Billed as “A visit from an old friend”, Albert Choi’s short The Latecomer drops us into that rare null time when you check out from life’s responsibilities and commitments and rediscover that thing which is important to your core but you’ve neglected to nurture whilst you’ve been busy with the day to day. Choi joins DN to discuss the creative power of self-imposed isolation.
What sparked the idea for a film about reconnecting to inspiration?
The idea of painting a painting, as in painting over an existing painting, seemed both restricting and liberating. I was drawn to this theme of imprisonment and escape, where freedom can be found through self-imposed isolation from a prescribed environment.
Both The Latecomer and your previous short Lost My Way, feature female protagonists. What is it that draws you to tell stories from a female perspective?
To be perfectly honest, I write everything from my point of view (male) and then cast a female lead. Therefore it’s hard for me to see them strictly as female characters.
Whereas Lost My Way is a very stylized in its look, The Latecomer has a much more naturalistic aesthetic. How did your visual approach to these two films differ through production?
Though stylistically different, the two films share some commonalities. They both display personal worlds that reflect focus of a particular goal. And both films accomplish it with a heavy emphasis on lighting (artificially controlled vs. natural surrender). In The Latecomer, the overall approach was to be as impressionistic as possible. Relying solely on natural and practical light, the Sun dictated what to shoot when.
Lily Piper Faye’s role is one expressed almost exclusively through her physical movements and expressions. How did you come to cast her?
In a small film revolving around a central character, you’re going to live or die with your lead. A few years ago, Lily and I initially crossed paths on a commercial where she left an indelible impression. But much later on, when I found out that she was a painter, I thanked the universe. It was easy to chat about the cyclical nature of being process-oriented and how her character, in search of respite, revisits an old friend.
Even though we remain predominantly within a single location throughout, David Ethan Sanders’ handheld cinematography never lets us get restless. How did you work together to prevent the location from becoming stale and provide Lily’s character with some agency?
It was vital to create a functional studio in a lived-in motel room. Production Designer Kris Matsuoka and Lily fashioned together a makeshift setup that allowed her to paint comfortably. Spatial awareness was also important: open outside was suffocating, while claustrophobic inside provided breathing space. By avoiding a rigid, storyboarded structure, David was free to hunt in his kinetic style composing around the situation, while most importantly, including light (passage of time) as a secondary character. (Gear setup: RED Epic, Zeiss Super Speeds)
The Latecomer’s score is beautifully sparse in its nature. How did you discover Machinone’s music?
Originally, I wanted only found sound and sound design as the score. But sometimes music can articulate that which is unsaid or cannot be expressed via words. Machinone’s Windwijzer does this in a beautifully neutral way, revealing another dimension to the character by echoing her inner monologue. After Lost My Way, I continued to keep in touch with flau (music label), and soon after I sent the rough cut, I received their blessings.
As well as writing and directing you also edited The Latecomer. What guided you to the final structure?
It grants me the freedom to go beyond the parameters of the script, because I have a tendency to shoot additional unscripted scenes. Since the script is essentially a map, why not capitalize on new paths and discoveries along the way? Throughout postproduction, I kept a note nearby that read, “Experience feeds painting, painting feeds experience.”
I’m aware there’s a documentary you’re burning to bring to life. Can you share anything about that project?
Unfortunately due to schedule conflicts, the doc will be on hold. However, this opens the door for my next short film.