One can only begin to imagine the activities witnessed by taxi and ride-share drivers from their unique vantage point so when filmmaker Georgios Hartofilakidis decided the follow the varying romantic antics of four sets of passengers in his car-set comedy drama Thursday Night Sorbet, a driver’s POV was the perfect choice. After much consideration, Hartofilakidis realised the only way to authentically capture his four sharply written vignettes was by using a real car setup. This choice, alongside the film’s fixed rear seat camera perspective, fully engages the audience in a night of hilarious romantic missteps, depicting the tricky situations experienced in the quartet of romantic relationships we ride along with. A delightful piece of work which was purposely constructed in a manner that would make it achievable as an unfunded independent film production, we’re delighted to premiere Thursday Night Sorbet on Directors Notes today alongside an interview with Hartofilakidis where he explains the careful planning and rehearsal process that enabled him to shoot each story in a single take, his impressive subtitling which translates the film’s dialogue in a nuanced and colloquial manner and why he wanted to incorporate an unexpected but buoyant musical element into the film.

How did you come to make a film about four different sets of passengers and their romantic antics?

The initial concept for Thursday Night Sorbet didn’t come from artistic self-reflection, nor from a passionate concern about a certain cultural issue. And it definitely wasn’t set in motion by a sudden spark of inspiration. The idea was a product of the deep desperation of a disheartened waiter with a film degree, in the faraway land of Greece, in the year of our lord 2021. After a couple of years of writing extravagantly expensive short scripts without any real prospects of getting funding for them, I came to the only reasonable conclusion – Write something cheap to make, fund it yourself. Then I gave myself a set of rules/boundaries: 1) Keep it simple. 2) Set it in one location. 3) Focus on dialogue and performance (never bought that that can’t be cinematic). 4) Minimal amount of production design. 5) Even fewer camera set-ups. 6) Skeleton crew (the film should benefit from that, rather than suffer for it). 7) We’re shooting in three months from now (set the train in motion, worry about the tracks later).

A car cabin functions as an impenetrable crate, it traps all the tension, the conflict bounces all around with nowhere to go.

I decided to set the film in a moving taxi, containing it in terms of space and time. A car cabin functions as an impenetrable crate, it traps all the tension, the conflict bounces all around with nowhere to go. A perfect setting for a relationship-based awkward comedy. In terms of visuals, we could get an active background – city lights and passers-by – contrasting the otherwise static shot. In terms of story, we can have the driver off frame, substituting for the POV of the audience (I always found the way passengers act in taxis fascinating – the driver is practically invisible, blending into his seat, Mr. Tri-Laminate Polyester).

How did that set of rules evolve into these four one-take stories?

Connected by setting and theme, they all revolved around youngish people trying to figure out dating and relationships. I did my best for all of them to complement each other, but to also be different and stand on their own. One awkward ‘should we?’ between friends, one completely one-sided infatuation, one dramatic breakup, one comically exaggerated depiction of miscommunication (literally speaking a different language).

The decision to have the stories play out in single takes came pretty early on. It would highlight all the things that were advantageous about the setting if carefully planned and paced. That meant read-throughs with friends, timing them, making sure all the marks were being hit, re-writing. Then, after the film had been cast, extensive rehearsals with the actors. Naturally, during that process, a huge amount of input came from the cast. Character work, changing/adding lines and improvising. But it all had to be agreed upon and locked by the time we got to set; the technical specificity of the shoot meant that we wouldn’t be able to experiment with performances on the day. The film had already been edited, all there was left to do was shoot it.

The technical specificity of the shoot meant that we wouldn’t be able to experiment with performances on the day.

Please tell us more about your casting process and managing to collate this worryingly relatable array of characters.

Casting for me is possibly the most important aspect of filmmaking to get right. Finding teammates that understand the intentions of the text and can put their own spin on it, means that half of my job as a director is done. You hear that all the time but it’s 100% true. For this, I wanted to bring an ensemble together with its members being relatable but at the same time just plain weird in the best possible way. I also wanted each actor’s characteristics and demeanour to be compatible with everyone else’s, even if they never appeared on screen together. I was basically looking for chemistry within and between scenes. It might have been obsessive, it might sound dumb but once the casting was complete it just felt right.

Your writing is so natural yet you also manage to ensure there is the right balance of comedy, conflict and drama to keep the audience with you. How did some of the lines change during rehearsals and once you had the right cast in place?

The biggest change to the film that came from casting was when Nikos Lekakis, who plays Grigoris, came on board. Originally I had envisioned the character quite differently. I wanted to cast someone who could come across as shy and reserved in the beginning, but turn into a proper caveman as the segment went on. Nikos had the brilliant idea of approaching this from a different angle, making the character more of a harmless fool. Delusional; yes, toxic; most definitely – but not an actual physical threat. If the audience were to deem the character dangerous, even for a moment, then the comedy would fall flat and the segment wouldn’t work. He was absolutely right. We reworked the character and I believe that in the end, we found the right balance.

I was basically looking for chemistry within and between scenes.

I absolutely adore that you used a real driving car and maintained that authenticity. How long was the shoot and how were you able to maintain the feeling that it was all happening in consecutive rides?

The big decision the DoP Victor Leonidis and I had to make was how we were going to technically approach the film. We considered shooting against a green screen or a projection for a highly stylised result but we soon realised (although it meant we’d have less control) that the correct choice for this was to shoot it for real. The authentic city backdrop would balance out the comedic exaggeration of the stories, keeping the film in a believable space and not letting it drift too much into the surreal. We’d let the locations do most of the lighting work, so scouting was paramount. We wanted to use main roads that were light with warm orange and yellow lights, had no dim spots and had enough traffic to show the busyness of the city, but not too much for the car to be static for more than a few seconds at a time.

We decided to shoot on a Red Komodo 6K combined with the 20mm Sigma FF High Speed Prime lens. We felt that that combination allowed us to capture warm and vibrant colours while benefiting from the light sensitivity of the lens. In the picture car, the passenger seat was removed making space for rigs, camera, lighting and sound equipment. Our sound recordist, thankfully modest in size, took his place in the boot of the car. In the car in front, the DoP, 1st AD Haris Saratsiotis and I, equipped with monitors and headphones, led the way. With the amount of things that could go wrong, we were surprised they didn’t.

Then, Editing was pretty straightforward, I just stitched together our favourite takes and Yorgos Zervoulakos did a brilliant job of colouring the film. But I cannot stress enough the role our sound designer Kostas Chaikalis had in the outcome of the film. His biggest task was reconstructing the audio for one of the scenes (where we encountered some technical issues) through ADR and Foley. In addition to that he built a customised soundscape that elevated the film that much more.

Their conversations are clearly very relaxed and colloquial and your subtitles are commendable in the sentiments they convey which is immediately noticeable. Who did you work with on the translations?

Thank you for saying that! I did the translations myself. Ι think most bilingual people can confirm that when speaking and writing in different languages, your thought process adapts to each one. Each language offers unique methods of structuring sentences, which define the order in which the words are revealed and essentially how you decide to present information and establish a rhythm. That means your creative choices might differ depending on the language you choose to tell your story in. So when it came to subtitling the film, I realised it was a far more creative endeavour than I originally believed it to be, almost like producing a new draft of the script. The subtitles had to reveal all the information while maintaining the individual voice of each character. The jokes had to be carried through and new interpretations had to be conceived regarding idioms and language-specific sayings. Also, because of the amount of dialogue in the film, it all had to be done in as few words as possible – I wouldn’t want the non-Greek speaking audiences to be stuck looking at the bottom of the screen for 26 minutes.

When it came to subtitling the film, I realised it was a far more creative endeavour than I originally believed it to be, almost like producing a new draft of the script.

What do you think the singing at the end brings to the film and why did you want to play with this form?

I have always been a massive fan of musicals and music playing a narrative role in films in general but never had a real chance to explore that creatively. Two members of our cast, Niki and Olga Skiadaresi (twin sisters), are the wonderful musical duo Skiadareses with an impressive following in Greece so I asked them to write a song for the ending to be sung by all the characters – something that would work on an emotional level but also connect the stories and bring the whole thing together. They very graciously agreed. My direction was minimal, I love their way of approaching things (unique, playful, not taking themselves too seriously), I was confident that they were going to come up with something fitting.

After pulling off this project, what are you looking to explore next in your filmmaking?

Ι just want to be able to make the films that I want to see, narrative storytelling through the lens of the absurd. I love trying to navigate the line between a silly concept and the underlying dramatic truth that slowly creeps up on you. It always comes back to comedy for me, it’s just the way my brain works – seeing the funny thing in every imaginable situation. I currently have a couple of films that I’m trying to get off the ground, so hopefully the next one is not too far off.

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