Directing 'Kelsey' - Episode 2

As I said in my first post, we tried to make the series as a whole feel uniform. We had decided that we would never veer very far from the overall look or feel of the show. However, slightly altering it for each episode to go along with a particular theme or Kelsey’s emotional state at that time was a large aspect of the series as well. Because of this, episode 2 (Don't Hit Send) was meant to feel a little odd and uncomfortable.



I thought that this episode's script was a ton of fun, not just because of the comedic dialogue and Kelsey being at her most extreme awkwardness, but because of how high-strung all the characters seemed to be (in their varying versions of what high-strung would look like for their personality-types, of course). I felt that this would be a little fun to play with visually. I also loved the commentary on modern dating and the reality of what we all have to deal with now: text-etiquette. So, with all of these elements in mind, I came up with the idea to have the camera consistently angled slightly downward toward Kelsey’s phone. She spends the entire episode waiting to hear back from and obsessing over the answers by Jen (Suckface), and I felt like putting the audience in the position of constantly looking down at the phone would be a great way to put viewers in Kelsey's uncomfortable footsteps.



Peter suggested we shoot most of the episode super wide to also help emphasis Kelsey’s emotional state, an idea I absolutely loved. Kelsey was in a seriously desperate mode and trying very hard to convince herself that her behavior was acceptable and normal. But looking at the facts here: she met a woman at a bar who kissed her so hard that she bruised her lips (bruises which lasted even days later), then Kelsey, for some bizarre reason, was still interested in this woman and continued to text her, only to get dismissive replies, to which Kelsey took as a sign to continue pursuing her. This is absolutely absurd but so perfectly an example of that place you’re in post-breakup when you just want to turn any new romantic prospect into the relationship you had before. For me, the addition of Peter's uncomfortably close, almost fisheye wide, framing choice totally appealed to me in terms of taking Kelsey's emotional state and making the audience feel it, whether they were conscious of it or not. 



To stray away from the shots here for a moment, I'd just like to talk about one of my favorite aspects of the episode, Kelsey's wardrobe. It was originally scripted that Kelsey wears a Snuggie. While shooting my feature film, Summit, my Gaffer (also the actress who ended up playing Shane), Charlotte Simpson was wearing this orange sleeping bag hoodie thing that we all on set found hilarious. When I was later discussing episode 2 with the Art Director we had at the beginning of production, Kit Sheridan, also Charlotte's roommate, I had mentioned that I wanted Kelsey to look as ridiculous as possible, to be completely consumed by the snuggie or whatever we ended up dressing her in. She suggested Charlotte's "Poler Knapsack," and I immediately loved the idea. It ended up being one of the most commented on aspects of episode 2, and a lot of fans asked where to buy one.

Moving back to the visuals. Compare this image to a wide from my last post (on episode 1).


This high wide not only emphasized what I've already discussed, emotional state & theme of the episode, but also cues you in on what exactly Tyrone’s storyline is referring to in this episode (Ryan Gosling, of course). A big part of my directing of the series is the idea of rewatch value, that you can pick up on new jokes within jokes each time you watch. I hate laugh tracks or the idea that comedy should revolve around moments of pause for the audience to absorb. Both Kelsey Rauber and I like witty, quippy dialogue that you either have to keep up with or watch/listen to again to appreciate the nuances. So, we definitely built the series around that mutual appreciation. That’s why maybe in episode one, you didn’t pickup on until the 3rd viewing that when Kelsey says “She’s Cameron Diaz, I’m an Ogre, and Pixar Movies do come true,” she’s referencing the movie Shrek, which is in fact a Dreamworks film, and she sings the last line in the Disney theme melody. I think that moment is pretty funny even if you don’t completely get the context, but it has another layer of humor when you realize Kelsey’s references are all wrong. Similarly, I think Tyrone’s dialogue and reactions to his server predicament is funny but funnier once you realize all his stress is actually related to a Ryan Gosling Fan Blog.

Again, an example of my attempt at "rewatchability," the scenes with Kelsey & Rowan watching a movie together on the couch is funny because of the dialogue and the wardrobe/art direction, but maybe becomes a tiny bit funnier when you realize they’re watching The Notebook? I don't like to spell those kinds of things out for an audience; I like to let them discover them on their own if they feel invested enough to look out for those little details. 


Of course the 14mm lens (something we only used in episode 2) elongates/widens everything in the foreground, which in this case, I feel, added even more to the comedic contrast of Kelsey & Rowan's height differences, especially because she's scrunched up in a little ball. This was not necessarily something we planned before that day on set. Once we got the positioning and blocking down, it just worked out perfectly. 

This shot took some creative maneuvering to pull off. Both Peter & I are super proud of it, so I'm mentioning it.


Notice the reflection of Kelsey's hands texting in the mirror across from Tyrone? Yeah, I know, pretty damn sexy. 

This episode was also about expanding on the characters a little more beyond just who they are in relation to Kelsey. Kelsey Rauber and I tried to deliver a lot of information in a small amount of time while maintaining our desired feel of merely dropping you into the story as if you're just as involved as the characters.

Tyrone's development was a little bit easier because we still had him isolated at the office with Kelsey. However, the scene between Kelsey, Sam & Rowan was super important because it was the first real introduction to the dynamics between the 3 characters. The first episode hinted at it but was more about getting Kelsey out of the house than seeing them interact in the way they normally would, particularly Sam & Rowan and their animosity toward each other. Kelsey and I didn't want what happens in episode 8 to come completely out of left-field. We wanted to build it into the narrative as much as possible; so this scene was key for introducing the idea that Rowan has maybe always liked Sam but his arrogance is actually hiding some insecurity, particularly around her, and that she hates the fact that she actually does find him attractive because he seems to represent exactly what she detests. So they have this ongoing love to hate each other dynamic (which episode 5 shows is actually kind of a functioning friendship, not just a situation where they tolerate each other with Kelsey as the glue. But I'll get to that later.)

With less than 10 minutes for each episode, it made developing the supporting characters difficult; so we had to be very choosey with what dialogue and interactions we chose to feature in order to make them feel fleshed out & like more goes on for them off-camera and outside of their friendship with Kelsey, while still moving the plot of each episode forward.

I think we accomplished that in this scene; and I think Peter's angles added to the subtext.


This is the scene where I would say the high-wides are at their most jarring. Peter and I kicked around the idea that we could get normal, eye-level Over-the-Shoulder shots for safety. But when shooting what is essentially a feature film in 15 shooting days, a few of which ended up having to be capped at just 6 hours, exploratory coverage just for safety was not really a luxury we had. Intentional choices had to be made a lot of time, with little alternatives available in the cutting room. So, we made the conscious choice to go with the awkward high wides and use them to accentuate the tension between Sam & Rowan, as well. I think it ultimately worked well.


I'm sure some people were put off by it. The almost-fisheye look was quite jarring. We could have made them more flattering for the actors and less uncomfortable for the audience with typical overs, but that would have been boring for me and Peter. And when you're doing a passion project where you're spending more than you'd ever make,  it should definitely be for the art of it as much as possible. I try to illicit an emotional reaction with my art as much as possible, even if it is a simple comedy. If I can honestly say I made you feel something, then I did the job I set out to do. 

This was of course the first appearance of Joanne.


We kept the wide motif but brought the camera down to eye-level to signify that Kelsey has come back down and isn’t obsessing about Jen so much. She’s even open to exploring new prospects. 

That’s all for now. I’ll be back in 2 weeks with the exploration of episodes 3 & 4. Next Tuesday, we’ll be releasing a blooper reel from the show! Be sure to check the blog for that. The view count is now at 139,748. Hopefully we'll hit 150,000 by the time I write my next post. Thanks for reading & watching!