The most groundbreaking independent films challenge conventions and push the boundaries of what movies can be. Today's guest blogger, filmmaker Sarah-Rose Meredith, recalls the first time she saw Trainspotting and how it has inspired her award-winning new short film, PLAN B.
Everyone has "their" film. For me, Trainspotting is that film. I drove over 80 miles to see it in the theater when I was a teen, and it totally blew my mind. It was sex, drugs and rock & roll for my generation. It changed my life forever.
What Danny Boyle did so perfectly in Trainspotting is combine humor, pain and style in a way that both devastates and entertains. I still laugh my ass off every time I see Spud wake up in his girlfriend's bed, having totally shit the blankets...
...or see Mark on the hunt for his only hope for quitting heroin...
But in the same film, I see the horrors that come with addiction,
And the toll this life is taking on these young men (who all happen to also be painfully sexy) as they refuse to climb up a mountain, well, because they simply can't:
The great outdoors sucks for these young junkies. And with it comes the great rant on why all of Scotland sucks and no amount of fresh air will ever change that. Boyle weaves between all of these things at lightning pace, with a gritty visual fervor that rarely is pulled of so effectively. Not to mention the music.
Trainspotting's central question begins as: "Will he, or won't he stop being a junkie?", before pausing to ask: "What's gonna really change if he stops being one?" Sure, it's pretty bleak, but so is life, and Boyle takes you on a wild, extremely visual and funny adventure while you're figuring it all out. Can you really ask for much more?
When I made my MFA thesis film PLAN B at NYU, my main goal was to tell a story in a similar vein. PLAN B is about a couple racing through the desert as they try to find the morning after pill, and everything goes wrong. I really wanted my film to have a sense of humor, and be very visually playful despite its serious subject matter.
My first obstacle was trying to convince the crew to come out to the middle of nowhere for a week - unpaid. We'd be travelling across country, camping, and there would be no running water. I needed to look every person in the eye, and make sure they were the kind of person who could go a week without taking a shower. I think "casting" for your crew is just as important as it is for your actors. Luckily I was able to find people who were up for a little adventure.
This was our home and set:
While we were on set, everything of course went wrong. The weather was unexpectedly cold; in the middle of shooting we had to pack-up and evacuate our 30-person camp in 30 minutes because of a flash-flood; the picture car broke-down; four flat tires; and we got lost more than once. But shooting so far away from civilization had an unexpected advantage: it allowed us to focus, and to play freely and creatively.
I had especially magical collaborations with my cast, DP, and Production Designer. We shot on super-16mm film, and I told my DP I wanted to cross process some of PLAN B to make it look like photos I had taken at Burning Man years ago. I really loved the emotional psychedelic texture those pictures had.
He was hesitant at first - the desert light is harsh and cross-processing reversal is not easy - but this is where I learned a very important part of directing: always tell the crew to go for it and test their boundaries, even if it might not work. When you're comfortable and you know what you're going to get, it's boring. But when you're unsure if a crazy idea will work or not, you're on to something. We ended up with some very striking visuals:
I also learned if you need your actor to run around naked, back shots are great, but cold weather is not.
I know that emergency contraception and dealing with a less-than-reliable boyfriend can be big life stuff, but I also believe that if you can laugh along the way, and experience cool visual poetry, you'll love the fun ride - because that's how life is.
While I won't claim to have matched Trainspotting, the essence of what makes that such a successful and fantastic film, is what served as the main point of inspiration for me making my film. Grittiness, a sense of humor, and a strong visual language have become my storytelling foundations, and drive me when telling a story. I watch Trainspotting every few years to remember that, and carry it with me in my filmmaking.
Watch the trailer for PLAN B.
Sarah-Rose is a Brooklyn-based writer/director who recently received her MFA from NYU, where her thesis film PLAN B recently won the Wasserman Directing Award, as well as awards in Producing, Screenwriting & Cinematography at NYU's First Run Festival. It also took home the SAG-Indie Audience choice award at a recent screening at the DGA in LA, and is now starting on the festival circuit. Please visit planbshort.com for more info.