Inspired by the real life account of a childhood friend, LA-based filmmaker Sam Davis’ You Know Where To Find Me is a charmingly unpretentious yet incredibly effective slice-of-life drama from which everyone can draw parallels. The film follows Frankie, stunningly embodied in a first time performance from Grayson Deeney, a young man with an intellectual disability who has been eagerly waiting for the day he could move into his own place for years. Whilst his new pad may be a mere stone’s throw away from his mother, the distance doesn’t matter as they both have to acclimatise to the new ebbs and flows of their independent lives. It’s a story which skillfully encapsulates that terrifying moment where the realities of your long-awaited independence finally dawn on you – an emotive experience portrayed by Davis with an astute balance. With an impressive roster of projects behind him not only as a director but also as a DOP (such as previous DN short Notice Me), it comes as no surprise that the tone and cinematography of this flying-the-nest narrative offer a cathartic and deeply engaging vantage point. With You Know Where to Find Me having recently arrived online, we spoke to Davis about the long improvisational shots he employed drawing upon his documentary background, effectively writing the story in the edit and harnessing Grayson Deeney’s incredibly natural performance.
You explore the space between narrative and documentary – where do you think the line lies and how did you separate the two?
I’ve never really given any thought to ‘the line’ in making a film, but in general, I like to find as many ways as possible to weave truth into fiction. My idea isn’t complete until real people and places and communities fill in the blanks, lending it a documentary specificity. Every film lies on a different point along the spectrum, but You Know Where to Find Me is essentially narrative with strands of doc DNA, from our approach to casting, the looseness of the writing, and the improvisational blocking and coverage.
My idea isn’t complete until real people and places and communities fill in the blanks, lending it a documentary specificity.
Can you talk more about the documentary style shooting and the equipment you used to capture the scenes?
You Know Where to Find Me was shot on the Alexa Mini with a Hawk V-Lite Zoom and mostly available light. Since we were doing long improvisational takes, we needed to be able to shoot 360 degrees at all times, so we could only light outside-in. In a lot of ways it was more like editing a documentary. We were writing the story in the edit. For example, we had no idea that the answering machine scene would be so substantial in the final film. We also shot a lot of great stuff that didn’t make it, like a sweet scene of Mom plucking Frankie’s unibrow.
In terms of his performance, we’re all still in awe of Grayson’s natural ability.
It is incredulous that this is Grayson Deeney’s first time in front of the camera. How did you work with him on the performance and harnessing that natural ability which shines through?
The credit I will take here is for choosing the right guy. We spent months scouring social media, scouting Special Olympics events, and spamming high school special education administrators around the country. We came across a Special Olympics interview of Grayson on YouTube very early on, and while we immediately liked him, it took seeing hundreds of others over the course of the next few months to finally return to him. We met Grayson and his mom Martha in a small town outside Chicago to film screen tests and eat pizza, then called to offer him the role a few days later, to which he very calmly replied, “Okay.” Martha assured us he was excited. In terms of his performance, we’re all still in awe of Grayson’s natural ability. I would throw out dialogue prompts or directions mid-take from behind camera and he would react. Apart from that, it was all about being in tune with his energy and making sure he was feeling comfortable and empowered.
Everything is quite muted in tone which juxtaposes well with the excitement we feel for Frankie moving out. How did you develop the colour palette for the film?
We wanted it to feel visually ordinary. The color palette was really dictated by the existing colors in and around our locations — a lot of soft, earthy tones with pops of orange leaves. The only element that’s stylistically heightened to represent Frankie’s excitement is the big orchestral score.
I was anxious that no one would come to his party but you have managed not to have that be a make or break focus. What did you want that scene to bring to the overall story?
There were different versions of this scene on the table all the way up until the day we shot it, that’s how much we were finding it as we went. We half-joked about the whole neighborhood showing up and having a huge party. That would have been unexpected. I like the realistic melancholy of taking a big step forward and yet feeling unsettled and lonely.
The dance is not just between the actors but also the camera, which is constantly roaming and reframing and motivating their progression through the space.
One of my favourite sequences is Frankie being shown around by the building manager, it brought me right back to that feeling when I moved into my first place.
We shot the scene in two chaotic 20 minute improvisational takes. Out of those 40 minutes, 36 are completely unusable, but the four good minutes feel very ‘found’ and very true because they happen almost unconsciously in the midst of stumbling through this very loose improv. The dance is not just between the actors but also the camera, which is constantly roaming and reframing and motivating their progression through the space, so it’s a very low-percentage approach but it worked nicely here.
This short truly feels like part of a much larger narrative. How did you build such an absorbing and natural world?
The character and the general world are actually borrowed from a feature screenplay I wrote years ago about a real-life train derailment that happened in my hometown in 2002. So the world is well-informed because it’s the world in which I was raised. But still, as I said before, especially on a small scale and short timeline like this, I really lean on real people and places to bring that dimension.
Are you now drawn more to narrative film and what are you working on next?
Not necessarily. I want to do both narrative and documentary forever. Rayka Zehtabchi and I are creating a doc series on the Amalfi Coast in Italy among other doc and narrative projects, and I’m 3 years into a 7-year-long feature documentary shoot with my friend Kurt Schneider which has been one of the most special experiences of my career.