Chances are, if you’re scrolling through the pages of Directors Notes, you are either a filmmaker who has shown their work to friends and family or are said friend or family member who has had to watch a film made by a filmmaker friend or relative. The awkwardness of that slightly obligatory social transaction is brilliantly explored in Frank Mosley and Hugo De Sousa’s tight comedy drama The Event, in which a filmmaker wakes up his roommate in the middle of the night to question him as to why he hasn’t watched his new short film yet. It’s a witty and acerbic comedy short, and incredibly relatable for anyone in the vicinity of the film industry. DN invited Mosley and De Sousa for a conversation about the construction of The Event, breaking down everything from the sharp screenwriting to the heightened, locked-off camerawork.
The concept at the core of The Event is incredibly relatable to any filmmaker. Where and how did you come up with it as an uncomfortable concept?
Hugo De Sousa: I wrote the pasta monologue two years ago, in conversation, as I was trying to explain to a friend of mine who loves films and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film how insane it is that he hasn’t watched any of our friend’s films. I guilt tripped the hell out of him and it felt good and we both laughed. A year ago I was tasked with finding a simple two-hander that we could safely film coming out of a pandemic and that silly monologue came rushing back into my brain. I wrote the script in two days and we filmed it at my house while my wife and cat slept in a hotel. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and showing this movie in theaters during our festival run was one of the most fun and satisfying things I’ve ever experienced. When the line, “I am your friend, not your audience” happens you feel the entire audience hold hands. It’s a great feeling.
It was important to us to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Not a snippet of something.
Frank Mosley: Hugo pitched me a few ideas for us to make, and they were all great, but once he pitched me the idea for this, doing the pasta monologue, I knew it was the one. I couldn’t stop laughing and knew he’d cracked something I hadn’t seen in a film before. You’ve seen moments in other films where one character feels upset that the other hasn’t seen their film or listened to their album or read their novel, but I hadn’t seen a film where it was a snowball effect of focusing solely on that need to be seen and listened to. Especially revolving around a short film that isn’t watched. It tapped into, I think, so many filmmakers’ own neuroses and fears, and so I was excited to make this, hoping it would tap into what so many of us feel, while also probing more universal themes of boundaries and friendships.
I guess it’s similar to other artistic endeavours that require people to sit down and concentrate, you don’t want to have to ask people to do it, you just kind of hope they’ll be innately interested as a viewer. But it works both ways too. Was it important to have that balanced nature to the script?
HDS: If you’re a creative person and you put yourself out there creatively in any way or form you know what it’s like to ask your friends and family to play the part of an audience member. It’s a really uncomfortable (and funny) position to put them in. We tried to portray that experience in the film in a way that shows solidarity for both sides because it’s an impossible situation.
It’s a great example of embracing the short film format too because it’s totally contained as a narrative. Did you always set out to create something that exists as its own piece of art rather than a work that alludes to something larger?
HDS: It was important to us to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Not a snippet of something. One character wants something from another character and the entire story is about him trying to get what he wants. At the end he gets what he wants but in the saddest way possible. We didn’t want any exposition or the characters to reference anything outside the main argument. It’s a simple cat and mouse game.
Underneath the jokes it’s kind of a sad movie about wanting to be seen and loved and not getting to decide when that happens for you.
I wanted to ask about the tone and style of the film. It’s tense and naturalistic in its construction which brings its own connotations to the comedy of it. What drew you to construct the film this way?
HDS: It’s obviously a very silly movie with a very silly premise but we wanted the tone to feel very serious and naturalistic, and the visuals are there to kind of highlight how awkward and sad the whole thing is. Underneath the jokes it’s kind of a sad movie about wanting to be seen and loved and not getting to decide when that happens for you.
FM: I think it’s really common to see a lot of comedies, indies especially, that are handheld and have a real ‘point and shoot’ quality, so I was excited to shoot this instead as a very restrained drama with mostly still frames to heighten the absurdity of the situation. One of my favourite films is Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure. There’s a long-take style to the film, one that makes you feel trapped in a space with the characters as the cringey situation seems to only get progressively worse. And I’d been watching a lot of Gordon Willis films right before this, The Parallax View and Klute especially, and thought that the more this looked like a noir or a horror film, the better. It would hopefully push against the comedy by making the stakes only feel that much higher for a very ridiculous situation in the middle of one long night.
We wanted it to be as dark as possible, to play with shadow and silhouettes, so we were really thankful to have Kenneth Wales as our DP, who stepped in a mere week before our other DP had to back out. He totally got the reference photos we showed him and then brought it all to life while also bringing so much more! We stressed how we weren’t afraid to obscure characters and leave a lot off-frame, and he was not only into it, but he delivered big time. We shot on the ARRI Alexa, and he even managed to surprise us with some vintage Baltar prime lenses, the same ones used on movies like The Godfather, so it certainly gave the image a smoky, slightly gauzy edge that evoked all the 70s cinema references we’d pulled. Ken’s such a talented DP, and he really lit and shot the hell out of it.
How smooth a production was it on the whole, you mentioned that you shot the entire thing over the course of a single evening?
FM: We had two incredible producers, Chelsea Bo and Sean Drummond, who came on board recommended by a friend, and they helped Hugo and I so much. They took care of all the logistics so that Hugo and I could focus on performing and directing, which was key because we shot it all in one long night. And I think that tight time frame actually gave an energy to everyone on set too, fueling us to get this movie made by dawn. And, making this at the height of COVID, there were a lot of important precautions we had to take, making this in Hugo’s home in tight quarters. But we did it because of everyone’s awesome work, and it was a refreshing reminder of how wonderful it was to make a film after everyone had been quarantined in 2020.
I was excited to shoot this instead as a very restrained drama with mostly still frames to heighten the absurdity of the situation.
Was the edit equally as swift?
FM: The editing process took just a few months of Hugo and I meeting intermittently. The film was mostly shot-to-edit, but we definitely got some feedback from others to see what moments might be landing more than others or to really assess the pace from scene to scene. But overall, the edit process was as smooth as the shoot.
Sound design was a lot of fun because our talented Mixer Chris Mack was really able to bring out the silence of the film, the pauses between these heartfelt exchanges, the floor creaking under uncomfortable body shifts, and even just a hard swallow of vulnerability. He really made the house feel that much more quiet, and these two men all the more disruptive, as if this all shouldn’t be happening. And since the majority of the dialogue is low volume or even whispered, he was able to make the experience retain that intimacy, even when some of the action was viewed, voyeuristically, from afar. And because Hugo and I didn’t want any music, we were excited that the sound mix could do all the talking, literally, by making the audience observe these two men on their own terms rather than being cued by strings to feel a certain way or cast any sort of judgement.
Hugo, this short marks your debut as a filmmaker, how are you looking back on the experience now?
HDS: This was my writing and directorial debut, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I especially loved performing my own writing because I didn’t have to go looking for the feelings and emotions in the script, I already had them in me, and it’s something I want to do more and more in the future.
Will you be collaborating again soon? What’s next for the two of you?
HDS: Frank and I just finished another short called Good Condition, also shot in my house but this time during the day. “It’s just Hugo and a table” is how we’ve been describing it to our friends. Super weird, very different than The Event. Frank directed, I penned the script and am also performing.
FM: We’re submitting it to festivals right now, so are eager to see where it lands. Hugo delivers an incredible one-man show with it.