The best advice we can give young filmmakers who want to make their first feature films is to turn the story into a short film first. Features cost a lot of money to make, and no one is interested in giving money to someone who can't show off their skills as a filmmaker. Creating a short film to pitch alongside your feature idea or screenplay is a brilliant way to show a snippet of the story, your ability to work as a director, and whether you and your project are worthy of an investment.
Last night, Alden Ehrenreich's short film, Shadow Brother Sunday, showed off the actor's ability to tell rich family dramas in 15 minutes, leaving the audience craving more as it ends abruptly on a cliffhanger. While the story does not have a clear, middle, and end, it aches to be longer, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Shadow Brother Sunday Trailer ll Tribeca Festival 2023youtu.be
Inspired by moments in his own life and rich dramas like Rachel's Getting Married, Ehrenreich crafted a story in late 2019 for his directorial debut. The short film focuses on the black sheep of a family (played by Ehrenreich) struggling in his personal life and in his relationship with his successful younger brother.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the short film's four-day production was pushed, but Ehrenreich and his team used the time to focus heavily on pre-production.
"The rehearsal process was super important to me," Ehrenreich said during the Q&A after his film screened for a small audience at the Huron Substation in Los Angeles, CA. From Zoom marriage counseling to improv class and family dinners, Ehrenreich spent time with his cast to develop a complicated relationship that would have to extend off-screen.
"That was because I wanted you to believe this was a family and I wanted you to believe that there were details and that there was a world on screen. This sort of idiosyncrasy, Rachel's Getting Married is a movie I thought about a lot that really feels that way because a lot of times, as you obviously know, this is your mom and you hate her and you're going, 'Oh hi, nice to meet you.' And you have to sort of fight against all these instincts to get along with people. And when you have that rehearsal process, you get to know each other," Ehrenreich says.
Alden Ehrenreich on set of 'Shadow Brother Sunday'Credit: Discussing Films
The long pre-production also gave Ehrenreich the time needed to navigate the pacing, framing, and shot list he and his team re-created through animatics. When he arrived on set, both as an actor and director, Ehrenreich understood exactly what was needed to film, and still had the ability and time to experiment.
The most surprising aspect of being a director for Ehrenreich stepped into the editing bay. "When I got to the editing room, I did very few closeups and I thought I'd a ton," Ehrenreich said, "because when you're inside of it, it's a different thing and it was fun. We could experiment, we could throw it sideways and I knew that I was not going to, I can't fail. Basically. I have the final say."
While Shadow Brother Sunday strives to be a story that leaves you wanting more, Ehrenreich carefully and deliberately showed his prowess as a filmmaker who has what it takes to make great adult family dramas. This type of sharpness comes from someone who has grandiose ideas and can mold those ideas into a tangible story.
As Ehrenreich said in his final moments during the Q&A, "Write every day ... You can't do anything without the vehicle of a great piece of writing and a great piece of material. If you don't sort of make yourself a servant to that process, which is so hard, then you don't have anything to do with all that fervor. I would have been writing every single day instead of talking."
'Shadow Brother Sunday'Credit: Vanishing Angle
Ehrenreich is a filmmaker that we should listen to as his career as a filmmaker grows. Not only is he willing to take risks, but he believes in his feature ideas so strongly that he is making the short film to show what is possible. Shadow Brother Sunday is aspiration and the voice behind it is inpriation. This is truly indie filmmaking at its finest.