The year is 1976 and for 15 year old frizzy haired hypochondriac Jordyn Sherman, the grin inducing focus of Garrett Tripp’s comedy short Waiting To Die In Bayside, Queens, these could very well be her final moments. Charmed by this fun filled depiction high stakes teen angst, DN invited Garrett to share how he joined forces with mother/daughter team Julie Nicholson and Dana Melanie, and met the cinematic challenges of the confines of a teenage bedroom.
This short film is actually very much a family affair. Dana Melanie, the lead actress of the project, is the daughter of the Writer/Producer, Julie Nicholson. For years, Julie would tell Dana all these stories about growing up in Queens NY in the 70s and they would make her laugh till it hurt. So Dana encouraged her mother to write a short film about all those stories that make her endlessly laugh. What you see on screen is pretty close to what Julie wrote. I had worked with Dana Melanie as a 2nd Assistant Director on a feature that she starred in called Treehouse. We became great friends and she starred in another short film of mine Lissy Borton Had An Axe. Julie and Dana brought me on board and asked me to direct the project.
We shot on a Red Scarlet Dragon with beautiful Vintage Zeiss Lenses from the 60s. I give a lot of credit of the look of the film to the lenses and the production design. Julie and Dana did the design of the bedroom themselves. We actually shot Julie Nicholson’s mother’s apartment. Years ago they moved her from Queens, New York to Los Angeles and they simply moved everything to its exact place in the new apartment. It was essentially a time capsule of 1970s Queens, New York. On the day, we moved a couple trinkets around but other than that, it was perfect.
When you’re that age everything seems like a disaster with the whole world against you. I wanted to convey that in the framing.
We shot for two days in November 2016 in one location. Conceptually, one of the main things our Cinematographer Kyle Krupinski and I focused on was the character of Jordyn demanding to be the center of attention. When you’re that age everything seems like a disaster with the whole world against you. I wanted to convey that in the framing. So we center framed her whenever she was focused on herself. So a lot for her faking sick with doctor Mitchell Mitchell, being hit with toilet paper rolls at school, and always stuck eating chicken at dinner are center framed.
With the number of scenes and shots in the film that take place within Jordyn’s room, maintaining visual interest became one of the biggest obstacles from the get go. I really didn’t wanna repeat a variation of the same shot of her writing the same thing over and over again. So one of things I came to was that by changing her writing position each time we cut back to her, we were able to show how obsessive girls her age can be with their journals as well as a passage of time that reveals how much effort she put into this fake little eulogy. We shot all the writing shots first thing on our shoot and it became a funny game with the lead actress and I to explore how many different ways can a fifteen year old girl can really write in her journal. Based on the couple of variations we left on the editing room floor, they seem endless.
Post production was really where this project came together. Editor Randi Atkins and I spent hours talking and testing different ways to play the comedy in the short. Some of the jokes would play better cutting on the joke while others played better having a beat, and then cutting. It’s crazy to think in retrospect, but we didn’t do any test screenings. After getting the cut to a comfortable place, we shared it with our star and Writer/Producer Dana Melanie and Julie Nicholson. Got a couple thoughts and notes. I sent it to a couple close friends and asked endless questions about how they felt on each joke but that’s it.
Sound Designer Elle Callahan and I discussed playing it straight but with slightly more comedic effects which you can hear in the toilet paper hitting Jordyn’s head and the bubbling from the pot of pea soup. Tyler Durham, our Composer is magnificently talented and is very classically trained so he thought I was kidding when I asked him to write me a 70s ballad. The two songs I sent him for reference were Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Valerie by The Monkees (of course). After we landed on the great ballad for the credits I could just feel it was missing something. I loved the “Ahhh’s” at the beginning of Valerie so I asked my friend Adam Grimes to record some Ooo’s and ahhh’s over it. Admittedly, the end credits song is one of my favorite parts of the project.