Directing 'Kelsey' - Episodes 3 & 4

Christina here, continuing my Directing Kelsey series. I took a break last week to share our blooper reel but I'm back to talk about episode 3 (WWWdating?) and episode 4 (Shopping in Groups). I hope you've enjoyed my past 2 posts and getting to know a little about how each episode came to look and feel the way it did. 

Starting with episode 3: This episode was in some ways about making Kelsey seem small in the frame (which wasn't tough considering Nichole's height compared to everyone else on the show) in order to reflect how small she felt finding out about Shane having a new girlfriend and the fact that all her friends have stayed somewhat in touch with her ex. 

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However, despite this small motif, for the most part this episode was visually about working towards a sense of normalcy compared to episode 2 because Kelsey was actually in a good mood at the start of the episode and, despite her excessive drinking and hangover, seems to be moving toward a better place by the end of it as she accepts the reality of her situation.

As I discussed in my first post, this episode was still pretty wide in terms of framing and lenses compared to where 'the look' would end up by the end of the series. But we definitely started working our way into over-the-shoulder's and medium shots more, and less use of full or wide shots (compare).

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One of the things I'm most proud of in this episode is pulling off the slide behind the computer screen. Peter initially wanted to do reverse shots on them and the screen, since it was scripted that we'd see Shane & her new girlfriend. But I preferred leaving Shane and, especially, her new girlfriend (later learned to be named Suzie) a mystery because I felt like the audience should be isolated to identifying with how Kelsey felt about her and how seeing the new girlfriend made Kelsey feel rather than be able to form their own opinions. Also, it seemed pointless to cast someone we'd never see on the show (Suzie). Additionally, I wanted it to remain ambiguous whether or not Shane would make an appearance on the show. So the less we showed of her, the more it seemed like we just got a model for the Pilot photo and didn't cast an actual actress. And lastly, a more practical reason, I didn't want the hassle of having to create a Facebook profile for Shane nor deal with the potential repercussions of showing Facebook without proper permissions. 

So anyway, Peter was totally on board for keeping the camera on them the whole time, and sliding behind the computer. He felt that it would be a tight squeeze but thankfully found a way to make it work precisely the way I wanted. 

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What's wonderful is that a lot of people relate to episode 3. Staying Facebook friends with your exes and/or your friends staying friends with them is such a reality for our generation. Your ex can randomly pop up in your face at any given moment with the refresh of your newsfeed. When this episode was scripted, I felt it was so timely and relevant but also timeless in a way because finding out your recent ex has moved on before you is something anyone, regardless of how they find out, can relate to. I was excited about bringing the whole episode together because it'd be a fun way to explore each of her friends' take on the situation and introduce the next episode's plot of online dating.

However, things didn't quite work out that way when we got down to the last few days of production and had to cut out one production date because Kelsey Rauber and I were about to go over budget & out of money. The exterior day that we planned to shoot episode 4 at Ikea got rained out early on in production, so we lost a date that it took almost all summer to try to coordinate and get back. Because of this, we had to sacrifice an alternate exterior date which was supposed to have scenes between Kelsey & Rowan in episode 3, and Rowan, Sam and Shane in episode 10 (will talk about that later).  So two scenes out of episode 3 had to be cut. Here's a preview of the pages:

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I felt that the episode could still work without the scenes, so found a way from a producing & directing standpoint to pull the episode off without making the loss evident to the audience. I ultimately do feel that the loss of the two scenes hurt the episode a little because it did not have as much cutting around as we originally envisioned since the entire episode is the past and only three scenes at the bodega are the present, which gave it less of the punchy feel that we like. However, because we had notice, we were able to make some adjustments to keep the momentum bouncy. We had already shot the office and bodega scene but not the bar scenes by the time we realized a day needed to be sacrificed. So we reworked the tone of those scenes a little to compensate for what was meant to go between them, and managed to bring it all together pretty tightly. Kelsey Rauber and I still feel what's lacking. But it seems that audiences enjoyed it regardless.

As you may have noticed from the preview above though, Joanne was meant to be in the episode. It was just supposed to be that appearance in the background so that we could further establish that she lives in the neighborhood and has met Rowan. Rowan would mention that he was double dating and, because Kelsey would spot her with the woman Rowan was presumably double dating with, this would add to Kelsey’s assumption that Joanne is straight in episode 4. We were, however, able to compensate for this loss in episode 4 because, luckily, we had not shot the Kelsey & Joanne scenes of the episode until after we realized the exterior shooting day would need to be cut. 

Speaking of episode 4: This episode is one of my favorites for multiple reasons. It's where we first get to see Kelsey interact with Joanne, Kelsey is finally at a point where her world doesn't revolve around Shane, we establish Tyrone as more than just Kelsey's co-worker and actually part of the group of friends, and where I think Kelsey Rauber's dialogue writing really stands out. I loved the contrast of the rapid banter of the Ikea scenes versus Kelsey's oblivious rambling to Sam versus the more conversational (but still somewhat oblivious) moments with Joanne. I had a ton of fun taking Kelsey Rauber's excellent script and finding subtle ways to bring it to life and really hit the beats in this episode.

I'm not going to pick the episode apart too much. But I will say that I treated each of the locations' corresponding segments as almost little films of their own, where each had a slightly different look while still working as one cohesive episode. I did this because I felt that, although they each play off each other narratively, the three locations' scenes worked almost as episodes on their own, independent of the context of the story Kelsey was telling.

 

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For the scenes with Sam, I chose to have kelsey sit on the counter, not just because it made framing easier, but also to show that she has gotten some of her confidence back (in spite of her playful self-deprecation throughout the episode and especially these scenes). It was to show a stark contrast to the last episode in terms of her self-esteem level. Also, their bodies get a little closer together in two-shots and the overs are a little tighter, at least in terms of depth between Kelsey & Sam, to create a sense of closeness now that the friendship is more established. 

The scenes at the bar were very important because there was a lot of subtext going on and I wanted to emphasis both the chemistry as well as the tension between Kelsey and Joanne as much possible. 

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You probably didn't notice this but there's a very big difference between these scenes with Kelsey and Joanne versus the ones from episodes 1 & 3 with Kelsey & Sam at the bar. I wanted there to be a visual difference for when Kelsey would be at the bar with Joanne compared to her with Sam, in order to allude to there being more than friendship brewing between the former. Peter suggested we shoot Kelsey & Sam facing one way and Kelsey & Joanne the other way, with the bar as the dividing line. I loved this idea and we both agreed that not showing the bar or bartender, and narrowing our Overs so that there wasn't too much depth behind Kelsey & Joanne felt more intimate and, in a sense, romantic compared to facing the bar and seeing more of the space (as is the case with Kelsey & Sam). So this became a pattern we stuck to throughout the series. 

 

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Also, just to refer to what I spoke about in episode 3 regarding the absence of Rowan & Joanne. The bit about Joanne saying she knew Kelsey's name from Rowan, and then the awkwardness of Kelsey assuming Rowan had mentioned her and trying to hide that she was too self-involved to remember, and then Joanne appeasing her by explaining that she only knows him because he went home with her friend Sarah, was meant to compensate for the missed beats in episode 3, as well as set up the ongoing plot of Kelsey being completely oblivious to not only Joanne being a lesbian but also being attracted to Kelsey. It was also a way to quickly establish Rowan is definitely straight because Kelsey Rauber & I had feared the audience would assume he wasn't and be completely thrown by Kelsey's accusations later in the series. Episode 3 was meant to confirm this, so I added the throwaway line about "Sarah" to make up for what we lost. 

Last thing I want to mention about these scenes is the use of music. I know, this isn't referring to the look, but definitely the feel. It's the first time music is heard at the bar. I tried to avoid using a score or any non-diegetic sound for the whole series in order to add to the realism, and highlight the acting & pacing. So anytime music is heard, it's coming from a source within the reality of the show. I made it a point to not have music playing at the bar except for, conveniently, when Kelsey is with Joanne. I felt that it would set the mood a little and allude to their future together. Additionally, I thought it'd be fun to use Kelsey Rauber's own music on the show (she of course was not a huge fan of this decision), so you will also notice that every time Kelsey & Joanne are at the bar alone, the music playing is in fact by the real Kelsey. That's the only time her music is heard on the show. Any other time, for instance in episode 5, it's other tracks by local musicians who were wonderful enough to allow us use of their work.

In terms of the Ikea scenes: When we were shooting, it was an incredibly sunny day out, and Peter did an excellent job bouncing the light and using what shade we could find. But there was too much of a glare on the monitors to tell whether or not we were catching crew member reflections in the actors' sunglasses. Peter assured me that he didn't think we were but once we got into post, we realized we had. I found it very distracting once the cut was put together and really pushed to find a solution. Peter eventually came up with the idea in color grading to lower the saturation and give more of a bleach bypass look, which significantly darkened the reflections in their glasses. It unfortunately led to less of a sun-kissed look for the cast but definitely hid the recognizability of the figures reflected in the lenses.

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I opted for the alternate look, despite it not being as flattering, because it didn't immediately pull me out of the scene the way seeing actual faces in their lenses did with the first color pass. Overall, the day just ended up looking a little more cloudy than it actual was, and everyone slightly less tan than they actual were. But I'm happy with it how it turned out in the end. 

In this episode, we tried to be on Kelsey's eye-level at all times to, as stated in episode 3, get to the point of normalcy, allowing her (and in effect the audience) to feel grounded visually because she was finally at a space of feeling ready to move on and more comfortable with the idea of not being part of a couple anymore. 

 

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These scenes are also where I most used my director trademark of sorts, building up to close-ups, something I spoke about in the first post. I chose to start wide but abruptly isolate the three of them in singles, rather than overs, to emphasize them being in conflict rather than actually working together.

And of course the singles get progressively tighter as the tension builds between them. 

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Luckily, the bleached look didn't remove some of our planned reflections, like Rowan taking off & putting on his glasses seen in Tyrone's lenses. 

Luckily, the bleached look didn't remove some of our planned reflections, like Rowan taking off & putting on his glasses seen in Tyrone's lenses. 

As tension subsided and the situation resolved itself, we pulled back out. 

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And ended the scene on the skyline shot that Peter & I were very excited about. (See the reverse of it here.) I wanted to show that the series is true indie, on-location production and, although that comes with a million headaches, it has the perks of having the realness you can't get in a studio. 

Also, regarding true indie production, as a fun fact to share, the shots facing the actors and the shots facing Ikea are actually on completely opposite sides of the building. We had to run & gun the shots in the front of Ikea to avoid getting caught, and then we were able to take our time with a little more ease at the back of the parking lot for the majority of the shots, which were facing the characters. Just a little low-budget movie magic. 

That's it for episode 4. Hopefully my ramblings are interesting and give you some useful insight into the episodes upon rewatch. If you ever have questions or want to chat with me about the series, always feel free to tweet at me. And I hope you’ll be back next week for episodes 5 & 6. The view count is now at 144,395. So close to 150,000! Thanks for watching & reading.

-Christina