A PLACE TO HIDE, 11min., USA, Drama
Directed by Eámonn Wrightstone
Charlie and his mother, Laura, are on the brink of poverty, living out of a motel room they rent monthly. His mother, in late-stage dementia, requires constant care; leaving him unable to work. Receiving no help from his absent father, Charlie resorts to sex work at night to get the money he needs to care for his mother.
When I was in 10th grade my dad almost died from his third bout of cancer. In the 4 years prior, we had lost 3 other family members in tragic circumstances. Suddenly, death was all I knew and all I could see. As a growing adolescent, I felt my youth and my parents stripped from my helpless hands. I had to grow up, get a job, go to school, and pretend my life was normal even though I knew nothing would be the same. I decided that if I could stand on my own, I would never need my parents. Now I realize it was all to protect myself from my fear of losing them next.
Now at 22, I still find the vast openness of life daunting. I feel like I can barely see 5 feet in front of me. I think I've realized that part of being an adult is just pretending you know the answers when really, you're still that terrified 10th grader at the foot of his dying father's bed.
“A Place to Hide” is a story about coming into adulthood and how realizing our parents’ mortality becomes a suffocating realization of our own. How does growing up start to feel more isolating as we mature? How do we find connection when we feel like there’s no one who understands us, no one who sees us? In what ways do we perform in our lives to feign control? Sometimes we find ourselves just searching for a place to hide from it all, but life always seems to always find a way to seep in.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I started the conceptual process in January 2021. We have off for the month of January in school so I pretty much locked myself in my room and put together the story I wanted to tell. I knew from the beginning I wanted to shoot with one lens and on wide shots the entire time. I had just seen Dana H by Luca Hnath, and watched Yi Yi by Edward Yang too many times, so I became enthralled with this stage-esque experience. After seeing what Joel Coen did in 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' (TTOM). I realized that I could utilize the location to be a sort of "snow-globe." Just like Laurence Oliver's Hamlet, TTOM took on an old Hollywood set feel, but in such a beautiful and cinematic way. It's very reminiscent of current scenographic sets being built for stage productions. I knew I could attempt to make the film feel as trapped in the motel as Charlie this way. Playing with wides was more than just a cinematic gag though. I wanted to explore how a character can feel isolated/separated from the world just in the way we utilize the camera. How can I make the viewer a grand observer in these situations my lead character is so out of place and so out of control? My biggest photographic influence is Gregory Crewdson, I've become obsessed with finding a way to blend stylized photo-realism and cinematic imagery. I really designed each shot to be a moving painting, letting the audience read the entire frame and truly sit in these moments with the characters. I wanted the audience to sink into the weight of these moments no matter how small or massive.
On a thematic level what really motivated me to make this film was just getting older. College is wrapping out for me in less than a year and this was the second to last film I would make in school. Seeing my parent's over the holidays just reminded me that they're getting older too. My dad has had cancer 3 times, he's survived every single time, but what if it comes back? All of these questions surrounding my parents, their well-being, and my future seemed to hit together. I was lost. What does adulthood mean and what do I want my life to be? There has been a lot of loss in my family and at the age of 14 becoming suffocatingly aware of your parent's mortality is not only frightening, but it's a stark reminder of your own. 'A Place to Hide' sets out to explore how far we will go for the ones we love, the failures of our economic/healthcare systems, and coming into adulthood too soon. In what ways do we feign control in our lives? I feel like being an adult is just performing that you have all the answers when in reality you're that little inner wounded child inside each of us.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
Around 8 months. I conceptualized over the month of January and then was in pre-production from February until we shot the first weekend of April. Huge shoutout to my producers Kelly Kunyi Wang and Una Campbell, they were my rocks throughout the entire process. Then post-production took another 3-4 months.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The biggest obstacle was definitely the set build. When I pitched the idea, people were not sold on my wanting the film to progressively get more stage-like, but I was determined to make it happen. We were planning to pre-fab all of the walls, but we weren't allowed to use the school resources since we wouldn't be shooting the set on NYU property. I ended up reaching out to a ton of set shops in the area to try and figure out something. Thankfully Set-Shop in NYC came through and gave us an incredibly generous deal. On day 2 of shooting, a small group of us went to the soundstage (graciously provided by Ghetto Film School NYC), and completely built and PD'd the set. I even wired the lights to flicker like they do in the film. Then, we came back the next day, shot on it, and had to tear it all down that same day. It was really difficult dealing with such a big build and take-down in the middle of production. We pulled it off though and I think it looks amazing. I couldn't have done it without my amazing set-build team which was led by the phenomenal Katie Amlar. She is such a phenomenal set designer and I can't wait to work with her again on stage productions.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
It was, honestly, surreal. I'm just glad that the story and themes are resonating so much with the audience and that my directorial choices are being seen. I was excited to hear that the choice to leave the film scoreless is being celebrated. It was a very tough choice, but I feel that the film is so much better in "silence." Going into the sound design process, my sound designer Alicia Qian did such a phenomenal job. She understood what I was trying to accomplish in terms of atmosphere and really helped elevate the project. It was amazing getting to watch her play with and explore the soundscape. I feel that just using sound design helps ground the audience in Charlie's world. Outside of that, I really appreciate the comments pertaining to the performances and visuals. River Knight is absolutely incredible to work with, picking at his brain in the rehearsal process might've been one of my favorite parts of the development. Working with Michael, Alex, and the incredible Lisa Tirone King was just as equally a blast, each of them brought something so unique to the film. I Directed and DP'd so I'm grateful to hear people's thoughts on the lighting and camera. We were super specific with our lighting plans and camera plan. My PD team, led by Sarah Jean Williams and Maya Marzuki Peters, was incredible, they really understood the atmosphere we were trying to create in each of the rooms. They completely transformed Charlie and his mother's room, so I have a lot of appreciation for their wallpaper hanging. My gaff team led by Katherine Woloson really really really killed it. Watching her and the Key Grip, Carsten Nahum, take the lighting plans and run with them was such a joy. They are both incredibly talented and truly helped light the hell out of this project. Just as equally I had a phenomenal camera team with Camera Operator Steven Zambon, First AC Tristan Mogari, and Second AC (and the best Dolly Grip in the world) Lauren Koo. It's just very rewarding to see the film being celebrated because it's not just a win for me. It's really a symbol of how incredible of a support system I had around me. I was blessed with such amazing actors and such an amazing crew, I could not have made this without them and I'm grateful that everyone's hard work paid off.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
It sounds corny to say that I've been making films for "as long as I can remember," but it's true. My brother and I were big into making little short films and uploading them to youtube as kids. I didn't actually get into real filmmaking until my senior year of high school. I had always planned to go into architecture as I've been big into drawing/sketching/photography/etc. I just realized that architecture school wasn't for me and that my real heart was in filmmaking. I went into college with the intention of being a cinematographer, but it wasn't until I got to school that I realized how fascinated I was by the actor's process/scripts/designing a film. Then, I quickly fell in love with directing.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
I have been insufferably watching C'mon C'mon (my favorite movie of the 2021 season) so it might top the list. But, the answer is probably The Incredibles or Spirited Away. There's a special place in my heart for animation and I was obsessed with both of these movies as a kid. My obsession has only continued into my adulthood. They are simply incredibly well-written, and well-animated, and they're both some of the best-animated films ever made.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I really would love it if the screenings were bigger/more public. I know it's annoying to sit and have someone pass the mic around in a theater, but maybe we watch it together and then people write out their reviews. I think it would create a really special experience for filmmakers, especially students. Getting to see your film on a big screen like that is amazing.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experience been working on the festival platform site?
FilmFreeway is really annoying to me, it has the same energy as the common application. However, it's industry standard so I can't complain.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Sirloin-cut steak, mashed potatoes, baked mac and cheese, and asparagus. I'm a simple man.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I'm currently in pre-production on my next short film. Definitely longer than A Place to Hide and far more mature. I'm hoping to take it on a serious festival run and attach some good names to the project. I'll be taking a step away from writing and working with someone else's script. I'm super excited to be directing this way, writing is not where my heart is. I find it much more fun analyzing someone else's text. I will also not be doing cinematography on this project either, but my heavily detailed lighting ideas/camera ideas will definitely still be happening. I will forever be a camera person at heart. We shoot at the end of April and it's going to be a very long process, but I'm super excited!!