If you’ve ever succumbed to the guilty pleasure of hate scrolling through someone’s social media account (don’t lie, we know you have!) then Chelsea Devantez’s “very, very, very short film about a dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things” Basic is for you. A sharply acerbic comedy born out of a deep liking mishap which was slated to screen at SXSW, Devantez takes DN through the unapologetically breakneck production process and extensive preparations which enable her to star as Basic’s unreliable narrator whilst also fulfilling writer/director/producer duties on the film.
I’d had this concept for an unreliable narrator reveal for a while, but I didn’t have the story yet. Then there was a night when someone who shall not be named (until I’m at least three drinks in) went through my twitter feed and deep liked a tweet that was a year old, and then I went to their page and was SCROLLIN’ until I realized how ridiculous this was. The whole story came to me right there. I wrote it that night, set up production the next day, and filmed it three weeks later.
I tend to move very fast in everything I do, but also the nature of this business goes so slow and everything takes forever, so when I’m working on my own projects, I make sure to go at the pace I want to. People are constantly telling me to slow down, but I don’t come from a background that leads to working in Hollywood and getting this chance to make art, and I only got here by being absolutely relentless, so I refuse to let up.
One of the ways to move quickly is to have a small crew, and the crew for this film was 4 people total, including myself. Kevin Walsh and I had worked together on the previous project I directed and I love working with him so I asked if he would produce with me and shoot and cut it. We spent the two weekends prior to shooting doing location scouting, shooting test footage and playing around with the equipment we already owned to see if we could get the shots we wanted.
I wrote it that night, set up production the next day, and filmed it three weeks later.
During the week we would edit and upload the footage with notes to each other, send visuals back and forth, and tweak our shot list and equipment. On the second weekend we had honed in on what we wanted, and I played Georgia’s role as we stepped through each shot, which both helped us test it, but made sure I had the choreography in my body to convey to Georgia.
Having no money we were mapping out things like – the sun will be at this angle at 3pm, so if we do the two other shots nearby in the morning, she can be at the bridge at just the right time, and change out her skirt to look like a different outfit, and we’ll get the natural lighting we want for this shot, but then move the schedule around so another shot where we need the sun to be lower was possible.
All of Georgia (the blonde woman’s) footage was shot in a single day so everything was timed very precisely. We used my Canon 80D to shoot the outdoor footage on Kevin’s gimbal because it had great auto focus in full sunlight and we used Kevin’s Sony A7 to shoot the close ups in the bedroom because it was better in low light. We used my Canon as a B camera in the bedroom shot because we improvised in this scene, but ultimately only used one shot from the B camera in the edit. For post, I did the string out of the bedroom scene and then Kevin finessed that scene and edited the film.
For the music, I contacted my friend Tara Trudel who is a music director who I toured with when I performed at The Second City in Chicago. Tara has created the music for everything I’ve ever done and has such a musical range of skills she can compose any genre. The music in Basic is unlike anything I’ve ever done with her. She created this haunting suspenseful quality that still allows the comedy to hit, it’s so stunning and it was amazing. She won best score at two different film festival.
Fun behind the scenes fact! I wanted death metal to end the film, but couldn’t find the right song, and I kept picturing a woman screaming over the music. Finally, I realized the woman screaming was my character, and so the vocals in the final track are my own. I wanted this final sigh to end the film but the credits really needed to speed by to make that hit. I think a lot of people still miss that little sigh, but it makes me laugh.
Post was wrapped up in a month and a half, just in time for festival deadlines. The money I spent applying to festivals is probably 4x the money I spent making the film. I don’t have an exact budget, because it was that low-key. I had a bag of Trader Joes groceries for snacks and crafty and I ordered dinner for us on Postmates. We shot the film for two days and both were half days, so we only ate once together.
The money I spent applying to festivals is probably 4x the money I spent making the film.
We scheduled everything to be super respectful of Georgia and Nelson’s time. Georgia ran around with us for about four hours and bless her heart, changed outfits in the back of my car so we could get a ton of scenes done in one day in 4 hours of sunlight. We shot Nelson out of the bedroom scene that night which took about two hours. The next day was all the stuff with me solo in the bed when we were really playing with the lights. Another fun fact is that one of our best sources of light ended up coming from an app on your iPhone that changes the color of your screen.
Kenzie Elizabeth is my friend and a filmmaker from Chicago, who was the script supervisor and AD and she also ran the B cam in the bedroom scene. Kelly Reilly is a writer and comedian I also know from Chicago, and she helped keep the scene on track when I was in the middle of it improvising, she also ran our sound, set decorated, and talked big picture themes with us. In the middle of shooting she was also judging scripts in a screenplay competition and would literally be on the couch reading a film, and then get up and help with a shot.
Maybe this is a good place to mention that I planned to shoot the bedroom scene in my apartment, but Kevin very sweetly suggested that his was much nicer and bigger (so true!) and we shot that scene in his bedroom.
With a very small crew everyone is fully immersed in the film and every great idea can be heard.
My directing style is to be extremely precise and over prepared in pre-production with every single thing mapped out, and then in production run a very fun, very calm, very improvisational set. Part of that is selfish, as I am writing, directing and acting, I know I will do a bad job at one of those things (most likely acting) if I am stressed out or there’s an asshole on set. On top of that, I love improvising and think our best comedic moments come from improv, but in order to be a good improviser you have to be relaxed, and loose and in the moment, so it’s important every actor feels that way on set. If everything is prepared beforehand, and the actual set is very fun to be on, then I know what’s on camera is going to be fantastic.
A lot can go wrong when shooting, ESPECIALLY when you are doing a low budget thing, and the best way I think to handle those things is to do it with a sense of joy and collaboration with all the talent you’re with. This is another reason why I love small crews. When crews are gigantic everyone gets relegated to their one job, and cut off from the director. With a very small crew everyone is fully immersed in the film and every great idea can be heard.
One example of all this is that when we showed up to one of our locations in the park a full concert was happening. We were losing light, so we pulled into the parking lot and shot the scene there. I had bought a pineapple for this extra scene I wanted to shoot if we had time, and together we all re-staged our scene using the pineapple in the parking lot. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of the film and it’s in the ugliest location, ha!
Basic is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.