Winner of the “best film not playing at a theater near you” award at last year’s Gotham Awards, Ry Russo-Young’s “You Wont Miss Me” opens in theaters this Friday, December 10. In anticipation of the film’s release, Russo-Young shared an exclusive scene from her film with indieWIRE, and discussed her filmmaking background.
A kaleidoscopic film portrait of Shelly Brown, a 23-year-old alienated urban misfit. Shelly Brown is released from a short stay in a psychiatric hospital and returns home to New York City. Her life after the hospital and the film itself are like the character: inconsistent, rough, deep and roaring with lonesome truth and a brutal honesty that is often self-destructive.
Shot in a variety of styles and formats, “You Wont Miss Me” mixes non-actors with professionals, verité with staging, order with abstraction, to paint an evocative picture of a contemporary rebel.
Starring Stella Schnabel and Simon O’Connor, featuring Carlen Altman, Borden Capalino and Rene Ricard, the film gives pathos to the frenzy of the youthful desire for acceptance.
The scene opens with Shelly arriving home to her small East Village apartment with a photographer/painter she just met earlier that night at a party. When I first started thinking about this scene, it made sense to start with the location, and the physical space, which was constrained. Shelly’s apartment and isn’t any larger than 500 square feet, which is challenging from a shooting perspective. Yet in micro-budget filmmaking, limitations can be seen as opportunities that provide the scene with a unique look and feel. The size of the space became a cinematic tool and even a kind of joke within the scene itself. The look is intimate to the point of claustrophobic. This location was free, provided by the very generous photographer Sarah Ball (who plays Frank in the film). It felt realistic that a girl like Shelly would live in a small apartment like this. Sarah Ball has great taste that could believably overlap with Shelly’s so certain items like the couch and dresser we were able to keep in the space. Other objects were brought in like the plant, curtains and large painting on the wall that was made by Stella’s brother, Vito.
Once in the space, I thought about the lighting and how this apartment would look and feel on this particular night. What is the state of the home? What was left out from when she was last in the apartment? I figured she was probably nervous before going out so she would need a drink before she left. It made sense then that there would be whiskey sitting out on her little table. When she gets back in, this is the first thing she’d remember and offer him.
Did she leave a light on? Shelly wouldn’t want to come home to a totally dark space so she’d probably leave the bathroom light on. This became one of the guiding concepts for the scene, that it would be lit with a single yellow glow falling from a crack in the bathroom door. Kitao Sakurai, the cinematographer, did a great job of lighting the space in a way that was minimal and realistic using practical lights. We spent some time figuring out how to get the bathroom door effect and manipulate it in blocking. So when Shelly sits down after dressing up, she’s in the light and he is not. The fact that her character goes to such lengths to be looked at and then is uncomfortable as soon as she’s seen was significant. Once she starts to kiss him, we lose sight of her and she becomes a silhouette, outlined in gold. This was a way to show that the character had shut off emotionally once she becomes intimate.
At the time, I was looking at Nan Goldin photographs from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. I think these photos were inspiration for the look and feel of “You Wont Miss Me” but specifically, this photograph for this scene.
I studied film for several years with the Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi, a unique mentorship that started when I was seventeen. He introduced me to filmmakers like Chabrol, Antonioni, Polanski and Ozu. He always said that moviemaking is as much about what you don’t see as what you do see. At the time we were watching Steven Spielberg’s first movie “Duel,” which was a perfect example in that it’s about a guy in a red car being chased by a big black tractor trailer. The only thing is, you never see the driver of the truck. It’s like a bull fight. In this particular scene, I thought about how the camera would watch these characters but also how Shelly and this guy see each other, how and when they look at each other. When they do and don’t connect visually.
It was important that there be a lot of quiet moments, a silence that is so bare that the ambient sounds are loud in comparison. In the sound mix, we decided to keep a lot of the noisy floorboard squeaking because it heightened the awkwardness and became its own texture. For this movie, Stella and I created the character of Shelly Brown together. It was the generative force for “You Wont Miss Me.” The film is ultimately a portrait and so instead of focusing on plot or genre, my choices were motivated by the illogical needs and volition of the character.