Most people get to experience at least one great romance during their lives, and while most of our relationships don’t make it to the long (or even middle) distance, it would be wrong to say that those fleeting, but intense couplings we find along the way don’t burn just as brightly, if ultimately not as long. This is the ground explored in calendrical short Stay Awhile which charts the progression of a relationship between two strangers who decide to spend a month together. We discuss the temporal nature of modern relationships with Stay Awhile Director Denny Wong.
What are the goals and themes you like to explore as a filmmaker?
I think that my main goal as a filmmaker is to reach out to people and provide a sort of representation that they feel is true to themselves in some way. Thematically, I hope that my focus grows as I do, but currently what I’m most curious about is the idea of purpose.
Was Stay Awhile a response to a particular kind of relationship you were noticing?
For me, Stay Awhile was a reaction to my realization of the particularly temporal nature of interpersonal interactions in our society compared to previous periods of human existence. I think that the realization that there are many people you will meet, have an immense connection with, and then never see again (naturally prompted by an experience I’d had shortly before coming up with this) was something that I felt was important to explore. There seems to be a particularly strong sense of loneliness and yearning in culture nowadays that undercuts our claims that the world is becoming ever more connected and Stay Awhile is about just that disconnect by showing that connection while clearly stating that it, like so many other things, is a fleeting item in these times.
There seems to be a particularly strong sense of loneliness and yearning in culture nowadays.
Technology is often cited as the cause of our modern transient relationships, how do you feel about that connection? Technology is almost conspicuous by its absence in the majority of Stay Awhile.
While I think that technology can often certainly be the cause of that, I’m of the mindset that our increasingly frenetic lifestyles is a product of much more than just technology. I also feel strongly there’s a time and place for everything, technology included. With that in mind, the lack of tech in their time together wasn’t an intentional choice. I do think that my focus on their physicality (in an effort to hammer home the idea that these two were really throwing themselves entirely into this experience) somewhat precludes it.
As a film of ‘moments’ Stay Awhile provides a relatively blank canvas on which to explore the couple’s relationship day to day. What was your process for defining each moment individually and in relation to building the greater whole of them as a couple?
As far as individual moments go, it was a combination of drawing from personal experiences (many of which turn out to be very universal) and trying to pinpoint moments that were very immediate; moments that are better experienced than recalled. For the greater whole, we took a sort of cookbook approach to things, starting with a base timeline that charted the ebb and flow of the relationship, and then adding small moments that fit the required mood for the time in the relationship.
The travel-journal structure of the film also feels very contemporary – like the video duration limits of Vine or Instagram. Where there strict timing or composition rules you adhered to?
Because I felt it was important for the viewer to be as immediately close to the situation and experience as possible, I opted to create a incredibly naturalistic and almost travel-journal like film. To achieve this, we kept the crew at an absolute minimum, with just the cast, myself, the cinematographer, one of the other producers and a PA on standby. I actually ran sound for more or less the entire shoot. Being a tiny production, we essentially just used a Blackmagic Cinema Camera with Nikon lenses for everything. We had a 5D Mk III with a housing generously rented to us by Aquatech for the ocean stuff. Sound was a Tascam DR-60 with a shotgun and lavs that I unfortunately can’t recall the make of anymore.
Composition-wise, I feel strongly that characters must be filmed along with their context as it is how we understand people. Close-ups are excellent and give us great insight into a character’s emotion, but someone’s room is much more telling of who they are, especially when looking at how they structure them, etc. Everybody sets their bed up differently. As far as timing goes, we actually let the camera roll for much longer than the end result, basically allowing me to cherry pick the strongest moments from an abundance of footage.
Your actors deliver very naturalistic performances. How did you cast and then work with them to build their characters and interactions?
The cast was excellent and I was very blessed to have found them through a traditional casting process. We focused very much on their personas when casting, trying to pick people as naturally close to the characters as possible. A good amount of it was improv as well, probably something like 60/40 for the dialogue. It was a very loose, relaxed atmosphere on set. Basically I’d give them a topic, maybe a couple of lines I wanted them to say towards the end or something, and then kind of let them run with it.
A good amount of it was improv as well, probably something like 60/40 for the dialogue.
How close is the final film to the script? Did the days shuffle in the edit? How did you construct an ever deepening relationship for them?
I think the days stayed pretty true to the script. The film is considerably shorter than the script implies (I believe it was a 17 page script?) but it doesn’t deviate too much. Most of the written dialogue in the script makes it onto the screen. During the editing process, I made it a point to make the film as aggressively paced as possible to contrast the relative staidness of the images. As for the relationship, I felt that having it start sort of fun and games before progressing towards a more sincere attachment added the heft the relationship was looking for.
What was the film’s overall production timeline?
This took about 5 months to take from start to finish, with our shoot beginning in the end of July 2014 and the final post-production touches applied by December 2014. We had a very modest festival run before we released it this year.
What projects do you have planned for the future?
I’m always looking to do more short form and music videos. But right now the big project is a feature that, while distinct from Stay Awhile, definitely shares some blood with it as well. We’re currently developing it and hoping to shoot it this summer.