The single-shot short is a tricky cinematic feat to nail. It shouldn’t operate as a gimmick, but rather as another tool in opening up the story you’re telling on screen. That’s what works in Roxy Rezvany’s short romantic comedy drama Photo Booth, the story of two immigrants in 70s London who sit down to take some photos. The locked-off, 16:9 frame allows Rezvany’s characters to unfold in front of us. They laugh, they bicker, they become whole. Rezvany’s film makes use of the way in which the single-shot format captures everything because that is precisely the point, we are being shown these people in all of their flaws and their strengths. It’s a gripping, empathetic film that DN is delighted to share below alongside a conversation with Rezvany, where she breaks down the process of showing these characters through this lens, the production design behind the titular photo booth and the conversation around the film that has spawned amongst audiences.
Where did the idea originate from for a story about an immigrant couple in a photo booth in the 70s?
The initial concept originated from my interest in photo booths. I love the space and what it creates in terms of intimacy in photography, particularly by removing the photographer and offering ‘control’ of the image to the subjects. The archival images of couples in photo booths through the decades also excite me. If you compare 1930s portrait photography with photo booth images, it’s a rare opportunity to see irreverence in people in contrast to the social norms which required formality in people’s public facades. Especially when people didn’t have portable cameras to take family photos, photo booth photos show us people were still joking, vibrant, and funny behind closed doors.
I wanted to approach the characters, not as flat and virtuous, but full of life and colour, flaws and idiosyncrasies.
Was it, therefore, important for you to present these types of characters through that particular lens?
I thought it was a perfect lens for exploring this story and for the way I wanted to approach the characters, not as flat and virtuous, but full of life and colour, flaws and idiosyncrasies. From there, when writing the script, I started to ask myself questions like why are they in there? Who takes control of the image? Do they look in love? I decided I wanted to depict a couple who are very much in love, that you can see are suited to one another in many respects, but at the same time, whose love feels destined to fail. That situation is a reality for many refugees, love cannot always ‘win’ where restriction of movement is involved.
How early on in the creative process did you land on the idea of capturing these people in one shot?
The idea to shoot the film in one shot with a fixed frame was built into the script once I knew that the film would be about the couple in the booth. For me, this approach offered an opportunity to be genuinely collaborative with the actors that I was working with and also just a chance to do something a little different! We had two days in a studio, using our first day to build our set and fine-tune our master image in terms of lighting, costume, hair, make up, and then block the script with the actors. Our second day was dedicated to doing our run-through filmed takes.
How much set construction did you and your team have to do to create the frame inside the Photo Booth we see on screen?
Soraya Gilanni, our production designer, built an entire booth for our filming, including interior light and exterior panelling. Though details like this wouldn’t be seen on screen necessarily, we knew that if the film was going to hinge on our actors’ performances, we should be doing all we could to enable them to truly feel like they were immersed in the lives of these characters and the world of the ‘photo booth’.
Could you walk us through that rehearsal period with your actors? How were you working with them during that time?
Lorraine Tai, Elham Ehsas and I had spent time together ahead of the shoot day to develop the characters, explore the scene, and find a rhythm for the dialogue so that on the day they felt comfortable, and understood where I had been coming from with the script and its intended pacing. On the day however, it was about the freedom for them to take the reins. We did several takes over the course of a shoot day, and the final film is one untouched and unaltered performance.
This approach offered an opportunity to be genuinely collaborative with the actors that I was working with and also just a chance to do something a little different!
Given the importance of the actors’ performances in Photo Booth, I was wondering if you could talk about casting Lorraine and Elham?
We were really lucky to work with Casting Director Lara Manwaring on the film. We held recalls in person after doing an initial call out for self-tapes, where we were focused on casting ‘a couple’ – two actors that had good chemistry. The casting process was one of the most enjoyable parts of working on this film because I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing Asian actors across the broad spectrum of what that identity entails. Elham and Lorraine both have a breadth of experience as actors and their styles worked so well for the film’s script and one-shot format. They were able to move between moods and tones so quickly, perform overt humour with an undercurrent of sadness, and also were ready to play, improvise and try out new things. They had such a good rapport with one another, took steps to make sure each other were comfortable as actors, and this allowed us to approach the film as a team when shaping the couple’s story and dynamic on screen.
What aspects of the film are people bringing up to you after they’ve seen it? Has anyone said anything that surprised you? Maybe offered an alternative reading that you hadn’t considered?
People have got in touch to say that they were excited by the film’s approach to the couple’s relationship, and the specific burdens each one of the couple carries, which has been a massive compliment. Also to see characters just explicitly talk amongst each other about their frustrations at being treated like outsiders. Equally, those who have been through a similar process themselves with the Home Office reached out to note they felt glad to see it represented on screen, in particular the toll that the process takes on the intimate relationships between couples, family and so on. A lot of fellow filmmakers have said they thought the one-shot nature of the film, and choice of the photo booth space for this was effective. Something I hadn’t expected was the number of people getting in touch to say that they too are mixed Iranian-Chinese, and that’s been a bonus!
What can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I am currently working on a film at the moment to show support for people fighting for their freedom in Iran.