Written by Parker Keye Eisen
Building the set for The Lovers is one of the hardest things I have ever done for a film. It required not just physical labor, but endless amounts of mental fortitude in order to build it.
Welcome to another entry in The Lovers’ Diaries. The Lovers is a feature film, directed by me, Parker Keye Eisen. With the film in post production, I am looking to the past and chronicling the present of the film.
As mentioned in The Beginning, I designed and built the set myself with the help of my father. The building of the set came from a place in my mind that if I had the space to build a set (a spare room above my parents garage) then I should build a set for a film to exert the maximum amount of control over the image. The Lovers was conceived out of this idea. It was conceived from the space, not story or characters first, a story and characters was put to this crumbling, dreary space I imagined.
To begin, I had to completely gut the room. Decked out with golf wallpaper, disgusting carpet and even a pool table, which I had to completely dismantle. My father and I then had to lift this heavy ass piece of slate down the stairs of the room. The first rule of production design, they say, is to be on the first floor. Lesson learned. Once the pool table was gone and all of my family’s shit was stored away into the cabinets, I performed the tortuous task of removing the wallpaper. If you’ve never removed wallpaper before, keep it that way. The shit is glued and is not meant to come off. It took 10 hours, and loads and loads of chemicals to unglue the wall paper and then tirelessly scrap away at it. It was hell. I thank my parents for taking me to the finish line on that task. Woke up in full-body pain the next day.
After the wallpaper came the carpet--which had to be removed so that I could install a hardwood, plank floor that was always a part of the vision. Removing the carpet was a much quicker task, but did reveal rotted bug carcasses, literally thousands of lady bug carcasses between the carpet and the trim. This task only took a couple of hours. Again, these things aren’t taking place on back to back days, I had to play mental gymnastics to do these laborious tasks, since I am, at heart, a truly lazy person.
Now that the room was gutted, I had to install the hardwood floor, which meant I needed wood planks for a hard floor. After looking at the prices of the barnwood-type-floor I wanted (barnwood, which has no bean co-opted by America’s bourgeois home decorators) is a ridiculous price. Absurd. So, I instead opted to spend hundreds of hours dismantling free pallet wood either received in shipments of my father’s epoxy, found on craigslist or ~found~ near the dumpsters of numerous businesses and warehouses. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. Physically, mentally, time-wise, completely idiotic, but sense I had no self-respect and love suffering, I did it--again with the help of my father who also loves physically suffering in laborious tasks. I begin by gathering a bunch of wood, squaring it up, and cutting it to size, laying it on the floor, running out of wood, getting and breaking apart more pallets, then laying it until I needed even more wood. It took an absurd amount of time, which I had, since I was unemployed and we were at the height of the second wave of the pandemic in the winter of 20/21. To be honest, it was a great meditative task which continually reminded me what I was doing, the story I was trying to tell, the feelings I was trying to evoke, etc.
Once the main room floor was laid, which probably took 2-3 months. I had to sand all of the boards to a similar thickness since we did not have a planer at the time. (My father bought one shortly after for his own projects, and apologized he didn’t buy it sooner.) Luckily, he works mostly in concrete floor grinding, so I had access to a buffer machine, which I fitted with a shredder to shred the floor down, then with multiple grits of sandpaper to get it relatively smooth. This took DAYS on end. I don’t know how long, a month at least, of inconsistent work.
After the main room was laid (I stopped at the line where the character's “kitchen” would be. And eventually completed it later since I wanted to start painting. I went with the minwax “Jacobean” stain color to really darken the wood. To make it feel older and worn I decided not to clear coat it, and let my own ware tear while working rough it up. I think the floor turned out very beautiful and when I watch the film I forget that I built it. It feels very lived in. I also procrastinated doing the stairs, since ripping that carpet off was indeed hell because every stair has an individual piece of carpet. I eventually got to it though, and repeated the flooring process, even though we only see the stairs once in the film.
Before painting, my father helped me build a wall that divided the main room from the kitchen, which I used leftover drywall from one of his home remodel projects. It was banged up, but I learned how to drywall, which is hell and messy. I also drywalled in some of the storage cabinets in the room because they looked a bit tacky and weird everywhere. I think the wall turned out pretty nice. In my head I justified every mistake by pretending to play the character of the old carpenter landlord who didn’t give a shit about his tenants and just slapped together this room. It checks out.
I really wanted the walls to have texture to them and I spent lots of time studying production design as well as interior design for that texture. I ended up going with what was deemed a “faux stucco” look which used a glaze mixed with my paint colors that I dipped in and slapped onto the wall with a chip brush then dabbed everywhere using rags to create the smearing, worn down look. I sprayed the still-wet-paint with water/alcohol in order to create the water damage, dripping look. This took a long time and waaaaaaaaaay more paint than I thought it would. Always buy in bulk I guess. I added a few embellishments into the walls.
For the character's kitchen, which we only ever see a piece of, I recycled my Dad’s old kitchen cabinets, old wood paneling, and a piece of countertop I bought for $2 at a Habitat for Humanity restore. I really enjoyed building this small room. It brought a lot of depth to the image.
The last step of building was the railing and the trim, which I took off when I gutted the room and re-painted, not once, not twice, but three times. Doing the trim work, sort of broke my brain. At first, I painted it white which was a mistake because it became an eye sore. Then, I painted it a beige, then a cream and almost painted it brown. I obsessed over the trim for two weeks, constantly asking my parents what color they thought was best, and went over and over it in my head. It’s the trim after all, right? Isn’t everybody going to be looking at the trim? No. Nobody gives a fuck about the trim except me, which is good, that means it will contribute to the image, it creates all the leading lines in the room, so it is important compositionally, but not as important as my brain led me to believe. My obsession with the trim was a culmination of how I approached the room, which didn’t waste time, but burnt out my limited energy. It taught me the valuable lesson of this: perfection is the enemy of the good. And more-so this: perfection doesn’t exist, only imperfection, and when you truly care and put in the work for something imperfection becomes perfection.
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