Playwright Calamity West talks about her inspirations for Cool for Five Seconds, and how she thinks about character.
by Mary Tilden
Proof of Concept Short
In preparation for shooting Cool for Five Seconds, we completed a short film as a proof of concept exercise. It was a way for us to try some of our ideas, and see what worked and what wasn’t serving us.
Designing the World
by Dani Wieder
There is a dreamlike quality to Cool for Five Seconds that I can only describe as aspirational. This is in part because of the complexity of the characters: by embracing their flaws, anxieties, and also their beautiful qualities, there is almost a metatheatrical wink at what storytelling could look like if we invested in depicting women as they are. But even more present is the fact that the film follows two people trying to figure out what it means to be siblings as adults, asking how we are bound to each other when we no longer live under the same roof. A sibling is so precious, and the chance to reconnect with them - and to truly learn who they have become - can seem like a fleeting dream as life speeds forward.
At the same time, there is a specificity that both the medium of film and the story called for. Colleen, our protagonist, is grappling with a lot of anxiety, making her hyperaware of her surroundings and her body in space. I felt this required an attention to detail not unlike that of our character. Dana (production designer) and I went to our location, and explored every possibility for what Colleen might fixate on, and asked ourselves how we could make that fully real - even too real - for our viewer.
So from here came the tone of the film: material, sensuous, and realistic, but with a romantic glaze and a homey touch. After looking at almost every diner in the Chicago area (we can say this confidently!), we chose the one that felt most like a living room, with warm, luscious tones and nostalgic floral prints. Then Dana scoured the city for Christmas decor that was both delightful and a little bit strange. Her design makes the diner a place that evokes home and family, but is not necessarily familiar or totally comfortable. The table is covered in gum (we chewed it all and scraped it off!), the plates are a little unclean, and the waitress is nowhere to be found. This friction was exciting to me, and gave us a lot of options when it came to creating the tone of individual shots.
At the top of the script, Calamity offers this beautiful image of Colleen stacking creamers. This focus on small objects reminded me of the short film Emak Bakia by the surrealist Man Ray. Man Ray's non-narrative short takes object and shoots them in surprising ways as to reveal new potentials in how these objects can be understood and enjoyed. In respect to character, I think the way people touch and engage silently with the world can show us a lot about who they are or would like to be. There is, in the film, a consideration towards Colleen's relationship to these creamers, asking questions of how we assign meaning to objects to better understand ourselves. But on a larger level, I see my role as a filmmaker on this project not unlike Man Ray's agenda with Emak Bakia: my goal with Cool for Five Seconds is to take this sister relationship, and hold it up to the light in enough different ways that we eventually learn something true about it. My visual choices - both in terms of design and camera placement - are in service of this exploration, a kind of loving scrutiny.
Below you can find some of my more grounding pieces of visual research.