American Cinematographer - April 2017 - 18
Top: A flashback illustrates Hux's close relationship with her grandfather (Harry Dean Stanton).
Bottom: A young girl (Aurora Elise) manages to make a connection with Hux.
director credit on the film - further
chipped in with finessing the performance
of the cashier (Ben Messmer), who is
puzzled by, but not cruel about, Hux's
nervousness. "My first time I've ever
directed was the scene with the clerk,"
Lieberman says. "I didn't feel [the character's] sympathy at first, only annoyance, and
I wanted those two things to temper each
other." Apart from this scene, Lieberman's
co-directing contributions amounted to
offering Tovah minor suggestions. "She
knew who the character was, and it was all
under her control," Lieberman says. "All I
would do is maybe think about elements of
continuity, how something might work
based on something we'd shot earlier."
Exteriors were shot during afternoons. For traveling shots of the truck,
Lieberman utilized his own 300mm Nikon
Nikkor Prime Lens. "All of those long, long
shots - which I thought really set the tone
of the area - were all shot with the
300mm with a 1.4 extender," he says, "so
it was really being used as a 420mm lens."
As with the short's interiors, lighting units
were kept to a minimum when shooting
outdoors. "We had 6-bys that were either
bounces or a very thin quarter silk," Lieberman says.
Tovah's screenplay indicated that
certain shots would be repeated - Hux
getting out of bed, scrunching her toes on
carpeting, and marking off days on a calendar - to emphasize the character's reliance
on routine. "Things are very rigid with her,"
Tovah says. "We see her crossing out what
she does every day, and having to have lists,
and going through the same sort of things
over and over. With filmmaking you can
enforce that idea in so many ways."
The most noticeable visual interruption in the film occurs during flashbacks
featuring young Hux (Logan Morris) and her
beloved grandfather (Harry Dean Stanton).
"We shot it on a Canon [EOS 5D Mark II]
DSLR, because we did it on a separate day
and we didn't have any gear from Panavision at the time," Lieberman says. "I knew
I could at least desaturate color, and it
already has a lot less data than the Sony. It's
part of what helped to give the flashback its
[distinct] look." Tovah thinks the choice
helped to express the bond between the
characters. "I wanted it to be really soothing and warm and safe," she says. "That's
what her grandfather was for her."
A more fluid style was selected for
the film's affecting climax, in which a young
girl (played by Tovah's then-four-year-old
niece, Aurora Elise) emerges from a patch of
woods. For use in this and other scenes,
camera assistant Pascal Combes-Knoke
provided a Steadicam. "I was able then to
design shots where we could use it," Lieberman says. "The camera finally could move,
which was great. The problem with lowbudget is you often don't get to ever move
The Steadicam follows Hux from
behind as she approaches the girl. Hux
gruffly spits out her rehearsed line - "Hi,
how are you?" - before rephrasing it in a
more gentle tone of voice. The girl says she
wants her mother, the two sit down in the
dirt, and the girl moves her hand toward
Hux. "With her autism," Tovah says, "touch
that she can't control is bad for her."
However, with a gesture she had used to
connect with her grandfather, Hux places
her hand on top of the girl's.
Tovah has plans to develop Hux into
a feature film, and as far as Lieberman is
concerned, the actress-turned-filmmaker
proved her mettle in making the short.
"Mageina was so great," he says. "She ran
it. She made the props. She did everything.
It's her movie."