One the surface "The Face of Love," starring Annette Bening and Ed Harris, looks like a studio-made romance. But as writer-director Arie Posin recounts below in a first person essay, the film is anything but. Using some ingenious methods, and thanks to a great team, Posin was able to make his indie about a widow (Bening) who's world is turned upside down when she meets her late husband's double, look a lot more expensive than it actually cost to make. The film is currently out in select theaters and is available to watch On Demand.
Movies are illusions. Filmmakers want you to believe what you are seeing up there on the big screen has actually happened or is happening or at least could happen at some point in time. In expensive tentpole-type movies, this illusion is often created by throwing money at the problem. Expensive and intensely gifted artists are often hired to create those illusions out of zeros and ones; and then of course, those big movies can afford the most important commodity on a film shoot of all: time. If it's raining, well, we'll just come back tomorrow. If we didn't get the shot, we'll keep trying until we do.
On indie movies, where there's usually little to no money (or time!), but oh so many challenges, solutions must be found by throwing inventiveness into the moment. It may come from the director, the actors, the crew, and the caterer. But in the context of no money, the only thing we know is that our solutions have to come fast and free and often. This was most certainly the case on "The Face of Love."
There are countless examples large and small. For instance, when you see the movie, you'll see Nikki, played by Annette Bening, living in a house designed by her late husband Garrett, who was an architect. Nikki herself is a stager of homes. Their house needed to be filled with furniture reflecting the interests and taste of such design-oriented people. But how? We certainly couldn't afford to furnish it as needed. Enter our brilliant production designer, Jeanine Oppewall. Jeanine got her start as a designer working in the Ray and Charles Eames design firm many moons ago. The Eames were responsible for the look of much of what we associate with mid-20th century furniture and design.
Jeanine's home is well appointed with many furniture pieces collected over a lifetime of opportunity and discriminating taste. So given our financial constraints, Jeannine contributed most of her own furniture to the location of Nikki's house. (Friends of hers who came to dinner at her house during production thought she'd been robbed. There was nothing in her living room but a card table and some fold out chairs. "No I wasn't robbed," she'd tell them, "it's just this damn indie movie I'm working on!")
Our costume designer was Judianna Makovsky. You'll know her phenomenal work from "Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter." Her work on this movie was no less creative, but on a very different scale. If anything, it required just as much thought and artistry, but of a different variety. Without the money to dress everyone, Judianna went shopping in Annette's closet. She carefully curated clothes from Annette's own closet into a look that would fit for her character. It was a similar story Ed Harris' costume. Ed came in one day in a very comfortable looking shirt that seemed to all of us instantly like the look of his character, the world weary artist professor Tom Young. So Ed ended up wearing that shirt in the movie, along with his own hat, and many other items.
And it's not just design and costumes; these choices are everywhere. Another example: when you see the movie you'll see a scene where Nikki and Tom call a cab to take them to the airport. Want to guess how we pulled that off? We called a cab. Just picked up the phone and called for a cab. When it arrived, we asked the driver to sign a waiver and then Ed and Annette climbed into the cab and it drove off with them. Similarly, we needed a charity truck to take away Nikki's husband's belongings after his death (not a spoiler: this happens in the opening minutes.... the rest of the movie tells the story of Nikki, years later, falling in love with a man who looks like a perfect double of her late husband). Of course we couldn't afford to hire a truck. The solution: we called a real donations truck out to pick up our contributions. As a bonus, cast and crew brought things they wanted to give away and the truck took away not just the props required for the story, but all the real donations from all of us.
This was a tricky one: there was a scene in the script that called for Nikki to drop off her daughter Summer (played by Jess Weixler) at LAX. Well, that scene, I was told, would have to go. No way for us to afford shutting down LAX to get a single shot. I proposed this: couldn't we just set a camera in the trunk of a car, have Annette actually drive Jess to the airport, pull over to the curb, take a bag from the trunk, hug and say their goodbyes and then drive off? In other words, do what everybody else is doing at the airport. We checked with airport security; they told us that if we had nothing mounted on the sidewalk (no equipment, lights etc) and indeed just pulled over to the curb, dropped off Jess and moved on in less than ninety seconds, well then, yes we could do it. That's what we did. (Of course it helps that LAX is a loop so we could do several takes.)
I believe filmmaking excels when cast and crew exist in a space of uncertainty. This is where opportunity lies. In facing challenges, up against the clock and under the pressure of finances, we make choices that, if they are true and authentic to the characters whose story we're telling, will make the movie better. And that's true whether the budget is tentpole or indie.