Gavin Michael Booth, the director, and co-writer/producer of Last Call, talks to us about the making of his feature length split-screen movie comprised of two single takes, the hard lessons he's learned about distribution when it comes to independent films, and why short films still have a lot to offer feature directors.
There is a line in Lord of the Rings that I often paraphrase and apply to filmmaking. 'Film really is an amazing creature. You can learn all that there is to know about it in a month, and yet after a hundred years it can still surprise you'. It never ceases to amaze me how film can keep breaking new ground, when so much ground has already been broken.
Gavin Michael Booth is a filmmaker who went on his own great adventure doing just that with his latest feature Last Call. The film is the split-screen tale of a desperate man trying to call a suicide hotline, and the conversation we see play out on both sides simultaneously in two single takes. Before learning how Booth went about making it, I first ask what made him set foot toward filmmaking in the first place.
"My dad would take me into movies all the time. E.T. was the first thing I ever saw in the theatres a kid. All that classic Spielberg/Lucas stuff, Star Wars obsessed, Indiana Jones obsessed. The Goonies, Gremlins, all these things were what I saw in the cinema for the first time and I just fell in love with that fantasy storytelling.
"My dad's a photographer, so we had an 8mm camera growing up. I had a heavy adapter so I could do single frame stop-motion with my G.I. Joe or Star Wars figures. Lego animations were big. I was always creative in that way, without realising it could be a job someday, that there's people who actually make these movies and they don't just appear magically on my TV.
"Around the eighth grade, I bought a VHS camcorder after saving up my paper route money. Then my neighbourhood friends and I would make movies and cast our younger brothers in them. They were all terrible parody movies, like Indiana Jones and the Lost Remote Controller, or Friday the 13th: Part 17. Making all these hilariously bad films, even editing in camera by just stopping the record and lining up the next shot before recording again, not understanding there was a whole post-production process of cutting shots up and putting them back together. By the time I got to high school, we had a pretty advanced video production course, so that's when it took over my life and I thought, 'This is what I want to do'."
A look at Booth's credits shows that since then, he's done most of the roles needed of anyone to make a film. Writing, directing, producing, editing, cinematography, sounding editing, even starring. He jokingly references the theme tune to Garth Marenghi's Darkplace 'based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi'. He's pretty much done it all.
"Short of doing music, I think so, yeah. That's largely out of necessity. I grew up just before social media, so when I was getting into film there wasn't a Facebook group to go on and say, 'Hey, who else likes to make movies? Who's a camera guy? Who's got this and this?'. Film equipment wasn't cheap then. There weren't DSLR cameras, not everybody had a MacBook that is as powerful as anything Hollywood can do. So, it was a little bit out of necessity until I met people.
"Really, I only wanted to be a writer. That was it, and writing is still my favourite part of the process, but I fell in love with directing and producing. Especially learning to wear the producers cap, and instead of waiting for other people to get projects going, I can always be the one to just say, 'No, we're making something'. I don't like sitting and waiting. I didn't become a filmmaker to sit and wait. I want to make things."
What does experience in so many roles offer him as a filmmaker?
"It can be difficult to let go and let other people other people do things [laughs], but also, there's a lot of BS that comes with this industry, so I will always know if a crew person is pulling my leg, or asking for more gear than they need when we're trying to do something on a tight budget. I can say, 'Well, no. I know your job too, and I know it can be done for less'. A lot of my projects have very small budgets, so I like to challenge people by saying, 'Look, I know there's bells and whistles that we'd like, but what do we actually need to make this? Is there a way to make it with the basics, but ultimately be more creative? Can we move faster? Can we work quicker?'. So I think having a basic understanding of all the processes helps. I've even taken an acting class, just to get an understanding of what actors go through, so that I can hopefully better communicate to them.
"The biggest help, I would say, is being my own editor. That saves me time and money on set, because anytime we're running out of time or money, which is happening constantly on an indie film, I'm able to quickly calculate in my head. 'Okay, don't need that shot. That's a dream shot, but we don't need it. I can still edit from shot 1 to shot 3 and eliminate shot 2, and know that it won't compromise the movie.' The wasteful side of film, I really don't like. Any gear sitting on set that never gets taken out of its case, just burns me because it's a huge waste of money that we could have spent on something else that will show up on screen."
Not a second is wasted in his new film Last Call. With two single-takes captured simultaneously by two separate camera teams, with two actors performing over the phone, he would have needed to call on all his various technical experiences. Where did the idea to make a film in this way come from?
"I'd been mildly obsessed with single take projects since the music videos of Spike Jonze in the 90s, like his video for the song California by Wax, and I've since done 8 or 9 music videos in a single take format. I did a project for Blumhouse called Fifteen, which was the world's first live short movie and single take by nature as there was nothing to cut to, or cut out, because we were running live. I did have a project called Four Shots, a school-shooting related project that was going to be shot split screen and in a single take, but after many iterations of that were funded, another real-life American mass shooting would cause somebody to get cold feet and pull their money out, so we never actually got to camera.