It’s recommended by Director Nat Gee that for her experimental short Waves, if you’re watching at home on a computer or laptop, you use headphones to envelop yourself in the full sonic experience of her short film. I would back that recommendation as it’s a film which addresses the relationship between mind and body during a time of intense distress through a truly evocative, cerebral manner. Gee uses the various fundamental filmmaking components; vivid cinematography, intense soundscaping and an emotive central performance, to convey a direct point-of-view perspective of the acute inner workings of an engulfing anxiety attack. The sound in particular is worth embracing the use of headphones for as it embeds you in the world of its character, who is portrayed expressively by fellow Filmmaker/Artist Lily Baldwin, through an assortment of tactile, disorientating sonic elements. Directors Notes got into these themes, the use of the fundamental filmmaking tools, and the creation of Waves’ evocative floral-inspired production design with Gee in our in-depth chat below.

What provoked you to create an explorative film about anxiety?

For me anxiety is like a dreamscape, one with many layers and depths. It’s part horror, constant motion and negotiation with mind and body, often feeling otherworldly. I wanted to explore what is felt, rather than spoken about. The most important approach to me was sharing a story where the release is just as important as the terror. It takes a lot of muscle to not get buried by the collapse of an anxiety attack. To ride out the waves, are moments to be celebrated. A lot of films focus on the panic, but it takes a lot of strength to sit in anxiety and let it pass and when it does, I wanted to explore the relief and resiliency in that because those prior moments are exhaustingly terrifying. I focused on its assault of the body and mind and how can this woman find a place to hold on to and not disappear, but surrender.

How did you navigate pre-production and production? It’s a short with such detail in its production design, was it a case of sourcing items/props that would establish the look of Waves?

Everything took place during the pandemic so every meeting with department heads, including rehearsals with Lily, was over zoom. It was a small team, but such a team effort. Pre-production went from calling florists in Manhattan’s flower district to reaching out to garden centers to find ladybugs in what was apparently their off-season, to doing a rehearsal of the blue fog in my in-laws back yard where neighbors thought we were doing a baby gender reveal.

I wanted to explore what is felt, rather than spoken about.

Our incredible Production Designer Allie Leone and our Art Director Alyssa Franks built the set in a Manhattan studio, we had one set build and pre-light day, one shoot day inside the studio and then we shot for a half day down the beach.

The cinematography has this almost psychedelic, transcendental quality to it, what was the methodology behind the decision to shoot on film?

It was important to me that we shot on film as it offers a magical and otherworldly quality that is a perfect fit for Waves. We shot on super 16mm for the interiors and 35mm (4perf) for the exteriors on Kodak V3 250D. This choice helped ground the piece when we wanted to shift from objective to subjective. Since we were shooting on film we often called action on Lily first to give her time to get into her body and then called action on camera when the moment felt right.

I wanted the piece to have a feminine power to it and working with Production Designer Allie Leone, who has a great eye for color and texture, we focused on pastels for the design. I wanted the intensity to come from performance, cinematography and sound design, rather than the piece be visually depressing. Anxiety can show up in the beautiful and the ordinary and there’s a heaviness already embedded in that.

A lot of the film’s tone is conveyed through its rich soundscape, how did you develop that part of the short?

Through our soundscape I really want to capture the disorientation of anxiety and how it can transport you to other realms. Some of the sound design comes from personal triggers and memories and so we integrated elements such as subway noises and children playing off in the background, as well as more surreal elements like the disco ball lights and the ocean.

How much of Waves was formed in the edit? It’s a work which bridges into experimental tendencies so I’m wondering what aspects of it came to life at that point of production.

Our Editor Lindsey Nadolski said: “Editing Waves was my first collaboration with Nat and I’m so grateful for her trusting me with this film. It was important for me to ensure I was sculpting the phases of this anxiety into something that felt accurate for her emotionally. I very much followed the flow of Joshua Echevarria’s camera work – which truly captured the sensation of Lily existing on shaky ground. The constant motion, denying us the chance to feel settled or safe.

To perpetuate this uneasiness, it became apparent fairly early on that we would rely more heavily on sound design than a musical score to channel Lily’s experience. Her performance was so powerful that she didn’t need us to tip those scales for her so much with music. And there can be something a bit terrifying in the isolation created by lack of score. Working in sound design is one of my favorite parts of the editing process – and I loved creating this world around Lily and then watching her survive it.”

I wanted the intensity to come from performance, cinematography and sound design, rather than the piece be visually depressing.

You’re exploring a vulnerable and raw emotional state, how was it working with Lily Baldwin to create and delve into her character?

Since we couldn’t meet in person, due to the pandemic, Lily and I had long FaceTime sessions where we really broke down the script and together created an arch to the story that carried different emotional shifts. We delved deep into meanings behind the visuals, whether they came from memories or triggers, how that impacts her size and sense of tactuality and space. Other times called for being definite about where the source of torment or relief was coming from, was it her stomach, ear, throat, and how can Lily move through this immobility to reconnect with her body. We focused on the push and pull of disjointedness, chaos and defeat and what was the shifting temperature of these sensations at particular moments in time. Lily is bold and fearless in her approach, she demands every moment to be as authentic as possible and I love that.

And from what I’ve read, you’ve worked together again since Waves? What can you tell us about that project?

We just wrapped on our next project Buried which explores the physical and surreal surrounding work burnout, stress and rage. The lyrical narrative follows a winemaker plagued by stress and sickness who is convinced her vineyard is being poisoned, but a sinister presence confuses the truth around her chaotic and mysterious illness. Buried explores how self-compassion is difficult to channel when we push ourselves to exhaustion. Lily plays the lead, Lindsey is currently editing and the script won an artist grant from the Jerome Foundation and was shot on super 16mm.

Aside from Buried, what else is on the horizon for you presently?

Well, Buried is also a proof of concept for my debut feature, which I’m developing right now, so there’s that project too.

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