Indianapolis International Film Festival

"What is she to you?"

Alden Thompson Burgess, director

By Madelyn Ritrosky

The fascinating part of the short film What is she to you? is knowing the improvisational nature of the production.  The director (and co-writer and co-producer), Alden Thompson Burgess, was at the screening.  He explained that they started with a script outline that included the basic plot, character backgrounds, and story benchmarks. 
 
There are two co-leads – two 20-something men – and the smaller part of the 20-something woman in question, the “she” of the title.  Burgess said 300 men auditioned, 40 went for the callback, and Anthony Marks and Avery Pearson landed the roles of Eddie and James, respectively.  Ingrid Gillming was slated from the start to play the part of Beth. 
 
They spent a month rehearsing through improvisation.  He let his actors go where their instincts and training led them, but always keeping them to the marks they needed to hit.  It made the filming more difficult, Burgess explained.  They “wanted to capture the realism of improvisational acting, using long takes and two cameras.” 
 
They ended up with eight usable takes of the main scene.  “There were new camera set-ups each time,” Burgess said.  “So the actors had to hit certain marks throughout the scene.  I knew if they hit those marks I would be able to cut the piece together.
 
“By the time of filming, we had the script fairly tight.  As long as they got to the core of the message and hit their marks, we were good.  But one thing that varied each time was the emotion.  It’s part of Meisner training, basing your emotions off your partner.  It’s real and organic, but it was tough to cut to match emotions.” 
 
The result is a great dramatic scene that builds slowly as all is revealed in eleven minutes.  The shot on the festival card, where one man is about to punch the other, is a great action frame highlighting the conflict fueling the story.  Without giving things away, I’ll say that the title has sort of a double meaning when you realize the relationships among all three characters. 
 
Burgess’s co-writer and co-producer is David Typermass, and together they have formed Scrap Paper Productions in New York City.

Photos: Anthony Marks as Eddie
Avery Pearson as James
Photos courtesy of Alden Burgess.  

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