Resident Video is a new monthly blog series that will provide exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. The first installment is Emily Railsback’s WarBaby, a complex drama of swelling familial tension told over the course of a single night.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our bodies physicalize all of the complex emotions we experience better than we can hope to verbalize them, simply by reacting to an outside force. It could be an event that takes some time to internalize (and consequently externalize) such as the death of a loved one, or it could be a more in-the-moment reaction, such as the reunion with individual family members that’s sure to follow. In any case, the story one’s body tells is often much closer to the truth than what the socially-aware brain forms into words.
An experiment in minimalism, WarBaby is a film about close-ups on both a large and a small scale, adopting body language as its primary source of dialogue. Magnifying a single night in a familial legacy that spans several decades, the film also focuses on the minute physical details of its characters’ reactions to each other, paying close attention to hands as an embodiment of uncertainty, comfortability, and repulsion, respective to the film’s sparse plotline. Shot in sharp black-and-white, the film leaves no room for ornamental flourishes despite its being composed of thirteen minutes of indispensable details.
Exceptional capturer of complex emotions and indispensable details, filmmaker Emily Railsback’s wide range of experience as a visual artist complements a brilliantly amorphous script by Lindsay Rathert. Emily’s photography can be viewed on her website, and her brief expositions on influence, the necessity of silence, and the difficulties of low-budget filmmaking can be viewed in the Q&A below.
How important to you is the role of silence in a film mostly driven by dialogue, particularly in a short when you’re telling a story in fifteen minutes?
Silence is always important, especially in short films when a story needs to get across to an audience so quickly. Without silence, the audience can’t breathe and take in the world. For me, my two favorite scenes in WarBaby are: the silence in the car when you sense tension, and the obvious tension in the shower scene.
WarBaby can be viewed as a story told over the course of several decades culminated implicitly into fifteen minutes. What is the process like of whittling down a story like this?
Initially WarBaby was so packed with story points and took place twenty years later, only insinuating what happened in this short film. It was incredibly hard to make a concise script. I asked Lindsay Rathert (the writer/actor/co-producer) to consider making the story about the actual event, rather than a recollection. I think that was a good choice. There is still so much that isn’t made clear though. Which is honestly, what intrigues me about the film. It’s complicated with a mix of emotions.
How do you think filming in black and white affects the audience’s interpretation?
We hadn’t intended on black and white. The problem with low budget indie film, is that post production often becomes a time to bandage mistakes. For me the color palette (which was browns, greens and oranges) came off too outdated. In a bad way. It drew attention to a time in history, rather than being about the people. After spending days color correcting, I asked our colorist to just try it in black and white. It became so forgiving to all of my mistakes made while filming. And although my colorist should’ve killed me, we are still dear friends.
What were some of your influences, cinematic or otherwise, for this film?
Lindsay wrote the script, and had a very clear idea of the world she was writing about. I didn’t want to veer from her script. The scenes I’m most proud of include the visuals that I brought to the project, which weren’t mentioned in the writing. The jump cutting while they kiss on the bed is directly taken from Moonrise Kingdom. That film really turned me on to using jump cuts in tender moments for a grandeur effect. I had intended to get more coverage in the bathroom scene, but we just couldn’t fit in the bathroom. So I asked my cinematographer to try covering the action in one shot. Although that was decided spontaneously, I think that was influenced by David Fincher. I love the way he was always reframing the shot in Fight Club.