Discovering such mini marvels as Speed Dating, written and directed by Meghann Artes, is not only tipping the iceberg of new film ventures, but also makes all the hard work that goes into the Femme Filmmakers Festival completely worth it. Promoting the work, these short films, to make them so much more so accessible, fills me with great enjoyment and exhilaration. Sadly, some of the most nerdiest of cinephiles don’t even realize films like Speed Dating exist.
Speaking with Artes for not nearly enough time, I wanted to hear her motives and passion going into such a project, as well praising the filmmaker on this fine achievement. I told her my 5 year-old daughter watched both Speed Dating and Sleepy Steve, and loved them. I also referred the director to a certain Twinings tea commercial here in the UK that incorporates the blend of stop motion animation and live action – and I passively suggested they ripped Artes off. For those people that don’t understand how that hybrid format works, I suggested Artes give them an Idiots Guide To…
“What is interesting is that a lot people think it is a live action film, and that we edited and pulled frames.” Artes explains. “It is not that at all. We are shooting in a live action film setting, with the lights, and the actors, the same crew you would use, but were also shoot a stop motion film. And, like with puppets, they would move little bits, arm movements, so slow. It could take two hours to shoot two seconds, just walking across the room, you really have to break down movements into twelve different stages. It is really amazing, the organic nature of the actors.”.
“If people ever want to try pulling frames from live action,” Artes continues, “you’ll see that it is still pretty smooth, but something is a bit off about it, but not sure what. Frame by frame you add those idiosyncrasies, the things that don’t quite click, that make it beautiful.”. The whole mesmerizing process must somewhere be designed to give an impression to the audience. “I think it brings the sense of whimsy. It could be reality, this is our word we live in, but something is a little off. A bit alternate in reality, but you know you could live there. And there is something magical about it. I am really into that hybrid nature.”.
So how did Meghann Artes launch herself into the film business? “I grew up in very small town in Iowa. I didn’t think someone from there could go into movie-making, was going to go into business. Then I saw a movie program, and jumped right over. Ever since then I have been making films, watching films, reading scripts. I did the undergrad, I started working in the industry in New York City. I decided to get my graduate degree, it was really hard to make stuff, but I love to work with people and collaborate.”
Speed Dating was certainly a collaborative effort with the acting ensemble, in particular the lead actress, Baize Buzan, who is terrific, spot-on as the lonely heart seeking a new romantic pasture. “Baize Buzan is amazing,” heralds Artes, “she gets the facial expressions absolutely right. I went through a casting agency in Chicago, the talent in that city is just amazing.”. And how about that guy with the long, long beard, I jokingly suggested he had to grow that beard for the part. Method. “That was a ten foot beard, and we had to make a harness for it last minute, as it was so heavy.”.
Whimsical and absurd are those dating scenarios, exaggerated in line with the tone of the piece, but also I felt envisaged the kind of lifestyle the girl would end up with in the longer term should she choose them. Very real people tell stories about this type of thing all the time. “I was talking to girlfriends and friends in general about dates, and how can I twist this with the kind of animation we were going to do. Those nine scenarios are the ones that bubbled to the top.”. The sequences could have gone on and on and on, if you don’t know when to stop. “That is actually a really big challenge. Some of those dates were much longer. A couple of minutes footage to cut out, that’s a lot as there was so much planning, and it takes so long. I had to serve the story and keep it going.”.
Being a little obsessed with the themes of loneliness and sadness, not just in my own viewing tastes, but also my own writing, I envied the color palette and lighting of Speed Dating. It was very important and innovative that the vibrancy depicts isolation as well as happiness. “I was pulling lot of style frames from Amelie. And pubs, I looked at the lighting of pubs, coming down onto the tables. They have the oppressive darker walls, and she [the girl] feels like she is floating through this world. She is so bright, with the blues and the dark colors that we used as we sweep through the city into her room. But she has these fun colors, she is a young girl, even the clothes laying all other the floor. Colors tell a story for me. I talked to my art directors about creating the mood.”. It all works artistic wonders.
“One bit of advice,” Artes adds as I ask about her self-discipline as a writer and a director, “I write down my ideas. You get them while you are out and about, write them on your phone. My trick is not sharing my nuggets too soon. I will have an idea, and will want to run home to tell my husband, who is also a filmmaker. I’d say I want to do this, this, and this, and you get a reaction like ‘Erm, I don’t get it’ – then the idea is gone! So you have to take it, craft a little bit, do outlines. The idea changes and evolves, and then I will share it.”.
I was nodding, knowing as a screenwriter there is an obligation to yourself, when filming you are obliged by the process, the cast, and the crew. With a writer it is tougher to be disciplined as it is just you essentially. Artes agrees, “I can spend a year, a year and a half, with the idea in my head, before I even talk about it.”. But you want to tell people. “Right. That’s the hardest thing. Now I’m a mom, and working full-time, making my own films, it is a matter of balancing. When can I sit in front of my computer and just write? I am trying to figure it out.”.