A surprise birthday party which is really a surprise engagement gets repeatedly derailed because of, not despite, the best intentions of all of the guests.
It's an ensemble comedy with lots of laughs and heart, and plenty of twists and turns.
Starring: Melanie Thompson, Bryce Harrow, Marisa Hood,
Rob Harrow, Charlie Carr, Lee Shorten, Aaron Sanders,
Jamie Miller, Gwen Hillier, CB Mullen, Niya Wright,
Javier Prusky, Nate Hapke, Justin Sorvillo,
Jack Thomas Williams
Directed by Nate Hapke
Written by Rosie Grace & Nate Hapke
Produced by Rosie Grace, Nate Hapke & Julia Armine
Director of Photography Nicholas Ferreiro
Gaffer Mayur Patankar, Abby Menzel
Best Boy Electric Abby Menzel, Eddy Scully, David Blum
1st Assistant Camera Sean Singer
2nd Assistant Camera/Grip Tom Wertheim
Production Designer Carlee Wyman
Art Director Jahnavi Kapadia
Set Dresser Shoaib Ahmed Shawl
Costume Designer Natasha Kachine
Set Costumer Deidre Russo
Makeup Department Head Lian Uritsky
Makeup Artist Daniela Babcock
1st Assistant Director/Unit Production Manager Jordan Orenge
Production Coordinator Sarah Soderquist
Script Supervisor Kelli Kuschman, Meghan Pezzano
Key Production Assistant Hayward Crawford
Production Assistants Anna Hill, Michael Mears,
Matthew Marcinkowski, Madeline Keith, Maeve Doody
Production Sound Mixer Sandra Joen Perez-Tejeda
Boom Operator Eric Han
Edited/Colored by Nicholas Ferreiro
Re-recording Mixer Justin Lebens
Score by Caleb Parker
Our first feature film Two Dash One One was picture locked and out to festivals with a strong trailer and affecting one sheet to help whet the appetite of potential audiences everywhere.
As we always do when a project wraps, we sat down and asked "What's next?"
We could and can, and have since, go back and make another short.
But we're feature filmmakers now! Can we make another one?
We still couldn't afford to make (25 speaking roles and 15 locations) Good Grief, though we did inevitably receive a grant from the Innovation Group of CNYArts to produce the short/proof-of-concept version of the project.
What could we afford to make? Another contained one location feature.
But what would it be about? Should we stay within the drama space? We've done that and it was great, but let's do something different. Okay.
What we settled on as a follow up to Two Dash One One followed similarly in structure, genre, and cast to what we did after making heavier subject matter short films She & Her and To the Moon and Back: an ensemble relationship comedy with a cast largely populated by actors we're fortunate enough to call friends.
Many of these actors we'd had the privilege of collaborating with before (Bryce Harrow, Aaron Sanders, Gwen Hillier, Jack Thomas Williams, CB Mullen, Niya Wright, Jamie Miller, and Javier Prusky (and to a lesser degree myself)), and the rest were talents we had met in recent years, became friends with, and had gained a mutual desire to collaborate with them on something. Why not this?
As December ended, we had our idea: initially a mockumentary style about a birthday party with a surprise engagement, and eventually a more traditional narrative style about a surprise birthday party that was really a surprise engagement that continued to get waylaid because of not despite the best intentions of all of the guests.
It was an opportunity to:
a) make something producible
b) work with artists we appreciated, respected, loved, et al
c) build upon the production scope/structure we had established on our quarantine anthology of short films and executed to a t on our first feature film the next summer
Despite being a departure from the genre we had cut our teeth in, as well as a right turn visually exemplified by the color palette of the production and costume designs, one thing remained as a throughline narratively from our first feature to our second: a central couple who proved to themselves that they can overcome any conflict by utilizing open and clear communication.
Both features are love stories, and ones deeply rooted in the importance of strong communication between the central couple. Ethan and Jane from Surprise! are not Marnie and April from Two Dash One One, but they might be friends if they ever met. And they'd certainly appreciate how they respect each other inside of their respective relationships, as well as how they support each other as individuals inside of and outside of their relationship.
In the first week of January, we called the vast majority of who we wanted to be in the cast and pitched them what the story was and what we wanted to do with it, as well as who the characters were and what they could be to each other. We pulled on what was at our disposal: some of our cast were related, some of our cast looked similar, some of our cast were best friends in real life - and we pulled from all of that to write something fictional yet with so much truth and love in it.
Inspired by the enthusiastic yesses, we wrote the outline, and the completed script followed very soon after.
By April, we were hosting a table read with those same people we called in January, as well as a few close and trusted writer friends.
By July, we were back on set making our second feature film.
After the first five days, a shutdown due to covid postponed the rest of the shoot until October where we ended up shooting our grant funded and aforementioned short/proof-of-concept Good Grief back to back with the end of Surprise!
In both July and October, we made our days, didn't cut a single scene, and wrapped on schedule due in large part to a hungry and dedicated cast and crew who bought into what we were doing.
10 months after calling all of those actors to pitch them the movie, we were done shooting it. I don't know if I'll ever make another movie again. I hope I do because I can't imagine doing anything else with my life, but none of this is guaranteed. I do know, however, that if I do get the opportunity to make another movie that it will never come together the way that this one did.
To have this many talented people share a mutual desire to collaborate. To then be able to use that desire as inspiration during the writing process to know who we were writing for and what they were capable of. And then to be able to share the highest highs and lowest lows with each and every one of them as we fought together against all of the elements that sought to slow the project down, or stop it altogether, only to come out the other side with our heads very much above water. So unique, so special, so wild. I'm so thankful, enriched, and ready for whatever comes next
I can't wait for you to see my second feature film: Surprise!
Postscript: This was the first time for me as an adult actor where I got to play a character with a real arc. The role of Ted, ostensibly the film's villain, was one of three that we hadn't cast yet when we sat down at the table read in April. Rosie suggested that I read it for the sake of the event, and I loved it. Everyone asked me afterwards if I was going to play him in the actual movie, and Rosie said that I should. I did, and I'm so glad I did. It was the first time on set where I actually felt myself fall in and out of character. We'd rehearse and collectively know exactly what the coverage was, and what the "in" and "outpoints" were for that particular set up. As the director, I would say "action!", and then I'd take a breath and feel myself fall into Ted. As soon as we got to the "outpoint", I held a moment to help with the edit, then felt myself come out of Ted and fall back into the role of director to say "cut!" It was remarkable, and I can't wait to do it again.