13 May 2020 - Mark Haines
Big Sip - Behind the Scenes VLOG
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM “BIP SIP”.
If you haven't seen the film yet, click here before reading.
Never underestimate those ideas that you come up with late at night laughing and riffing on ideas with friends. That's how 'Big Sip' came to be. A friend of mine and I have a ritual where we go down a YouTube rabbit hole and watch music videos until the early hours of the morning. The more offbeat, absurd, and interesting the music video, the better. These videos (and music in general) can give the greatest inspiration for ideas, and often we'll riff on jokes and do bits until we deviate into deeper conversations. It fluctuates rapidly and it's always exciting and alive. I do not know the exact origin point of 'Big Sip' but it did start from one of these sessions, and it started as an idea for a music video. If you watch the short, you will be able to see how this might have worked; the music video would have a cold open setting everything up, and the music would start as the waitron left the table after taking the orders, with the music cutting out as soon as Jessica leaves as seen at the end of the short film. But ideas are malleable. They morph and change.
When Jaco and I started conceptualising the short films, one of the ideas that stuck was this idea that a friend of mine and myself had that one night. But it had to change into this different form, to suit the medium of the short film. Jaco and I set about expanding out the concept, ideas, and characters. A large part of it was giving the piece more structure and devising more character beats to form the short film. But I always wanted the script to have the ebb and flow of music. There was a back and forth, a rise and fall of absurd, outlandish, ridiculous behaviour and character moments that delve into something deeper – the film's exploration of toxic masculinity.
This was explored further at the rehearsal stage with the actors in the piece - Lea Sharples, a brilliant collaborator who really responded well to the script and went onto co-produce the short film as well, and Michael Potter, who I met through Lea and whose optimism, and willingness to collaborate was infectious from the get-go. We really dug into the subtext of the piece and explored where we think toxic masculinity originates. We got to a larger, systemic problem where men are led to reflect the larger failings of inherently sexist societal “norms” - although obviously not being an excuse for his behaviour. The character of 'Jonty' is a front, a frail front that exaggerates these societal failings because he is incredibly insecure as a man, and what that even means to himself. This is the underpinnings upon which the comedy is laid. When Jessica has had enough at the end of the film and leaves, we laugh because his front, his pretence, his false confidence, fails in an instant – as it should. Also, an interesting note is the ending of the film that was totally improvised by Michael – a beat that, after Jonty's front has failed, he takes her leftover milkshake to console himself, maybe he also just really likes milkshakes and his attempt to woo Jessica with his 'impressive' feat of slurping down a milkshake in one go was his warped attempt to try and make a connection.
The character of Jessica was key – she is the surrogate for the audience and has to bear witness to Jonty's ridiculousness. I wanted to focus in on Jessica and what had also been discussed in rehearsals: why does she stay so long and put up with him? And the answer to this question is because it reflects the amount of ridiculous behaviour that women put up with – behaviour which they should not have to. We also wanted to explore the notion that she stays because she situation she finds herself in becomes so absurd and crosses way over the line of rudeness to the point that she, and in turn – the audience, just cannot fathom what is going on in front of her eyes. I knew that Lea was going to excel at playing the absolute dumbfounded and appalled counter to Jonty's behaviour. Jessica becomes all of us in the face of Jonty's absurd, frail masculinity.
The shoot itself was an absolute blast and went off relatively without a hitch. I really enjoyed that it was a small handful of extremely dedicated people, and because of the absurdity of the script, many laughs were shared. Having a great team is essential to a successful short film. Post-production was also a smooth process, and one of discovery. A big discovery came in the form of the music and the decision to bookend the film with silent film type title cards. This was an extension of the character of Jessica, as aforementioned, she is a surrogate for the audience and she is essentially silenced by the absurdity and rudeness of Jonty's character, so I thought that literal silent film title cards would be an amusing extension of that notion. The music complemented the aforementioned ebb and flow, a remnant of the original idea being that of a music video. The sound was also key, as it always is but there is a fine balance that had to be tread in keeping with the tone of the film, and Jaco excelled at playing with awkward silence and exaggerated foley that really is a huge part of the storytelling in the film and accentuates the comedic beats brilliantly.
I hope you enjoyed watching the film. We enjoyed making it. A huge thanks to everyone involved. And a huge thanks to Steven Maresh and John Chikwenere of The Local Grill for the use of the location, and Paul Rayfield and Tanya Rayfield of Tavarte for the use of their wonderful tablecloths. Finally, thank you to Catering Edge for providing our delicious lunch for the shoot!