Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Anyone who has made a living (or tried to make a living) as an actor or voiceover artist has, at some point, had to deal with an indecisive director, or one who directs just to hear themselves talk. It has been ingrained into so many directors’ heads to never accept the first take of anything, a mantra that, if taken seriously no matter what, can just make a long day longer and a creative process all the more tedious, especially if the voiceover actor is required to only say one thing for a silly commercial.
Such is the case in Tim Mason’s hilarious and dead-on comedy short “No Other Way To Say It,” which was voted one of the 10 best short films of the year by Vimeo. In it, a voiceover actor named Jen (Beth Melewski) has the thankless task of nailing a recording of the phrase “Little Dumpers, from Yum-Dum ice cream. There’s no other way to say it. They’re good.” The directors (Megan Kellie and Susan Salvi) discuss her performance, knowing she did it perfectly fine on first take. “Maybe a little more optimistic,” they tell her. “Maybe you’ve never had these before… Try it again with a little more confident ambivalence … ” Jen’s confusion with the direction becomes further hampered by a distraction on her phone that could be serious.
Mason and his cast are members of a Chicago-based comedy group of actors and improvisors called Hog Butcher. This is the kind of film that could only be successful when at the hands of someone who has been in the industry and knows full well the types of directors out there who mean well, but who lack the convictions of their choices. Melewski’s performance is not only very funny, but smartly underplayed. Her lack of real reaction to a text message adds a layer of humor that keeps the viewer more sympathetic to her for her current task than anything else. Kellie and Salvi make a very hilarious duo of directors who cannot agree on anything, even though they’re both after the same product. Upon repeat viewings, I noticed more the sound engineers’ (Ed Flynn and Cayne Collier) subtle looks of frustration, which makes this short worthy of multiple playbacks.
“No Other Way To Say It” had me laughing out loud. It’s a simple premise, one that never gets resolved, but that is easily one of its charms. The film only gets funnier when one considers why anyone would want to eat something called Little Dumpers in the first place.
How did this idea come about?
Honestly, I just wanted to try to make a short film that had an A-story and a B-story and see how long I could juggle both comedic bits. My friends at Optimus were willing to help me out and offered anywhere in their building as a location. The minute I saw the recording booth, I knew what it was going to be.
Have you or any of your actors had this kind of experience?
All of the actors (and myself) have voice-over experience so we definitely know what it's like to be alone in that quiet, solitary room while getting cryptic notes from the creatives on the couch. We also have all worked at some time or another as a part of a comedy copywriting collective called Hog Butcher so we are very familiar with the language that advertising folk find themselves having to say. One of my favorite lines in the film is at the very beginning - and it's a line that Sue Salvi improvised: "Larry is, again, very concerned about these exclamation points ... " It's so dead-on to the kind of ridiculous conversations that advertising creatives find themselves having to have. I love it.
Last point on experience—we all have moms. So that helped the B-story alot.
Can you give me any insight on what the rest of this commercial could be? I noticed on the script in front of Jen the phrase “stupid people.” I’m dying the know the context of that (if there is any).
Haha! No one has ever asked that question and I'm so glad you did. I actually wrote an entire fake TV script just to give the VO context to the actors (and so we'd have a realistic prop to have on the music stand). I just went back in my old files to find it - here it is:
HOW TO SAY IT
:30 TV SPOT
We open on a mother and a daughter in a kitchen eating Little Dumpers at the kitchen island. The little girl has her mouth full of Little Dumpers. The mom looks at her and says:
MOM: How are they?
KID says something but it’s unintelligible because her mouth is full Mom asks again.
MOM: How are they?
MOM: How are they?
KID finally swallows.
KID: They’re good!! How do you like them?
MOM has her mouth full and can’t talk now. They laugh like stupid people.
AVO: Little dumpers from yum dum ice cream. There’s just no other way to say it. They’re good!
Now that I'm looking at it, I think we should film the fake commercial and then the AVO at the end should be someone else's voice. Not Jen’s. Someone totally different like Morgan Freeman. That would be true to life to my own personal voice-over experience.
Were there any other comedic ideas that you didn’t use?
Sue Salvi really wanted to wear a crazy hat that she got from Madeira, Spain—it was nuts—it would've been a film about a hat. We still debate it to this day. Which is odd because I was right.
What’s next for you?
I'm not really sure—as crazy as it seems, this little short really has opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me. I'm still directing commercials but I've also got a few projects in development including a TV show based on the world of the short. And I've got a feature I'm dying to make so—you know—there's stuff brewing, but I'm not sure what's going to percolate up first.
(Is it obvious I'm writing this in a coffee shop?)
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.