Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Ed Waisnis
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
Growing up in southern New Hampshire, artist and filmmaker Ed Waisnis’s lifelong love of film started early (with seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on first release as a kid) and has continued ever since. Over the last decade, Waisnis has developed a fruitful working relationship with legendary animators the Quay Brothers, producing a documentary made by the Quays in collaboration with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on the subject of the Mütter Museum (Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting), as well as a film in the brothers’ traditional stop-motion style (Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H.). In his own practice, Waisnis has shifted back and forth between painting and filmmaking. Clocking in at less than five minutes, Routine is a brief but impactful day-in-the-life snapshot of a homeless man (Thomas Farley) and a lonely telemarketer (Eva Dziczkowska), whose seemingly disparate lives parallel each other in interesting ways. When they do cross paths, the brief interaction feels both random and charged with meaning.
PFS: How did the concept for Routine come about?
EW: I’d worked before with both of those actors and the cinematographer, Jason Rusnock. I wanted to make something short. The criteria were that I didn’t envision a lot of dialogue and that the subject was basically a character study. Both of the characters—the parallel running stories—kind of popped into my head. They’re both people that are kind of stuck. The woman is stuck in this awful telemarketing world. And it isn’t explicit, but in my mind the homeless guy is a vet. What would they do, what would be their outlet? The crutch is that they’re both imbibing; they’re both relying on alcohol for an escape.
PFS: There’s not a ton of dialogue. How fleshed out was the script?
EW: Oh it was all written. It was five explicit pages, as it is in the short. There was no improv or variation there. The only improv was in finding some of the locations. We were doing that on the fly, more or less. We shot on two and a half days, so it was fairly quick. I didn’t nail down all of the locations because I was in New York at the time and only came in for those two and half days. The office where she’s doing the telemarketing, for example: that’s the food court in Liberty Place, which I’d used before and had gotten thrown out of. So I was nervous to go there again. We rode around and around thinking, “We’ll keep it tight on her, but where can we have that type of feeling, where it’s an office building and gives you the mental vision that she’s in a cubicle even if you don’t explicitly see that?” So we went in there and it was fine, we didn’t have any problem. We just went in a corner and added the office ambient sound later. But the shooting script and schedule were planned. And I think you can tell. It’s not very loose.
PFS: You mentioned earlier that you knew going into it that it would be a short short. If you know that you want something to have that brevity and that conciseness, how does that inform the whole process?
EW: I’d say it’s probably about the length that I had in my mind. Again the constraints of making something in a couple of days played into it. It’s mathematics in a sense. You know how much of something you can shoot that’s going to be usable in that amount of time. And then, as the two characters came about and I was writing the back-and-forth scenes, it just kind of fell to that final moment. The story kind of led it and it just seemed like a place to stop. It could go on, it could be expanded, obviously. It’s kind of a hanging end. But it seemed like for that lyrical, parable feeling that I was after in the real world, it was a good place for us to stop. And that would be what we could accomplish in that time. And for more or less what I had my mind set on to do. I was thinking somewhere 10-12 minutes or less. And it’s about half that.
PFS: Have people interpreted the film’s ending differently?
EW: People who’ve seen it have said to me, “Did the characters have a history? Did they have a connection?” Because of the last scene where they see each other on the street. I hadn’t really thought that, it was probably subconscious. But afterwards I thought, “Hmm I might expand it and add a segment, do a bit of a flashback and show that they did have a past that might connect it more explicitly.” It’s something I did write and have been thinking of doing. So I might actually go back and revisit that.
PFS: That’s really interesting. What kind of past did you see them having?
EW: Well, obviously that they’re a couple. And I would shoot it in color. It would be more lyrical and more idyllic. I would show the trajectory where a typical relationship goes south, and why he would have ended up on the street. One person who saw it said that it seems like he looks a little bitter when he sees her, but she kind of has an attitude like, “Oh, do I even remember him?” So I ran with that and wrote about four scenes. Again, they’ll be more or less silent but they’ll travel a path where the relationship doesn’t work out, it gets rocky. It starts well but they have spats. You can formulate the connection that that’s what ends up happening. But it might be too explicit. I kind of like the ambiguity of it right now. There are some mental elastics to put together what’s going on.
PFS: How closely did you work with the cinematographer, Jason Rusnock, to craft a look and a feel for the film?
EW: Well he’s a still photographer but he’s worked with me before on a film. It’s not his love and his passion, so he approaches it differently. He’s about composition and tight focus, all the technical things. He’s really reliable for making sure the image holds up and the image is good. I’d have the scene written, but as for the composition of the actual shots, that’s where he would come in with his eye to make it look good and interesting.
PFS: Was black and white always the intention?
EW: Yeah, I love black and white. Way back in the day I used to shoot 16mm and Super-8 black and white film. Not only because it was less expensive, but I like it aesthetically. And when the Quays did the film with the Mütter Museum, I did the behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the film. I did it in black and white because I had just bought a 7D DSLR camera and I knew nothing about it at the time—this was 2010—other than what I’d read. I hadn’t used one. I was shooting really high ISOs because it was dark during the making of the film. And people were saying to me, “Oh that’ll never be usable, it’ll be all pixilated.” But the film turned out really well. It was shown at MoMA, and ended up in their collection. And it was shown in Hollywood at Sony Studios, on a 35-foot screen. In part thanks to the Quays. The scenes where they were shooting they had lit, so a lot of their lighting was borrowed, in a sense. And it looked really beautiful. So I had in my mind that I should shoot something else in black in white. A fiction thing. And aesthetically, it would be nice; it would be an art film. So yeah, we had that set from the beginning. Jason agreed because he does a lot of black and white photography as well.
PFS: It certainly fits the subject matter.
EW: Yeah it focuses the story. When you see something like that you’re paying more attention to the characters. Sometimes shooting like that with semi-documentary—just finding a corner and shooting it and not having control over everything—there are extraneous things. So in black and white, signs and things in the background won’t compete with your characters.
Routine will screen on Friday, June 9th at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.