Review Fix chats with film director and writer Stephen Herman, who discusses his newest short film, “Message Received.”
Review Fix: How was this film born?
Stephen Herman: It was actually an accident. David and I were on a long bus ride scouting out locations for one of our films. During the ride we discussed the reoccurring issues we deal with during post production. One problem we kept running into was getting good audio from the actors. We were wondering how we could get around it with the next film and the idea hit us – what if we did a whole film without anyone speaking a word? And boom! The concept for Message Received was conceived.
Review Fix: What inspired it?
Herman: Recently I watched our very first short film – Last Call. We did that over 5 years ago and I was surprised how much the film still resonates with me. It inspired me to recapture that same feeling again just in a different way. Last Call was all dialogue. On the other hand, Message Received had no dialogue. In both films the actual “phones” became characters themselves. In one, the phone was used to save a life; in the other to hide one. I wanted to capture that motif of communication, or the lack there of. That was my inspiration at heart.
Review Fix: What did you learn from your previous films and how did those lessons affect this one?
Herman: I think we learned to trust in ourselves again. I say that because when we first started this, our main focus was all about small stories with big concepts. I think we lost some of that along the way. With our last few films we were trying to squeeze feature length concepts into 15, 20 minute short. For Message Received, we didn’t go with the a full crew or big cast. David and I did it all by ourselves. Just the two of us, a camera and a script – our original plan.
Review Fix: How is this film different?
Herman: It may not look like it but Message Received is very technical. In all our films we used a lot of dolly shots, tripods, and sliders in order to make them feel more “Hollywood”. Message Received was 95% handheld shots. I wanted the film to constantly feel unsteady and off balance to capture the tension the main character was feeling. If you notice the camera kept panning to all these wide empty spaces on the walls. That was all planned. Not just to make room to overlap the text messages on later, it was also symbolizing the walls we build up between each other. It made the characters feel smaller on screen and the text messages larger than life. They became the true antagonists of the film. One character even wore a Smiley face emoji mask.
Review Fix: Why must someone watch it?
Herman: I feel like Message Received says a lot without saying a thing. There’s no spoken dialogue in the entire film. All the characters communicate via text messages. I read that 18-24 years olds’ send and receive about 128 texts a day.25-35-year-olds’ range around 75 a day. So… if you’re going to be reading texts anyway why not watch this film? Haha.
Review Fix: How have the accolades the film has earned affected you?
Herman: The film’s been getting a lot of great reviews. We won Best Director at the NYC CUNY film festival this year. The road to making a film can be long and strenuous. A lot of people have no idea the amount of time and work that goes into this so a well-timed award can be just the fuel you need when your tank’s on empty. A supportive comment can get you a couple more miles.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Herman: Maybe another short or two, then we’ll be branching off into feature films. It’s the next stop on the journey.