The story of three individuals who become friends through a sudden twist of chance, AJ Molle’s short “You Will Find a Way” meditates on the intangible threads that tie together our worst and best experiences.
The film premiered at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival as one of 14 shorts in Digital Bolex’s second annual “Fearless Filmmaking: Art on Your Own Terms” shorts block (and won Honorable Mention in that showcase). Working from July to November 2015, Molle took everything into his own hands, as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, color-grader and sound designer. Well, almost everything: Actors Logan Anderson, Spencer MacDonald and Krysta McDaniel star as the fateful friends in the film, and the musical stylings of the band Brumes set the mood with the track “Whirlpooling.”
Watch “You Will Find a Way” here. Below, Molle and his own friend Fredrik Ekholm sat down to talk about the short for MovieMaker.
Fredrik Ekholm (FE): How did you manage to juggle all of the roles in this production?
AJ Molle (AM): When I feel inspired or driven to create something, I’m gonna go after it, regardless of having proper resources. I’ve been “one-man-banding” it since I was a teen, so it’s been a natural progression as I’ve accumulated gear and software over the years. I’ve taken the time to learn and practice each role.
I approached this project more like a writing song than a traditional narrative. I was going through some life changes and there were moods I was experiencing that I wanted to express through these characters and environments, as if they were instruments. From there I took a look at my resources, my friends and the landscapes around me, and began to write specific scenes.
FE: How did you approach directing your actors?
AM: I like to take a documentary approach to directing. First, by creating an environment that is real, to which the actor can connect, and then try to let things happen naturally. I want there to be an authentic connection at the base of it, and then I’ll direct my vision into it from there. When I worked with Logan, we had open communication about where he could take his character. I gave him guidelines and then he explored them in his own way. Keeping an open mind, collaborating, and experimenting helped bring his story to life.
FE: There is some really nice footage in this short. How do you manage your camera?
AM: Paying attention to the light sources in each scene, and exposing the light properly, is the first step. From there I think about what focal length will tell the story best for each particular scene. Typically I shoot portrait when I want to show the emotion of character, and wide angle for emotion of the environment. Then I think about the movement of the camera and how it can help emphasize the story or feeling in each scene. Lastly, I decide what depth of field will tell the story best, and shoot either shallow or narrow accordingly.
FE: Which camera and lenses did you use and why?
AM: I shot on the Digital Bolex because it’s the greatest-quality image you can get for its price, in my opinion. It’s what I can afford to shoot with at this point in my life. Aside from finances being a factor in camera choice, I really do love the image it produces. The organic look that comes out of the camera pairs well with my aesthetic, and color grading the footage is a real treat. The colors that come out of it are in a league of their own.
For lenses I chose the Tevidon Ziess 25mm f1.4, Tevidon Zeiss 16mm f1.8 and Distagon Zeiss 8mm T2.1. I picked them for their affordability, sharpness and quality. These lenses also have thread filters, making it easy to attach filters without needing a matte box.
FE: Did you use a Steadicam, a shoulder rig or anything else, and why?
AM: I shot with the Glidecam 2000, a low-budget shoulder rig made out of duct tape, rods and weights, and some handheld shooting as well. Typically I shot with the Glidecam at the peaceful moments in the film to help emphasize that feeling. For intense scenes with a lot of movement, I went with the shoulder rig, giving me control but at the same time movement to emulate the unpredictability of the character. For intimate scenes, I shot handheld, to give a trembling sense of being right there in the moment.
FE: What do you think is the hardest part of directing and controlling the camera at the same time?
AM: Patience. When you’re trying to explain or guide what you want to happen in a scene, or give specific directions to the performer and you’ve got a heavy camera rig attached to your body, it tests your patience. You’ve got a constant stress on your body while you’re trying to orchestrate an environment that ideally you should be stress free in. The key is to not let that stress cloud your vision as you try to share your thoughts with your actors.
FE: How do you control your exposure, keeping a consistency look throughout your images? What do you look for?
AM: When shooting with the D16, I’ve found you’ll get the best image if you expose perfectly. Some people preach underexposing by two stops and pushing in post. I prefer to expose just under the clipping point of any important highlights. That way my footage will have a consistent exposure in post, at the highest quality. If you underexpose too far, you’re going to lose some quality in post when you push it back up. This is still a learning process for me. And it’s OK to break your own rules; I overexposed some scenes in the forest (specifically when Krysta is holding the fern) to bloom the highlights, giving it a magical quality to help emphasize the mood of that scene.
FE: When looking at the footage from the forest, your highlights had nice blooming effects. Is this from your lenses, a filter or something else you are doing in post?
AM: This is the result of the Black Pro-Mist Filter ¼, which I love to use when blooming is desired.
FE: What was your process for lighting in this film?
AM:I used all natural light as is. No bouncing or blocking.
FE: What is your workflow for recording and adding sound?
AM: I’ve kept a bank of natural sounds I’ve recorded over the years that I pull from, as well as recordings on location. I use a Zoom H4n and Rode NTG1.
FE: What was your process and timeline for post-production?
AM: For this project, I wasn’t 100-percent sure how the timeline was going to come together, so it was like assembling a giant puzzle from all of these pieces I had shot over the summer and fall. I was able to find a lot of natural transitions and links between pieces, which became a theme throughout the film. As I started piecing it together, I added sound at the same time to help figure out how I could transition from one scene to the next. Then I started to figure out how the score would fit. The band Brumes was kind enough to let me use their track “Whirlpooling,” which is a beautiful 10-minute long atmospheric piece that ended up fitting the mood of the film. I was able to blend pieces from that song together to get the desired feeling for each scene. For color grading I used Adobe Camera Raw. I used Visioncolor’s BMD film profile as a starting point and built a custom grade from there. MM
Photographs by Logan Anderson.