Episode 5 (A Best Friend's Birthday) is probably my favorite episode of the series. It’s the episode that I think translated to screen most closely to how Kelsey Rauber & I planned/envisioned; and I just find both sides of the story incredibly enjoyable. I think it’s where we were most successful in making something under 10 minutes feel like a complete episode, as if you were tuning in on network TV.
This episode is the first time we have Kelsey with all her friends in one environment, and, more importantly, the first time we allow the supporting characters to interact without Kelsey at all.
This, being the halfway mark for the season, was where we felt we could make a big shift in terms of the focus of the show and how the audience relates to Kelsey and the people around her. As I said in earlier posts, we where initially introducing you to Kelsey & her world through her experiences and emotions. But the goal was to take the series into a more ensemble direction and have her friends and lovers feel fully fleshed out, not just in relation to her. What would bring this on most, would be Kelsey lightening up on her self-centeredness. This is obviously not the case in this episode, as Kelsey is maybe at her worst on this date; but the shift is coming (which I’ll talk about in episode 6). However, to go along with that coming shift, we used this episode to really signal that coming change toward tighter frames and lenses (as discussed in depth in my first post). You’ll notice that the party scenes are fairly wide.
We did this to establish the space more than had been done in previous episodes, and, of course, to make it feel more like a party. (We were always stretching for extras on our no-budget; so you’ll spot quite a few crew members throughout the scenes.) But as the scenes went on and became more intimate, we definitely got tighter in our framing.
The date, being the present timeline, is where we were most tight. These scenes were also a lot of fun to play with visually in terms of subtext. When this episode was first scripted, the very first thing I said to Peter was that I wanted Kelsey to be shot in Singles and Amanda to be shot over Kelsey's shoulder with Kelsey kind of stealing her frame. I was open to pretty much anything in terms of framing and shot construction as long as that motif was maintained; it just made so much sense in my head. Kelsey was talking non-stop, in her own world, not really making an effort to get to know Amanda, who was understandably feeling overshadowed and underwhelmed by Kelsey's story. Peter came up with the idea to take it even further and have Kelsey physically inch closer to Amanda with each scene we'd cut back to them. I loved the idea. It's so subtle, I doubt anyone notices. But she is literally invading Amanda's space, stepping on her toes in a way, and consuming her frame.
This idea of Peter's was actually an on the spot innovation. I try to avoid talking too much about the production experience because then these posts would be way too long (which I'm sure they already are), but I like to give credit where credit is due. So just to briefly explain, the date with Amanda was our last scene to shoot of production and we had a skeleton crew (because it was a Monday & we had previously shot only on weekends), literally just me, Peter, Sean Mannion (our sound guy) and Erin Clayton (our AC). Additionally, something you may not have realized, the People Lounge (the wonderful place we host IndieWorks) was turned into 5 separate locations on the series. The downstairs is the local bar, the upstairs is the lesbian bar, and all 3 restaurants are various corners of either floor that I felt we could disguise enough to pass for different spaces. This particular corner was literally a tiny corner that we had not yet seen in the back of the upstairs space; and we had nothing to work with but two benches, a small table and a couple plants. Thankfully, we were in episode 5, so keeping it tight was doable. However, it really just looked like a corner with two benches, a small table and a couple plants. I was running around getting some stuff done and Sean had volunteered to help with set dressing. So I left him with that corner & the idea that it could be like a hole in the wall Japanese restaurant, but gave no practical suggestions on how to execute that. When I came back a few moments later, he had found some Christmas lights, wrapped them around the plants, set the tables and made it all look perfectly believable. I was very impressed & very grateful. So to make a long story short, "too late" (anyone get that reference? Here's a Clue...), since we only had benches to work with, this not only allowed me to retain my Overs versus Singles motif with Kelsey & Amanda, but also caused Peter's inching closer idea to emerge. Additionally, with the Christmas lights, I was suddenly given the option to choose which color would hit each of them. And out of that was born a lighting motif, where the red was hitting Kelsey, signaling heat and attraction, essentially her thinking that the date's going well; and blue was hitting Amanda, signaling cold, reflecting her dwindling interest in Kelsey and the date.
A happy accident that I think made the scenes all the more effective; also, in my opinion, a great representation of team work and how collaborative of an art film truly is.
Getting back to the party, in terms of the scenes with Kelsey & Joanne: as I discussed in my last post, only Kelsey Rauber's music plays when Kelsey is alone at the bar with Joanne., and the camera is, again, not facing the bar. Lastly, maybe you noticed that Kelsey has Singles with everyone else during the party but has OTS’s (Overs) with Joanne?
This was very much intentional, something we do again in episode 7, and meant to signal that there’s maybe more than friendship brewing there. It's also meant to overtly contrast the shots with Amanda, to signify a mutual attraction between Kelsey & Joanne as opposed to the unbalanced dynamic with Amanda.
I also chose to use Overs with Sam & Rowan at the bar to hint at what's to come.
The use of Overs versus Singles in these posts are an example of how some motifs are across the whole season and some are isolated to specific episodes. If you've been reading all my posts, hopefully you've been catching the patterns.
When Tyrone comes over to break up the intimacy, we stay in a medium shot, and Kelsey Rauber’s music is no longer playing.
By the way, the motorboat was improvised by Daniel and Lauren was great at staying in character when that suddenly happened. Just wanted to note that because I was impressed.
As mentioned earlier, Sam & Rowan interact with each other, for the first time, without Kelsey, as well as without Kelsey as the context of their discussions. In reality, their scenes simply hint at their complicated dynamic (discussed in my second post) and the fact that there is actually a friendship there; and when their defense mechanisms aren’t up, they actually do enjoy each other’s company.
But Kelsey would of course make their scenes all about her and their exclusion of her.
Kelsey Rauber & I thought it’d be fun to have Kelsey come to a false conclusion and have her accusation be almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we planted the seed for that storyline with this episode, which is the final beat of the episode. Jordan, my editor, and I debated the ending shot quite a bit in post. At first, there was no cut to Kelsey for her acknowledgment of Amanda's "Sam & Rowan are totally fucking line." But I felt that was necessary and thought maybe we should have Amanda cross frame and let the camera stay on Kelsey to the end. But it was Jordan's feeling that it worked better staying on Amanda's shot even after she leaves and leaving it on Kelsey out of focus in the foreground, left to stew as she slumps her shoulders. After the discussion, I agreed with him because it worked very well with our intentions with the rest of the season, to push Kelsey into reflecting a little more on her one-sidedness as well as neediness in relationships. So I had Jordan cut to Kelsey for her reaction about Sam & Rowan but not cut back to her for that final moment. I think it works exceptionally well, especially because we got another happy accident with the lighting. Kelsey's in red at first but shifts to blue once Amanda crosses frame, ending there.
I will try to keep episode 6 (UHaul-er) short. This episode frustrates me a little because I'm not positive it translates quite what I set out to translate. Kelsey Rauber and I wanted this episode to be a big step forward for Kelsey in terms of how she really feels about the breakup and ultimately how she feels about herself. In the end, it felt a little less significant than we both originally expected and planned. I've examined it and have come to my own conclusions that I'll share at the end of this post. But I do think most things translated quite well.
For one thing, this episode was about conveying Kelsey toned down from how the audience had previously seen her, both in her demeanor as well as neediness. We wanted to show that she's more than just this goofball who always puts her foot in her mouth. We tried to make her three dimensional in a lot of little ways early on, like showing her at work and in occasional contexts not related to her love life. But this episode was a great opportunity to show other, maybe more subtle, sides to Kelsey.
Also, regarding toning down things, we definitely toned down the drinking compared to previous episodes, which is something Kelsey Rauber and I felt would be a good signifier of Kelsey's emotional state shifting as she gains her confidence and self-worth back. Not that she doesn't still drink by the end of the series, but she's not getting drunk. That's the distinction I thought would be important to make.
To get to the visuals, the biggest visual motif of episode 6 is the same motif we used during the date in episode 5, but to the opposite effect. Instead of Kelsey stealing her date's frames, Joyce steals hers, as well as everyone else's.
Kelsey and Tyrone have Singles when they're alone (or for the opening before the reveal of Joyce).
But once Joyce is in the picture, they never get their own Singles as long as she's in the room.
She overshadows Kelsey's presence pretty much throughout the whole episode. Peter and I thought this would be a perfect way to give Kelsey a taste of her own medicine. This episode is a wake up call for her of her own overbearing and somewhat selfish behavior, so the shot construction was used to emphasize the emotional conclusions Kelsey makes after this episode, even if she doesn't verbalize them.
A behind the scenes fun fact: like the date in episode 5, this was the last day of production (shot in the morning) and we had a skeleton crew.
I had been looking for a restaurant to be our brunch place for a while but it was impossible with our lack of budget. So I decided that if we pulled all the curtains off the windows in the front of the People Lounge and put some tables and chairs up on the stage, the audience wouldn't notice that the area used as the brunch place was the area they had seen in the distance behind Kelsey all season long sitting at the local bar. So we did just that and Sean, again (or rather for the first time), worked his magic with set dressing, and it all worked out!
Another fun fact, the car parked outside the window behind Tyrone is the car he later buys, seen in episode 9. We tried putting a 'For Sale' sign on it but it wasn't readable.
A final fun fact: it's the real Kelsey, series Writer Kelsey Rauber, at the lesbian bar with "Suckface" Jen. When Kelsey wrote the appearance of Jen's latest bruised concubine into the script, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. We kicked around the idea of me playing the part because people had been mentioning how Nichole & I had a somewhat similar look and it could allude to Jen having a type. But I thought it would be a much funnier easter egg to have it be the real Kelsey, especially since she's the one "Suckface" really happened to.
Additionally, Kelsey Rauber did her own lip bruise makeup!
Another interesting aspect of the episode is Joyce's look. I made it a point to have Kelsey spot her first, even though Joyce is the one who makes the first move.
She shares a stylistic resemblance to Shane, and, although I didn't want to imply that a person's look signifies who you are or how you'll behave, I wanted it to be representative of Kelsey's type, and maybe her attraction to emotionally unavailable or manipulative women. Kelsey eyeing the one woman in there who's similar to Shane is not so much a literal statement about their styles but just a visual way of showing Kelsey's bad habit, and a way to show a sharp contrast to Joanne. If we're talking literally and not symbolically, Joyce is only known to be a bad fit later on because Kelsey barely gets to know her and takes her home with the assumption that everything will be perfect the next day; whereas Joanne starts out as her friend and gets to know her, quirks and all (since Kelsey's not putting on a show for her), and wants to date her because of who she is, not in spite of it. That's the context for why Joanne is better for Kelsey than Joyce (aside from their chemistry and attraction to each other). But I wanted to have a visual connection between Joyce & Shane to allude to Joyce being wrong for her early on. I realize that I'm being kind of rambly about this, but I don't want it to feel like Kelsey Rauber & I were making assumptions about femininity and masculinity or implying that an edgier look automatically means you're the heart breaking "bad girl" type; it was merely a combination of casting, a desire for stylistic diversity within the lesbians portrayed on the series and a need to symbolically show Joyce as a contrast to Joanne as well as a similarity to Shane (who pops up in episode 8).
It also made for visual fun when Joyce swapped out her night-before attire for Kelsey's two favorite shirts previously seen on the series; a very different look for Joyce to accompany her very different behavior in the light of day.
There's not too much else to discuss in episode 6 because, as I said, the main motif was Joyce stealing Kelsey's "spotlight" in framing.
Also, we began the shift to tighter lenses & frames. We weren't quite at 85's yet but we weren't touching anything wider than 50mm for sure.
This positioning was all Peter. -->
The lighting in the bedroom lowered our quality a little, which wasn't ideal, but we really wanted to use natural light and have it all feel a little drab.
This camera angle is possibly the least romantic angle I could possibly imagine. Peter and I wanted it to feel almost voyeuristic so that it'd be as awkward and uncomfortable as Kelsey felt at this point. It also signals that Joyce is about to be out the door because we were shooting from the stairs out of Kelsey's bedroom.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I don't know if the episode fully translates what I set out to. What I regret about the episode is not having a more transitional ending. Kelsey Rauber is, of course, the writer but she and I collaborated on the storylines and seasonal arc; and this episode in particular, I was pushing for it to have a transitional feel for Kelsey as a character.
Kelsey Rauber ended it on a punchline, which totally works. But I neglected to see at the time that it didn't work quite in the way we wanted in terms of the series as a whole and getting Kelsey from A to Z. That said, it still worked out in the end because this episode feels like a standalone, which is always nice to have (some people have even said it's their favorite because of that). And it does still function in terms of showing development for Kelsey. She actually rejects someone, which is a huge change for her. She realizes that this woman is not right for her and that she doesn't have to settle just because Joyce is there and interested. Also, important, she did it without the aid of any of her friends. This shift, we hoped, would make it clear that Kelsey is ready for Joanne, for a real connection, not just one that comes out of proximity and horniness mixed with loneliness. I think the episode as a whole did work in terms of setting that up in episode 7. I just wish I had carried it through to the end with a little more than just the punchline. Regardless, it did lead in to what is probably my second favorite episode of the series: episode 7.
The view count is now at 153,224! We passed 150,000. I don't know how quickly the numbers will move without some big press or outreach to new fans. But I'm going to cross my fingers that we can hit 200,000 by the time I finish this 'Directing Kelsey' series in 2 weeks. We will see!
P.S. I spent today replacing all the episodes' video files with slightly higher resolution versions that have the audio cleaned up a bit as well. So if you’re itching for a rewatch, that’s a perfect excuse to spend 72 minutes with Kelsey & her friends.