Think about the times when you're on the phone with someone on the other end, whether it's a person you're all too familiar with or a stranger whom you're speaking with the first time. It's the tinny-sounding voice transmitted to each other's ears that drives the conversation on over the phone. But without the ability to gain visuals on the other party, it leaves a lot to imagination and a lot more to really connect beyond mere words and tones.
It's exactly what intrigues and inspires filmmaker Chris Shimojima.
Here's a short film by Shimojima that attempts to rack focus closer towards two diverse members of the volatile media circle - a journalist and a notorious celebrity, and sees if anything sparks from what's seemingly a formal conversation between them over the phone.
Infamous socialite Maddy Z, a stressed reporter, and the phone interview from hell...
Maddy Z (Jenna D'Angelo), the 22-year-old Zabel-heiress/socialite, has a leaked sex tape with her sister's ex. To clean her image, her publicist (Kelly Walters) gets her a phone call with freelance reporter Elliot Snow (Chris Henry Coffey). But Maddy's dignity is the least of Elliot's concerns, and a game of publicity chess ensues.
Madeleine Zabel (let's just address her as Maddy Z) opens amidst turbulence in a chaotic fashion as we see a nonchalant lady cladded in shades being hurriedly escorted through a sea of rowdy media journalists. The film is presented like a television entertainment footage instead, which throws us into the middle of rapid edits and flashy transitions not knowing what to expect.
However, it does instill the sense of realism right from the beginning in a documentary-like manner.
As a one minute introductory first act, I must say that it's very effective and overwhelming. Not only do I get sped up to date with the who-and-what within a short span of a minute, it also entertains and intrigues the way celebrity gossip news work upon us in today's contemporary social scrutiny culture. On a technical note, I must add that the editing works really well and it showcases the editing prowess of David Bartin who performed the editing for the Red Carpet Online news segment.
The next act immediately halts at a luxurious apartment as the camera continues to adopt an observer's vantage point (stationary but fidgety, doesn't feel handheld though I may be wrong about this) over Maddy Z and her publicity agent/manager as they discuss over how to salvage her public image after the sex tape incident. Shortly after, it shifts over to introduce us to a new character Elliot Snow, a journalist who managed to get a telephone interview with Maddy Z in hope of exploiting for more juicy details even though it's apparently one that will help put her in a better light.
Shortly after, they both connect over the phone and a lengthy conversation ensues.
Here's the essence of it: The dual perspectives gained by being observing audience members to the unravelling of the entire 17 minutes film. We know what's going on, in much better clarity than each of the characters in the short film. With that in mind, we view the film and see how they attempt to connect with each other without much foreground knowledge and visuals of each other.
Ignoring the celebrity gossip film material, it's a good case example of communication studies.
Without non-diegetic sounds to suggest inner thoughts of each character, it further enhances the integrity of encouraging the observing audience to learn more about each of the parties merely by studying their body languages and every word they speak to each other. The film masterfully employs background music to drive the conversation on to help heighten the audience interest span during the conversation. While it helps to lessen the loads upon the cast as there is a lower reliance on their acting to maintain the audience's attention, both of them offered plausible performance nevertheless.
It isn't the way Maddy Z breaks down and how she cringes her brows to convince us that she's feeling vexed and remorseful, but rather the way everything transits from the beginning (a cautious and seemingly chirpy lady) to the end (where all emotions flow). It feels natural and doesn't feel forcefully rehearsed. Likewise for Elliot, where I especially loved the intermission sequences where he deals with his love life woes.
Evidently, it takes good actors to drive on a short film that focuses upon a conversation. This is the case for Madeleine Zabel, but the credits don't cease at the cast department. The original music (by Thomas Vanoosting) and sound are of top notch quality that adds on a lot to the film's technical production values. While the camerawork is authentic and applaudable, I've personally taken minor issues with the somewhat bright photography of the apartment scenes. More plays of shadows might be preferred especially since it's a night scene within an indoor setting.
Of course, this is very likely just a subjective me. I might be objectively mistaken.
Nevertheless, Madeleine Zabel is a gem that serves to place a powerful vignette ring over simple telephone conversations that most of us might have dismissed easily on a daily basis. Shimojima brings us not only a dialogue driven short, but also a showcase of his great talents that I feel is worthy of the limelight.
With that, do indulge in Chris Shimojima's short film - Madeleine Zabel below:
(Photographic material credits due: Madeleine Zabel Official Site)