Below, director Ishai Setton shares a scene from his ensemble indie comedy “The Kitchen,” currently available on VOD and DVD.
What the Film’s About: In this ensemble comedy set entirely inside a kitchen in Los Angeles, Jennifer (Laura Prepon), is about to turn 30. What starts out as a well-intentioned day of celebration quickly spirals into an ill-fated farce. Amidst all the chaos, Jennifer tries to figure out what it means to turn thirty and how she will start the next chapter of her life.
Where This Scene Fits In: Before the film begins, Jennifer left her job at a big, high profile art gallery in an effort to open her own. She’s relying on Vladimir, an artist who has promised her that she can showcase his work in her new gallery. Penny (Dreama Walker), Jennifer’s sister, is in town to help her celebrate. Paul (Bryan Greenberg), Jennifer’s very recent ex-boyfriend, left the party early on and he isn’t expected back. Earlier in the film we find out that he has cheated on Jennifer with some of her friends – friends who are at the party.
Why I Chose This Scene: I chose this scene for a couple reasons. From the beginning, I always felt that this film was about two sisters and the deep bond that they share. To me that relationship is the emotional core of the film.
In this scene, I love how we silently see the connection between the two sisters. They don’t need to talk about what they’re about to do. They share that wavelength that only siblings can share. It’s such a powerful connection and I like how this little scene quietly looks at that.
The scene also contains some of the different elements of comedy and drama that we tried to bring together in the film. I always thought the character of Marco encapsulated one of the fun things about this film – a random party-goer who only has a few lines (actually, a few words) can step into the kitchen at anytime. The movie is “talk-y.” But I love that the few moments here happen quietly, as the party goes on around them.
Shooting the Scene: From day one we all thought of this film as a bit of an experiment. One thing I always wanted to do was shoot a film in sequence and we got to do that in “The Kitchen.” This scene is about 2/3 of the way through the film, so I think we shot this around day 11 of 15. By this point, as a cast and crew, we were in a rhythm that was undeniable. The house and its backyard were filled with actors and extras and it really felt like a house party where you occasionally had to step into the kitchen to film a scene. And most importantly, Dreama and Laura had been stuck in a kitchen for much of the previous 11 days. So as smart, intuitive actors, they were forming connections with each other that I feel mirrored the sibling relationship that was so important for me to capture.
I will say I was quite worried about how this scene would actually unfold. It is faked slightly, in case you feel like trying to knock a cake off a table like this at home. We did the first take and Laura hit the table lightly — the cake didn’t budge. On take 2, I told her to go for it. She warned me that the cake might fall. She was right. On take two, she pounded the table and the cake fell over the edge and landed upside down on the floor. We only had a few cakes, so we went with plan B. There was a lot of cheating with small bumps to the cake covered in close ups and then we taped down the cake in the wide shots.
Josh Silfen, the cinematographer, and myself, wanted to make the movie’s look evolve. So as we’re getting closer to the climax of the film, the shots are dirtier (meaning you see over the shoulder of other actors), the hand holding gets a bit more amplified and you get closer and tighter on the actor’s faces. I wanted the style to mirror that feeling of losing control a bit, and also having had a few too many drinks and getting more and more stuck in your own world, with your own problems. Everything else, everyone else around you can disappear. At this point in the film, Jennifer is freaking out.
At the end of the scene, Jennifer’s ex, Paul, enters the kitchen. The timing of this entrance, along with many others was highly important to the film. In order to keep the film moving and keep the momentum, we had shot this entrance in many different ways. Mark Scovil, the editor, and I decided to use a shot where we keep everyone in the frame, so you could see how once again, Paul has interrupted Jennifer and Penny’s life – and inserted himself into the picture.
We did do a lot of improv in the film and Bryan Greenberg did such a good job of coming up with lines and moments in the film. Here he came up with the line “I need a medic” as he entered, which I loved, and fit his character perfectly.
Also, we lit most of the film with Christmas lights. I love that you can see the lighting equipment in the frame and we get away with it. The Christmas lights behind Laura while she’s on the phone are her back-light.
Most all though, when I think back to shooting this scene, I remember what a fun, collaborative set it was. I know that that’s not that interesting, but I always feel that the energy on a set will subconsciously seep onto the screen. Some films work well despite a difficult set and some films work well because of a good one, and with “The Kitchen” we were lucky enough to have the latter.