Melanie Oates on Making "Bait"
Melanie Oates’ short film “Bait”, starring Rhiannon Morgan and Joel Thomas Hynes, will show at SJIWFF’s Late Shorts screening on Wednesday October 21st, from 9:30-11:00pm at the LSPU Hall. We talked to her about the real life inspiration behind her film, the magic of having a great editor and her advice for aspiring female filmmakers.
SJIWFF: Can you tell me a bit about your film?
M: My film is called "Bait" and it's about a 'bait' boyfriend which is a fake boyfriend who's put in place to lure in a real boyfriend who's only interested in girls who are unavailable. It’s a set up that kind of lends itself to a romantic comedy but I didn’t have it in me to make a romantic comedy.
SJIWFF: Do you draw on your own experiences to make art?
M: The idea for “Bait” came from a real life situation. Me and a friend were working on a film and all these new crew members came to town. So we were sitting there at lunch like gawking at all the new guys. My friend asked me, ‘Do you have one picked out yet?’ and I said, ‘Yeah’ and he was like, ‘How tall is he?’ Because there was one guy who was significantly taller than everyone else. So my friend suggested that he flirt with me to get the new guy’s attention. It worked. Ask my boyfriend.
My boyfriend saw “Bait” at the Atlantic Film Festival. I disassociate myself from my work so much that it didn’t even occur to me to mention to him that it was kind of based on me and him. When he heard the line ‘How tall is he?’ he cracked up. He thought it was cool but now he’s terrified of what else I might turn into a movie.
SJIWFF: The music really informs the atmosphere in your film can you talk a little bit about how you chose the music?
M: That was all Matt Thompson, he's done the music for all my films so far. I picked out some of his songs and he picked out the final one. I love how his songs are upbeat but they have a grittiness to them.
SJIWFF: Were there any moments where you were forced to improvise or do things differently than you planned?
M: Well, with Joel you always have to do things differently than you planned. He added the line 'four-fingers Christa' which at first I wasn't that into but I ended up going with it. He improvised a bunch and in the end I was glad he did because it let me take ownership of things that he came up with, so it worked out for me.
SJIWFF: I loved all the costumes in the "Bait".
M: Me and Heather Power, the costume designer picked them out. It was a mix of my clothes, Heather's clothes and Rhiannon's clothes.
SJIWFF: What were you trying to convey with the costuming?
M: Not quite crust punk, more like glam punk. Rhiannon is such a beautiful, tall glass of water that she can wear anything and I ended up being kind of rotted at how good she looked in my clothes. But the leather jacket we got at the costume bank, I kept. I'm totally bringing it back, I just emancipated it for a little while.
SJIWFF: Rhiannon and Joel's characters end up having matching leather jackets at the end.
M: We tried to dress Joel but he likes to have creative freedom over what he wears. So he brought a bunch of different options and let us pick. We wanted them to look similar at the end, like they're heading out on a mission together.
SJIWFF: I think when they leave together at the end of the film you're wondering who actually baited who? Who do you think got baited?
M: I think he got baited, even though he's more aware of his feelings for her than she is of her feelings for him. It's a hard question.They both have feelings for each other but they're so scared to admit it that they're almost playing chicken. Like, 'I don't like you so much that I'm willing to help you get another boyfriend' or 'Tell me who you slept with that's how much I don't care'. What do you think?
SJIWFF: I think the genius of the film is that we don't really know who was the bait. Or maybe they both are?
SJIWFF: There's a lot of erotic tension in the film but the characters almost never touch. What kind of direction did you give or writing choices did you make to create that tension with such little physical contact?
M: They touch once in each act. The first time is when he pulls her fake lashes off, the second time he touches her hair. We played with that moment, we had him reach out to touch her hair but not actually touch it. We ended up going with having him touch it really gently. The last time they touch is when he grabs her wrist as they’re leaving. I wanted to show how afraid they are of losing their connection. Touching would be too revealing but they almost can’t resist it. So they look for little excuses, like helping her take off her eyelashes. When they touch the final time it’s very deliberate, that’s the risk, being so purposeful about touching.
The editing really helped develop their relationship. Brad Gover edited it and he really slowed the pace down. He added a lot of close ups of them looking at each other, that helped build tension.
SJIWFF: Was it surprising to see the film once it was edited?
M: Yeah, I didn’t envision it being that slow. Then I watched it and I loved it. Brad put in these almost relentless, slow close-ups. I kind of imagined we’d end up with more medium shots but all the close-ups intensified the relationship. It was interesting for me, having a good editor is so great.
SJIWFF: It’s interesting that you describe it as slow because I found it so tight and concise. It didn’t feel drawn out to me because it’s so tense. What advice do you have for first-time, female filmmakers?
M: Don’t try to figure out everything at once. Figure things out as you need to know them. You can become overwhelmed by the intricacies of filmmaking. At first I felt stupid when I didn’t know the name of a certain type of light or camera terminology or what the sound equipment was called. Don’t worry about that, worry about the story and your vision and getting what you want.
SJIWFF: What’s next?
M: I’m finishing up a webseries called "The Manor". We have four episodes shot and three left to shoot. It’s about three roommates who live in a weird and whimsical house downtown. It’s about their relationships with each other. They develop their style and their own language. They end up shutting out the world and retreating into this weird house. You can find "The Manor" on Facebook and Twitter.
And I’m developing a feature script called Scattered and Small. It’s really new but it’s a coming-of-age story about a girl who grows up in foster care and the complicated relationship she develops with her brother.
SJIWFF: Anything else you want to add?
M: Just that I’m really excited to be in the Women’s Film Festival. It was the first film festival I ever went to. I went when I first moved to St. John’s about ten years ago before I had any aspirations of being a filmmaker. Alison White, Jordan Canning and Stephen Dunn were there and I thought they were all so interesting and talented. Sherry White was there, she had a film called “Diamonds in a Bucket”, which blew me away. After that I always wanted to have a film in the Festival, so I’m very excited.
Check out the full schedule of short films screening at this year's Festival.