Resident Video 9: Good Morning

Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. This month, we bring you Masalah Baskin’s Good Morning.

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Good Morning is a film where two characters destroy each other. There’s no violence. Just words. While couples tend to use language as ammunition for arguments, what goes on between these two is something much different. In this battle there’s no victor. There’s only total annihilation.

Good Morning follows a young couple as they wake up and start to argue over why they aren’t having sex. It’s not that they’re too busy. It’s not that he finds her unattractive, or vice versa. It’s not fear or guilt. It’s much more personal and toxic.

It can be a hard scene to watch, but the intimacy of the camera and strength of the performances are too captivating, too entrapping, to look away from. You, the viewer, are in this with them. After all, you very well may have even been through something just like this yourself.

We interviewed Good Morning‘s writer and director, Masalah Baskin, about the film.

Very rarely do we see the kind of romance on film that we see in Good Morning. It’s stark, unpleasant, and pessimistic, but ultimately very honest and emotionally truthful. It has a tone that’s tough to sell, but one the film pulls off very well. How did you go about bringing the film from concept to creation, and what did you do to keep as raw as it is?

It’s become a habit of mine to not deliberate too much on a concept before beginning to write the story or script. I usually have a very simple idea, or even a bit of dialogue or a moment in a scene that I think would be interesting, and I just jump in to writing the script from that point. With Good Morning I did the same thing, starting with the initial moment, the ‘why won’t you sleep with me’ question, and then building a dialogue out of that based on how I think a version of myself would react in that moment. A lot of it was also pulling dialogue from real experiences and plugging it in to the character and seeing how a response would naturally come from that question. I think this is the reason that it comes across as so raw. The film wasn’t written to be a narrative around these characters, it’s more like if you happened to be a ghost in the room of two real people. It keeps the film from being overly cinematic which can be either a benefit or a detriment depending on your perspective, but I like to think that it allowed me to do away with a lot of the gimmicky stuff that a lot of romantic-drama utilize.

The conceptualization of the film came about pretty quickly after the script. I prefer to work with a smaller crew and on this film I think we had maybe 7 people at the most, including the two actors. On a set this small it’s very easy to get into a level of comfort that is necessary for the level of intimacy the performances require. The atmosphere on set and the way we went about shooting was all intended to subvert the fact that we were shooting at all. We shot it with a very small camera (Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera) to keep the feeling very intimate and close. At times there would be the actors and the cameraman all laying in the bed together getting these shots and I think that intimacy level in even the camerawork was what kept a lot of the real and ‘raw’ feeling that ends up in the final product.

For a film that’s very much about sex, and the role it plays in relationships, it never exploits it for the sake of the viewer’s attention. With lots of muted colors, hostility between the characters, and a mostly still, never flashy camera, the character’s half-nudity and talk of sex never feels sexy. It’s frank and almost clinical. What inspired you to take this approach to this kind of subject matter? Are there any films you particularly drew from in terms of their depiction of sex?

There’s definitely a form of sex we’re completely used to seeing in film, both from the Hollywood style movie and also the independent side, both of which aren’t necessarily unreal depictions of what to expect, but also don’t always show the duality of how people can perceive sex. One way of shooting the film that I considered was approaching it like it was a light hearted classic style ‘love scene’ that we’re used to. I ditched this idea in favor of a less romantic look because there really isn’t any romance going on. I was very inspired by Derek Cianfrance, and especially Blue Valentine, because it really captures the reality of what relationships entail, which is a lot of dreamy desires, but also harsh realizations moments where romance is not a part of a relationship even though there is still a relationship. Blue Valentine definitely approaches that feeling in a much more romantic moment, but I think the concept is there and the notion of sex loses its romantic root.

The male in the relationship has a very detached view of sex and romance. To him, it’s all just chemicals and instincts. He rationalizes his inability to be intimate by trying to expose the very concept as fraudulent. In the era of “hook-up culture”, this kind of attitude seems to be more and more common. Is this is a way to justify promiscuous behavior, or do you think there’s a deeper distrust among the character that forces him to always keep a distance? Do you see this as a trend among millennial and younger people?

I absolutely think that the mindset of many millennial men is that a detachment of emotions from sex makes it easier to hook up and have a more active sex life. I don’t think that that’s the most common notion but there’s definitely a culture that sees the world through that lens. I think the character in Good Morning doesn’t fall in line with these people however. His idea that sex and real emotional connection are separate doesn’t actually affect his decision to be in a relationship. He entered into the relationship with the same notions but still enjoyed himself and felt a connection, chemical or otherwise. The moment in the film comes from his realization that he is not really fulfilled in what he thought was a suitable way to connect with someone. What he sees as the inherent flaw in the relationship is the varying ideals between the two of them. He doesn’t need to justify promiscuity, in the same way that a lot of young people don’t care to justify it in a post-religious world. He does, however, need to justify why he hasn’t broken up with her already, and I think that’s where his distance comes from, in his effort to assess his own faults.

The film ends in a sort of contradiction. On one hand, it’s very clear to the viewer, and to the characters, that this relationship is toxic and needs to end. But the couple ignores this, both too afraid of the concept of being alone and being unwanted, and they proceed to put on an uplifting song and have sex. Why end the film this way? Are they doomed to stay on a continuous loop of what happens in the film, or do they have a breaking point?

This ending is essential to understanding the characters. If they didn’t have sex then we would see a couple that easily reasons through their situation and comes to a logical conclusion. But instead we have one idealist and one pessimist, both of whom know that they maybe can’t ever have what they actually want. So they settle for what they have directly in front of them, because for them in the moment, it’s not that bad.

The continuous loop is a valid understanding, but I didn’t write it to have an ‘after’ moment. I think there are strong implications that they are going to continue to feed into the insecurities one another has. I like to think the film is a moment that people can see in all relationships. They could break up the next day or they could break up in 2 years but the inevitability of the breakup is clear once we see this moment. It’s kind of a depressing notion that most of the relationships you have won’t be the one you have for the rest of your life. It brings up the question of what being in that relationship is worth, if you don’t see the value in pure emotional connection, a la the mindset of the boy. The characters in Good Morning don’t really question the worth of the relationship, but that question does exist in there thematically.

But yeah, it’s not really a good morning is it.

Find more of Masalah’s work on his website.

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