Prompted by a “it’s not just me” realisation, Actor/Director Annabelle Attanasio’s absurdist comedy Frankie Keeps Talking, calls out the not so silent majority of motormouthed men who blithely treat women as a mute, rapt audience, eager to absorb every syllable of their relentless stream of verbal diarrhoea. DN thought it best that we shut the hell up for a change and instead invite Annabelle to explain how extensive pre-planning and choreographed action were invaluable preparation for the short’s tight shooting schedule.
The concept came to me in the midst of a second date with a man who *literally* did not stop talking, even when I forced a fake sneeze. I was 22 and optimistic and honestly, felt used to being talked over by the men in my life. But there was a day shortly after that second date that I saw the same thing happening to another girl, in another cafe, with another man – or “Frankie”. It was only in the mirroring of my own experience that I realized how men talking over women and treating us as invisible is not only a phenomenon: it is more ordinary than a man who listens.
Stylistically, I’m hugely influenced by Buster Keaton and the films of Edgar Wright. Nothing makes me laugh harder than great physical comedy, and Keaton was the king of that to me. When I was 14, I studied Commedia Dell’Arte, and was a dancer up until I was 18 — choreographing visual jokes through blocking, timing, and proximity to camera is something I really enjoy. I knew I wanted to externalize the inner struggle of speaking up for oneself through balletic camera movement and farce-inspired gags.
Our process with Frankie took a lot of rigorous rehearsal with both the cast and the DP. The four of us would hole up in dance studios and meticulously chart out each beat of blocking, and then time it to Frankie’s 7-minute speech. By the time we got to set, the piece was all timed in such a way that it more resembled a dance piece than a traditional film scene.
I wanted to externalize the inner struggle of speaking up for oneself through balletic camera movement and farce-inspired gags.
For this shoot in particular, hashing everything out ahead of time was crucial, as we shot the film over the course of a single night. We didn’t have time for more than two or three takes a set-up, since every shot was at least a minute long. The preparation was key in ensuring we were hitting all the story beats in a very limited time frame.
As a filmmaker, I’m always interested in looking at things from a strange angle. I wanted the woman’s experience in the film to reflect the absurd, frenetic tantrum we all feel inside when men treat us as if we aren’t really there; aren’t humans capable of having an opinion, or agency, or a voice. Comedy allows me to tap into the darkest, most truthful subject matter. And on top of that, it allows us to laugh at the parts of ourselves and our lives that we’re most afraid or ashamed of.