The one-shot film is a tough cookie to crack. As Director Samuel de Ceccatty mentions in our interview below, once you start to avoid cuts part of your audience becomes aware of the process, meaning you have to double down on the action to maintain their attention. De Ceccatty and his crew are able to achieve that gripping sense of action with Adrift, their short film about the aftermath of a causal hook-up where an overeager roommate is keen to keep the date of his friend from leaving. It’s a wonderful piece of captivating drama which was commissioned by Fujifilm. DN caught up with De Ceccatty who reveals the pros and cons of shooting a one-shot drama, the curation process of the film’s jazzy soundtrack, and the key inspiration he drew from old wives’ tales he heard surrounding the film’s kooky hipster location on a mooring in central London.
With the idea being inspired by bodies washing up on the shore on the Royal Pontoon, where the film was shot, how did you take that concept and transform it into a narrative?
When visiting the location, we obviously got hooked by the idea of finding a washed up body, but we also fell in love with the mooring community, full of hidden nooks and quirky characters. We soon decided to have the audience discover this environment from the point of view of someone who didn’t belong, and to make a contemporary You Can’t Take It With You with a Ladykillers twist.
I thought to myself: this would be a great place to shoot, as every inch is full of interesting colours, textures and depth of field.
How did the film evolve through the rehearsal process? Did anything change when it came to practically walking through the shot?
When I wrote the script, I had loose dialogue written to get us to the production stage, but I warned the actors not to learn their lines by heart. During rehearsal, we worked out the blocking, figured out what key bits of plot needed to be said when but the rest was mostly improvised until we landed on something we liked.
The location is incredible. What was it about that warrenlike boat setting that made you want to shoot there?
My sister-in-law Ninon Ardisson, who is the ‘where is the knife’ woman in the kitchen scene, as well as the head of our costume department, lived on that boat for years. Every time I visited, I thought to myself: this would be a great place to shoot, as every inch is full of interesting colours, textures and depth of field. When the opportunity to make another short with Adam Suschitzky arose and I found out we only had two weeks to write and shoot it, I knew the location was going to be key, since it’s both essential to any good story and one of the most time-consuming elements of pre-production. So pretty much from day one, I started getting in touch with the owners of the moorings, yet only came to an agreement the day before rehearsals about two days before the shoot.
How do you think the audience’s experience of watching a film is changed when it’s presented as a single shot?
Cuts are a filmmaker’s tool to hide elements irrelevant to the story and to compress/extend time. By removing cuts, part of the audience will always wonder if the filmmaker will manage to keep control or unwittingly reveal something unexpected, similarly to theatre plays when the audience wonders if the actors will slip up. This is a double-edged sword: on one hand it adds tension, which can be great, but on the other hand it can also take the audience out of the story and break the third wall. To address this, Adam and I decided to use smooth camera moves which glide effortlessly through the location to retain the illusion of control, and, hopefully, keep the audience focused on the story.
What did you shoot on and how many takes did you do?
We shot on an Alexa Mini LF with a Fujinon Premista zoom lens. We took advantage of the full 19-45 spectrum, which means that at some stages of the shot we were at 19mm, almost fisheye, and other parts we were closer to 45mm so much tighter. We only zoomed during quick pans and camera moves so hopefully the changes are imperceptible. It’s hard to say exactly how many takes we did since we rehearsed loads and rarely went all the way through a shot, as soon as we messed up we got back to first positions, but technically we slated 28 shots, four of which were start to finish.
We soon decided to have the audience discover this environment from the point of view of someone who didn’t belong.
What was the most challenging aspect of shooting on the boat from a technical perspective?
One of the biggest challenges was choreographing the camera team and actors in the very limited space available, and in the rain. At one point, the camera operator had to walk backwards up a slippery metal staircase on a rocky boat while holding heavy camera equipment. Another equally difficult challenge was finding space to hide all the gear and crew during each take. In addition to this, because the boat was metal plated, radio mics had limited reach, so the sound recordist had to follow the camera team very closely. In short, if you flipped the camera at any given point of the film, you would see the grip, camera operator, focus puller and sound recordist weaving and bobbing their way through the mooring skillfully avoiding being in frame, while Sam and Adam hid under a tarp dressed into the shot.
The score totally fits the rhythm of the whole film. Were you always set on having a minimal drum-centric arrangement to back the action?
From the start I wanted a single score that carries the audience through the whole story, and I knew my mate Ollie Howell, an award-winning Jazz musician, would be perfect for the job. Because of the one-shot aspect of the film, there were chunks I couldn’t skip over, such as the actress walking up some stairs for instance, and the music was key to reenergising the bits which dipped in pace on screen. In the recording studio, Ollie and I spent a whole day working out what worked and what didn’t, and then recorded the final score in one take, so the process was very similar to the short itself.
What will you be working on next?
I’ll be working on raising my kids for a bit as I’m expecting my second daughter mid-November! Aside from that, I’m also releasing my first animation, a comedy short called Lilith and Eve – a feminist reimagining of the myth of Adam and Eve – and developing a TV series based on these characters and world. I’m also developing a feature film about my family’s experience of moving back to France after COVID and Brexit, and currently raising funds for the proof-of-concept short called Coffee Brain.