Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 Films: Muscle

Muscle by Heidi Miami Marshall
New York (Wisconsin Premiere)
Running Time: 14 minutes
Screening Time: Saturday Sept 10th, 6PM

AMANDA is married to CRAIG, a terminally ill man. She has been by his side, bathing and feeding him for the past seven years. She cares for him day in and day out, the weight of it all taking a toll on her life and her marriage.

But their marriage was broken long before the disease, and those cracks have never gone away. Now, frayed by a life in stasis, Amanda realizes it's time to make a choice.

A meeting with a stranger becomes Amanda's final chance to regain her hope.




Director's Bio:

“All of Heidi Marshall's work has led me to see that she is a Director of first rate talent and ability.” - Baz Luhrmann

Heidi Miami Marshall's professional career started as a casting director for Bernard Telsey+Co, where she was the lead Casting Director for the mega-hit Broadway musical RENT. At Telsey+CO, Heidi cast over 70 productions of theater, film, tv, commercials, and voice-overs. She applied her directing strengths to the process of casting, and her specialty quickly became finding young, raw talent.

Later, while casting a project for Baz Luhrmann on Broadway, Baz encouraged Heidi to go work alongside him as his Resident Director on LA BOHEME, giving her the reigns to direct and mount the production for him in Los Angeles. While working closely with Luhrmann, he became a mentor and inspired Heidi to take the leap from casting back to directing, which was always her original intention anyway.

Heidi continues to straddle the worlds of film and theater. Heidi has received awards and fellowships for her directing in both theater and film, most notably the prestigious American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women [in Los Angeles] and The Drama League [for theater] in New York City.

Heidi is known to have the magic touch with sparking and shaping talent.

Director's Statement:
For me, the process of making a film is beyond simply getting the green light and hitting production mode. It’s about the journey of getting to the end. What else is there to understand about these characters that we haven’t asked yet? How do we visually show the internal complexities?

Rarely is a film given a rehearsal period before shooting. But, for me, an intensive rehearsal is the single greatest secret weapon to making a character-driven film. In the making of this 13 minute film, the lead actress, Fiona Graham, and I spent nearly one year together picking apart the finer details of the turmoil that the lead character, Amanda, is confronting.

The more we worked on the minimalistic script, the more we discovered its immense intricacies: a woman deciding to leave her husband or not, to confront the past or not, to love her husband or not… this is a woman on the verge. The entire film hinges on the audience’s visceral connection to her breakdown… or breakthrough.

Our goal was to create a tense rumble underneath the character, with volatile glimpses into her innermost private thoughts about her confusions and decisions. This woman has a constant weight on her mind, and she is desperate for release. I looked for hidden moments within the script and used the rehearsal process to excavate them further. For instance, this attention to character development is how we discovered that the laundry room gave us the perfect opportunity for Amanda’s private release of tension.

Perhaps it’s because of my theater directing background over the past 20+ years, or perhaps it’s my intense appreciation for the nuanced work of the actor, but I tend to discover the visuals of my films when working on the script analysis closely with my actors. My visual language is in direct response to the inner work of the characters - an actor’s face and internal life literally sparks a visual in my mind for the film. All of my camera choices were deliberately chosen in response to character work.

My collaborators were all armed with the same mission: we wanted the actor’s performances to be allowed to breathe on film. From framing to pacing, we worked hard to sustain the tension until the very last beat.

There were endless opportunities in editing this film. This film literally could have been edited numerous ways. In fact, we tried them all! The sequencing had to be just right to sustain the paradox of tension and release in Amanda’s journey. The placement of the laundry room scene, for example, played very differently depending on where it was placed in the sequencing. If it was too early, it wasn’t a release of tension. If it played too late, it was overkill.

I also learned from the various edit options (and audience tests) that the film could be reduced to a “woman’s revenge” film or simply “a twist ending film”. We discovered that it was actually even more than just the sequencing that determined the audience’s interpretation of the story. Unlike any film I have done yet, it became a crucial selection process of each line delivery as to how the audience interpreted the story. The editor and I had to carefully and judiciously select each line delivery so as not to give away too much, to hold the cards until the right moments. It was such a joy and a real challenge to really work down to the bone with nuances of the actors’ performances.

There are so many stories to make into movies, so many talented actors to work with on camera, and so many ways to film and edit a single story that the options become truly infinite. My directing mentors, Baz Luhrmann and Frank Oz(who generously mentored me on MUSCLE), showed me that the best plan of action for any Director is to set up artistic parameters for the film and to make every artistic choice in alignment with those “rules”. When you know your rules, then it isn’t as tempting to get distracted by other tangential creative ideas during your process.

For MUSCLE, my rules for the vision were clear: create stationary frames that actors can roam within, sit in stillness, use of negative space in camera framing, film the flashbacks with movement and the present with stillness, rehearse actors extensively, explore saying more with less, and reveal Amanda’s internal decision-making like a slow burn and tightly-wound reveal.

On this film, and as I move forward with my next films, I strive to uphold and protect the process unique to each film. But, overall, I eagerly continue to seek process-oriented actors, rich scripts, complex circumstances, and a team of collaborators all invested in the same approach. 


Greenwich Film Festival
Greenwich, Connecticut
United States
June 9, 2016
World Premiere

Soho International Film Festival
New York
June 11, 2016
New York City Premiere
Nominated: Best Showcase Short Film

Buffalo Niagra International Film Festival
United States
Winner: Judge's Honorable Mention Award


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