Friday, April 4, 2014

Making the Right Choices for "Wrong Number": An Interview with Director Patrick Rea

In October, BMFI launched its inaugural Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest to encourage emerging filmmakers and celebrate cinema’s rich history. From over 280 entries, four finalist short films have been chosen: "Miss Todd," "Wrong Number," "Redemption," and "Sonus." In April, see these remarkable short films on the big screen before the features that inspired them, and learn more about the finalist filmmakers on BMFInsights.

Making the Right Choices for "Wrong Number"

By Kerri Grogan, Staff Assistant

Filmmaker Patrick Rea delivers suspenseful, twisting drama in "Wrong Number," one of Bryn Mawr Film Institute's four Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest finalists. Written by Amber Rapp and inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Dial M for Murder (1954), "Wrong Number" connects two strangers by way of a misdialed phone number.

Patrick's production company, SenoReality Pictures, won Heartland Emmy awards for their short films, "Get Off My Porch" and "Woman's Intuition."

I interviewed Patrick via e-mail about his film. Keep reading to find out how Dial M for Murder inspired him, how he worked with his actors, and his favorite parts of the filmmaking process.

What aspects of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder helped inspire this film?

In the Hitchcock film, the plot deals with infidelity and a murder plot that goes awry. Without giving too much away, I often thought that in "Wrong Number", there is a hint that Maggie may have caught her husband in an affair which led her down the road she has taken. I also wanted to use the phone in our film as a device to create tension and suspense, like Hitchcock did in Dial M for Murder.

“Wrong Number” centers on a telephone conversation between two disparate strangers, and the way that it unfurls is very important for building character and creating drama. How did screenwriter Amber Rapp approach creating the dialogue for the film?

Amber approached the dialogue to make it seem as innocent as possible as a way of misdirecting the audience, much like Hitchcock. Amber wanted to lull the audience into a false sense of comfort. Most people watching "Wrong Number" for the first time think it's just a conventional conversation between two souls in a chance encounter. Amber did a good job of revealing a lot about the characters in a very short period of time, thus making the ending all the more of a surprise.

You elicit wonderful performances from your actors. Would you talk about your process working with them on set?

We spent a great deal of time rehearsing the conversation. I had worked with Joicie Appell on a previous film, Nailbiter, and had developed a great working relationship with her. This was the first time I had worked with Cinnamon Shultz. I had seen her do great work in Winter's Bone (2010). I thought she carried the right amount of gritty strength and innocence to make the Maggie character likeable, yet mysterious. I rehearsed both of them for several days before shooting the film. Once we got all the kinks out with the dialogue we were ready for filming. They had rehearsed the film together, but when filming, neither were on set at the same time. Because we had done so much prep, the two still knew how to maintain the right rhythm.

In "Wrong Number," a woman takes comfort in dialing a familiar phone number, but she's taken by surprise when a stranger answers instead.

In addition to several award-winning shorts, you have also directed a feature, Nailbiter (2013), and the comedy special Jake Johannsen, I Love You, which aired on Showtime. What are some of the unique challenges and benefits of short filmmaking, feature filmmaking, and filming live events?

I really believe that short films are a great way to learn new techniques and really build your skills as a filmmaker. A feature film takes so very long to raise money for, and I feel that short form storytelling can be an excellent way to keep yourself from feeling creatively stagnant. One particular challenge to short filmmaking is being able to tell a three act story in a short period of time. You have to really develop the characters and make the audience relate to them in a truncated duration, and that can be difficult to pull off.

As for feature filmmaking, an obvious challenge is raising the necessary capital to make it a reality. It's also a marathon making a feature. With a short, you can usually have it completed in six months, while a feature can go on for years, and you have to keep your love of the project alive as well as keeping others excited about it as well. Nailbiter started principal photography in 2009 and wasn't released till 2013. That required a lot of energy to keep the momentum going.

Filming live events are always fun and scary. You never know what might happen on the day of filming. While filming Jake Johannsen, I Love You, we had to explain the audience that this was a live event and if something went wrong, we would need to pause and fix things to start again. We were fortunate that nothing went wrong.

What do you enjoy most about filmmaking?

I really love the collaborative atmosphere on set! I love the shooting process the most and if I do my homework ahead of time, it's usually a party! I also love seeing it with the sound and music for the first time. That's when it finally comes alive!

Thanks, Patrick!

See "Wrong Number" and the classic feature that inspired it, Dial M for Murder, on Tuesday, April 8, at 7:00 pm. The film will be shown in conjunction with a Cinema Classics Seminar. Join us on April 27 for our ACTION! Dedication Celebration, where we will announce the Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest winners.

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

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