Just shy of a year ago we sat down with New York filmmaker Larry Cohen for a chat about his familial communication breakdown short Brothers and his ‘creative equity’ approach of film funding; in which he shoots, releases a trailer and then runs a crowdfunding campaign to partially re-coup shooting costs and fund the post period on his films. You may therefore remember – and have even been one of the 165 contributors to – the Kickstarter campaign we featured for The Worst, his then forthcoming film starring Britt Lower and Dean Winters. We asked Larry’s long time producer Timothy Whitney to give DN his unique perspective on how The Worst was created.
As we were finishing Brothers, Larry was readily searching for the core idea to carry his next short film. There were a few loose ideas, some close to what The Worst ended up being, some not. Through his work on Borgia at The Levinson Fontana Company, Larry had become friends with Dean Winters – a recurring cast member of Tom Fontana’s show Oz – who was often around the office. Larry screened Brothers for Dean, who loved the film and put a bold offer on the table – write your next short with a part for me and I’ll be in it. This was a good, challenging prompt for Larry – who was able to congeal many of the ideas he had been working with around two strong characters and the story of their chance encounter.
Mapping out the geography and choreography of the film’s ‘car verses train’ chase with Whitney, DP Erik Shirai and associate producer Drew Mintz over the course of several F train journeys, McDonald Ave’s elevated tracks in the Kensington neighbourhood stood out as the perfect visual staging ground with a clearly defined start and finish line.
The F train is a heavily-used line in the NYC subway – going from Queens, into and through the heart of Manhattan, through popular north-east Brooklyn neighborhoods, before continuing all the way out to Coney Island. There’s definitely a point on the outbound trip where the you switch demographics, which Larry craftily and subtly wove into the dynamic between the two characters.
From there, several drafts and a few table reads with Dean and Britt later and the script was set. We pulled together a very skeleton group of essential crew and contributors and threw ourselves out onto the streets of Southern Brooklyn for 3 days of intense guerilla filmmaking.
Naming your production “The Worst” certainly has a karmic effect on the smoothness of your production. We took advantage of the MTA’s rules around filming – no permits required if you have less than three people and don’t set down any equipment. Technically you are not allowed to record sound, but well hidden wireless lavs on talent and discrete booming from Gregg, our recordist, got us great production sound.
We only had one run in with the authorities – an undercover cop, when filming the second scene of the film (Nick stops Ryan in the subway station hallway) did not like us being there and threatened us with arrest if we didn’t leave. Luckily, we had all the coverage we needed, so we quickly obliged.
Guerrilla filmmaking it may have been, but the production was far from flying by the seat of its pants, working as it did from a well-defined shot list and coverage plan for the duration of the shoot. This thought out preparedness meant that they were also able to combine the practical handheld aesthetic with a freedom to let scenes develop on location to ultimately create a vérité feeling short.
The film was shot on the Sony F3, using an external SDI-fed recorder that recorded in a quality codec with deep color space. Our DP Erik Shirai chose some of the best glass – Angenieux Optimo zooms – which gave us the ability to re-frame and adjust on the fly without needed to swap glass. Erik also frequently used a slight ProMist filtering in front of the glass to help soften the highlight edges and get a more film-ic look. We graded with John Crowley at Technicolor Postworks in NY.
Larry worked with editor Fred Northrup to build the story out in full as it was written and shot. Once this assembly was done, we all felt good about the core of the story we had, but quite a bit of narrative balancing and polish was needed. A few scenes were shortened significantly from the script and we went out for a second day of shooting to get pick ups of the car and trains in the chase scene. Much of this was shot with Erik strapped into the back of a rented uHaul pick up truck shooting pursuit with the camera car. This was an extremely fruitful day that added a lot to the chase scene.
Overall, the concept came into focus around the end of 2011 as we were screening Brothers for friends and family, Larry continued to hone the idea as we locked our cast. We shot in mid-April 2012, and were picture locked by late August. Our first friends, family and Kickstarter funder screening was late October. We screened at the Montclair Film Fesitval, Palm Springs ShortsFest and released a week ago on Vimeo.