The subject of dating has proven to be tried and tested soil when it comes to the short filmmaking world. The trick these days to making a film that’s truly refreshing and gripping about the beginning of a romantic relationship is ingenuity. Canadian filmmaker Ethan Godel’s Vessel returns to that ever-trodden ground but this time, with a twist. Godel asks the question “What would happen if everything we said on a date was a being fed to us via an earpiece by a person in a van just around the corner?” A seemingly elaborate conceit but one that inevitably implicates greater philosophical questions about the relationship we have with ourselves and the performative behaviour we demonstrate when meeting someone new. Today, DN is proud to present the online premiere of Godel’s vision of a not-so-alternate world for your viewing pleasure, along with a breakdown of the creative process behind the film’s nine month long creation.
I remember our Co-Writer Filip Lee called me one day with this idea for a scene of two people on a date that both have someone feeding them lines from a white sprinter van outside. I’m not sure if that was exactly it, but I know that we started with the image of the person in the white sprinter van feeding lines and built out from there. From that image an entire organisation was born that peddled cookie-cutter romances to lonely people desperately looking for love. Once we knew how the organisation worked, it was a lot of asking questions like, “What kind of person would use this service?” “What would sex look like?” “What happens when an operator is late for work?”
Under all the absurdity and goofiness, it’s just a piece about the ways we change ourselves to be accepted by others.
The film quickly became something a little ridiculous, but I think the reason the script resonated with people wasn’t because of the ways it was different from our world, but because of the ways it was the same. Under all the absurdity and goofiness, it’s just a piece about the ways we change ourselves to be accepted by others. How willing we can be to completely give up parts of ourselves to come across more agreeable and how scared we are of letting our true colours show. It’s a bit of a cynical look at love but it’s really a film that asks us to embrace the beautiful complexity of our identity and reconsider the roles we play in front of others.
Our intention wasn’t to create a Black Mirror-esque sci-fi short film. I hadn’t even watched the show until someone else brought up the similarities. Then I watched it just to make sure we hadn’t ripped it off, and I don’t think we did? The sci-fi element had always been more of a secondary thing for me. We made a point to ensure that any technology we showed in the film was more archaic than futuristic; the computers are chunky and beige, one of the characters even uses a flip phone. The goal wasn’t to create a distant future, but an alternate present. Almost as if our world was looking at itself through a fun house mirror, some parts look the same, but some parts are distorted in a funny little way that brings our attention to them.
The goal wasn’t to create a distant future, but an alternate present.
The question when it came to executing the film was how to enhance the story through the audio and visual elements, as opposed to simply presenting it. In terms of visuals and equipment, we shot the film on ARRI Amira that we got from our university because we, er, lied and said we needed it for our thesis project, which was actually an animation. I wanted the lenses we used to have character and treat the image a little differently than your standard set of clinical primes. We settled on the Zeiss Superspeed Mark III’s for the personality they added to the image, and because the Toronto rental house 2D House hooked us up with a great deal on them.
Now the challenge was using the visuals to tell and enhance the story and the world. By fixing the camera on tripod and dollies, the hope was to create controlled, cinematic images reminiscent of the control the operators (the dudes in the vans) have over the characters, Tom and Lucy. It isn’t until the world descends into chaos, and the operators lose control, that the locked off camera gives way to the more frantic, handheld cinematography.
In terms of the shooting itself, it was a goal of ours not to simply get coverage and figure out what to use in the edit. Often times the shot you see in the film was the only shot we have for that section. This wasn’t to be lazy or speed up the process, for example that opening dolly took 15 takes to time right and two over-the-shoulder shots would’ve really sped up the process, but to ensure that every image we were capturing had intention behind it. It also helped that we had an amazing DP Diego Guijarro at the helm.
Often times the shot you see in the film was the only shot we have for that section.
We always knew that music would be an important part of telling the story. We wanted something romantic but anxiety provoking. Something that suggested the strange nature of the world we’ve stepped foot into. We looked for inspiration in the works of composers Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood For Love) and Jon Brion (Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). We were also incredibly lucky to work with such a talented Musician Aaron Paris who composed and performed all the music in the film. The music played such a heavy part in setting not only the tone of the film but the pace as well. It’s a completely different film without the music.
Looking over the whole process though, we wrote the script over about two and a half months between the end of June and beginning of September, were in preproduction from beginning of September to end of October, shot over three days, and spent about the next six months in post-production. Post-production was a little slow, as we were all still in school and needed to catch up a bit from the three months of academic neglect and such.
Even though I lost months of sleep, and didn’t really eat or drink for the duration of the shoot, my lips were so chapped! I look back on this process fondly and am so grateful for all of the people, old friends and new, that volunteered their time to bring this strange little thing to life.