Conveying the indifference of the universe to the tumultuous events which steamroll through our lives, Week One tells the story of a grieving woman who finds herself overcome when tasked with selling the family car after the death of her father. A somewhat impromptu project, conceived and shot over the course of a weekend by filmmakers Kevin Slack, Blaine Dunkley and Meredith Adelaide, DN invited director Slack to discuss how a shared desire to create art free from outside pressure or creative holds underpinned this intimate story about the unpredictability of grief.
What was the catalyst for Week One and how did the project progress from there?
This was the most organic and natural filmmaking process I had ever been a part of. It started with a text from Blaine Dunkley (the DP) about wanting to shoot something that weekend while he was in LA. I called up Meredith Adelaide (the lead actress and someone I had admired and worked with already a few times) and we all met at a diner to talk.
I had brought the idea of wanting to explore grief in a film and in a serendipitous way, both Blaine and Meredith had been personally dealing with grief in their lives. Meredith had even just published an art book inspired by the death of her father called The Great Blue World. It seemed to be fate…or maybe just good timing?
When you’re grieving, you want everything to stop for you to feel what you’re feeling. But it doesn’t.
We talked about what small details linger in our lives, piercing our isolation after loss. How the world insists on continuing on without regard for your newly/violently shifted perspective on life. How we can’t prepare for grief and how unpredictable it is. When you’re grieving, you want everything to stop for you to feel what you’re feeling. But it doesn’t. Life just sort of goes on. Blaine told a story about how immediately after his mother passed, his family took a walk around the neighborhood to reflect and a yappy Chihuahua in a stroller didn’t care at all about what they wanted or that their mom had just died. This ended up being the catalyst for a major moment in the film. After talking for hours over milkshakes and greasy food, we had the concept of the film we wanted to make.
Two days after that, with no money or even a written script, we were shooting the film. I hadn’t made a film this scrappy since college so it was both exhilarating and stressful. Thanks to my experience directing music videos, the one day of prep we had wasn’t that insane to me though. We pulled as many favors as we could to make this happen that quickly and the community around us was so incredibly generous. It’s amazing what people will do when they see the passion you have for something. We made this film solely for ourselves, to create and to work through these personal things we were feeling on screen. To be honest, I don’t know if we ever thought anyone would even see this but we knew, regardless, we had made something special.
Ahead of the shoot did the three of you outline any of the emotional beats/shots that you wanted to capture?
Essentially that’s exactly what we did. We came up with some key emotional beats that we knew we had to get and an overall style of how we wanted to shoot the film. The night before we shot I did a rough shot list that Blaine and I then adjusted that morning and we sort of just went with the flow throughout the day. However, even throughout the day ideas evolved and changed. We were flying a little blind in that we didn’t know what the important voicemails would really say in the film, we just knew what emotions they would create in Meredith’s character. It was a pretty exhilarating way to work though honestly.
I hadn’t made a film this scrappy since college so it was both exhilarating and stressful.
Did this looser pre-production and shooting approach cause any issues during the edit?
The only “issue” we had was constructing the car wash scene. Since we had no deadline or someone to answer too though, we could go back a few days later and shoot a quick pickup shot that we realized we needed at the car wash. That was such a difficult scene to shoot because we were doing it totally blind and we had about an hour of daylight left. We didn’t have a monitor to view so Blaine and Meredith would go through and I’d watch playback after and give any notes. Meredith had about 2 minutes to rev up to the emotional state her character needed to be in, all while choreographing with Blaine to move around the car and dealing with actually driving the car in the car wash. It was an impressive thing to watch her do. We didn’t have control over the car wash to stop and grab a shot we needed whenever we wanted. We had to just pay and ride through every time and hope we could get what we needed in that short window.
Has the experience of making Week One inspired you to inject more spontaneity into your future productions?
I think so yea. When I direct music videos, that has sort of always been how I shoot. I’m usually more prepared than we were for this film, but I like to find those magical moments on set while also having a solid plan. I think I enjoy the process a little more when we truly are creating these scenes by the seat of our pants because it feels like we are capturing real life as opposed to totally fabricating the story. It feels more like documentary work in a way and I find that to be an exciting way to work.
What new projects do you have on the horizon separately/together?
We have all been talking about doing another short film or a series of these films as well as some bigger longterm projects. I just wrote a pilot and I’m developing some scripts with my brother Bryan who is an amazing writer. The special part about Week One is we don’t all live near each other. It really was a perfect storm of timing for the three of us to be in LA and it all happened because Blaine texted me “Wanna shoot something this weekend?”. What started as a desire to shoot something for the sake of creating, turned into a film we are all really proud of.