chose what I liked the best. We had Yvonne Andreassen on the main set to help with hair and make up.
Your locations are great. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you were looking for in a location? When you enter a space what types of things are you looking for? How long did you location scout for?
We wanted an old apartment for the main location, and I was looking for a location that would enable us to create exciting shots and give the actors plenty of room to portray their character. When I enter a location I look for specific things like:
- How the rooms are divided
- Ways to divide a shot into different moments within the location
The main location I didn’t scout for at all. I wrote the script in Oslo and when I came back to Ålesund I visited a friend of mine who had moved into an old apartment at the edge of town. It felt like I wrote the scipt for that specific apartment. The other apartment was Espen’s and the “university” location we found at “Høgskolen i Aalesund”. I probably spent 5 minutes location scouting.
Espen, what were you using to stabilize your shot at 2:22 (above).
Most of the shots are all handheld with no other rigging. Basically, I just try to make the movement feel a little organic, and follow the emotion of the characters.
Espen, how are you lighting 5:36 (ab0ve)?
This shot is lit with the lighter, and a dedolight from above on a boom, and a dedolight shot directly on the glass of the door from outside in the hallway. When the lights come on we used a 800w tungsten with a softbox shot up into the ceiling from behind the camera.
This was really one of the more fun shots we did, with many people working together with the different lights and the timing of it, we where happy when it all came together.
Leo, your sound design is great. What are you recording sound on?
I can’t remember what we recorded the sound on, but I spent a long time in post production with Stefan Olsen who was the sound recordist and was responsible for the sound design. I wanted to create a specific sound to the world where Liz lives. From the sound of the apartment building, to Liz creating her own world within her apartment through music, to the eerie sound of the apartment after Liz sees the murder on the computer. Stefan did a great job.
Leo, where the musical references decided before you started shooting or did you find those songs once you started editing?
I didn’t know what I wanted until I heard it. I invited Anette Furnes Brendjord into Stefan’s studio one day and asked her to sing some of her songs, Stefan recorded it and worked on the song “Black Bile”. The creepy music during the end credits was created by Bjørn Helge Lervåg.
Leo, what was the budget for the film and how did you go about financing it?
This was a no budget production, I had enough money to get the actors to set, buy fake blood, cover all windows with plastic bags to prevent light from getting through and feed my crew.
Thank you both both greatly for taking the time to talk to our audience about your film. We wish you continued success with your future projects.