Representation is an incredibly important facet of the cinema experience. By placing certain issues on screen, they can become experienced by audiences and stigmas and notions can be corrected through a newfound empathy. Chloe Berk and Blair Baker’s new short film Summer Fridays achieves this with aplomb. Showcasing protagonist Frankie in the aftermath of her recent HPV diagnosis, it’s a witty and smart film which follows her subsequent encounters with several people, including a particularly ill-informed ex-boyfriend, and the awkward conversations that ensue. DN spoke with Director/Actor Berk about the inspiration behind Summer Fridays and why the big screen is a great place to discuss taboo issues.
How did you come to work with Blair and develop Summer Fridays?
Blair actually started out as my acting coach and as we got to know each other better she asked me if I was writing anything. I already had the idea for a short film centred on a woman’s experiences with HPV and Blair encouraged me to write a draft. When I shared the first draft of what would be Summer Fridays with her, she said she would love to co-direct the film and I was excited to team up together. We both felt passionate about telling a female-centred story that focused on a subject not often talked about or portrayed on screen.
For sure, I don’t think I’ve seen a film specifically about HPV before but that’s one of the medium’s strongest elements – shifting audience perspective.
Definitely. As Frankie alludes in the film, most sexually active adults will get HPV at some point in their lives, whether or not they know it. For women, this diagnosis often comes weighted with the risk of cervical cancer. This situation is incredibly common, but I felt like I hadn’t seen it portrayed on screen. Blair and I feel strongly about highlighting stories that haven’t traditionally been deemed as ‘important’.
After Blair agreed to make Summer Fridays with you, what was the next step?
Once Blair and I were serious about making Summer Fridays a reality, we started meeting often to revise the script, come up with a tentative timeline, and organise our never-ending to-do lists. We knew we needed another producer, so that’s when we brought on Michael Cuomo to really get the ball rolling. For the rest of our team, we made a point to hire as many women as we could. We were so excited to work with our DP Alexa Wolf who shot the film on an Alexa Mini, our Production Designer Shoko Kambara, our AD Paola Ossa, and all of the other talented female crew members.
How long did everything take from start to finish?
I shared the first draft of the script with Blair in the summer of 2017 and we got pretty serious about making the script a reality in the beginning of 2018. We were in pre-production for several months before we filmed in August of 2018. It was a three and a half day shoot, with the first three days in Philadelphia and the last half-day in NYC, where we shot the doctor’s office scene. We had our world premiere at the Oscar-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival in August of 2019 and played more festivals in 2019 and 2020.
We both felt passionate about telling a female-centred story that focused on a subject not often talked about or portrayed on screen.
How do you find the process of acting in your own film? Is it a challenge to balancing the hats of being a director and an actor?
I knew that acting in my own film and directing alone would have been too challenging for me, so co-directing with Blair was integral to the film’s outcome. Blair and I worked hard during pre-production to make as many decisions together ahead of time so that once we were on set, we were on the same page. Because we did so much prep, I fully trusted her to make decisions when I was acting. We decided that for the most part, Blair was going to direct the actors because: 1) she’s excellent at it and 2) I didn’t want the actors I was acting with to have to get notes from their scene partner. If we strayed from the shot list, then I would make sure I was happy with the framing, but I rarely watched playback. All of this planning helped tremendously.
You premiered prior to the pandemic, did anything change in the film’s journey once that happened?
The pandemic started towards the end of our festival run, so we had the opportunity to attend some great festivals and meet many wonderful filmmakers before everything shut down. However, we hadn’t had a New York City premiere yet and had been excited to share our film in-person with friends. Unfortunately, that never happened, but we still played virtually at the Soho International Film Festival.
What’s next for you?
Blair and I are currently writing a short film that we’re both going to act in and Oran Zegman, a talented LA-based director, is going to direct. We’re not exactly sure when we’ll be able to shoot that, given the pandemic, but we’re hoping for early next year. Blair and I are also working on other projects separate from each other – Blair has a short film that she’s planning on shooting in the spring of 2021 and I’m collaborating on a short film project with my friends Chris and Lowe McKee.