POST-SHOOT Q&A WITH CHELSEA ISABELLA CLARK-JAMES - WRITER/DIRECTOR OF NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT
A driver for a family transportation business has to find an open medical bed for a long-time alcoholic involuntarily committed for medical detox by the state, which turns out to be more difficult than it should be.
Chelsea is a Colorado-based writer/director, with LA and Atlanta experience, focused on writing dramas and thrillers full of characters who struggle with their own identity, fulfillment, and self-doubt, frequently while they are in the workplace.
She is a cis white female raised in a blended LGBTQIA+ family… social codes aren’t lost on her. A practicing Buddhist, she began working in non-profit, and pivoted into on-set work as a union grip while transitioning into writing and directing. Over the years, she’s been a non-profit board member, a volunteer coordinator for a political campaign, and a team manager for a rec soccer league. She currently interviews short film filmmakers for her blog.
Did the script go through any development from the time that you entered the Fund to when you went into production? If so, what were the main changes?
Yes, working with Maria Garcia Turgeon helped me tighten up the script, and also going through the Sundance Collab Directing Workshop helped me tremendously. Between the two, I cut one prop, one character, one location – and four pages! The story is so much better for it.
Do you think about the practicalities of filming when you write? If so, how has that changed your writing process, or have you always thought that way?
I am very cognizant of writing for production. In the first drafts I allow myself to focus on the story. In later drafts, I circle back to evaluate what moves the story forward and what can be written as more production friendly.
Once you won our Film Fund, what were your next steps? Did you always know that you wanted to direct the project? Did you have a producer or production company in mind?
I wrote the script to be producible. I had already set aside some production funds before hearing that I won, so I knew I would be making this short myself.
Did you have to take into account any COVID protocols before and during shooting? If so, can you talk a little about what you had to put in place?
I did take COVID protocols into account. The cast and crew were tested and I provided masks, hand sanitizer, and face shields for those who wanted them.
How did you find the cast? Did you get much time to rehearse with them before the shoot?
I used online casting platforms, but they didn’t yield the actors I was looking for. So, I searched local theaters and went through the social media of local productions. Once I found the actors I thought would be good for the film, I contacted them directly.
I absolutely made time to rehearse. I did Zoom rehearsals with the actors individually, and a couple of times as a group. We also did a table read with the crew to go over logistics. Additionally, the main character plays the drums in the film, so I had rehearsals with a local music teacher and the actor.
What would you say is your directing style? Do you use storyboards? Allow your cast to improvise?
As a director, I value input from other creatives. I want people to feel like they are part of the creative process. During rehearsals I let the cast improvise, I’ll rework lines with them – that’s the time to play in the mud! But once we are on set, we go with what we have on the page.
As far as directing on set, I start the day addressing everyone. I review what we are working on with the cast and crew, I lay the ground rules that my sets are a safe place. If it’s an equipment thing they feel uncomfortable with, I empower the whole crew to speak up and tell the DoP or the department head. If it’s something with another cast or crew member, I tell them to go to the AD (and we have previously established a protocol). Thankfully we didn’t have any problems – equipment or personnel-wise.
How many days did you shoot for?
We shot for three days. Originally, we had a fourth shooting day, for b-roll, but we wrapped early enough on the third day to get the b-roll work done, negating that last day.
How is post-production coming together?
I have just exported the master edit and begun submitting it to festivals. I brought the editor on during pre-production, that way we could be sure to address any post concerns during production. That made a huge difference because we transitioned into the picture edit quickly.
The post-sound supervisor was really a huge value add too. She is a local woman who had been working with Starz for several years and just opened her own business. She was so hands-on and insightful with the sound design, which was almost a character in and of itself.
The only thing I have left to do is the open captions so that the film is more inclusive for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
What are your aspirations for the short once it’s completed? Are you looking to make another short after this, or feature?
I want to get the short into a couple of festivals and then get it on to HBO Max Shorts.
I have a lot of ideas and might make another short film. The first thing to do is prioritize! I just finished writing a short film for a NY-based director I’ve worked with before, and they will shoot in September. I’ve also connected with an English director from the Shore Scripts roster and shared a feature script with him. I would love to see that collaboration manifest – it would be a win for another win for him, me, and Shore Scripts, since we met through the alumni group.
What did you enjoy most about the shoot? What was the most difficult?
I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. I have a lot of set experience and always enjoy when the team comes together, and everyone feels comfy. It’s active magic, I swear. For this project, I also felt that way in post. Working with both the picture editor and the sound producer felt kismet, and when you see it come together in the edit…I want more of that feeling.
The most difficult part has been that I was never able to secure a producer. This project was just big enough that I could handle it, but I think I would have been able to be more present if I had a producer with me through the whole thing. That said, I am super grateful for Dave and Maria at Shore. They were my development producers essentially. Then there’s my cinematographer, Gabriel Fermin. I am so so soooo grateful for him. He ended up being a producer for the production, helping secure crew and working through shot lists and filming logistics. He was also the colorist. He did a phenomenal job all around and I can’t sing his praises enough. Now that I’m in the festival/distribution phase, I would love to have that help a producer provides, but a lot of people have been talking to me about their experiences and giving me pointers and tips, so I’m not all alone.
Do you have any advice for filmmakers embarking on their first short film?
Bring an editor on early. Remember that other people are contributing their time and energy to your project – be kind, even when you’re frustrated.
I’m fascinated by short film filmmaking, especially by people like me who didn’t go to film school. There’s no one way to do it, which is really liberating. I interview short film filmmakers on my blog (iamchelseaisabella.com) and I’ve gained a lot of wisdom from these interviews; casting tips to catering tips to festival tips.
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