Student Work Wednesdays – Distance


What is the premise of your film?

Michael Lawlor (Director): Set in the early months of COVID-19, Sally comes home early from her work trip to be greeted by her slightly hesitant boyfriend. Hesitant to the fact that he doesn’t want to let her in the house or in his life. The two must work together to find the keys to their home after being lost in a frivolous attempt to keep her out.

Colton Johnson (Producer): In this romantic dramedy set at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, a woman comes home from a business trip in a foreign country and is confused when her boyfriend tries to kick her out of the house because he claims that he doesn’t want her to infect him.

What was the Pre-production process like entirely online?

Michael: Pre Production being done entirely online was helpful in the fact that it could be accessed anywhere but when it came to making creative decisions this proved difficult with the lack of being able to brainstorm in person together.

Colton: In many ways preferred, if I’m being honest. I enjoyed not having to commute to meetings. Our team had a group chat, and everything we needed to communicate was easy enough through that chat and Zoom meetings. I think the only thing that was somewhat difficult online was the storyboarding / shot list meetings and acting rehearsals, but I didn’t attend those meetings as producer.

Distance Cast and Crew

How many crew members did you have on your film? How many were on set?

Michael: We had a total of five crew members on set with seven being in our whole group.

Colton: We had seven crew members on our film and five of them were on set. The writer had health concerns, and the production designer was unavailable.

What was it like working with a small crew?

Michael: Working with a small crew was amazing in terms of having more creative direction and freedom but fell short when certain crew members had to do other roles on set that normally would have been filled. This affected staying on schedule for the day.

Colton: I had a great time. My work as producer was a lot easier because there weren’t as many mouths to feed or safety logistics to consider. Along with the regular producer responsibilities, I got to be a swing and ended up working crafty, buying some props, doing some BTS, G&E, AD, and PA work. It was a great opportunity to do a little bit of everything. Plus, I was so confident in my crew to get things done that I didn’t have to worry about keeping them on schedule, so that allowed me to focus on these other jobs.

Distance Cast and Crew

How do you think this experience has helped prepare you for the professional world?

Michael: I have learned a lot more about the pre-production process as a whole and have a much greater understanding of why every small role in every department still plays a huge part in the whole process.

Colton: It’s given me a small taste of working as a producer. I learned the most from pre-production, and hopefully now that we’re in post, festival submissions, and distribution. I’m not sure I learned much about professional on-set responsibilities, but to be fair, from the little I know, there isn’t much to do as a producer on a smoothly running set. The job is mostly project management, so if a good enough job occurs in the planning phase, the production phase should run fairly smoothly, which ours did.

Which part of the process was your favorite? Why? (Pre-pro, Production, Post-pro, Modules)

Michael: My favorite part of the whole process had to have been just the two days allotted for principal photography. Being on set has been and always will be one of my favorite parts of the production process. Getting to bring something to life in person is far more exciting to me than doing any edit or preparing any shot list even with these being things I like.

Colton: Pre-production was my favorite because that’s when I had the most work to do. I felt the most needed (and also the most stressed). Production was easy and just a flat-out fun time. It was nice to see all of my hard work in pre-pro paying off on set. I can’t say much for post-production other than I’m excited to learn something new. Since our post-pro process has just started, I’m not sure what to expect as I’ve never submitted to film festivals before. I’m just sitting back and letting my editor and director do their thing while I give them space to work through their creative vision. I’ll only step in if they want me to or they’re not meeting deadlines.

From Left to Right: Forest Veerhoff, Jacqui Ris, Allie Ochsner, and Michael Lawlor

Which part of the process was the most difficult? Why?

Michael: The most difficult part of this process has been working with editors through Zoom and moving files around via our drive. It seems much easier to exchange hard drives in real life and work and edit next to others.

Colton: Pre-production was the most difficult, specifically the week before our filming dates. The entire crew and cast had to be tested negative for COVID in that week. Our scheduled exterior shooting dates were forecasted to be rained out, so we had to figure something else out that worked with everyone’s schedules. We were still waiting to hear from the faculty about being able to shoot in a particular location, so the director and DP were making two different shot lists to have a backup.

What was the most rewarding part of this experience?

Michael: Being in Premiere Pro and looking at all the dailies lined up and seeing a film be brought to life from some words on a page.

Colton: Being able to sit back on set and watch my team work. After months of pre-production and a hard week leading up to our shoot dates, being able to watch my team succeed in their shoot was extremely rewarding. We were able to take things easy. Nobody felt rushed, and we still finished shooting a little earlier than planned both days.

What advice would you give to students who take this course after you?

Michael: Only have group meetings when necessary and work more individually with the person in your crew you need help from or need to help.

Colton: Try to work on more than one set in more than one role with different levels of work. For example, an above-the-line position on one set (Director, DP, Producer, etc.) and below-the-line on another (Sound, G&E, Asst. Editor, etc.). Try to experience every position you can, so after you graduate (or even while you’re still in school) you feel comfortable working any and every job on and off set. In other words, use this time to become a well-rounded filmmaker. You’ll have a lifetime to become an expert at your favorite positions.