Vancouver-based Director David Findlay (last seen on DN here) explores the potent and raw emotions of grief with his latest short film Lay Me by the Shore, a queer drama that follows a week in the life of a trans boy as he wrestles with the recent passing of his best friend. Findlay constructs his narrative in almost vignette-like fashion with a series of quietly emotive scenes involving the boy and his group of friends as they venture into the sun-drenched evenings of early summer with an unknown future ahead of them. This is a film engaging primarily with emotional depth rather than plot, laying a touching empathetic eye onto a young person’s repressed feelings. DN caught up with Findlay ahead of Lay Me by the Shore’s arrival online today to discuss his loose approach to filmmaking, the dynamic of casting non-actors, and the mosaic-like structuring of the film during post-production.
Lay Me by the Shore feels more about the emotive journey of a character than any kind of major plot revelations. What drew you to tell the story this way?
I set out to tell this emotional but subtle story as a mosaic of sorts, told from the perspective of a recently departed friend, benevolent and omniscient. A few months into writing I found this musical piece by Norwegian artist The White Birch and it all clicked, the tone, the pace, and most importantly the POV. Music is huge for me, whether it is the starting point or comes later it infuses itself quite early on into the DNA of any given project I embark on.
The interactions between the friends feel so subtle and natural too, how did you tackle the casting process and decide on the group of people to create this film around?
Casting is everything for me. For this film I knew I wanted to cast exclusively non-actors. I had worked with Isla Pouliot and Kai Smith for one very short scene in my previous short Air. I loved their dynamic and everything about them. And then we mostly cast their actual friends around them from there.
How long were you and the crew out shooting in Vancouver for?
We shot in Vancouver for eight straight days in June 2021 on 35mm and 65mm film, which had its obvious challenges. I was blessed with a super talented and dedicated team.
I set out to tell this emotional but subtle story as a mosaic of sorts.
Aside from your cast of non-actors, who else in the crew influenced the project heavily both creatively and technically?
Aside from directing the cast, the highlight of it all was actually editing with Alex Farah. We had collaborated on three films before this but always remotely. This time the stars aligned and we were able to work together which was the absolute best. He was busy editing Joseph Amenta’s new feature film Soft, so by day I would edit alone, getting totally familiar with all the material, and every other evening or so Alex would come over and we would jam together. He would come on weekends, too. He’s superhuman. It was a challenging one but incredibly rewarding.
I’m guessing within the edit you’re piecing together a lot of the story too, in the sense that these scenes are subtle and evoke a certain atmosphere of a friendship group.
The film being a mosaic of sorts, many scenes could have gone almost anywhere, so it was a true puzzle. Usually editing is super daunting for me, but Alex made the process fun and I learned so much about filmmaking in general thanks to him, his approach and demeanour in tackling material, films, and anything is one I strive to emulate. This took about five weeks. And then sound designing with my dear friend Mitch Allen is such a joy, I have very precise sound ideas but he takes them to a whole other level every time. Just as, if now more importantly, he’s my buddy in helping me take the film through to the final final final finishing line. His enthusiasm really helps me so much.
I was excited about using a highly cinematic language and pairing it with real people, and a naturalistic approach.
Could you walk us through your approach to working with non-actors? How do you develop a rapport with them and get them camera comfortable?
Honestly, it’s all about personal relationships and finding a common language, something to relate to, something to root every decision to. We spent about two months ‘rehearsing’ very informally but mostly getting to know each other and building a shorthand. In that time, they were rehearsing, but mostly it was I who was rehearsing how to direct them, how each of them responded best to what, etc. It was by far the most fun and best part of the whole filmmaking process on this one.
What made you opt for both the formats of 35mm and 65mm on this film? Was there something in the texture of those stocks that attracted you in particular?
I think 35mm looks amazing. It’s as simple as that. I don’t like grain, and I don’t like dirty edges or crazy flares. I love the quality of the light. The images it produces are what I associate with movies, a way of elevating life. Moreover, I was excited about using highly cinematic language and pairing it with real people, and a naturalistic approach. That’s something I feel I haven’t seen very much of at all before.
Subtly, I wanted to capture moments and scenes of everyday life, but from the point of view of an ethereal, benevolent presence. In scenes where this was most felt, we used 65mm. The format is so beautiful and renders images completely free of grain. The images convey this feeling of lucidity, like a window through which to see the world, from the beyond maybe.
And finally, is there anything you can tell us about what can we expect from you next?
Lay Me by the Shore, the feature film! With the same cast.