Helen Disconnected is a one-character story that explores the illusion of enhanced connectivity through technology. On the surface, the narrative follows the meticulous pace of a woman cleaning her house. The script had a powerful prosaic quality in its creation of a small and insular atmosphere that feels almost inaccessible to anybody but the protagonist; it could have easily been a short story in a literary mag.
But when translating to the screen, the director, Brian Groh, couldn’t simply rely on the pacing of the character’s ominous movement toward the final reveal. Without the external drama of human interaction to carry the narrative onscreen, the visuals had to create stakes for the audience. As Groh put it, “We’re asking the audience to watch a woman clean her house for six minutes. How do we make that interesting?”
To begin answering that question, I asked Groh to make a mood board. This was my first collaboration with him, so I wanted to understand his visual language before we began production. The boards were refreshingly clear in conveying the emotional atmosphere of each shot, but the technicalities – color pallets, lighting, and overall shot composition – weren’t part of his vernacular. That’s where I came in. We used the mood board as a launching point for a dialogue about how to accomplish what Groh had envisioned.
Budget-minded filmmaking forces you to solve your problems within limitations. Without a set decorator, Groh had initially planned to shoot the scenes with whatever was available at the location and some borrowed furniture and props from friends. However, given the importance of the visuals to engage the audience in the story, we needed creative control over every aspect of the film’s aesthetic. I encouraged Groh to bring on Jamie Thalman, a set decorator with whom I’ve collaborated closely on many projects. Thalman’s contributions to the film were crucial; literally, every shot in the film benefited from his work.
Groh and Thalman got hold of a number of items that play prominently onscreen and go a long way toward informing the audience. Two pieces that had especially significant effects were the orange vacuum cleaner and the lime green tea kettle, both of which were shopped to support the look of “future vintage.” With the addition of items like these, I was feeling much more confident in my goal to achieve a visually-captivating film that would engage the audience in the inward narrative of its sole character.
Once we got into lighting the scenes, all of the prep and photo studies began to pay off. The painstaking discussions about the aesthetic made for very little deliberation between director and DP on the day of the shoot. I already had a shorthand with Thalman, so it was easy to work with him to achieve a frame that satisfied both me and Groh, who could then focus on capturing the narrative and the actor’s performance without having to spend time and energy worrying about what was showing up on the monitor.
The next time I saw the film was after picture lock. I came to do frame adjustments and work with the colorist. Groh was eager to keep me involved in every aspect of the film’s visuals, including the outputs. From the earliest stages of the process to the final strokes of post, I felt a strong sense of purpose in my DP role. It’s a good feeling when each member of the crew can feel the necessity of his or her role in the completion of the work. This isn’t always the case for a project, and we achieved it through constant communication. That’s what’s most rewarding about filmmaking for me: when each indispensable piece comes together to make the whole.
Total Budget: $3,000 ($2,000 Production / $1,000 Post-Production)
– Many thanks to the cast and crew who donated their time for this project.
- 1 x 1200 Se Ltm Par w/ Electronic Ballast
- 2 x 4ft4 Kino
- 2 x 650 Arri Fresnel
- 1 x 300 Arri Fresnel
- 1 x 2ft Single Kino
- 2 x Etc Source 4 750 Fixture
- 2 x 26 Degree Source 4 Lens
- 1 x Source 4 Iris
- 1 x Source 4 Pattern Holder
- 8 x 25′ Edison Stingers
- 3 x 50′ Edison Stingers
- 6 x Cube Taps
- 4 x 1k Hand Dimmer
- 8 x 40″ C-stands
- 2 x 24″ C-stands
- 1 x Baby Mini Menace Arm
- 2 x Beaver Board (Baby Pin On Pancake)
- 1 x Duck Bill Clamp
- 2 x 6″ C-clamp
- 2 x 12″ C-clamp
- 3 x Cardellini – End Jaw
- 1 x 8ft Speedrail
- 1 x Menace Arm Kit
- 10 x 20lb Sandbags
- 2 x Apple Box Family
- 3 x #1 Grip Clips
- 6 x #2 Grip Clips
- 6 x #3 Grip Clips
- 1 x 48×48 Beadboard Bounce w/ Silver
- 1 x 18×24 Kit (1) Sgl (1) Dbl (1) Slk (2) Flg
- 1 x 18×24 Flag Box – Wood
- 2 x 42×42 Solid Floppy
- 2 x 48×48 Empty Frame
- Opal & 250
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.