Written by Parker Keye Eisen
Every film goes through multiple life cycles and The Lovers is no exception. With the post-production team in full swing--Zoe on the timeline; Dylan on the sound; and Ryan Powell on the score, I’ve begun reflecting on and looking towards the future for The Lovers, my first feature film. In these blogs, I want to chronicle my thoughts, feelings, and struggles of writing, producing, and distributing the film. Some of them will be looking back, others written in the present (e.g. submitting to festivals), while some will look towards the future. Many will be written by me, Parker Keye Eisen, the writer/director/production designer, while others will be written by cast and crew members. The one thing I hope they all have in common is a genuine expression of what it feels like to make a movie.
In this first article, I want to take it all the way back to the beginning, to the germ of the idea. But we need some context first.
Before The Lovers, there was a short film in early 2020 that I was trying to get off the ground called “full-sun.” Nearly everything was set in mid-march, rehearsals with the performers beginning, shot lists finished, props gathered, locations secured for late April. Until, as everyone knows by now, the pandemic, of which we are still living. As any filmmaker knows, having a film become derailed is a tragedy that always feels larger than life, even though there are far worse things, a global pandemic for one.
Heartbroken, I isolated myself in my room with the criterion channel as my only solace. Two to three movies a day was my prescription. Most of my creativity left me until around May 2020 when I was struck by a manic thought: with cases in Michigan declining in the summer months, I should turn full-sun into a feature and shoot it at my parents house in the woods. Long story short, I wrote the feature version in 10 days, got almost everyone on board, began shot listing, rehearsing, rewriting and production design with everyone in 640 Films ready to make it happen, amped up by the throws of a new a project, until one day somewhere in mid-June with the shooting schedule almost set, I retreated to my room, and self-destructed. I was overwhelmed, stretched too thin, felt insecure about the script, and irresponsible for producing a film during the pandemic pre-vaccines. With no perspective and not enough confidence to ask for help, I called Varun in a panic and told him that I didn’t think I could follow through. Cancellation texts were sent, props stored away, and a depression set in.
Through the rest of June and the month of July, I told everyone I was okay, but internally I was continuing the process of self-destruction. Instead of picking up pieces, I broke them into bits. With creativity and confidence at an all-time low, I felt bruised and battered, but was too afraid to tell anyone around me. Pages of depressed journal thoughts later, I found enough strength with the help of my parents, to start therapy, which is the only reason The Lovers exists at all.
And soon I reflected on myself and how I wanted to approach filmmaking. I wanted to make a film beneath my means, produce a short not a feature (haha look how that worked out), and make a project that was very personal to me, that was hard to even talk about.
During this time I had the privilege of working construction part-time for my father, which meant many hours of grinding concrete where I could think and process my thoughts, as well as walks through the woods during the days I didn’t have to work. Through this, and therapy, I slowly pieced myself back together.
I wrote down the germ of the idea for The Lovers in mid-August:
“A man and a woman in poverty…the plot revolves around a leak in the ceiling.”
The Lovers still basically follows this general idea, even if it took twists and turns to reach that point. Much of the idea stemmed from working within my immediate, available means, which for me, meant filming in the spare room above my parents’ garage--which would give me almost full control over the production design and lighting. I felt the need to prove to myself that, with control, I can create beautiful, meaningful images. There will be more on the actual set-building of the room in another article, but for now, this is the before and after:
I am lucky to have grown up with a father who is a jack-of-all trades. Woodworking, carpentry, flooring, wiring, framing--he could build a whole house if he wanted to. Having basic carpentry skills, access to tools, and his knowledge has brought me as far in filmmaking as knowing how to operate a camera. I will forever be grateful for all the times when making a birdhouse frustrated me as a kid.
Influenced by Lynch and his time building the sets for Eraserhead, I was going into this film with a similar mindset.
“Since it takes place almost entirely in one room, the room and its characters are the most important part.”
It’s important to note that at this point the film was meant to be a short to mid-length film. The finished script was around 25 pages. A page a minute is the biggest lie in the book, especially after the opening shot rolled for nearly 8 minutes.
During much of the developing phase, I would lay down, close my eyes and listen to Laura Marling’s album Song for our Daughter. I think I even had the initial idea while listening to it. Especially songs like “The End of the Affair” which capture the atmosphere I was aiming for.
Soon after those early thoughts, I began my process of writing down ideas on notecards. I find pen and paper when drafting ideas to be much less stressful than sitting at a computer. I wanted to explore the relationship between two people, Jon and Louise, who once had a great, passionate relationship that has slowly eroded itself and the two individuals. The final crack in this erosion would be the fact Louise is cheating on Jon. And instead of the loudness and the yelling and fighting of many other melodramas (both good and bad, ones I love and ones I hate) I wanted these characters to be truer to me and my life experiences. They are passive and resist conflict, because the idea of conflict sickens them, so they let their problems simmer until they eventually boil over.
That main plot point, and slowly finding the characters, really let much of the film come alive, then it became finding the details and refining the narrative mechanism the film hinged on. Which took lots of time, and many rewrites.
When I work on a script, and probably to the frustration of my collaborators and actors, it is never really finished. Drafts are continually issued with changes, either new here or there, scenes being combined, and lots of dialogue changes, usually deleting or simplifying dialogue since I have a tendency to overwrite at first and refine later. The first draft has many scenes and elements that are in the shooting script, but they are all over written, and many are in a completely different order. For example, the opening scene of the film was originally in the middle of the first draft. This is something I have learned to accept in my screenwriting: I will never, ever get it right the first time, so I have stopped trying and embraced working in this elliptical way of never calling something a final draft.
So I write and rewrite and share with my collaborators. Other people’s ideas and notes on scripts is instrumental for me moving forward since I am so often blinded by small details that I forget about the whole. Whether I take their notes or not, they always force me to defend my original ideas or develop them further. Things just became better and better and I am forever grateful to anyone who reads a messy script of mine, always filled with typos that I can never seem to see, no matter how hard I try.
My writing process for The Lovers was as simple as I can make it for myself: I write ideas on note cards and develop more thematic elements in my journal. Once I feel like there is enough structure and character, I force myself into writing mode which requires getting up early, and forcing myself at the desk, everyday, for at least 40 minutes (I’ve found that my attention span for writing averages around 40 minutes). Some days I might write one sentence, others I might write 5 pages, but the everyday routine of writing is what is most important when I am developing a script, so that it eventually eases its way into my unconscious mind, where the true magic of writing and filmmaking really happens, without my knowing.
These are the beginnings of The Lovers, I am of course withholding some details, especially the everyday work and struggle of thinking. Writing and talking about how ideas form is really difficult, since it always comes out in a linear way: I thought of this, then this, then this. But you can really only see that once you have finished writing. In the moment everything is a discovery that blinds you even further. Nothing is clear. For every minute writing words, it feels like an hour of thinking has been done, which I do lying down on the couch or going for a walk, or the ultimate thinking machine: grinding concrete for 4-6 hours at a time.
Other details are withheld because they will go into other articles, but some might not be resurfacing as I write, so I hope as these blogs go on, I will remember those dog days of developing the film. Around this time last year, the 6th draft was finished, nearly 5 months after the initial idea.