A directing mentor once shared with me that we only show about 10% of our emotions to others, as we’re too afraid of how others would judge us if they knew the full depth of our emotional complexity. Conversely, because we are so accustomed to hiding our feelings, we are far better at reading others emotions than we realize. With BROKEN, Brad and I wanted to explore this idea by creating a moment of crisis played out in emotional subtlety.
Kate and Tom find themselves stuck in that awful place where the only thing possibly more miserable than being apart is being together. They clearly have a lot of 'water under the bridge,’ as every action, every word, every gesture is heightened by years of unresolved tension. We’ve all been in a relationship like this before, where we know that something needs to change but we are too afraid of the unknown. Everything is compounded when their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert. Here, in this open expanse, stretching as far as the eye can see, they find themselves stuck in a fish bowl with nowhere to go, no longer able to run away from the reality of their broken relationship.
While Tom and Kate’s behavior is driven by their past, we chose to hide the backstory from the viewer. We wanted the story to act as a bit of a Rorschach study, encouraging viewers to imprint their own emotions onto the two characters. We are all a product of our past; it shapes who we are and influences our emotional responses to others and ourselves.
To capture this subtlety on film, where most of the tension is simmering just beneath the surface, it was critical to work with actors who had both the innate talent and the commitment to their craft to explore these layers. It was my honor and privilege to collaborate with two talented actors, Scottie Thompson and Dominic Rains, who embraced my ideas for a rehearsal process in the spirit of John Cassavetes. I wanted Scottie and Dom to be actively involved in their character’s development. While Brad and I had fleshed out backstories for the characters, we welcomed Scottie and Dom’s ideas about their characters. The four of us initially sat down for the first rehearsal and talked about these two people and how they got to this point in their lives. And then over the course of several intense rehearsals we began to build their 5-year relationship. We needed to create the memories of how Kate and Tom first met (which ended up being a beautiful hour-long improv), to their first date, to moving in together, to some painful moments that created the fissures between them, to the moment right before the trip to the desert. Their relationship grew and developed from the fun, free-spirited days of young love, to the dark pain of years of unresolved resentment and hurt. It was an intense creative experience for all of us involved, and I thank Scottie and Dom for their courage, vulnerability and trust.
Location plays such a critical role in the visual story, and the desert’s wide vistas, giant boulders, and scorched Joshua trees provided a vast canvas with which to visually mirror the emotional cadence of Kate and Tom’s relationship. The contrast of close-ups and wide shots was used to create a feeling of confinement within this open space where you can see for miles but have nowhere to go. Whenever Kate and Tom feel disconnected, I chose to separate them in the frame by a vertical surface division – e.g., the panes of the truck’s rear window, the open hood, a Joshua tree, even the truck itself. By contrast, for those moments when they feel connected, such as when Kate tends to Tom’s injured hand, I chose tight French-overs to evoke feelings of intimacy and closeness. The massive boulders dominating much of the desert landscape were used to mirror the power dynamics in the relationship with Kate towering over the rocks while Tom is shown small in the frame, the boulders seemingly weighing down upon his shoulders.
Directors of Photographers are painters of light, and we were so fortunate to have our friend, Robby Baumgartner, as the Director of Photography on BROKEN. Robby was the Gaffer on There Will Be Blood and the 2nd Unit DP on Babel and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – all three films were shot in the desert. I wanted BROKEN to feel natural and Robby captured the simple beauty of a desert day from the intense midday sun to the soft afternoon light to the blue hues of twilight.
Shot over one hot weekend in the summer on a bare bones budget, this production would not have been possible without the collaborative spirit of our 11-member crew of friends. From cooking meals, to lugging gear, everyone eagerly pitched in, wearing whatever ‘hats’ were necessary to ensure the production’s success. BROKEN was made possible through their tireless commitment to creating a film together and I am immensely grateful.
--Alexa-Sascha Lewin, February 25, 2013