Writer and web series director Choice Skinner talked to us about his award winning short film, about story, and writing for web series. Skinner’s short film A Second Thought recently screened at the SoHoFilmFest after winning Octacvia Spencer’s short film contest.
Skinner shot the two-minute film on an iPhone during a two-hour ride on a city bus last year. Using the iPhone “…definitely opens some doors and makes it possible to be able to take an idea from conception and bring it to fruition.”
THE FILM STORY
Skinner’s story centers on a young man’s romantic chance encounter with a beautiful woman who shows interest in him during a bus ride. The problem – just moments earlier he received some terrible news. Test results reveal that he is HIV positive.
Skinner says, “I decided to shoot it on an iPhone because I knew I would be stealing shots and shooting it on a bus without permits. I also didn’t have the money or the resources to do what I normally would have done, which is hire a crew and shoot on the Red Epic or Canon 5D.”
The iPhone enabled Skinner to get the shoot done quickly. And since it would be only a two-minute short, he knew there wouldn’t be too much footage to worry about. “I had been hearing that some people were shooting on iPhones,” he says, “and I found that there are lots of apps that are geared towards bringing out quality footage from the phone.
“We are planning on turning the short into a feature,” he says,” so there will be more of a process involved now.”
Skinner says location problems involved people who were intrigued or just nosy with us doing some shooting while on a bus. “People wanted to talk with the actors while they were trying to work. Lighting was tough because when you use an iPhone you still need a lot of light, as with any camera, to light the scene and remove unwanted shadows. Continuity was somewhat of a problem but easily forgiven because the bus was constantly moving. By the end of the shoot, my lead actor accidentally left his phone on the bus, which was a downer.”
Skinner’s story idea came to him during a dream. He says, “Before bed I was watching a film about someone being infected with HIV and it stuck with me. I wondered about what the aftermath would be for that person, and how they would have to deal with sharing that information with someone they are romantically involved with. I mean we always hear of the shocking stories of people who hide their status from others, but what about the responsible ones who are upfront and perhaps pass up opportunities for love? We never hear that side or those voices. That was the inspiration for the story.”
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer had requested filmmakers to post shorts on her Facebook page to enter her competition at SoHoFilmFest. “I was truly honored when the short was picked by Octavia as the winning film,” says Skinner. “The short was well received, and I had a great time with the lead actor, Juan Gil, watching the film on a large screen along with an audience and close friends.”
Besides his writing and directing, Skinner has broad experience in music and acting. “The experience I developed from having a professional music career empowered and prepared me by exposing me to a wealth of different genres of music. Therefore I have an ear for what would work with various scenes. That is important because its easier to create a rhythm in a scene and cut your edit to the music, but if necessary find music to fit the cut. So in essence it can go either way.
“It can be tough for the composers I work with at times because I typically know exactly what I want, and it may take a while for them to get on the same page that I’m on. If necessary I have gotten on the computer and scored a piece or two for a scene, but so far that only happened on my short Brotherly Love. I work with two well respected upcoming composers: Cory Perschbacher and Kasia Middleton. Cory composed for several of my shorts which won awards, including In The Mourning and Selling It. Kasia composed for my first web series The One Percent and my first feature Wingman Inc.
“Although I no longer write or produce music professionally, I still act and currently coach actors weekly in my Breakin Through Acting Workshop. Because of my years of acting and being on set as an actor, I am able to understand emotion and life experience. It makes me a better director as I am used to working and communicating with actors due to being able to express to them clearly what is needed in the scene.
“Acting opens up the sensitivity needed to feel, and allows you to express the multiple characters and voices that are hidden inside, which is needed as a writer. Exposure to many scripts and films helps you so see similarities in the different genres and work that are classic and memorable stories.”
Skinner has written/developed webs series. “I was approached by and worked with Marcie Scott, who was head producer and co-creator of the award winning web series The One Percent. This was very early on when the web series platform was starting to gain traction. Marcie was an acting student of mine along with Daffany McGarry Clark and Vanessa Giordano, who also served as co-creators.
“They brought me the pilot script which was written by a very smart and talented writer named Benjamin Cory Jones. The pilot was originally timed at a full 30 minutes, similar to that of a full half hour episodic, as that was Benjamin’s background writing for television. It was my advice to cut each act up into three 10 minute episodes which made more sense in regards to shooting, posting on the web, and for budget. I won an award from the 2012 LA Webfest for best director and best editing, and Vanessa Giordano won for Best Actress.”
WEB SERIES WRITING
“What writers of web series have to keep in mind is that people who are watching content on the web have a limited time in which to invest watching and following what’s in front of them during that moment. Many people are at work or waiting on line somewhere or looking for content to help time pass by more quickly. So whatever your story is, it has to be quick, fun, direct and interesting. Your characters should be exciting. The topic should be amusing and entertaining and the acting should be convincing.
“In contrast to when you write a feature screenplay, web content doesn’t have the play time or visual time to establish the story. You have to get directly to the point of the story and also end off the episode leaving the audience to want more and tune in for the next episode to see what happens next.”
THEMES OF REDEMPTION
“Every story I write or decide to work on as a director has an influence of redemptive themes in the story. That is the voice that I work from. I think nowadays that is something that is missing in today’s filmwork.”