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In His Own Words: Patrick Wang Shares a Scene from "In the Family"

By Patrick Wang | Indiewire November 24, 2011 at 4:29AM

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"In the Family" Directed by Patrick Wang
"In the Family" Directed by Patrick Wang

Below writer-director Patrick Wang shares a scene from his award-winning indie "In the Family." The family drama opens at the Quad Cinema in New York City on Friday, November 25.

Synopsis: In the town of Martin, Tennessee, Chip Hines, a precocious six year old, has only known life with his two dads, Cody and Joey. And a good life it is. When Cody dies suddenly in a car accident, Joey and Chip struggle to find their footing again. Just as they begin to, Cody's will reveals that he named his sister as Chip's guardian. The years of Joey's acceptance into the family unravel as Chip is taken away from him. In his now solitary home life, Joey searches for a solution. The law is not on his side, but friends are. Armed with their comfort and inspired by memories of Cody, Joey finds a path to peace with the family and closer to his son. (Synopsis courtesy of the film's website)


We are at the hospital after Cody has been in a car accident. His family is there: his partner Joey and their son Chip; and Cody’s mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Since Joey is not “family,” the nurse objects to his visiting Cody. The scene appears to be heading to a confrontation between Joey and the nurse, but it gets derailed by a sequence of two beautiful acts. First Chip, in solidarity with Joey, refuses to go visit his father. Then Joey, recognizing both the solidarity and the fear behind Chip’s action, cares for his son and helps him confront this fear of seeing his injured father.

This scene is an example of how a mistake can be turned into something beautiful. At the moment the nurse tells Joey he is not allowed to visit Cody, Joey is obscured. That wasn’t supposed to happen. But we had set out basic ground rules for shooting that unless there was a safety issue, we would not cut; we would find a way to use mistakes. And that is exactly what Frank Barrera, my DP (and camera operator), did. He knew that Joey being obscured fit into the language of the film, and so he didn’t have to correct it immediately. He could slowly adjust at a pace appropriate to the rhythm of the scene. When editing, I selected this shot both because it heightens the expectation of a confrontation between the nurse and Joey and because obscuring Joey helps us see, quick as it is, the sister and brother-in-law’s reactions to what the nurse is doing.

There are a lot of these wonderful, quick reactions to read during the scene. I love how we get to see the nurse think and decide to tell Joey he cannot come. It’s a detail, part-clear and part-ambiguous, that’s happening at the same time a dozen other things are happening. And you don’t know what’s going to end up being important and where this is going to go. You think maybe this is leading up to a speech from Joey declaring why he is family. Instead you get an act from Joey demonstrating why he is a good dad. He is completely tuned into his kid, and by instinct, his kid comes first. Circumstance and plot give you this opportunity to witness the substance of his character.

This article is related to: Video: In Their Own Words, In the Family