Low Tide // Location Shapes Story

September 16, 2016
Hussain

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS (If you haven’t yet, watch LOW TIDE here & read on!)

Two lovers playing Russian roulette in a cheap motel – this is a premise that can’t possibly end well, right? So where do we go from here?

The Delivery Men crew came to Seaside, Oregon knowing the above concept, but not much else. The goal was to spend time in a coastal town, and let the story and characters develop organically as we immersed ourselves in a new environment. It was this trip that resulted in the construction of Frank and Natalie (F&N); their relationship would come to define our story. In crafting Low Tide, we were in a unique position because our characters and their actions were motivated by place — and vice versa. The three act structure took shape as we tailored the script to our setting, and then refined our specific locations to enhance story elements.

The opening scene in the motel room leaves people with more questions than answers, and from here on out, it is our job as filmmakers to disperse information that is not only engaging, but paced appropriately and serves the story best.

As we came to develop the characters of F&N, we had to establish some key things:

  1. They have a history with each other
  2. They are (or once were) romantically involved  
  3. Natalie feels out of place in their hometown

During our scout, were particularly taken by the main street in Seaside. With restaurants, taffy stores, souvenir shops, an arcade — it felt like a place stopped in time and rooted in nostalgia. To show the true deterioration of our characters, it made sense to show how they once used to be: carefree, invincible, totally in love.  To tell their history in a short amount of time, a montage made sense. In 30 seconds, we had an opportunity to utilize the main street and all of its coastal northwest charm in a way that serves a purpose — we are literally showing you F&N’s past.

Wrapping our head around pacing, we found that the main street montage wasn’t enough — we had to transition out of this into a quieter moment. In one of our pre-production excursions, we came across a lonely looking swing set on the beach. That eventually became the heart of our first flashback: the conversation between Frank and Natalie just before dawn in the aftermath of their night out. The swing set scene allowed us to accomplish all three of our key points from above. It also created another moment (the pistol), establishing significance to an item we have seen before in the russian roulette scene.

Swingset at Dawn

“What’re you still doing with that thing?”

 

So in this first flashback, we’ve introduced our characters and some early conflict (Natalie’s detachment from the town). It was time to push that further along in the next flashback— which would happen after a brief exchange in the motel room. At this point, we have set up a pattern: each bullet triggers a memory, and each memory builds on the previous, adding more and more weight to our characters.

So next, our goals are to establish:

  1. Frank and Natalie are not wealthy
  2. They live together
  3. Natalie would rather move somewhere else; Frank is still attached to the town

We thought it would be a great moment to have Frank and Natalie come across a house (nothing fancy or extravagant) and be completely enamored by it. In our original outline, Frank would tell Natalie “One day, we’ll also have a place like this…” This helps illustrate some of our key points from above.

We drove around like a bunch of creepers, scoping out different neighborhoods (including nearby towns). There were a few options for what type of house to pick out — but ultimately we didn’t choose the final one until a few days before our shoot. This was based on lighting conditions and proximity to our previous/next location. We also found the house we liked to look amazing in a wide shot. So, how do our characters wind up at the house? In terms of editing, with the gun ‘going off’ in the motel room, we needed something high energy to launch us into the next scene…

Stealing from the candy store allowed us to showcase the main street one more time along with a very cool store exterior that we wouldn’t have been able to see at night. The door FLYING OPEN and them running out was a great transition out of pulling the trigger in the motel room; it still seemed to signify a “bang.” The whole theft scene also tells us a little bit more about our characters:  Frank and Natalie are thrill seekers and boundary-pushers.  

As a contrast to showing the “rich house,” and to sell the fact that F&N don’t come from money, it would help to see where they actually live.  Frank asking “will you be home for dinner” and Natalie’s “don’t forget tomorrow’s trash day,” offers enough clues that the two of them are domestic partners (goal #5) and by seeing their place, we are visually communicating wealth (goal #4).

The complex next door to where we stayed during our scout.

Although you can infer quite a lot from dialogue, we prefer to visually show you their living situation (even if it’s brief).

Now, it just so happened that next door to where we were staying was a small, run down, housing complex. During our scout, we met one of the tenants just by asking him for advice on where to find nice houses. We exchanged contact info and reached out to him a few days later about using his property for the inevitable “trash scene.”

The trash scene includes a very important twist that would propel our action forward:

  1. Frank discovers Natalie is pregnant

I feel like the pregnancy trope has been done to death — and something about it felt a bit “film school-ish.” It was around this conversation that The Delivery Men team decided we would turn this moment on its head:

8: Frank and Natalie are brother and sister.

But this reveal wouldn’t happen until our third flashback in one of our most unique locations.

 

There was something captivating about watching the water swirl around here, sweeping into the shore and battering against rocks. It made sense to use its violent nature to mirror what the characters are going through. When outlining the story, this is where we revealed that not only did Natalie get an abortion — but the reversal of them being siblings. With sound design, we were able to emphasize each of these beats with the crash of waves. Our plan was to cut to the tide a few times as well, and really accentuate the punches we were trying to deliver. Ultimately, we found it was stronger to stay on our characters and in the moment and scrapped that idea.

The visceral nature of the location really influenced our shooting style as well, with a lot of camera movement oscillating between F&N. The idea for Frank to pull the gun on her was also inspired by our setting’s volatility.
A logistical side-note: Having a place influence story is creatively fantastic but one factor worth considering is feasibility. Can we get film equipment down there? Is there parking? Is it even legal for us to be there? Once we knew we were using this particular location, we contacted the City of Seaside and the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department for permits to film on the beach. We had to clear using the blank firing pistol on the property but because we were not discharging the firearm, we did not require additional safety crew. The police were aware of our presence and what we were doing, and that way if somebody called 911 saying “two people are fighting on the beach, one of them has a gun!!” we are in the clear.

The final flashback was added to give the film some breathing room after the climax, and it became one of my favorite scenes in the whole film. We didn’t feel that cutting to credits at the end of the motel sequence was the most effective way to end our story, and decided on one final moment with F&N. We picked a scenic spot to put our actors in, and more importantly, we chose to shoot it at sunset. Nothing else we filmed in Low Tide was during magic hour and our goal was for the audience to see the difference. It’s more or less the same location as the swing set scene, but through context, and decisions we had made regarding music, lighting, even camera movement (the final flashback was the only time we shot static on tripod), etc. we evoke something new for the viewer. We put this amount of thought into every scene in Low Tide, channeling the uniqueness of this town into our story with the hopes that our setting becomes an unforgettable character in this narrative.

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