By Mary THornton
When a young man with a camera appears, a woman faces the dramatic changes of her East Village neighborhood. Director and writer Clayton Smith talks to us about the inspiration and experience of making his first short film.
Directors come from all areas and backgrounds, and while there are more obscure places to come from than an acting career, Clayton Dean Smith brings a powerful perspective as an East Village native himself and as an accomplished actor. That definitely comes through in his portrait of both a woman and a neighborhood that are dealing with change.
"The real impetus for this project was a modest apartment building on Delancey Street, with the 'Off Track Betting' sign painted on the brick, that was in my field of vision on my walk to the F train every day. Over time, the image of that building just planted itself in my consciousness. I'd lived on the Lower East Side or the East Village my whole time in New York, and the image of that building came to [represent] a lot of the emotion under the surface that had been building for years as my favorite businesses closed, friends moved away, people got evicted. The shape of the neighborhood completely changed."
The cinematic focus and the deliberate choice to use 16mm film definitely give the movie the feeling of walking through someones memories of the past. Lingering shots of buildings in various states of disrepair, of a closed business, and of a tree growing over a chain-link fence speak to a real intimacy with New York City, both in its present state and as its remembered by those who have been there the longest. "[1970's cinema] was definitely an inspiration for the look of the movie...Giacamo [Belletti - cinematographer] and I spent a lot of time discussing specific angles and framing we wanted to use...The decision to use film came when it was just so obvious that it was the perfect way to do justice to the vision we were developing."
While the initial idea and story came from his own head, Smith credits a lot of the way it comes together to his crew. "Finding the right person to play Jason was one of my biggest concerns, because I had such a clear idea of the sensibility I thought the character had. Corwin Tuggles was just a dream to work with. I am so grateful that Liz gave this project so much love and attention because it really shows in our beautiful cast."
There is a lot to be said for how this movie came together. From acting connections and personal life (the costumes were done by Smiths very talented husband Jeffrey Monteiro and the editor Brooks Larsen was a "close friend of a close friend"), the contributions to the movie came through phenomenally. Because its a short (nineteen minutes long), its difficult to get into specifics without taking away from the experience of watching it. I would recommend anyone curious about it check out the trailer below and watch the Off Track Betty website for information on when it is available. Well-deserving of its Audience Award in the "short film" category, this is a film - and a director - worth watching out for in the future.
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