To give a unique insight into the filmmaking process, Raindance paired BIFA-winner and Screen International Star of Tomorrow Rob Savage with Monica Heisey and Kate Herron to talk about the launch of their new short film Rest Stop.
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Where did the idea for Rest Stop come from?
(Kate): It was born partly out of me wanting to exercise a period in my early twenties when I went backpacking around in the USA. I thought I was this free spirit but I was basically an idiot with a blocked bankcard carrying useless items like water purification tablets.
(Monica): Everyone is embarrassing in their early twenties, but it seems like Kate and I in particular just really had no idea what we were doing. There’s something very special about finding someone as uniquely uncool as you, and I think Kate and I really nailed it. It can be really cathartic to take your saddest self and make comedy of it.
How did you both start writing together and what would you say is the secret to your collaboration?
(Monica): Mostly the key is neither of us being mad when we mess up the time difference math writing from Toronto and England.
(Kate): Yes that really is the secret. I also inspired by William Friedkin on The Exorcist and decided to fire a gun at random points. I think you can really sense Monica’s fear in the writing. We actually met though when Monica was over in the UK performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
(Monica): When we’re writing a film,Kate and I have these really long conversations about our dreams for structure and larger issues like overall plot, but then we give each other a lot of space to create our various drafts. It’s nice because you know what you’re in for in a general sense, but you’re always pleasantly surprised when you read the final product. We pass drafts back and forth pretty frequently—neither of us is particularly precious about being edited, and I think that makes for an easy collaboration.
How did you seek feedback on your the script?
(Kate): With Rest Stop we were lucky that the script won us a place on the LOCO London Comedy Film Festival mentor scheme with Sky Comedy so we received mentoring on the script from Saskia Schuster, who at the time was Sky’s Commissioning Editor and is now Comedy Comissioner at ITV. To have someone that senior reading and help develop your writing was such an amazing opportunity. She’s worked with so many of my comedy heroes and on shows I love like Little Crackers, Yonderland and Psycho Bitches.
(Monica): The mentor scheme was a really exciting experience and gave us a lot of really stressfully special opportunities. How often do you get to run your early dialogue ideas by Isy Suttie (Peep Show), you know?
Kate, as Director what choices did you make to keep the film tight and dramatic, especially as the film is essentially a 10 minute conversation?
(Kate): For me as the film is a conversation set pretty much in real-time it was a careful balance of not wanting the camera to feel too intrusive but still keeping the film feeling cinematic and not feeling static. Me and my DoP Karl Clarke looked a lot at the lighting to bring this atmosphere, in particular looking at Fincher and artist Edward Hopper. On keeping it tight this was something me and my editor Riccardo Servini looked at closely, the conversation is essentially a power-play between these two characters so I was interested in using the camera and edit to show subtly show who was in control of the conversation by how much they dominated the frame.
Often shorts are made as a teaser for a feature film, but Rest Stop feels like a very complete story. Are there any plans to expand the short into a feature?
(Kate): It wasn’t actually our intention to originally adapt Rest Stop into a feature but me and Monica had such a great time writing together and our actress Cari Leslie did such a beautiful job bringing Meredith to life we’ve actually had an idea for her character, taking her to a bigger story.
Having made Rest Stop on a reasonably low budget, what advice can you give to other filmmakers who are looking to go and shoot their own micro-budget shorts?
(Kate): For practical advice I’d say it’s much better to have a small crew who are excited to be there rather than a huge crew of people looking at their watches. Shoot at locations nearby each other to save on unit moves and as Robert Rodriguez suggests, write using what you have. Everyone has some weird unique place or thing they can bring into their story and if you can’t afford an expensive camera just shoot it on your phone. A good story will always trump any technical misgivings. And most importantly if you’re going to spend years of your life sweating and bleeding for this project, make sure it yours, make sure it’s a story you can’t sleep at night because you’re so desperate to tell it and don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do so. I would still be a waitress if I hadn’t of gone out on the weekend and filmed a short for the cost of a pint.
What are you working on at the moment?
(Kate): Including the Rest Stop feature with Monica I am also working on another feature which has producer Katie Mavroleon (David Brent:Life on the Road) attached. I also have a new short doing the rounds, “Fan Girl” that I am very excited about. It was written by Screen International Stars Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth and stars Steve Oram (Sightseers) as a faded 90s pop star.
(Monica): I published my first book this year, so while Kate and I figure out this feature I’m also working on a proposal for a second book. I’ve also gotten into TV, and am working with some actual comedy heroes of mine like Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on season three of Canadian comedy Schitt’s Creek.
Kate Herron is an award-winning writer-director of comedy and drama short films, with a focus on female-led comedy. She is passionate about making character-driven films that are as cinematic as they are funny. She is currently working across multiple projects including feature Jane is Dead which has producer Katie Mavroleon (David Brent: Life on the Road) attached to produce.
Monica Heisey is a comedian and writer from Canada. Her written work has appeared in Hello Giggles, Playboy and The Guardian. She is Editor-at-large of Broadly, VICE’s sister site for women and her debut novel “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better” was recommended by both the New Yorker and Lena Dunham.