Inside the Stunning Acting Process for a Film With No Cuts

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Photo Source: Courtesy of Last Call

Whether it’s live-streaming on social media, musical revivals aired live on network television, or real-time reality series, audiences are becoming more comfortable with the highwire act of unedited entertainment. It’s a trend that a trio of filmmakers is banking on with their new indie film, “Last Call,” which had its West Coast premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles late this June. The film has no edits or cuts: just two characters, two phones, and two takes.

“Independent film is sort of like, if you’re not putting up a flair doing something interesting or somehow getting Paul Giamatti in your feature, nobody’s really going to look at it,” said producer-writer-actor Daved Wilkins. “So we were trying to think of something that would make it unique.”

Filmed in Canada, “Last Call” was conceived by Wilkins along with wife-and-husband team Gavin Michael Booth and Sarah Booth. A friend of Wilkins training to be a phone counselor for a suicide crisis hotline inspired the premise. The intense split-screen film follows two characters who accidentally connect phone lines on one of the most critical nights of their lives. Backstage spoke with Sarah Booth (who also stars in the film) and Wilkins about the experience of acting in a true single-take film.

How does an actor prepare for a single-take film?
Sarah Booth: I was trained in theater, so for me, this [project] was definitely attractive. A lot of the times, you show up on set, you get to say a couple of lines, and then they do some coverage—and coverage, and coverage. When you’re filming traditionally, there’s not much of an arc. Preparing for this, Daved and I were rehearsing over the phone for a couple of weeks. We would jump on the phone and rehearse the script together.

In live theater, if something goes wrong in performance, you have to live with it. Some people go into film to avoid that. What is it like watching what you filmed and feeling like something could’ve been better?
SB: Well, there are definitely two technical errors which no one will ever notice in the film. Daved and I know each other very well, we have a really good back-and-forth and feel for one another. When we forgot a line or maybe skipped a section, because we rehearsed so many times on the phone and in-person, we could really maneuver our way through it without even making eye contact.

Daved Wilkins: I knew I could trust Sarah to be there if there was a mistake. I think having known each other for as long as we did and having spent so much time rehearsing, we developed that anchor of trust.

SB: There was also a sense that if we do fuck up, that’s OK—we’ll just start over! It’s not like you’re on a $50 million movie set where you feel like you’ve just wasted so much money. So I think there was a feeling of some sense of relaxation that if we screw up, then we just go back to number one and start over again—no big deal.

DW: We were both doing what we love. Even though this is a serious subject and intense characters, there’s that sense of play.

I’m curious about the logistics of how you connected as scene partners.
DW: Because we’re shooting it in real time, simultaneously, we had to be connected on an actual phone call. In fact, in the apartment we were using as one of the locations, we had to pay to have them come and install a hard phone line. Cell service is completely unreliable.

SB: A lot of people ask us: “So did you pick the best of Daved’s take and the best of your take?” We’re like, no. We had to pick the same take because we’re on the phone. Different things happened every time we shot it. So we had to pick that one take which occurred at the same time.

Any tips for rehearsing (or even performing) over the phone?
SB: Always have a back up in case something happens. As lovely as technology is, it will find a way—especially on a phone—to let you down. Oh, and have amazing sound people.

DW: The fact that we needed to rehearse so much in different parts of the world— and needing those rehearsals to be over the phone—started us in that head place of not seeing the person that you’re acting off of, or being able to get a sense of what they’re doing physically. So, you’re resigned to listening and reacting to tone of voice, timbre, speed of their speech, what’s going on in the background—it was a great lesson in learning to really listen.

What advice do you have for actors looking to innovate in the field of film?
DW: Do something that excites you. Do something that challenges you. Even though if you fail miserably, you’re going to learn a lot from failures, which remind you why you decided to do this ridiculously difficult career.

SB: I encourage people to think outside the box. Especially now with technology, you can do so many interesting projects which put your name out there…. This film scared the crap out of me, and that’s why I wanted to do it the most because I love teetering on the edge of “Am I so nervous I’m going to puke—or—am I so excited I’m going to puke?” I’m an adrenaline junky. For anyone who wants to create something that makes your blood pump, it’s not about the reviews, it’s not about the paycheck. You want to wake up every day to do it because it excites you.

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