Directing 'Kelsey' - Episodes 7 & 8

Episode 7 (Hanging Out Without You) was a lot of fun to shoot. It's interesting how it all came together because the final product features different locations from the original script. When Kelsey Rauber first wrote it, Kelsey & Rowan were shopping for pickles at Brooklyn Brine. Their conversation flowed fairly the same way but more with Rowan insulting the smell of the location rather than the pickles Kelsey was eating. And alternately, Kelsey & Sam were shoe shopping with Sam distractedly trying on shoes and Kelsey interrogating her. In pre-production, we tried to pull off securing both these locations for a while but our lack of budget made it impossible. I then suggested that maybe we attempt to shoot at a farmer's market or street fair, with Kelsey & Rowan still shopping for pickles and Kelsey & Sam looking at jewelry. However, the logistics for pulling this off were way too much for us to handle; plus we already had sound issues at each location, we didn't need to multiply them by a million. So then I said to Kelsey Rauber that we needed to take advantage of the opportunity to use a location we were already planning to use for Kelsey & Sam, and since we hadn't shot the scene from episode 9 in Sam's bedroom yet, that'd be the perfect opportunity to get more done in a shooting day. Kelsey Rauber agreed and we decided to have Sam sorting through her clothes, and Kelsey sitting on her bed playing with a 'hangman' prop. As for Sam & Rowan, I really loved the idea of paying homage to Arrested Development with a Pickle Stand in the park, but we just didn't have the budget to build one; so I advised Kelsey Rauber to revise the script to have them just having a picnic. We ended up shooting at Prospect Park, which was a nice change in scenery. When we first arrived, it wasn't as bright out and we were able to see the buildings in the background, which I loved because it was such a representation of what it's like to be in NYC: even surrounded by greenery, the skyscrapers are still always there in the distance. But as it got brighter out, we lost the view. Peter worked well with the sunny day; we found a good shady spot and it was a fairly easy shoot aside from some sound annoyances. I was hoping that we'd still maybe catch the buildings in the wide shots because the flat, Cinestyle images were promising. But once we pushed all the colors back in, in post-production, the brightness came right out.


Anyway, despite all the location rejections and alterations, I think it all worked out for the best in the end because the more relaxed environments allowed for the performances to really shine and for us to have a little more fun with the atmosphere and pacing.


For instance, it was Nichole & Sharina's idea to have Kels & Sam put on various items of Sam's clothing with each cut back to them. That's a fun, subtle aspect to the episode that I think totally plays into the rewatch value I mentioned I was going for in my first post

Episode 7 got us back to the ongoing storylines of the series, after episode 6 acted as a bit of a standalone break. The two biggest arcs were, of course, the 'will they/won't they' of Kelsey & Joanne , or at least will Kelsey realize Joanne's interest in her, and the ambiguity of Sam & Rowan's relationship. The way in which I chose to play with the latter visually in the episode was to have the scenes with Kelsey & Rowan and Kelsey & Sam match each other from scene to scene.

Both start out in a wide two-shot. 

Then a tighter two-shot as Kelsey becomes more inquisitive (compare above two photos to top two), and singles play out between the scenes, often mirroring each other based on where Kelsey is in her accusations to each of them.

This was done obviously because she's having pretty much the exact same conversation with each of them, but also to show that Rowan & Sam are reacting fairly the same way. By the end of episode 8, I wanted it to be clear that they weren't lying about anything actually happening, but there was definitely a connection there that both were denying. 

With the Rowan & Sam scenes mirroring each other, I wanted to make sure that the Joanne scenes stood out, and that they hinted that Kelsey's relationship with her was different from the other two and would be going somewhere special. So I used the contrasting intimacy of Singles versus Overs to bring that out. Joanne's scenes not only have Overs, but have dirty overs that get dirtier and tighter as the tension builds between her and Kelsey. That sentence totally sounds dirty, I know, especially since the scene in context involves a kiss. But if you're unfamiliar, dirtier means more of the other person fills the frame in the foreground, and tighter obviously means the camera gets closer to the subject. I wanted to make the scene feel as intimate and raw as possible, especially by the end. I think it worked really well. 


Also, you'll notice that, as usual, the camera is facing away from the bar for Kelsey & Joanne, but this time we moved them to the corner to create more intimacy & an optimal kiss angle.

Also as usual with them, Kelsey Rauber's real music is playing. She had her doubts that this more gloomy song would pair well with this scene and I was positive that the contrast would work with the pacing and intimate tone. I just heard it in my head when picturing the scene. It ended up being one of my favorite things about the scene because it's rare for me to just know what music or sounds I want in the background of scenes; I'm not musically inclined. So to have this one work as well as I felt it would was a cool feeling for me. 

I just have to say that I was so impressed with Nichole's performance in these scenes. Lauren, of course, impressed me as well. But I suppose I bring up Nichole because I had no qualms about Lauren's ability to pull off these scenes. She has been in a few of my films, most notably my feature film Summit, and she's a phenomenal actress, particularly in drama. I just knew she'd bring depth to Joanne despite her little screentime; and I have to say that the vulnerability she did bring to these scenes was so perfect. There were such subtleties in her body language that made me feel nervous for Joanne; so it suffices to say I had high expectations for her and she met them. But about Nichole, not that I doubted her abilities, I knew she was incredibly talented, she's just more of a comedic actress and I was a little curious how she'd handle the more subtle moments of these scenes. However, I have to say that I was completely blown away. She brought such real rawness to the moments after the lean in and build up to the kiss. I'm absolutely infatuated with the part where she says, "do you want me to kiss you?" and then kind of gulps. I just think the moment where Nichole does that and says the line and then Lauren smiles, looks down, looks back at her and her smile softly fades combined is absolutely breathtaking.


I'm really proud to have directed those scenes. There are some camera moments and tiny mishaps that I wish we had smoother takes of, but Jordan (my editor) and I really made it a point to prioritize performance here, and I think it paid off.

However, and this is a big however for me but hopefully a small one for you, there is one thing that bothers the hell out of me every time I watch these scenes. It's maybe my biggest regret for the series. I say biggest because we always have regrets, things we could have done if we had more time or money or resources; better lighting, better sound, better equipment. The kind of what ifs that you just have to let go of in order to accept that you made the best out of what you had and were capable of. So I only say biggest, rather than my 'only' regret, because, there are tons of things I could say I wish were different if I just had... fill in the blank; but those aren't things that really bother me at the end of the day. I've accepted them. However, this one thing that bothers me is just something I neglected to do, for some bizarre reason, it just didn't occur to me until seeing it all together in post. And that one thing is not pushing in for a tighter two-shot for the kiss. Peter and I were so preoccupied with getting our dirty-Overs tighter as we got closer to the kiss, and making sure we slid (for each cut-back) behind the correct person, and that the dirty overs would cut well together, that we neglected to think too much in depth about the two-shot. We were on a time crunch and I put more effort into making sure we got the Overs, and simply did all three scenes in one two-shot for coverage. I still think prioritizing the Overs was the right decision, and I know that, at the time, I felt the two-shot was intimate compared to past episodes (especially since we were in tighter frames and on tighter lenses by episode 7), as well as compared to the two-shots with Sam & Rowan in the rest of the episode. But I neglected to compare the intimacy level of the earlier two-shots between Kelsey & Joanne in the episode to later as we got closer to the kiss. I knew that I'd use the two-shot for the kiss. I knew the Overs would be too tight to show the kiss and that we'd have to cut out to the two-shot. But for some bizarre reason, I simply didn't think to get a tighter two-shot to pair with the intimacy of the Overs, and contrast the awkwardness of the initial lean in, for the kiss!

I was getting tighter with the frame in the Overs, it's only logical that I'd get tighter with the two-shot as well. It boggles my mind why I didn't see this until post. And, although I think it does work and that Jordan & I found a happy balance for cutting to the two-shot, I still can't quite forgive myself for the oversight. I'm working on letting it go, but it bothers me every time I see it. So are the woes of being a director, I suppose. At least it doesn't make me cringe the way some stuff from my earlier work does. I imagine maybe it will one day. That's the aspiration, right, to improve with each thing you do and look back on your work and overtly see how much you've grown? I hope that's the direction I keep moving in, but also hope I'm never not proud of where I started and what I've accomplished. Anyway, I hope that audiences still enjoy the kiss moment despite my disappointment in the shot I chose, because if I'm not being hard on myself, I do think it works nicely overall. 


Episode 8 (Bluffing) is an important episode because it's maybe the biggest reflection of what Kelsey Rauber and I were building up to as a whole for the season in terms of character dynamics. This is the first time all four main characters are in scenes together interacting as a group. I talk about this in my first post, so wont really get in depth. But the idea was to have the series become more ensemble, and get to the point where we can put them all together and you'd feel like you're part of the group of friends because you've gotten to know them separately and together so well. You'll notice that, even though Kelsey's telling one of her stories as usual, they all have their own storylines going on as well. 

Poker scenes are fun to shoot. This one wasn't about building tension, so Peter and I tried to keep the camera moving (without actual onscreen movement) to keep the pacing light and bouncy. At this point in the series, we were definitely aiming for dirty-Overs with the group of friends to emphasize the intimacy and comfort between them all, while also keeping in wide shots of all 4 to establish them as a group.


I also wanted to get this recurring frame for when they react specifically off of Kelsey, which I think are some of funniest moments of the episode, like "no laughing at my jokes," "well..." 


However, we did also do Singles, partially to keep the momentum high but more so to create a contrast for when two people are having an interaction (Overs) versus more of a group interaction (like each of them reacting to Kelsey's "Shane's"). 



As for the Kelsey & Joanne date, we used dirty-Overs here as well, again for the intimacy.


I talked a lot about the People Lounge in my last post, and this is another People Lounge faux-location. It was the one wall in the place that didn't have that red pattern, and I thought early on that it would be nice for the date in episode 8. So I made sure that we avoided it in all other episodes. We pulled it off well, I believe. But if you look in the background when Joanne walks away, you can catch the bar wallpaper. I figured if anyone were to look back there, they can assume that Kelsey's on a budget and took Joanne to their local bar for dinner. Kelsey does tell Shane that this place was off-limits, and that would work for being the bar as well. But I hope it reads a little more like a restaurant. 



The shot when Joanne gets up and Shane walks over was my brainchild. I was pushing to pull it off. Normally, I try to avoid anything that feels too staged. I don't like drawing your attention to the fact that there are cameras and this is all planned. It pulls you out of the realism. I want you to be able to get invested and lose yourself in it. This is why I’m not so into rack focuses or punching in for inserts, for instance. The shot, though, feels incredibly staged. It's so convenient that Shane walks over perfectly timed with Joanne walking away. This is because it's meant to reflect Shane’s staged encounter. She's not just walking by the table and noticing Kelsey. She went there knowing Kelsey frequents the restaurant, maybe hoping to spot her. She waited for Kelsey's date to walk away and specifically walked over to, for lack of a better term, fuck with her head. I felt like that camera move would help emphasize Shane's manipulativeness. 

The dolly/slide of sorts was Peter's brainchild. I wish we had more lighting equipment to pull it off better. But it was pretty awesome of Peter and our 1st AC Julian to be able to make it work because we didn't actually have a dolly. We just had a DIY slider on sticks that they both lifted and moved forward while sliding the camera on an angle on the slider, and all while pulling focus. Not an easy feat indeed. Worked well for Shane crossing the camera & presumptuously taking Joanne's seat. 


Also, to contrast Kelsey's scenes with Joanne, Kelsey and Shane only have Singles.

Charlotte E Simpson was my Gaffer for Summit, and had not acted much before. She was interested in being on the show and Kelsey Rauber and I felt she'd make a good Shane. I'm not sure if she'll be pursuing acting, but I think she did a great job. She made some nice choices. I particularly liked how she bit her lip after the line about Kelsey saying her name. And I, again, was incredibly impressed with Nichole's more dramatic acting here. Her reaction to Shane saying "Suzie & I broke up" is so natural and real. 


When Joanne comes back, we don't go back to Overs, we stay in Singles to accentuate the tension between them now. I wanted to leave the audience feeling as unsure as Kelsey felt about Joanne's feelings. 


This episode is the first time an episode doesn’t end with Kelsey. Again, hinting at what Kelsey Rauber and I had planned for the more ensemble feel of the show. We had dirty-Overs for Sam & Rowan as well, for obvious reasons.


I think their chemistry read well on camera. We did a lot of callbacks for the actors for chemistry testing to make sure they all felt like real friends on camera, and of course a big part of it was testing Brennan & Sharina's chemistry. I think it definitely reads here but maybe shines most in their scene in episode 9.

Speaking of episode 9, I’ll be back next Tuesday with my final ‘Directing Kelsey’ post on episodes 9 & 10! Hope you’ll be back with me. I’ll try to keep it interesting. Thanks for tuning in & reading my words!