Meet the Director - Darren talks Film Inspiration & Baltimore

BodyMore director and co-writer, Darren Mallett sat down with his best friend, Chicago-based playwright, Erin Austin to discuss his favorite film film settings, what he's watching now and getting to know Baltimore. Original post can be found here. Or you can check out the interview below. 

------------ 

Not only is Darren Mallett my best friend, he’s also a fantastic independent filmmaker and a visionary artist. If you don’t have the pleasure of knowing him now, you will.

We got to talking on the phone the other day and he told me about his recent scouting trip to Baltimore, MD for his upcoming film, what he learned, and why he will never shoot anything again without doing some serious site pre-scouting.

As an LRPer, I get so in the zone thinking about site-specific-ness when it comes to theatre. So it was so great to hear him talk about how integral site-specific-ness is to film.

I asked Darren about his site-specific film project and how he approaches exploring locations on film. Here’s what he had to say:

Erin: So what’s one of your favorite settings in a film?

Darren: Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet made such an impact on me. The beach, the candles, the fireworks, the pool. Those locations stick with me. Remember the fish tank scene? It’s such a beautiful use of setting to communicate that first meeting. It’s so good, so stylish.

Erin: Lurhmann had a lot of liberties in that film. Because, you know, Shakespeare. He got to totally create his version of Verona. But sometimes you’re telling stories that take place and are set in locked locations. So how do you use a real setting to help tell your story?

Darren: That’s a good question, and I mean, BodyMore is based on a true story that takes place in Baltimore and as the director, I feel a lot of responsibility to get it right, and tell the story truthfully. That includes respecting the story’s location.

Erin: Right, you want to be reverent to the location but also illuminate something about that space/location. How is that even possible?

Darren: Have you seen The People v. OJ Simpson yet?

Erin: Nope. Good?

Darren: It’s a great example of bringing perspective and a new look at a historical and iconic setting. There wasn’t anything fancy about the settings but Ryan Murphy’s use of camera movement is so intense. The way he zooms in to highlight certain aspects of a setting is incredibly engaging. He transforms the location by playing with movement.

Erin: So how do you use a setting to illuminate your storytelling?

Darren: For me, it’s all about perspective and viewpoint. That’s where use of location in film and use of location in theatre often go their separate ways. When I came to see you guys do Artifacts, I could go look at whatever I wanted. My experience was going to be different then the person next to me, because I chose to look at something different. In film, we have the advantage of telling you (audience) what you have to look at. Since my work is character-driven, I’m interested in showing the audience what my main character sees or… chooses to see.

Erin: When you go to a new location what do you focus on?

Darren: I’m an architecture guy. I’m always looking up. But I was really interested in what Shannon (co-screenwriter, writer of original short story) noticed visually, since this film is told from her POV. And she’s very observant of nature, children, and sounds.

Erin: Yes! Right, so tell me about this film!

Darren: BodyMore is based on a short story by Shannon Shird. It chronicles the weekend of a young woman as she navigates her sexual freedom, complicated friendships, and budding activist career.

Erin: Very cool.

Darren: Yeah, when I read her story, it was so raw and authentic. And I was attracted to hearing a woman of color speak and be so free spirited. I don’t see that often in film. It felt visual and dangerous and I love that it takes place over the course of a weekend.

Erin: So you guys adapted the story into a screenplay, and now you are in pre-production?

Darren: Yep.

Erin: And part of your pre-production agenda was taking a trip to Baltimore to get a feel for the location first-hand, correct?

Darren: Yeah. We went ahead and made that a priority. Especially because I’d never been. There’s only so much you can learn about a place from the Internet.

Erin: So how much of this film will be shot in Baltimore?

Darren: I was hell-bent on shooting all interiors in NYC and all exteriors in Baltimore. But after going through people’s apartments, I had to reevaluate that.

Erin: Why?

Darren: It looks different there. I forget how much space everywhere else has (outside of NYC).  The apartments there are bigger and have so much more light.

Erin: What else did you discover about Baltimore on your recent visit?

Darren: Baltimore is the place where segregation first became legal.

Erin: Wait, really?

Darren: Yep. In 1910, Baltimore enacted the first citywide law that mandated the segregation of each residential block. So there is still this deep-seated racial divide. Visually, everything is close to the water. It was a port city and that dictates the overall design and layout of the whole city. And once things started going overseas, the economy tanked and it’s still recovering. Add that unstable economy to this history of segregation… It’s a volatile place. You can feel it.

Erin: How else is Baltimore different then NYC?

Darren: Well, I’m not giving any shade to Baltimore but let’s say NYC is a stylish city. My visit made me realize I’ve got to revisit wardrobe with our costume designer. We’ve got to be truer to that more casual, laidback Baltimore style.  I’d say overall, there’s just a slower pace, and an easier, friendlier feel.

Erin: So, it sounds like your scouting trip to Baltimore was a success?

Darren: I’m never shooting or writing anything again without physically going there at some point in the creative process. It gave me insight into what we’re doing with BodyMore on a big-picture scale, but also on a micro level. And sometimes it’s those little details, especially in a short film, that carry all the weight.

Erin: Give me an example.

Darren: The place we crashed at while we were down there, there were some Black Lives Matters posters tucked away in the corner behind the living room couch. No one was talking about them. Clearly, they were being used during the protests, then brought back home, and were stuck in a corner out of the way. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. What a great detail: These people protested, they did something so monumental, and now their signs are there and have become a constant part of their home lives. Just that visual made me think: Are these coming back out again? Are they in storage for good? What does it say about the movement?

Erin: That’s awesome. And I’ve read the script and I gotta say, I think you guys are telling a really important story.

Darren: Thank you!

Erin: So, where can people learn more about this film?

Darren: Check out bodymoremovie.com.

Erin: Super exciting. LRP friends, check this out. Darren, thanks for talking locations.

Darren: Anytime. Can we do this every week? Just interview each other?

Erin: Like, have a conversation?

Darren: Okay, I guess we already do that.

Erin: But, yeah, we can keep doing that. Count me in.

Bio: 

Darren Mallett is a producer/director living in NYC. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Tampa, FL; Darren is a graduate of the New School. He's Co-Creator and Executive producer of Comedy web series, "Brett and the City". Darren is a Curatorial Assistant at Creatively Speaking Film Series, led by Michelle Materre. Together he along with producer, Empress Varnado started #bbdigital; a series of events bringing content creators of color together. Darren will direct BodyMore.